This sees the story continue from Chapter One but from the POV of Evangelia Elena's mother...life in the village continues.
Evangelia’s heart was in her mouth. A letter had come from England and she couldn’t bring herself to open it. She had left it on the bedside table. She had waited so long for a letter, for this moment, that she had almost given up hope, resigned to the real possibility that she would live out her days in the village as the woman whose husband went to London and never sent for her; left to bring up her children on her own and to live with the sympathy of others, the woman whose husband didn’t love her enough to be with her.
She thought about all the time she had spent waiting…waiting for a letter, waiting for a call, waiting for money to be sent over, waiting for good news. She smiled as she remembered the many phone calls over the first year, via her neighbour Margarida three streets down, the only one in the village with a phone. They had been short, but punctuated with hope and promises and declarations of love from her husband. Her heart skipped a beat when she spoke to him and for days after her dreams would be full of him and her, love and passion. But as the years progressed, the phone calls became less frequent and when they did come there were long silences and no direct answers in response to her questions. Instead of leaving her joyous and hopeful of the future, and what it might hold, the conversations left her deflated, insecure and unsure of whether there would ever be a life in England for her and the children. So in many ways, Evangelia had resigned herself to being the wife without the husband. Divorce was not an option, living apart was inevitable.
‘What does the letter say? Who sent it? Is it father?’ Elena asked, her voice squeaking as she jumped up and down with excitement, her arms waving around in an uncoordinated fashion.
‘I haven’t opened it,’ she replied wearily, her voice trembling.
‘Because I’ve been busy all day, sewing, cleaning.’
‘Where is it?’
Evangelia gave a little nod of her head towards her bedroom.
Elena bounced across the courtyard and within seconds was back outside waving the letter in her outstretched hand.
Evangelia opened the letter carefully. She sat heavily in the chair by the table, let out a slow sigh and then after fidgeting to get comfortable on the itchy raffia seat, focused on its contents. Elena waited with baited breath, her hands twisting and untwisting as they played with each other nervously. She was bursting to ask again who the letter was from but knew better than to rush her mother.
‘It’s from your aunt, Adelou. She has a house. She says we can all go and live with her. Yiayia too.’
‘Yes in England, in London.’
‘And father? Will he be there?’
‘I expect he will be there too,’ said Evangelia, and then more forcefully, ‘Yes, of course.’
Elena threw herself at her mother and hugged her, burying her face into her ample bosom and she laughed loudly, out of control as happiness bloomed in her heart.
‘What are you laughing at?’ asked Andreas as he came in from playing football in the village square with his friends.
‘That’s what my dream was all about. The cows in England and the grey skies!’
‘We’re going to England!’
‘When?’ he asked, looking instantly shell-shocked, worried.
‘Well, we will probably go after Easter next year. That should give us enough time to get ready. There’s a lot to sort out,’ said Evangelia giving up thanks to God that her older sister had come to their rescue.
She could barely remember her husband’s touch. He had, after all, left when the twins were just two years old, to carve out a better life in England and had promised to send for them when he had saved enough money for the crossing and had a home for them to come to. She had believed him with all her heart and soul. The story was repeated many times over and she had grown to love the romance of it initially. But as the months turned to years and she found herself still waiting for him to send for them her fairy tale became entangled with the tale of the kalikanzari who lived in the forests of the Troodos mountains; a story of mischief and trickery that her own yiayia used to tell her as a child.
‘Your father wanted more than what life in the village could offer us.’ She repeated the same response, almost word for word, over the years to Elena and sometimes to Andreas, who asked about his father less often.
‘But why did he go without us?’
‘He had to go alone. He needed to settle, find a job.’
‘How long does that take, mama?’
‘As long as it takes. Now stop all the questions,’ she often said her voice full of growing irritation and impatience with Elena’s repeated inquisitiveness. ‘Go and find something to do. Leave me be.’
But something still rankled her. The letter had come from her sister Adelou and not from Costas. Something told her that things did not bode too well and certainly not as well as she had been hoping all these years, as she had prayed over and over again for, but she brushed it aside.
