A historical fiction novel based around the EOKA period of conflict and unrest in a politically unstable Cyprus in the 1950s under British rule. This chapter introduces the second main character in the book, Christaki who lives in the coastal village of Ayios Tychonas in 1955, EOKA.
Christaki thrust himself further and further into the salty white waves coming directly at him until he was gasping for air. He slowed his pace until his breathing was regular, hard, but continued to take in air deeply into his lungs until he thought he would burst. His strong, but narrow shoulders and long arms pushed him further out against the crash of the sea as it came directly at him.
The ocean was fresh now that the May sun had dipped behind the line where the sea met the horizon, but he liked the way it felt as it ran over his bronzed body, as it soothed his aching muscles and soaked through his dark wavy hair, cooling his head. He swam out more towards the wave breaker of huge boulders into the azure blue of the sea. The exercise relaxed him and his mind wandered to a conversation from the night before.
‘You have a rare head for numbers. And sequence. And order,’ said his accounting teacher at the extra evening classes Christaki had signed up for.
‘Thank you, Sir,’ Christaki replied, puffing out his chest with pride, his chin turned up slightly.
‘You will be a success whatever you do, my boy. You are hard-working. Diligent. I wish you well Christaki, yioka mou.’
‘Thank you, Sir,’ he repeated.
Allowing himself a small smile to spread across his face, as he swam, he recalled the affectionate phrase, ‘my son', used by his teacher. He wondered why he had been uncharacteristically emotional. Christaki still had a few months of the course to go and was going to be in class the following week again, as usual.
He swam harder, his shoulders taking the full force of the water. He was anxious about what might happen that evening. He tensed even though the swim normally relaxed him and a sharp pain crossed his upper back as he twisted his tight torso to stay streamlined; to keep his pace going.
Christaki went to high school in Limassol until classes finished at two o’clock. He regularly swam afterwards, even in the cooler winter months, and then worked until eight o’clock or ten o’clock at the village Co-operative General Store. His family managed this; Christaki worked there from the age of eleven, almost two years now, to supplement the family’s many sources of income.
This evening he wanted to delay his return to the village where he lived in the Amathus District of Limassol. Ayios Tychonas was built into the coastal hills where it sat lazily, the dull murmur and enticing fragrance of the sea ever present. Many of the village houses built of stone, cream and grey and white, constructed on one level, had an inner courtyard around which the rooms would open onto. Smaller abodes had one room for sleeping and eating in and an outside space with a wood stove and washing area. Homes throughout the village were painted various shades of blue, doors and shutters reflecting the village’s proximity to the sea.
Many of the villagers herded goats and sheep for a living, spending many hours a day herding the life stock over the hilly, rocky terrain for miles and miles, the coastal air matting their hair daily with the salt it carried from the Mediterranean ocean. The life of the shepherd was a hard one as Christaki knew only too well. Lonely. Physical. One of the oldest inhabitants of the village, Antonis, now nearly crippled with arthritis and unsteady on his feet, continued with his shepherding and tested the endurance of many of the younger, newer shepherds he trained and shared his knowledge with.
‘I don’t understand how Antonis walks those mountains day in day out,’ said Christaki, in admiration for Antonis as he chatted with his mother, Anastasia. Christaki went out with the old man when he wanted a bit of company. Antonis was patient, said little but he taught Christaki all he knew about feeding, grooming, clipping and delivering new lambs and kids.
Christaki’s family were wealthy and worked hard; the importance of hard work had been instilled in him, being the eldest, from a young age. Loizos, his father, was a forward-thinking man and his main aim was to make a good life for his wife, Anastasia and his three children, Christaki, Koko and Chloy.
Anastasia, a re-nowned seamstress, had clients from villages as far east as Zygi, Pyrgos, Parekklisha and Moni and as far west as Mouttayiaka, Ayios Athanasios, Ypsonas and Germassoia. She was not only an excellent dressmaker and seamstress but she was able to repair and make adjustments to garments. She was quick, reliable and often worked late into the night sewing in the dim light of the oil lamp.
