This chapter continues on from Chapter 2 — but the POV has changed to that of Loizos who is the father of Christaki. Momentum and support for EOKA grew steadily as more and more Cypriots became disillusioned...
Momentum and support for EOKA grew steadily as more and more Cypriots became disillusioned with being under British occupation and took action to support enosis, unitywith Greece. The Cypriot news was bursting with stories and accounts about the inhumane treatment of the EOKA rebels arrested. The unrest spread across the whole island impacting on the communities of Famagusta, Nicosia, Larnaca, Paphos and Limassol.
The particular news on everyone’s lips across the whole of Cyprus, and at the forefront of their minds, was the tragic story surrounding Evagoras Pallikarides who joined EOKA as a seventeen year old in 1955 and died a hero two years later when he was hanged in March. He had defiantly and bravely jumped in to support a friend who had been beaten and then tied to an electricity pole by two British soldiers. Pallikarides had set his friend free and as a result of his actions a £5000 reward was put on his head by the British Army. Arrested on the same day he was detained until, eventually, he was found guilty of firearms possession. His ‘murder’ caused huge waves of anger across the island and more and more men of all ages joined the underground military organisation; EOKA was suffused with righteous heroism and although it was not an elitist group those who were recruited had to show a commitment and belief in ‘secrecy, privacy and dependability’.
Those who were initially against getting involved were drawn in and many men, and even women, were now involved in fighting for freedom. The men were the ones on the front line. Many British soldiers were killed through, what the British were slow to realise were not just random attacks but, strategically planned and executed assailments. But women were just as involved and integral to moving things forward. They were the cogs who ensured that coded notes regarding counter-attacks were delivered to the right people and these attacks were planned and synchronised to achieve maximum disruption and lawlessness.
Loizos was proud of his son Christaki who despite pressure from school friends and villagers remained neutral. He knew that Christaki wouldn’t let him down. He would stand his ground. He was steely, not easily agitated, unlike Koko who was always talking too loudly and Chloy who was more easily influenced.
When Christaki walked into the Co-op at six o’clock, on that last day of April, ready for the last shift of the day, his father was two steps behind him. Loizos watched the purposeful strides of his son, his slim strong shoulders, his arms hanging loosely at his sides as he walked. It was like seeing a mirror image of himself as a young man. They had the same physique. The same gait as they walked.
‘Good evening.’ Christaki bid Anna as he walked through the door, propped open with a crate of Keo beers. Loizos had seen them being delivered that morning on route to his cobblers. Delivered directly by the manufacturing and bottling plant in Limassol, the Keo truck driver, a man Loizos had not seen before, had found it difficult getting down the narrow streets to the Co-op and had walked the last few hundred yards to the shop, parking the lorry near the priest’s house.
‘Kalispera,’ she replied, already pulling her work overalls over her head and hanging them on the hook outside the store cupboard.
‘Busier today?’ asked Christaki hopefully. The Co-op had been taking less and less income since the troubles, which affected all those who had a stake in the business. For some it meant no income at all especially now that many of the men were focused on spending money on the fighting efforts that they believed would free them of the British.
Anna shook her head. ‘Panteli’s coming in later, something about bread.’ She seemed to be in no mood for talking and left rather hurriedly murmuring something about her mother-in-law coming over.
Christaki tidied the shelves and re-arranged some of the fruit and vegetables. He liked things neat and tidy and would often complain to his parents that the others working there didn’t have the same work values that he did.
He served two customers that walked in one after the other, making polite conversation with each of them as he always did. Finally, after Kiria Melis the wife of the retired school Principal, bid them both a good night, having relayed all the aches and pains she ever suffered in her sixty-eight years, Loizos and Christaki were in the shop alone. Loizos paced up and down one of the aisles, slightly agitated, his ears bright red showing his turmoil. Christaki, in contrast, he noted, was calm, normal. Thank God he doesn’t suspect anything, thought Loizos. Loizos looked down at his watch. It was coming up to half past seven and as if on cue Loukia walked in.
‘I have a delivery of bread,’ she said innocently, ‘from my father for Dimitri’s family. No-one is answering at home so father asked me to bring the loaves here.’ She struggled to lift the huge basket onto the front counter, the weight of which looked like it would snap her stick thin limbs that jutted out from her flowery dress like pins, her legs only minimally fatter around her knees.
‘Here, let me help you,’ offered Christaki. He’s a good boy, thought Loizos, Anastasia has brought him up well, him and his brother and sister.