‘Who cares who sent it?’ said Andreas in a low voice, as he tugged at the fringing of the blue and white chequered cloth on the table later. The children had gathered in the courtyard after school. Evangelia had promised she would make eliopites for them as a treat. As a rule she did not like baking, almost as much as she didn’t like cooking but had been persuaded by Andreas who ate the little olive pastries like they were chunks of chocolate. Evangelia continued her sewing, sipping at her glass of water and listened to their chit-chat.
‘What difference does it make?’ asked Yioli, slurping the last of her juice out of the baby glass bottle.
‘Well it means that father hasn’t kept his promise,’ said Elena.
‘Maybe he can’t write. Maybe he told your aunt to write the letter for him,’ chipped in Niko.
‘Yeah, that’s it,’ said Andreas, dropping a handful of cotton threads, now loose in his hand, onto the stone floor.
‘Maybe…but mama doesn’t seem excited,’ whispered Elena.
‘Well, she’s got a lot of organising to do all on her own. My mum says she’s a saint. Putting up with not having her husband here and being on her own all this time,’ Yioli put her hand over her mouth, realising she’d said too much.
‘Yes…well…baba has been working hard to make a better life for us all. He’s been on his own…completely on his own,’ contradicted Elena, swatting wildly at a fly with the full force of her hand, as she fought to stay calm.
‘Well, the main thing is you’re going now.’
‘Yes. We’re going. But I’m going to miss you,’ Elena said, her voice softer, full of emotion, as she turned towards Yioli with tears stinging her eyes. Yioli stood up and gave Elena a tight squeeze before walking off, without saying another word.
Evangelia had listened to their conversation and realising that the children had a point wondered what sort of a life she was taking them to. Was she taking them to somewhere better? She had no idea at all. It was the biggest chance she was ever going to take but she knew it was her only chance to see her husband again and she had to take it; for better, for worse.
The next few weeks were a constant hum of activity, drama and stress. Evangelia was tired. Tired of working. Tired of the many trips she had to make to Nicosia to get papers and authorisations stamped in preparation for their emigration to England.
‘Where will you be residing?’ asked the official.
‘In London with my sister and my husband.’
‘Who else lives there?’
‘My sister’s two children and cousin.’
‘How big is the accommodation?’
‘It’s a two storey house. Look it says so in the letter I have given you,’ Evangelia said and trying to detract from the irritation consuming her she smiled at the man. He didn’t reciprocate but carried on reading through the letter which he had already looked through at least three times. Evangelia’s eyes squinted as she
concentrated on his stubby fingers and ridged nails.
‘When did the letter come?’
‘It came a week ago. The post mark says September 18th.’ Evangelia pointed to the Queen’s head on the stamp, smudged by the inky date imprinted across it.
The official got up and sashayed towards a part-glass partitioned area behind his desk where she saw him talking to another man. She could see a picture of The Queen on the wall behind him and an old map of Cyprus, the glass broken in the bottom corner of the frame. The official paced the small room while the other man looked through the paperwork.
‘Why has it taken you so long to bring the letter in?’ the official asked when he eventually came back to the front.
‘Because I’ve been working and I didn’t have anyone to look after the children,’ she said. ‘So I’ve had to bring them with me,’ she answered feeling the pressure mounting.
‘So you want to travel together with the children and your mother and the Kyriakides Family on 21st April 1957 in six…seven months’ time?’
‘Yes. I have a lot to organise before then so want to leave after Easter.’
‘And the Kyriakides?’
‘We would like to travel together. I have all their paperwork here,’ she said again wondering why he kept asking the same questions.
The official stared up at her askance and hesitated before taking out a pad in triplicate. He began to fill out the details painfully slowly. His writing was small, rigid. He held onto the ink pen at an odd angle which dragged the nib across the page almost tearing it. Just like him, thought Evangelia, hard, but inside she was thanking God that things were now moving in the right direction even though the mundanity of the process was agonizing.
She looked apologetically to the crowd of people behind her, noisily trying to push their way towards the three desks at the front. He got up a second time and went to consult with the same man again. A decision has to be imminent, she thought to herself.
‘Ade, what are we waiting for?’ called out the short obese man behind her who was now pushing up against her lower back, his big belly round and hard like a watermelon. He called out again aggressively. ‘I’ve been waiting for over two hours!’