Loizos, a cobbler, had his own shop on the outskirts of the castle area of Limassol. He made and repaired shoes. His clientele consisted of a combination of very rich and prosperous families who came and placed orders with him from as far afield as Larnaca, and those who lived locally who required repairs to their shoes over and over again. He was a fair man and he was well-respected and often carried out repairs for free in exchange for a bottle of olive oil or a basket of figs or fresh fish caught that morning or support collecting the carob from his abundance of trees.
The carob trees, scattered across hectares of land his parents inherited from their parents provided additional seasonal income for the family; the slow-growing evergreen trees brightening the otherwise dry, infertile, harsh climate. The land, which stretched across the double-peaked mountainside all the way to one of the ‘secret’ caves, had been passed down through the generations.
Christaki’s family didn’t harvest the carob themselves but relied on the regular workers from the surrounding villages, who came every season — August to October — and laboured, from the first yellow glow of dawn to the last burnished pink of dusk. Many of them worked for Loizos to repay debts accumulated over the year by their families.
‘Carob harvesting…’ one of the men explained to Christaki as he paused to splash himself with water from the well at the end of the day. ‘…is a manual process, unchanged for centuries. Machinery can never replace the hand-picking. It takes precision, patience.’
‘Patience?’ asked Christaki.
‘Yes patience, care not to damage the flowers. If that happens next year’s crop will be reduced.’
Loizos appeared carrying a tray of little glasses. He was a stout man, with a purposeful stride, a calm force of energy always seemed to surround him, echoed in his movements and facial expressions. When he laughed his smile reached his eyes which shone with a glint.
‘Thank you my friend. What more does a man need than somewhere comfortable to sleep, a meal and zivania amongst friends?’ another man said as he took a glass. ‘To your health, cheers,’ he said as he swigged it down in one.
‘Cheers,’ repeated the other men one by one as they took their glass and drank.
Anastasia, Christaki’s mother slow-cooked lamb or pork in the outdoor stone oven, the smell of the onions, coriander and meat juices permeated the air all day.
‘There’s kleftiko enough for all and bowls of beans or lentil soup,’ she said as she helped to serve the men, who were all openly grateful for her show of warm hospitality.
‘More zivania.’ His father generously filled their glasses and passed hot bread round. The men hungrily tore off chunks with their worn, calloused fingers. The men slept in the open fields or in the enclosure next to the house which was situated in the oldest part of the village and backing onto open land.
‘That’s it. The donkeys won’t be able to take much more weight,’ said one of the men as he loaded the harvested carob pods into huge rattan baskets the following morning. He secured them either side of the donkeys and fastened them tightly with rope round the back and belly of each animal.
Christaki and his father plodded off to sell the tons and tons of carob to an exporter based in the nearby fishing village of Zygi.
‘We’ll have to make five maybe six journeys’ said his father. ‘It’s been a good harvest.’
Christaki crossed the beach, his feet caked in the cooling sand careful not to tread on the scattering of pebbles washed over it. He reached across for the towel he’d left by his leather flip-flops on top of a boulder and used it to roughly dry his dark wavy hair. He shivered as the slight breeze on the back of the setting sun kissed his damp skin. His eyes were bleary, stinging from the saltiness of the water and he blinked a few times to clear his cloudy vision. He blew into his hand and wiped his snot on the towel, and clearing his throat, he spat onto the dry sand. He pulled on his T-shirt, put on his watch hidden beneath it and slipped on his flip-flops. He felt the warm sand stick to his toes and wriggled them to dislodge some of the sand grains. Rolling the towel haphazardly lengthways he hung it around his neck and walked towards his green Vespa, hidden by the brambles and overgrown wilderness, skirting the dirt track which led down to the beach from the main road. He picked up his wallet, still on the motorcycle seat where he left it, and re-arranged his college books which protruded from the makeshift storage box he had secured to the back of his moped.