‘I also have a list from my mum,’ Loukia chimed a bit too merrily, pushing her dark curly hair away from her face to reveal rosy sweaty cheeks.
‘Can you get what she wants together for me? I’ll be right back.’ She disappeared just as quietly as she appeared, her skinny frame dancing like a feather on the wind.
The two of them were alone again in the shop. Loizos pulled the door shut and taking the key from behind the counter he locked it.
‘What’s going on?’ asked Christaki.
‘Don’t ask questions. There’s no time,’ answered Loizos as he grabbed a newspaper and spread the pages out on the floor behind the counter.
He didn’t want to take any risks and the unrest between villagers of opposing opinions meant that anyone could be watching. He had to be quick. If anyone came and saw the Co-op closed it would be sure to raise suspicions.
Loizos counted the loaves of bread one by one and placed them on the open newspapers. Christaki stood and watched in silence. He roughly pulled apart the loaf with no sesame seeds until his probing fingers found a folded note as he had suspected. He read it immediately and put it hastily inside his jacket pocket just as it was, shaking the errant crumbs off it.
‘What is it?’
‘It’s a coded message. Loukia probably doesn’t even know herself that she delivered it but I’m glad we have intercepted it.’
‘But father, they’ll find out it’s you, us…’ said Christaki, catching a glimpse of someone walking towards the door.
‘No. They won’t.’ But Loizos knew only too well the reality of what was happening around them and listening ears and seeing eyes got wind of everything. They couldn’t be too careful. Loizos pushed back the unlocked door and pretended to be wiping his brow with the handkerchief as another customer walked in wanting a kilo of potatoes and a kilo of onions.
Loukia came back not even five minutes later. She paid for the shopping and went off. A minute or so after she’d left Christaki noticed her headscarf on the floor and rushing out of the shop, his father close behind him, called after her but she had already disappeared around the bend on the lane leading to her house. Loizos watched him as he rolled it up into a tight ball and shoved it in his trouser pocket.
‘You can drop it off to her later, son.’
As they turned to go back into the shop Loizos heard a scuffle from the bottom of the road, towards the lane leading to the church. He stopped in his tracks and listened but heard nothing more. He took two paces in the direction of the shop and heard it again. He looked back, a few paces behind Christaki who was already in the shop, and thought he saw the back of someone cowering in the shadows, behind a stack of mopeds.
The shop was quiet for the rest of the evening. The time seemed to move deliberately slowly. More slowly than the Sunday Church Service, thought Loizos, the three hours of which he endured only for the sake of Anastasia every week.
Eventually they locked up and began to walk in the direction of Loukia’s house. The sky was a deep inky blue, dotted with bright stars. The village was eerily quiet. Loizos couldn’t shake off a feeling of foreboding; the brightness of the stars a contrast to the anxiety building within him. He pushed his hands deeper into his trouser pockets and urged his son to pick up his pace. Just as they turned into the sharp bend of the lane a battered farm vehicle blocked the road ahead; its headlights on full beam. Loizos, slowed his pace almost to a halt. He averted his eyes from the harsh lights, swallowed and carried on walking nervously towards the lights.
‘Can I ask where you’re going?’ said the taller of the two men standing in front of the open truck. His eyes rested on Loizos’ face. He could feel the man’s stare under his skin, going right through him. Loizos recognised him. It was Aki, the cousin of Dimitri who was married to Loizos’sister Irini. He was not much older than Loizos himself. Aki, was left a widower after his wife died giving birth to their seventh child. It was a sad situation. A man left to bring up seven children with no wife. Recently Loizos heard a rumour that Aki had been keeping bad company. He hung around with those in the village who joined EOKA. He was a dangerous man and was rumoured to have killed for personal rivalries. But Loizos didn’t like to gossip or pass judgement although he had heard the men talking about it at the kafeneion on more than one occasion. His priority was to focus on his own family and their safety.
‘We’re just taking a scarf back to a…customer…friend who dropped it in the shop,’ Loizos said, conscious of sweat beads building up on his forehead.
‘Yes, Aki. And how are the children?’ asked Loizos clumsily trying to bring some normality to the situation.
‘Well?’ Aki asked, ignoring his question.
‘Yes,’ said Christaki forcefully, ‘here, if you don’t believe us.’ He took out the tight ball from his pocket and unravelled the scarf to show him.