A couple of other men began calling out too taking their cue from him and she felt a surge of bodies move forward. People behind her were floundering in the heat, tired and dispirited. Evangelia, tired and hot from standing for almost two hours, was pushed into the heavy oak table and she flinched from the pain in her abdomen. The heat was muggy and oppressive. Evangelia’s dress stuck to her back, the sweat damp and uncomfortable. She looked over the man’s shoulders to Elena and Andreas, chasing each other in the huge square courtyard, the ornate iron gates majestically towering over them. She watched as three other children joined in and wondered whether it would be as easy for her children to join in with other children in England. She wondered what sort of a life they would have. What was she taking them to?
The ceiling fans barely circulated any air and what breeze they did create was warm, stifling. She tried to reach down into her bag for the bottle of water she had brought with her but as did she found herself drifting, the room going in and out of focus around her. She held onto the desk trying to support herself but the nausea swaddled her and she slumped forward and down onto the hard floor, darkness engulfing her.
When she came to she was sitting on a metal chair in a room painted bright white. A window with a blue frame opened up onto a small yard with a water fountain in the middle; but no water flowed from it. Elena and Andreas were sitting obediently opposite her on a couch covered in a cream crocheted throw.
‘Mama, mama,’ yelled Elena when she saw her conscious, tears rolling down her face.
‘Ela, Elena mou. Andreas,’
A lady in a beige uniform and a crest on the shoulder, one of the government officials, handed her a glass of water.
‘You fainted,’ she said.
‘I’m so sorry. I was so hot…’
‘Don’t apologise. As long as you are alright now…your children were worried about you,’ she crooned. Evangelia tried to get up but still a little unsteady swayed and flopped back into the chair clumsily.
‘Take as long as you need.’ Evangelia was worried that her collapse had stymied the process and as if sensing her anxiety the woman said ‘Vasili is finalising your paperwork for you.’
Evangelia, physically exhaled her relief and watched her walk out of the narrow doorway, her wavy bouffant a work of art blooming out of the top of her head as she entered another office almost identical to the other man’s; the same portrait of the Queen hung on the wall but there was a map of Europe next to it with black arrows in different directions marking out different sea routes. She reached out and stroked the faces of her children finding solace in their sweet concern. She had to be strong for them. The journey ahead was going to be a long and difficult one. A voyage she was not looking forward to.
Almost an hour later, maybe longer, she pigeon-stepped back towards the same desk she had fainted at; the number of visitors had dwindled considerably. The official had already embossed the paperwork with a large stamp and when he saw her approaching she saw him scribble his signature across the page. The relief was overwhelming; the paperwork was complete; identities, proof of address and an acceptable balance in her bank account, recorded on the three sheets of paper.
Going back to the village was slow and the backs of her legs were sweaty, sticking to the plastic seats of the bus. Evangelia bent her head down, eyes shut she whispered a grateful prayer that everything was officially sealed and complete.
As the bus trundled on its journey she noticed British troops stationed along the main road in front of a dilapidated building. One soldier seemed to be barking orders at another. This scene fired up many passengers on the bus who were talking animatedly about the ‘troubles’ that were getting ever more brutal and unpredictable. A couple of older youths, no more than eighteen years old, were talking.
‘D’you hear about that house in Larnaca? Raided last week?’
‘Yeah, anonymous tip off they said.’
‘The Brits searched for more than five hours…’
‘Yeah and they found weapons and ammunition in the sewers, under the house…’
‘And phosphorous flares.’
‘That house was about 100m from the Ayios Nektarios Church, my dad said. Not that ‘he’ saved the men hiding there…’
‘The EOKA rebels…they were beaten…with the butts of rifles…left standing without water. They were passing out all over the place from heat exhaustion and dehydration.’
‘Bastard British forced them into military trucks…ended up in the detention centre in Nicosia.’
Evangelia listened to their account of the story which by all means had been almost word for word what she had read in the newspaper.
Another elderly gentleman and a younger man, perhaps his son guessed Evangelia, spoke of school children in the Larnaca district who had petrol bombed two British military trucks causing injuries to three British troops. But they had not stopped there and caused continuous disturbances by regularly striking from school to show their allegiance to EOKA.
‘Don’t even think about doing anything like that, d’you hear me?’ said the man.
Evangelia listened to the thrum of conversation and whispered stories. Her head pounded all the while and the stink of sweaty bodies filled the air. She wondered how much of the conversation around them the children had heard. Elena seemed pre-occupied and she saw that sleep was pulling Andreas deeper and deeper as his head lolled gently on Elena’s shoulder, the bus’s monotonous rhythm soothing him.