Before he had time to take in what the blood might mean, the snap of a broken twig alerted him that someone was close by. Christaki strained his eyes in the low light as he stared across the wilderness. He spied a shadowy figure duck behind one of the overgrown tangled bushes behind a discarded bench, domineered by huge rocks and mounds of debris.
‘Ela,’ he called out nervously. ‘Who’s there?’ An involuntary shiver ran along his spine like a slithering grass snake. He knew he was being watched, the hair stood up on his arms and the back of his neck; he was sick with nerves. He walked with a determined stride, in an effort to quash his anxiety, towards the cluster of brambles, and as he got closer edged over slowly. From where he stood, he spied a shadow, two shadows, crouched down, very still. He edged forward. The light was hazy. He heard whispering. Someone hauled themselves wearily to their feet. Christaki let out a sigh of relief. He recognised the back of Panteli’s head between the patchy zig-zags of the thorny bushes, the distinct bald patch above his left ear a dead giveaway.
‘Panteli?’ he called out, his voice edgy still, his eyes transfixed. Quite suddenly someone shot off and he saw the back of a girl, in a brown dress, a pale blue scarf over her head and a tan leather satchel over her shoulder. She clambered up and over the rocks like a wild hare towards the main road. She didn’t look back. He waited with bated breath, his heart thumping in his chest, the air around him dusty.
‘Yes, it’s me,’ Panteli said as he revealed himself from his thorny hideaway, clearing his throat and brushing dry earth from his palms and then his knees.
‘What are you doing? Christaki asked. ‘You frightened the life out of me.’
‘Sorry. I was…I was meeting Katerina.’ His cheeks reddened.
‘Why here? Were you hiding?’
‘It’s complicated. Her father doesn’t approve of me.’
‘Since EOKA said they’d have me.’
Christaki knew about EOKA; Ethniki Organosis Kypriou Agoniston – the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters. The initials splashed in thick dull red paint tarnished the sides of buildings in Limassol and the crossroads leading into the village. There was a growing level of desolation amongst the people of Cyprus and more recently, in Ayios Tychonas. He listened to the men talking as they drank their coffee and played tavli at the kafeneion. Conversations were tense but not altogether unfriendly as villagers were divided; their topics focused on the leaders of EOKA, Grivas and Makarios, their conviction to the cause and how surrender would be a grave dishonour. Christaki didn’t know much about it but his father, a Left-wing supporter was not getting involved so Christaki would not go against him and his beliefs. He trusted his father’s acumen and understanding of the politics of the country.
‘Yes. I had an interview, an initiation. I’m seventeen next month. I want to play my part,’ he said, with undeterred fierce loyalty. He stamped his foot down hard; a spattering dust rose and pattered back to earth.
‘Why do you have to? Why can’t we carry on like before? We all live in the same town, the same village. Why get involved? And what about Katerina? What’s she say?’ Christaki gripped his friend’s arm. A nerve twitched in Panteli’s temple.
‘She supports my decision. She…wants to do her bit…’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘She wants to do something.’
‘Leaflets…that sort of thing…’
‘For God’s sake, Panteli, her dad will kill you if he finds out!’
‘He won’t find out. And it’s got nothing to do with me.’
‘Well, he won’t take it like that when he discovers she’s been meeting you…and he’s sure to find out,’ said Christaki, concern in his voice, a deep furrow of anguish etched on his forehead.
‘I can’t ignore what’s going on,’ he said. His eyes reflected the red low sun opposite. ‘Things are getting worse. People are getting heated more and more, especially since the British have arrested people unfairly. Anyway I’ve said too much…if anyone asks…you didn’t see me.’
As Panteli turned and walked away Christaki noticed Panteli’s leg; blood seeping through a makeshift bandage, creating a patch-work map. Christaki wondered what sort of initiation he had gone through or was his imagination running away with him.