‘Who said I don’t believe you, boy?’
‘Sorry. It’s just we’re both tired and want to get home,’ said Loizos, desperate to diffuse the situation. Loizos put out an arm across Christaki to quieten him and waited, holding his breath.
‘Then be on your way. We have no quarrel with you.’
‘So what’s going on?’ asked Loizos boldly, after exhaling slowly.
‘Nothing to worry about, we’re just waiting for someone,’ Aki said as he resumed the job of rolling a cigarette and lighting it. He passed the cigarette to his companion. Cigarette smoke curled between them as they both took a long puff of the rollup in turn. The other man avoided eye contact. Something’s not right, thought Loizos.
‘Well, good night,’ said Loizos, putting out his hand which forced Aki to extend his too. Aki shook Loizos’ proffered hand.
‘We can’t miss the slot,’ said the second man, Loizos still in earshot. Loizos knew what he meant but didn’t react.
Loizos and Christaki walked off, in tandem, towards Loukia’s house. They didn’t speak to each other for the rest of the five minutes it took to reach her back door.
‘What d’you think all that was about?’ whispered Christaki.
‘Well, if it had anything to do with us they would have detained us longer. Don’t dwell on it and thank God that they were our men and not the British who keep noseying around. Putting curfews on villagers and telling them when and where they can leave their village, their homes. It’s keeping them a prisoner that’s what it is.’
They left the scarf with Loukia’s father, Marko, who thanked them for returning it. Loizos was shocked to see his unshaven face, grey with fatigue and worry.
‘She can be so forgetful sometimes,’ said her mother, who was darning socks.
‘It’s not a problem, good night,’ said Loizos. He shook Marko’s hand, but he avoided eye contact with Loizos.
‘Good night,’ said Christaki. They both made their way back along the darkened path, careful not to disturb the stray cats lying on the now cool boulders and rocks which edged the route roughly back down onto the road again.
The village was pretty at night and they walked home in a companionable silence; the rush of the sea on the wind was all that could be heard and the thud of the heavy strides as Loizos kept up with his son. They passed the priest who had been visiting one of his parishioners, unwell with a high temperature and swollen glands. The older generation often wanted a visit from the priest and a prayer rather than a visit from the village nurse or doctor. Loizos passed the coded message onto the priest seamlessly as they passed each other in the narrow cobbled street and nodded good evening to each other.
At home, Anastasia was waiting for them. Sitting on the couch, she was finishing a hem on a blue dress by hand. She looked tired and anxious, frown lines etched across her brow, but she didn’t say anything. Loizos gave her a nod which indicated the note had been intercepted as planned. Unusual as it was, and dangerous, Loizos didn’t want to lie to his wife about anything.
His wife understood exactly why he elected to scupper the planned EOKA mission.
Chloy was bent over her school books, kneeling down at the coffee table on a blanket she’d spread across the floor, and Koko was out in the courtyard playing backgammon with a school friend. Loizos was relieved to see that the rest of his family were home and safe. The stories of rival groups, now being identified as Turkish-Cypriot or Greek-Cypriot, turning on each other were too rife. He was aware of the friction between some of the villagers and that which existed even between brothers and uncles and nephews within the same family. Loizos didn’t want his family to be torn apart by the politics of EOKA. He wasn’t prepared to risk the lives of his children and wife for enosis with Greece. He was already one step ahead in his plans.
Anastasia got up immediately to serve dinner for them; a simple meal of lentils and fried onions which Loizos and Christaki drizzled with olive oil. They filled themselves up with chunks of fresh bread and then ate halloumi and water melon cut into big fat juicy slices.
‘Have you heard about that incident in Limassol, by the port today? ‘ asked Anastasia, as she sat back down to her sewing, her eyes soft and gentle as they reflected the light of the lamp opposite her.
‘Yes, I did. It’s unbelievable that such a thing would happen. O theos na mas voithisei.’ Loizosasked God to protect them.
‘And then four men were arrested as they were walking into work down by the market place. Just like that, hauled off like animals.’
‘O theos na mas voithisei,’ repeated Loizos.
‘We’ll be OK, though won’t we?’ asked Chloy, the sombre conversation distracting her from her studies.
‘Yes darling, I hope so,’ said Anastasia, looking over to Loizos, her eyes full of tears and sorrow. Loizos could see how the troubles were taking their toll on his beautiful wife and his heart was breaking.