Finally at the crossroads with Pano Lefkara, Evangelia alighted the bus with Elena and Andreas. Elena ran off towards home, stretching her legs which had been cramped, encouraged by her mother to go off. Andreas, still sleepy, walked ahead more slowly, his pace ponderous. Evangelia lagged behind him further still, a little weak from her fainting episode but pleased that she would not have to make the journey back to the government offices again. She gave thanks to God that she had so many good neighbours, so many people to help her get organised. She also thanked God that Elena was happy at the prospect of leaving although she wondered whether her daughter truly understood what that meant; that she was unlikely to return to the village, that any of them would. This thought tarnished her inner peace.
A few weeks later, just as the first chill of winter hit Kato Lefkara Niko’s father, Zeno, drove Evangelia to Limassol on his way to work so that she could apply and pay for the first part of the crossing to Italy. He dropped her at the beginning of the port area, promising to meet her at the same spot at 1pm so they could have lunch together at a relative’s restaurant before making their journey home.
Evangelia was nervous. This was a huge step and once those tickets were paid for there was no turning back but perhaps this was the right time to go. Cyprus didn’t feel safe anymore.
She walked briskly along the path towards the port offices. She had only visited Limassol a handful of times and she felt conspicuous in the unfamiliar territory so her quickened pace gave her confidence. She looked across to the rough waves of the November sea on her left where there were wooden jetties and short platforms leading to where simple fishing boats were tied, bobbing and knocking in the hard splash of the waves against their sides. In contrast, huge container ships were lined up in the distance. She knew that the cargo ships were laden with copper, carobs, wine and timber. She listened to the clanging of chains and metal scraping metal as their huge hulks were loaded. It was a different world to her Kato Lefkara. She could see workers, running up and down the platforms, yelling to each other and directing cranes with their heavy loads onto the huge vessels sitting effortlessly on the water like majestic swans.
To her right coffee shops and booths selling newspapers and sweets, towered by tall buildings with Corinthian pillars and peaked stone entranceways and solid wooden doors with black painted ornate ironwork, dotted the wide street. She recognised the distinct building of the Bank of Cyprus with its emblem – an ancient Cyprus coin bearing the inscription ‘Koinon Kyprion’ meaning common to all Cypriots – proudly shining out from its façade. The pavements were a moving patchwork of people making their way to work. A yellow and cream bus juddered through the slow-moving traffic while mopeds weaved in and out, drivers shouting obscenities at the speed some were going. The bus was full to bursting with passengers their hot breath leaving misty patches on the windows as they stared vacantly out at the cold sunshine. The rack on its roof was burdened with luggage and suitcases, boxes tied with string and baskets overflowing with dried fruit.
‘Excuse me,’ apologised a lady pushing a bicycle who had almost knocked into Evangelia.
‘Koulla?’ Evangelia recognised her old school friend who had moved to Kato Drys. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I’m moving to England, a new life. You know.’
‘So am I. Buying the tickets and boarding passes today.’
‘So we might be travelling together. Oh I am so relieved. I’m travelling alone with the baby. Leon, my husband, will be following next year once he has sold the tailoring business and the house.’
‘Well, as far as I know there’s only two more crossings via Italy so yes, we could be.’
‘And how are you Evangelia? How many children do you have?’
‘I have two – they’re twins, a boy and a girl.’
‘How lovely. How old are they?’
‘Going into their thirteenth year next summer.’
‘I was a bit slower than you. Christalla is going into her second year next week,’ she said.
‘I heard that you weren’t falling. Glad it worked out for you in the end,’ Evangelia said, squeezing her friend’s arm affectionately and then pulling away embarrassed at her candid show of emotion.
The crowd of people waiting to be seen by the two staff at the port protected by the booths??? they were sitting in was huge.??? There must have been at least a hundred and fifty people, pushing, shoving for a space, edging forward like a sea of fish??? The two women chatted together and found that they had lots in common. Koulla sewed all day in her village doing alterations by hand to support Leon’s business.
‘Look at my finger!’ she said as she showed Evangelia the bump of hard skin on the inner edge of her finger from pushing the needle through the heavy fabrics used to make suits.