The sudden rev of an engine over the incessant rumbling of the cars and trucks on the main road, forced Christaki to divert his attention. He recognised Yianni, on his motorcycle, one of his closest friends since elementary school. He was three years older than Christaki and already married to his childhood sweetheart, Despina. He waved wildly at him and called out his name but Yianni didn’t react or acknowledge Christaki. A flash of blue whizzed by as he passed at speed. He wondered where he was going in the direction of Germassoia village this late in the day. Something bad was coming. He felt it.
Christaki started his moped. It lurched forward abruptly just before the familiar low humming of the engine kicked in. He drove off and round a bend towards the winding dirt road which took him back into Ayios Tychonas and his home nestled at the foot of the hills. The nausea in his stomach reminded him of what was inevitably waiting at home; more arguments about EOKA, more disgruntled villagers, more crying women, his own mother sobbing silently. He revved the engine and drove off. He flexed around the handle-bars, his knuckles white from his tightening grip, his head banging with overwhelming anxiety and the roaring in his ears. Fear and anxiety coursed through his veins.
He arrived home, submerged in his own taunting, cheerless thoughts, and propped his moped against the side of the olive tree on the narrow lane leading to his house. He walked to the back, where the kitchen door was always open.
He pushed the beaded curtain aside and walked into the kitchen; the beads knocking noisily against each other.
‘Ela mama, ela baba,’ he called out for his parents.
No-one was there, but through the open doorway on the other side, he could see the table set for dinner in the courtyard. A carafe of red wine sat proudly in the middle of the table alongside the overflowing bread basket and a plate of lemons cut into quarters. The house was eerily silent. The familiar queasiness rose within him and he began to sweat and shudder. Where were they? He glanced down at his watch; it was gone eight and they always ate together at eight. Where were Koko and Chloy? He tried to push away his growing uneasiness. There had to be a logical explanation. He threw down his towel onto the back of a chair and wandered back outside.
He strained against the now near darkness around him and could hear the scuffling and scratching of the rabbits in the hutches some fifty feet away, by the periphery stone wall of their garden plot; an open expanse of flat rocky terrain. As far as he could make out the landscape was deserted apart from the murky silhouettes of the olive trees and prickly pear plants against the inky sky. He was about to turn back towards the house when he saw the weak light of a paraffin lamp bobbing behind one of the hutches.
He remained transfixed. Not sure whether to call out or run in the opposite direction. His heart pounded. He took a couple of steps closer, craning his neck. A figure jumped the wall, landing awkwardly on the uneven, rocky ground. It was a man. He momentarily lost balance but regained control as he came towards Christaki whose eyes were wide and bulbous with fright.
‘Ela Christaki mou,’called out his father, ‘We’ve slaughtered two rabbits!’
‘Ela baba,’said Christaki, relieved to recognise his father’s nearing silhouette. Three other figures behind his father quickly came into view; that must be mother and Koko and Chloy, he thought. All four figures came closer. Christaki was surprised Chloy was with them. She would usually cower away from killing anything let alone two of her dear rabbits.
‘Pater Spyrithon, is coming for a meal this evening.’ Christaki had completely forgotten. That explained the more formal table setting. His tummy rumbled in protest of him not having any lunch. Dinner wouldn’t be ’til gone half past nine by the time the gentle priest made his way through the village, stopping at the kafeneion along the way, which Loizos always teased him about.
‘I was worried when you weren’t home,’ blurted out Christaki. The quiver in his voice revealed his fear.
‘Why? Has something happened?’ asked his mother as she approached and reached out to stroke his face. He took her hand in his and a deep reluctance to let her go came over him. He loved his mother with all his heart.
‘No nothing,’ he lied.
Back in the house his father swiftly skinned the rabbits and chopped them up ready for the fournaki while his mother roughly chopped onions and scattered bay leaves over the meat. She set the round earthenware dish in the stoneoven and secured the iron door.