Things came to a head a few weeks later. Dimitri was a drinker and when he drank his mouth got away with him and he often said what others might be thinking but would not say out loud.
It was early evening, the June sun was setting the tops of the mountains alight with fiery reds and hot oranges. Dimitri was at the kafeneion in the village, sitting outside in the shade. Despina, Loizos’ niece walked by the coffee shop, carrying a basket of figs.
‘Ela, Despina.’ Dimitri called out to her. He sat languidly in his seat, his shirt, stretched taut across his muscular arms and broad shoulders, was untucked and unbuttoned to his naval.
‘Kalispera Dimitri,’ she called back dismissively, too focused on admonishing her boys who ran ahead of her as they threw stones and sticks at each other.
Despina’s nineteen year old husband, Yianni, joined EOKA and was one of the men hiding in the mountains. Gone for five weeks, she was seen crying desperately, struggling to bring up their three year old twin boys alone. It was common knowledge that what little money the family had paid for ammunition and food supplies for Yianni and the five other men in hiding with him. Despina barely had enough money to buy basics. It was a desperate situation and although the villagers tried to help, she was a proud woman and ushered offers of help away, insisting she was coping on her own. It had got to the stage where dishes of food and baskets of fruit were being left outside her door in the hope that she would accept the help offered.
Dimitri called out to her again but this time she ignored him, his tone was harsh, his words slurred, and she knew only too well what he was like when he was drunk having seen him pick fights, brawling in the streets.
‘Leave her be,’ interjected Michael, Anastasia’s younger brother. He was tall and lean with jet black eyes sunk deep in his face. His nose was long but it suited his elongated features which were softened by his mop of dark curly hair. He continued to flick through the newspaper and quietly drank his coffee with Loizos at a table set against the wall under the blue shuttered windows behind him.
‘What’s it got to do with you?’
‘Nothing. I’m just saying, that’s all.’
‘Just saying? Well that’s not what I’ve heard?’
‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’
‘You know! Late night calls. Skulking around where you shouldn’t be.’
Michael ignored his ranting and striking a match, lit a cigarette. He inhaled deeply and then slowly exhaled, letting out the thick smoke which trickled up and away before disappearing and leaving only the strong odour of the foreign cigarettes in the air.
‘Can’t speak now can you?’
Michael looked over in his direction but said nothing.
Dimitri carried on riling him. ‘God has given me eyes and I can see well with them!’ he spat out.
‘Then you can see clearly that I’m here and choose to ignore you. You’re drunk.’
The few men left in the village, mainly old and frail, stopped playing cards and backgammon. They looked uncomfortably from one man to the other. No-one spoke, the only sound now not the throwing of dice and the counting of counters and shuffling of cards but the copper bells jingling round the goats’ necks as they were herded from one tangled field to another a few feet behind the coffee shop.
‘Drunk am I?’ yelled Dimitri at Michael.
‘Yes, you are.’
‘Enough, Dimitri, Michael’ interjected Loizos.
‘Wondered when the traitor would speak,’ said Dimitri.
‘Leave it,’ begged Loizos.
‘Why? We all know you stole that note. You prevented our attack on those bloody British!’
‘Show some respect. You’re an embarrassment to your family,’ continued Michael.
‘Enough,’ begged Angelo, the owner of the coffee shop, ‘Don’t rile him,’ he hissed at Michael. He cleared one of the tables, piling empty coffee cups and water glasses onto a round metal tray, the Keo emblem printed on it. He roughly wiped down the table and tucked the chairs which had been left strewn in a mess and threw the damp dish cloth across his shoulder.
‘Embarrassment? Who says so?’ asked Dimitri, banging his clenched fists on the coffee table and sending the demitasse cup jumping into the air slopping the dregs of his discarded coffee over his trousers.
‘Everyone,’ Michael said his voice raspy, barely audible.
Dimitri, got up with such ferocity, his face contorted and red with anger, that his chair was thrown across the outside area of the coffee shop and into the road. He glared at Michael and then swigging down the last of his zivania stormed off in the direction that Despina had taken. A crowd of teenage boys playing football in the otherwise quiet street found the outburst entertaining and jeered at him as he stumbled away.
With no other known incidents between the two men after that, even though they inevitably crossed paths in the village streets, the altercation was soon forgotten by the village gossipers. At church at the Sunday service, seated two rows from each other, Michael didn’t turn round to look at Dimitri. Loizos, however, could feel the animosity between the two men like a shroud of black funeral lace over a coffin.