‘I can’t use a thimble.’
‘I don’t either but sometimes when my finger is so sore I put one on but it slows me down.’
‘What will you do in England?’ asked Koulla.
‘I’m not sure. My sister takes in piecework, you know blouses, skirts, trousers and machines from home so I may do the same. Her boss supplies the machine and all the cottons so I won’t have to buy one.’
‘My uncle has a fish and chip shop in Blackpool. I will probably head off up there so I can stay with him and my cousins and help out in the shop until Leon joins me.’
‘I’ve not heard of Blackpool.’
‘It’s to the North I think. You’ll have to come and see me up there.’
‘I’d like that.’
A fracas broke out ahead of them and they both grabbed onto each other. A man was shouting anti-British obscenities and others were trying to quieten him not wanting any trouble where there were women and children. Out of nowhere came a gunshot. People began to scream and to run away from the port in all directions. Some tripped and fell over while others screamed and took cover behind benches and trees. Women scooped sobbing children in their arms and ran towards the main road away from the port, dropping their bags. Others held onto each other as they ran in tandem away from the commotion. Others just stood there in the middle of the chaos huddled together while others ran into the roads; the drivers honking at them while they ran blindly into the streets.
In the chaos, Evangelia and Koulla got separated. Evangelia ran and took cover behind a lone lemon tree, her heart thumping so hard she thought it would jump out of her. There was confusion everywhere and she looked on in horror as she tried to scan the area for Koulla. A man was crouched down with his arms over his children and his wife, protecting them as best he could.
‘Pavlo! Pavlo!’ A mother stood calling out the name of her son frantically searching the melee of faces for him, tears coursing down her face which soaked the front of the scarf wrapped around her coat as they fell.
‘Help!’ an old lady called out for help weakly. Dressed in black from head to foot she had fallen and people were jumping over and around her as they blindly made their escape from the area. At the same time she was desperately trying to hang onto her shawl which was being tugged at by the sea breeze; her silvery hair whipping her across the face. Her wailing ran through Evangelia like the funeral bells in the village. She shuddered and suddenly felt deep despair; a wretchedness so great that it gripped her like an invisible demon.
A man ran towards the old woman, showing a respect for the old lady that no-one else had.
‘Ela,’ he said and he tried to help her up but couldn’t lift her on his own. ‘Help!’ he called out frantically only to be ignored by those around him who were no doubt too worried for their own safety.
Evangelia ran out to help him and they half carried half dragged her over to a tree, propping her up against it. Her leg was clearly broken, her black tights ripped and her lower leg stuck out at an awkward angle from the knee down, the inflammation already deforming the otherwise slender limb.
From her vantage point Evangelia saw a young man, lying face down on the ground, a pool of blood staining the pale earth around his head. He was dead, lying there alone with the British military surrounding him. His head smashed in by a bullet. There was a man next to him, on his knees; the grief on his face was clear; anger, disbelief. He repeated the man’s name over and over through his tears. He shoved and pushed at the British military to back away from him with a flailing arm, so caught up in his grief that he was comfortless.
Evangelia crossed herself and raised her eyes to heaven. She prayed silently as she sat crouched next to the old woman waiting for medical assistance. Her whimpering had quietened down now, her face pale as she sat huddled next to Evangelia almost doubled over. She could smell the familiar rose fragrance in her hair which reminded her of her own mother. As strong as she was, and reserved, even she couldn’t hold back her tears any longer. She felt ashamed weeping in public, in the street but she couldn’t stop herself. Everything felt too difficult, too big for her. The red letters – EOKA – mocked her from a tall building in the distance. This was the reality now. She had been somewhat sheltered from it in the village but being here she realised how dangerous Cyprus was becoming. She had seen the danger now first-hand.
She wasn’t sure how long she stayed with the old lady or how long it took to clear the area and obtain some normality but when she searched for her friend she couldn’t see her. She felt a black cloud over her. She hoped that Koulla had managed to escape unharmed. British military were walking around with rifles. They were checking the area around the port and it looked like they had possibly detained two men. Other troops were deployed from their check points at the entrance to the old town further down and they cordoned off the area with the local Police.
The old woman was taken away by the medics and Evangelia explained how she couldn’t go with her as her neighbour was meeting her so they could drive back to Kato Lefkara together. Anguish consumed her. She didn’t want the old lady to be alone but knew she couldn’t miss the rendezvous with Zeno. She had to get back for the children.