‘How was the sea?’asked Koko, who preferred to sit around than to exercise.
‘The potatoes and the koubebia are cooked if you want to eat now. Pater won’t mind. And he prefers the rabbit to the stuffed vine leaves.’
‘Will he not be offended if we don’t eat with him?’ asked Christakis, always respectful.
‘It’s your father he wants to spend time with,’ said his mother.
‘I’m eating now,’ said Chloy, ‘and then I’m going to Katerina’s.’
‘What you going to Katerina for?’ asked Christaki, a bit too abruptly.
‘Nothing. A chat…girl talk,’ she said, winking at him.
‘Well, I don’t think you should. She’s a bad influence.’
‘What? Where did that come from?’
‘Why d’you say that about the girl? She’s a good girl,’ said his mother.
‘And polite, respectful,’ said his father.
‘Yeah,’ said Chloy, ‘so stop being mean. I’m going whether you like it or not. You’re always trying to rule me.’
‘That’s the way it is,’ he retorted.
‘In your world maybe, not mine. You’re never going to get married. No-one will marry a tyrant like you.’
‘Enough,’ said Loizos. He stared at them, in turn, with his dark eyes.
That’s all he had to say. His reprimand was not to be ignored.
Chloy ate dinner in silence, quickly, alone, the whole time scowling at Christaki who stood opposite her staring right back. When she finished, she put her plate and cutlery in the butler sink, turning round to stick her tongue out at him. He didn’t say anything. She picked up her shawl and shouting bye to no-one in particular, she skipped out the door, her slender hips swaying. She was immature for her age and appeared younger than her fourteen years. Her light brown hair, scooped back into a high pony tail, matched her cinnamon eyes, and her high cheek bones shone out of her face, her lips a rose-bud pink pucker. Christaki had a bad feeling about his sister meeting Katerina.
The priest didn’t arrive until after ten o’clock. He rat-a-tat-tatted on the open kitchen door and seemed to float through the bead curtains into the kitchen, across the sitting room and into the courtyard where Loizos, sat at the table, was trying to listen to the local news on his crackly wireless. He was tall and slim, wearing his simple black cassock. His eyes were dull, with dark circles around them and his cheeks were sallow against his ling silvery beard. He greeted them all in a cheery voice but his face did not glow as it normally did when he smiled.
‘Kalispera, Pater Spyrithon,’ said Loizos, rising from his seat, taking the priest’s right hand in his and lowering his mouth to kiss the leathery skin, showing reverence to his Apostolic office.
‘Good evening my friend,’ said the priest who hesitated for a split second before turning towards Christaki and Koko. Both had remained seated at the table, even though they had finished eating long before his arrival, arguing with each other animatedly about everything and anything but not what was really on their minds. They also hadn’t wanted to offend Pater who had baptised them as babies and watched them grow up by not being present for his visit. They obediently stood in turn and mirroring their father’s gesture, kissed the priest’s hand. Make this a scene with dialogue between the brothers….
The priest said grace and they each crossed themselves before starting their meal. The stifado was tucked into by his father, mother and the Pater, after Anastasia dished up big hearty portions for them all. The rabbit with onions, had been baked for two and a half hours which had also been ‘warming up’ for over an hour so it was the hottest it could be. The meat fell off the bone and smelt delicious; the aroma of onions hung in the air. The two men soaked the thick meat juices with chunks of bread and crunched on fresh spring onions and thick slices of cucumber. They clinked their glasses merrily, gulping down the red wine while Anastasia sipped at hers slowly. There was small talk around the table, interrupted only by the flies, which they took turns swatting away. They talked about Christaki’s accounts lessons and Koko’s school lessons; he was a year younger than Christaki. The serious, inevitable talk of EOKA began once Anastasia had made her excuses and disappeared into the kitchen to wash the pots and pans and prepare the dough for the bread the following morning.