One Monday night, towards the end of summer, Loizos walked past Despina’s house after an emergency EOKA meeting to double check timings and positions of another planned attack for which he was loaning out his farmer’s truck. He noticed her main door was ajar which was unusual so late at night. He checked his watch; it was gone ten o’clock. He slowed down his pace. He walked closer peering through the gap in the doorway. He listened and was about to walk away when he heard raised voices. He pushed the creaking door further open, the sound of its old iron hinges squeaking achingly against his eardrums. He took a few steps into the courtyard.
‘Despina? Despina?’ he called out to her. He continued walking towards the voices and then saw the familiar pose of Dimitri. He was stood over Despina shouting. She was cowering, her two children crying as they held onto her legs. She was repeatedly saying no.
‘What’s going on?’
‘Well, well, well…that’s exactly what I want to know,’ said Dimitri.
‘What’s going on Dimitri? Despina?’
‘Nothing. He just burst in here,’ answered Despina, her voice high-pitched, terror in her eyes.
‘Keep out of it,’ yelled Dimitri.
‘Come on Dimitri. Let’s not fight. The children are scared,’ said Loizos more calmly than he actually felt. He took a few more paces closer, his hands in front of him, palms facing up indicating that he meant no harm.
Dimitri seemed to calm for a few seconds and Despina made to walk away towards one of the bedrooms, ushering the children to hurry.
‘Boutana!’ he suddenly yelled at Despina, ‘you don’t think I know what’s going on? The whole village knows you whore!’ He took two wide strides and stood behind her. She stopped in her tracks but didn’t turn round to look at him. His breathing was heavy, coming in loud shafts. He pulled her by the arm and twisted her round to face him. She looked him straight in the eye and said,
‘Go to hell.’
He slapped her across the face sending her flying back and knocking her head against the stone basin outside the bedroom. Blood instantly appeared, running down the side of her head and filling her ear. The boys were suddenly deadly quiet but the tears rolled down their dirty, pudgy faces, leaving track marks where the tears had fallen. Their eyes were on stalks, their expression one of horror and fear.
‘Enough!’ shouted Michael. He had appeared out of no-where and grabbed Dimitri by the hair, swinging him round to face him and then punching him straight in the middle of the face. His nose audibly cracked and the blood poured out. Dimitri taken by surprise was dazed by the blow. He tried to shake his head to bring back his focus but Michael was too quick punching him twice in the tummy. Dimitri doubled over, his hands clutching his stomach. The blood from his nose continued to pour as he shook his head in disbelief.
And then there were four other men. Loizos didn’t see them come in but they must have been close by or waiting nearby. All four of them grabbed Michael and pushed him to the ground.
‘Stop!’ yelled Loizos. He grabbed a broom and held it across himself while trying to keep them away from Michael at the same time. ‘There’s too much blood shed already. Stop. Think about what you’re doing!’
‘We know exactly what we’re doing. She’s a whore and he’s been sleeping with her!’
They moved in closer to Michael who was still dazed on the cold stone floor, each kick they threw sent a dull thud around the courtyard and an agonising cry from Michael. They took it in turns to beat him, crazed expressions on their faces, their fists hitting out viciously not caring where their punches landed. Loizos jumped in and cracked the wooden broom handle over the back of one of the men and he went down and stayed there whimpering like a snared fox. Now who’s the tough one, thought Loizos.
What happened next was unreal. It all seemed to unfold in front of Loizos’ eyes in slow motion yet he could not react. One of the men, Pavlo, his eyes glinting like a madman, took out a penknife hidden in his sleeve. He brandished the pen knife wildly, waving it around like an agitated huntsman towards Michael.
‘I’m unarmed,’ Michael said, his eyes begging, panic in his voice.
Pavlo continued waving the penknife. Loizos moved closer and could smell the alcohol on his breath. He’d been drinking.
‘For God’s sake,’ shouted Dimitri, ‘Have you gone mad?’ but his words seemed to fall on deaf ears.