She walked towards the meeting point where she was due to meet him; there was nothing else she could do, there was no access to the old town and the port ticket offices were closed. She would have to return another day. She thanked God that she was unharmed and wondered again about her friend Koulla. She tried to remember the name of the town she was going to be in but could only remember it began with B. It was eerily quiet. The hub-bub of earlier was no longer filling the streets and
She waited patiently for Zeno, sitting on one of the wooden benches, her back to the sea, facing the road. One o’clock came and went and she did not see him. In fact the road was eerily silent and she realised that it must have been cordoned off, no traffic was passing through. Panic rose within her. How long should she wait here for? How would she get home?
‘Is the road closed?’ she asked a passer-by.
‘I heard it was closed but was to be re-opened by 1pm.’
‘Thank you,’ she said politely.
By three o’clock she was beginning to get quite fretful. She decided to cross the road and walk up towards the main junction into the old town. Zeno would be coming from that direction. She shuddered as the breeze came in from across the azure sea, biting at her nose and ears. She should have worn her hat, she thought, pulling her coat tighter.
As she neared the corner of the street she heard a commotion up ahead, raised voices, an English accent. She held back, frozen with fear, ducking behind a parked car. She knew that the EOKA struggles were peaking and that after the morning’s shocking incident anything was possible. She peaked out from behind the wheel arch and saw two British troops pull a man from his bicycle, grab his satchel. They pulled what appeared to be papers from inside and threw them into the air, scattering them across the pavement.
Evangelia’s heart stopped. She knew what they were, anti-British leaflets and she also knew what the consequences of distributing them were. The man made to run away but one of the soldiers was too quick for him and slapped him across the face, throwing him to the ground. Before he was able to defend himself he was cannoned from all directions by the butts of the rifles the two soldiers were holding, once, twice, three times.
Evangelia let out a cry which echoed around the almost silent street. She tried to scream but she had no voice. She tried to run towards the man to help him but she found her feet rooted to the ground as if in quicksand. The soldiers didn’t so much as look up after they beat him almost to death and walked off, laughing and taunting, calling him a filthy dog. The smell of fear hung in the air and flooded her senses.
Moments later, Evangelia found her voice and her feet and ran towards him. The body lay in a crumpled heap. She knelt down next to him and turned his bleeding battered head to face her, scared that he was dead. She held his head, blood sticking to her palm and looked into his eyes.
It wasn’t a man! It was Koulla! She held her and sobbed silently as she cradled Koulla’s limp and lifeless body in her arms; the blood from her friend’s wounds seeping into her clothes and smearing her hands and face. She prayed that these would not be her final moments that she was going to make it. The harsh words of the British soldiers echoed in her mind.
People who were sheltering behind the closed doors of the surrounding buildings began to spill out onto the pavement. Two men in suits helped to lift Koulla into the chair of a nearby coffee shop, the building an old ramshackle echo of a more fortunate past. Evangelia hastily shrugged off her coat and wrapped it around her friend.
The owner brought over a glass of water.
Evangelia lifted it to her mouth.
‘Ela, Koulla mou,’ she said as Koulla drank thirstily, her lips bruised and bleeding, her face contorting with pain as she swallowed.
A woman appeared with some bandages and warm water. Between them, she and Evangelia dabbed at some of the cuts on Koulla’s head, face and hands.
Out of nowhere Zeno appeared.
‘Zeno! Thank God you found me.’
‘Thank God you found me!’ she said again, fighting back the tears, overcome by emotion and exhaustion.
‘I recognised your coat. I was held up at the control point. I was so was worried about you…the shooting. Thank God you’re safe.’
The relief on his face made Evangelia a little uneasy, embarrassed. It had been a long time since she had seen such warmth towards her from a man. They both looked at each other and held each other’s gaze for a split second longer than they should have. Evangelia smiled nervously. Zeno shifted his gaze to the floor but not before Evangelia saw the flush of guilt cross his cheeks.
After everything had calmed down, Evangelia finally composed herself and was already dreading the journey she would have to make again to buy the tickets. She nervously fumbled with the strap of her handbag and looked out of the window, away from Zeno, as they drove home in silence.