‘Our village now has a growing number of EOKA members. There are fourteen, including two young boys who are joining as soon as they are seventeen,’ said the priest. ‘I’m not sure who is acting as leader in the village but one of my parishioners told me some plan of attack has been hatched. I am not getting involved but it is hard when many of the villagers want to show the British that they are not to be messed with. They want enosis with Greece. Whether we agree or not we have to accept that’s what the majority of our people want.’
‘First and foremost we have to protect our boys. I will not get involved in this. But if anyone asks you can direct them to the secret cave. They can use it for a lookout and a base, somewhere to hole up in case there is a situation that requires their escape for a while. I know these men, the old, the young, I cannot let them perish.’ said Loizos.
‘Are you sure Loizos?’ asked the priest.
‘Yes. I’m in. I cannot turn my back on them even though I do not agree with the EOKA fight. That cave is part of the land owned by me; I’m willing to turn a blind eye.’
‘May God protect you and that which is yours.’
‘What of the others? Those who were sitting on the fence so to speak?’
‘Some villagers have expressed their lack of support, as you have my friend, and although we have lived here for years together, we must be careful who we speak to.’
‘Has it really come to that?’ asked Loizos.
‘Unfortunately, I think it has. We must err on the side of caution.’
‘I will not ignore my neighbours and friends who I’ve lived with in harmony for all these years,’ responded Loizos.
‘It’s hard. It’s harder for me as the priest here. I have a duty to all. But your duty is first and foremost to your family. Second your country.’
‘I have cousins who are involved. They want enosis, union with Greece. How can I not speak to them. We live in the same village for God’s sake.’
‘Just be careful, that’s all I’m saying.’
A silence hung between them for a few minutes as both men contemplated. Christaki shifted nervously in his seat and looked out towards the rooftops he could see from the elevated position of their house. He wondered how many families were having the same conversations about loyalty and family and dying for their country. He knew of one boy, maybe a couple of years older than him, who was bored of life in the village, fed up of the unrest and enosis provided something exciting for him to think about. He had only boasted about it the other day, despite Christaki telling him to keep quiet about his beliefs and his involvement.
‘Now the business of supplies,’ began the priest, stroking his beard which made him look like one of the saints on the icons in his mother’s prayer room. ‘We have a gun and two older girls, Loukia and Melanie, have been collecting bandages and scissors from a friend who works in the main hospital. We even have a suture kit. I have also hoarded three bottles of zivania although I’m praying that no-one will be so badly hurt that inebriation is the only bearable way for their wounds to be treated.’
‘And what about the use of code?’
‘We have yet to establish this. But given time we will be ready.’ Put somewhere else.
‘Christaki, have you thought about what I talked to you about last time I was here?’ asked the priest, turning his attention to Christaki, who until now had not been included in any of the conversation and had simply sat and listened.
Christaki had thought of nothing else, especially since his run in with Panteli. ‘Well, being still at school means I can’t officially be recruited into EOKA directly,’ he said. But I’m ideally situated in the Co-op to look for messages possibly being passed back and forth between the village EOKA group and the main planning contingency in Limassol. I won’t change my routine so it won’t raise any suspicions.’
‘You’ve thought this through well,’said his father. Pater nodded thoughtfully.
‘Of course,’ Christaki said, surprised at the clear answer he gave. ‘Evidently it’s a big risk. But if baba believes this is right then I do too,’ Christaki said with more conviction than he was feeling.
‘For God’s sake,’ burst out Koko. He left the table, clumsily pushing his chair across the
stone flooring noisily, his long legs banging into the sideboard in the lounge as he rushed past it. Christaki bid the priest good night and chased after his brother.
‘Look I know you’re afraid. But I’ll be careful. I have to do this. And I’m not actually involved in anything. Just kind of keeping an eye,’ he told Koko when he caught up with him.
‘Please don’t do it,’ Koko begged Christaki ferociously as he elbowed him away. ‘It’s like spying. If anyone finds out you’ll be arrested, or worse.’