As Michael straightened himself up he struck out with his arm, a sudden jerky movement, uncoordinated. The penknife made contact with Michael in the chest and there was a sickening slithering wet sound as Pavlo pulled the knife out of him. He had a crazed look. His lips curved up into a twisted smile. Michael sunk to the ground. Blood soaked through his shirt and spread across the dusty floor, leaving a pool of puce liquid. The men shocked by the outcome of events ran off in a panic, spinning away as the realisation of what had happened hit them; one of them stuttering on his words while another opened his mouth but no words formed. Dimitri’s mouth fell open, but no words came out. He looked across at Despina and then at Loizos and mouthed the words ‘sorry’ before running off behind the others. Despina remained rooted, unable to move, her chin trembled, the colour drained from her usually olive-rose face, and she held onto her boys; their faces hidden in the folds of her dress. He died almost instantly. His eyes wide open but lifeless. After a few seconds, maybe minutes, she let out a piercing cry which the villagers heard, she gently untangled the boys from her and bent down to Michael, cupping his face in her hands. She kissed him gently on the lips. They were already cold.
The atrocities continued and the village was not left unscathed either as relations and friends settled in neighbouring villages were arrested or killed during the troubles. Police brutality was rife and although the women were not the one’s hiding in the mountain caves or involved meticulous planning and execution of the continuous barrage of attacks on the British patrols they were beginning to feel the brunt of the conflict in their own streets. School children continued to become increasingly violent in their retaliation and the British troops did not hesitate to beat women and children.
As a result of these clashes, the newspapers highlighted the despicable treatment of civilians who openly opposed the British troops. It was reported that a group of women and some older men in a village not fifty kilometres from Ayios Tychonas were shot dead because one of the women’s boys, twelve or thirteen years old, and an old man, refused to rub off the EOKA slogan from a kafeneion wall. The incident left carnage and a promise that revenge would be taken. Three days later the British troops – all eight of them – while on patrol were ambushed and shot dead. Five days after that another clash between EOKA rebels hiding in the mountains resulted in one Cypriot dead but over a hundred British troops either dead or injured. It was a victorious day for EOKA and all those who supported the cause.
But there were losses on the Cypriot side too. One group hiding in the mountains were caught out from two different directions and caught in the middle had no-where to escape. One rebel threw himself off the snowy, rocky mountainside rather than be caught and tortured by the British. The rest of them, twelve men and one woman, already frost-bitten from the freezing temperatures they had endured for weeks, were arrested and beaten. They were trundled off to the prison camp in Nicosia where it was rumoured the torture of all the prisoners was inhumane. Even the two mules were not spared and the British troops shot them in front of them in a menacingly cruel show of power and barbarism.
The funeral, known in the Greek Orthodox religion as the Officeof the Burial of the Dead, took place two days later. Wednesday’s temperature had already reached thirty two degrees by ten o’clock despite being early September.
The coffin, which looked small despite him being a tall man, was carried by Loizos, Christaki, Koko and three other close friends of the family. Their mother and father followed the coffin with heavy steps through the village streets from their house to the church, the bells ringing loudly across the village bringing the mourners together. Both frail and completely lost in their grief they nodded and held out their hands as mourners passed on their silibitiria. Anastasia and the three children walked alongside them, the rest of the family fell in line behind them with at least another thousand mourners.
The church, heavily decorated with icons of all shapes and sizes and ages, was already bursting with mourners, dressed in black from head to toe. Some were talking in small groups, others were lighting candles and placing them in the sandbox by the entrance of the church. There was a line of mourners kissing the main icon of Jesus on the iconostasis, which partitioned the nave from the sanctuary, at the front of the church and crossing themselves. A hush ascended on and spread across the church as the family approached through the main doors and the mourners parted to make way for the casket and the family at the front.
‘Blessed is our Lord God, always; both now and ever, and to the ages and ages,’ sang out the priest in his soft but monotone humming voice. The priest said prayers and swung the delicate, brass openwork censer from its four chains. The four chains represented the four evangelists; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The church was stifling and made all the more unbearable as the smell of incense filled the oppressive air. Loizos found himself counting the four chains over and over in his head as the overpowering waft of frankincensefilled his nostrils.
The added heat from the still lit but guttered candles made it even hotter and a number of mourners were carried out of the church as they dropped, fainting. Anastasia did not cry once at the funeral but she wasn’t entirely focused on the service.
‘Let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy. For you are the Resurrection, the Life, and the Repose of Your servant Michael, O Christ our God; and to You do we send up glory, with Your Eternal Father, and Your All-Holy, good and Life-creating Spirit, both now and ever, and to the ages and ages. Amen.’ continued the priest and the mourners crossed themselves and repeated amen.