Christaki left him knowing too well Koko was too upset to talk further.
‘That’s what we all want, our families to be safe.’ The priest looked at his watch. ‘I must go,’ he said and before he made to leave he took Loizos’ hand and shook it warmly.
He squeezed Christaki’s shoulder as he walked over to Anastasia who was busy in the kitchen kneading the dough. She knew she could buy bread from the Co-op but her mother had taught her well and she preferred to make her own. Christaki had heard her say so often enough. Clouds of flour dust rose and clung to her hair and streaked her face as she pulled and stretched the dough expertly, with great mightiness for a small woman of only five foot two.
‘Busy, always, Anastasia mou. Thank you and kalinichta,’ the priest said bidding her good night.
‘Sto kalo,’ she responded, Go well. Kalinichta.’
Not long after, the dough was ready, covered in cheesecloth; it was sure to rise by morning and ready to knead one last time before baking.
‘We will talk tomorrow,’ Loizos said to his wife and to Christaki.
Christaki sat up, for another half an hour or so contemplating; all the people who were getting slowly involved, dragged into this thing; whatever it might be. But he knew already that the ending would not be a good one; good people, innocent people on both sides were going to get hurt, were going to die.
Christaki had heard Chloy talking to Anastasia in the kitchen earlier when she had returned not long after the priest’s arrival for dinner. He knew that his mother had no idea about Katerina’s involvement in distributing the anti-British leaflets across the area. He wondered who was printing them and where? Could it be someone in the village? Although the leaflets were written in Greek he was sure that once scrutinised by the British they would clearly understand them to be anti-British; a voice against them.
Two weeks later Christaki was on his way into Limassol to take some extra supplies to his father. He spotted Katerina in the wasteland and slowed his moped.
‘When I say ready throw your ammunition,’ commanded Katerina.
Christaki wondered who she was talking to. He couldn’t see anyone around but in the far distance he saw Chloy. He recognised her yellow dress and floppy summer hat that she wore to protect her from the morning sun. She looked like an ordinary young girl taking a hike across the hills overlooking the sea. What was she doing? He wondered. She should be at school. Suddenly she waved a blue scarf in the air. She seemed to be waving at someone. Christaki just made out a boy on his bike on the road directly below. When Christaki turned back, Chloy was scrambling over the hillside. She’s going to the secret cave, thought Christaki.
The boy pedalled like mad towards Katerina and the others. Christaki could see the sea breeze blowing into his face.
‘Please God let this not be what I think it is,’ Christaki prayed. He looked again to where Katerina was now half-crouching and noticed the other children, some as young as nine or ten, but most of them from high school???? They crouched low behind the boulders and rocky crevices of the mountainside. The more he looked the more children he saw.
Within minutes the boy was at the foot of the disused field.
‘They’re on their way. Chloy waved four times,’ he said, catching his breath. He threw his bike to the ground and joined his school friends crouched behind an abandoned truck.
‘So there are four trucks,’ Christaki heard Katerina say as she turned towards the hiding students.
‘There are four trucks,’ she called out again in a half-whisper. ‘You know what to do. We’ve got about five minutes.’There was a commotion as the young people moved into position. Some children hid behind rocks and boulders, others crouched low, camouflaged by bushes and thickets.
The road was quiet this time of the morning. Christaki saw the Keo beer delivery truck trundle past and turn right taking the road into Ayios Tychonas. Two older men on their mopeds whooshed past followed by the British military.
‘Ready?’ called out Katerina, ‘Now!’
What happened next was terrifying and Christaki was unsure what to do. He pushed his moped over and lay low. He began to make his way over to where the children were crawling over the rough terrain. He caught his elbow on a jagged rock and winced from the pain. Blood seeped through his shirt sleeve. Their action stunned him.