The service continued for almost an hour and Anastasia seemed to join in intermittently with the hymns and listened to the readings and the prayers. She held her head high and gave out the message that her brother had died an innocent man, not guilty of what he had been accused of. Despina was there, sat between her two children towards the back of the church. Catching a glimpse of Despina through the melee, Anastasia’s expression remained stoic, proud.
The casket, facing east with the feet towards the altar, was left open for mourners to pay their last respects. The parents went up first followed by the immediate family. Many of the family kissed him; The Kiss of Peace and Anointing. At the end of the funeral the mourners passed by the casket again and placed a flower on top.
The old cemetery, a piece of land further away from the church towards the most central part of the village, was surrounded by a stone wall no taller than two feet. A second cemetery had since been sectioned off towards the outskirts of the village but the family had wanted Michael buried here where most of their ancestors were buried. The sun was peeking from behind the palest white trickle of clouds, making the whole event seem surreal. The old grave stones, mostly crosses, were higgledy-piggledy, some so old that they were covered in lichen and moss and you could barely read the inscriptions on the stone. Others were toppled over, the roots of the olive trees pushing up through the dry earth, matted brown with the dead pine needles of the ancient fir trees. The sun’s rays peaked through the waxy leaf canopy above. It was a peaceful place despite the obvious heart ache and tears that the place had witnessed.
The priest completed The Trisagion Service, the service at the wake, which took no more than ten minutes in duration.
‘Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,’ he repeated the prayer three times. The mourners crossed themselves and some repeated the prayer out loud while others mumbled the words almost inaudibly to themselves. Pater swung the incense –infused thuriblefilling the air with the musky familiar smell of church and the soft gentle sound of the clinking chains. In the near distance the snorting and grumbling of the goats on the mountainside could be heard faintly and the braying of a donkey. Hesealed the casket with holy oil and sand before it was lowered into the ground, again facing east, onto the decomposed casket of his uncle who had been buried there three years before.
With the service ended, the wake, by the graveside spilled out onto the quiet dirt path alongside it. The rest of the day was one of chatter and remembering the man who had been snatched away so cruelly. The mourners who remained drank red wine and paximathia, crunchy dry-baked bread??? and halloumi and black olives??? The children, many who were too young to understand properly what was happening, enjoyed the day off school and ran around the small cemetery playing chase. By seven o’clock the last of the mourners started to drift away leaving Anastasia and the immediate family by the graveside.
She felt at peace at last and Loizos almost saw the change that going through the funeral had made. Her features looked lighter, brighter and her shoulders were not as tense as they had been but looked soft and relaxed. He put his arm around her and led her away, whispering her name in her ear. He was not a demonstrative man and yet the funeral had brought out in him the deep love and respect that he had for his beautiful wife and he had uncharacteristically told her he loved her. It was at that point that she looked up at him, her eyes wide and the tears falling openly.
There were no other incidences of death or casualties in Ayios Tychonas since the murder ofMichael. Loizos hoped, as the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, thatAnastasia and the children would start to move on from the horrific incident. But he was wrong. They were inconsolable.
Anastasia had sought out Pavlo and Dimitri the day before they were caught and arrested in an abandoned house in Germassoiea.
‘If this was his fault, then it serves him right. But if it wasn’t his fault, then may the ones to blame not see forty days after him,’ she said to them, facing them straight on, her stare unflinching as she clearly said the words she came to say.
Dimitri died within twenty-nine days of her curse, in prison, and Marko was shot dead trying to escape thirty-four days later. Anastasia cried till she had no more tears to cry. Her eyes were red and sore and she could barely speak from her sobbing. Neighbours, friends and family visited her but she turned everyone away wanting to bury herself in her grief; wanting to mourn the loss of her brother in peace. She remembered how the children loved the way Michael used to tell silly jokes and make up stories about the people he worked with in the bandoboulion, the market place in Limassol.
Loizos listened to her silent crying every night, unable to take her pain away and unable to stop the guilt from eating him up either. He had been unable to save him.
Eventually Anastasia began to live her life again. She took on dressmaking work and put all her energies into making money. She knew that was the only way out for them now. If they had money they could escape. She didn’t talk about her feelings with Loizos but every now and again she opened her heart to him and begged him to take them away from the village. She couldn’t face passing Despina’s house every day, knowing that’s where her brother had passed his final moments, on a cold floor. She couldn’t bear seeing Despina either nor Loizos’ sister Irini who was now struggling to keep the family together and living with the shame of what Dimitri had been involved in. She wanted to leave the village and all the bad memories. It was too painful living there day in day out. Even though the men had been arrested she was broken.
Loizos and Christakis continued to pass coded messages back and forth. Both had sworn an oath to support EOKA but in his heart Loizos knew that he would flee to England before putting his family in danger. He needed to start putting a plan in place. He had some letters which had been sent over recently from family in England and he was going to use these letters as a ploy to get them out before it was too late.
‘So how are you all?’ asked Petri while they were playing tavli at the kafeneion one evening.
‘We are all well, but Anastasia’s sister in England is poorly.’
‘Sorry to hear that. I’m sure she will improve.’
‘With God’s will, yes.’
Over the next few weeks every time someone asked after his family he mentioned that Anastasia’s sister was unwell in England and was begging to see Anastasia and her family one last time. People were kind and offered their blessings.
‘Na daxo ston Ayio Fanourio,’ ??? said one kind lady, offering to bake a fanouropitta. This was a traditional sweet-bread baked in the name of Saint Fanourios and many baked it either in the hope of finding something they had lost or that a cure would be found for the ailment being suffered by the sick person they had baked the cake in aid of. The fanouropitta was offered in church on Sundays where it was blessed by the priest and shared among the congregation in the hope that their prayers would be answered.
‘Euharisto,’ he would say, thanking them all and in the meantime bought tickets for all the members of his family one by one so as not to arouse suspicion that they may all be leaving on the same day. The tickets were open tickets which meant that they would be checked on board but their accommodation would not be allocated until the actual day of boarding. This meant he would need to have cash on him to pay for whatever accommodation was available???
Christaki continued to receive notes from Loukia and passed them onto his father who would pass notes back. This worked well. There were no questions. No discussions especially so as part of the EOKA oath taken was ‘I will never reveal any of the instructions given me even to my comrades’ and ‘If I renege on my oath, I will be worthy of every punishment as a traitor and may eternal contempt be with me’.
September passed and it was already October. The beginning of the 40 day fast for Christmas was soon to start and Loizos (not going with them…build in reason why…cover up for his family leaving…make sure they are safe…) and his family were readying to leave the village but they were unable to say the fond goodbyes they wanted to on the pretext that they would be returning after a two week stay in England. The papers were authorised for their passage and signed by the appropriate government officials and stamped.
‘How can I leave Loukia and Katerina?’ complained Chloy.
‘It won’t be for long,’ insisted Anastasia.
‘But I need to be here.’
‘Family is more important Chloy. You remember that,’ admonished Loizos.
‘Well I still don’t see why I have to come.’
‘Because I said so,’ said Loizos, his eyes a gritty black.
They continued to argue right up to the day they were leaving. The boys, just as much through what they didn’t say than what they did, Loizos knew understood what was happening. But again no-one spoke of the real reason they were leaving.
The port was busy and they arrived by bus, their luggage on the roof rack with everybody else’s.
The sea was a brilliant bright blue and the chill of the early December air filled their lungs as they dragged their luggage to the main entry point before boarding the passenger liner that would take them to England and to freedom.
‘Here, let me help you,’ offered a young man, when Chloy’s case pooped open and spilled half her belongings all over the dirty ground.
Just as she was about to thank him Christaki jumped in, ‘That’s OK. I’ve got it,’ he said and the young man walked away.
He put down his own case and scooped up Chloy’s clothes with her and together they managed to clip the clasps back together.
They quickly re-joined the others who had carried on walking slowly ahead so as not to attract any attention. They each had their own tickets and were to board via different check-points so as not to arouse suspicion. Families leaving the country were increasingly finding it difficult to do so even with the correct papers for their passage. The British were on the look-out for possible EOKA traitors as were EOKA nationalists too. No-one could be trusted.
It was only once they were on the ship, their luggage searched and their papers checked three times that Loizos relaxed. He could sense too the relief in his family. Anastasia’s strained features and the tightness across her shoulders softened as she unpacked the suitcase and placed items in the cupboards and drawers neatly. Christaki and Koko looked carefree; like the young boys they were as each lay across the bunk beds in the cabin they were sharing. Chloy was drinking her lemonade and already chatting to another girl who looked of similar age to her in the corridor ??? Loizos was relieved and quietly gave thanks to God over and over for helping to bring his family closer to a life with no chains. Freedom was the air he could breathe even though the cold air was biting at the back of his throat.