They sprang out shouting and screaming. They bombarded the military trucks and jeeps with rocks, bricks, stones and sticks as they drove by. A rock hit the front wind screen of the first jeep smashing it instantly. It came to a sudden halt. There was a screech of brakes as the trucks behind swerved and collided with it. Christaki saw one as it skidded, its side and windows indented and crushed with rocks. It ended up half way down a ditch on the other side of the road. The soldiers rushed out and ducked behind their battered jeeps. There was no movement for a few seconds. The soldiers were shocked, caught completely by surprise. Doors clacked open and banged shut as the soldiers got out. Two looked as though they’d been hurt. One held his arm and grimaced from the pain and the other who wore no beret held his hand to his head where an open wound was gushing blood.
‘British out! British out!’ yelled one of the boys and the others joined in with him as they waved their crude home-made banner in the air. A white bed sheet had been painted blue with the Greek flag and the initials EOKA and the word enosis had been painted across it.
‘What the?’ yelled an officer, as he grabbed his rifle, blood dripping from his face. He directed the other soldiers to evacuate their vehicles and take cover.
Christaki’s heart beat faster and faster.
‘Enosis! Unity with Greece!’
The students called out obscenities in Greek and waved their arms in the air. Handfuls of anti-British leaflets were thrown into the air. The papers scattered across the rough terrain and down into the road, other sheets fluttered in the air like albatrosses.
The officer panicked. Caught unawares. He raised his rifle and shot three times into the air. Silence prevailed.
‘This is not the answer! You are putting yourselves in danger!’ shouted the officer. ‘You are lucky not to have hurt any of us seriously!’
In the privacy of their home that evening, as the sun begun to set at five o’clock, the shutters remained closed to avoid anyone overhearing the family talking.
‘How could you be so stupid?’ yelled Christakis.
‘Why is it stupid? I want to do something,’ Chloy insisted, tilting her chin up in defiance, her dark almond-shaped eyes glinting with passion.
‘You should have told us what you were doing!’
‘Why? So you could try and stop me?’
‘No. So we can protect you.’
‘Well we had it all planned out. It’s taken weeks. And I don’t need protection,’ she said with defiance.
‘And how did you know about the secret cave?’
‘I heard baba mention it.’
‘For goodness sake!’ yelled Christaki.
‘And I’m not doing this alone.’
‘Katerina helped,’ volunteered Christaki before she could say anything else. ‘She’s involved, she was there this morning,’ added Christaki.
‘Yes, she is. So what?’ said Chloy.
‘So that’s’ what you were planning two weeks ago? You should’ve told me!’
‘Don’t shout, baba, pleeeaase...’
‘How can I not shout? You’re too young to be involved. You’re still a girl.’
‘So what? Why can’t I help? I love our country!’ she raised her voice again and shook her long hair, shining golden, back and forth, in defiance.
‘Chloy mou,’ her father said patiently, ‘You want to be a part of this. I praise your conviction to the EOKA cause even if I disagree. But it’s more complicated than you know. You’re putting yourself, and us, in danger.’
Anastasia and Koko sat at the old pine table. The mellow grain of the pine, scarred and battered over years of wear and tear, shone in the light of the crescent moon. They both didn’t say anything throughout the whole conversation and then right at the end Anastasia said, ‘It is time we thought about how this is going to work out. I’m scared Loizos, scared for our family, for our home, the villagers.’ She didn’t cry, her eyes glinted with pride and dignity ????
‘When the time is right Anastasia, agabi mou, my love, we will have passage to somewhere safe. I promise to make plans for our escape...in case,’ said Loizos.
Christaki looked from his mother to his father and then to Chloy and Koko. He had no idea about this. His heart bursting with love and respect for his father, this man who worked so hard to give them all a good life. He turned away from them all and walked towards the back of the house. He stared out across the vast blackness of the open land and then at the full moon sitting on the darker shadows of the mountains. He could hear the quiet scratching of the rabbits in the hutches as they settled into sleep, the sound of a motorbike revving its engine cutting across the quiet.
He wondered how life was going to unfold and he shivered even though it was a warm night.