Read Aphrodite's Island Online

Authors: Hilary Green

Aphrodite's Island

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In the years between the end of this story and the present day much has changed in N. Cyprus. With the influx of tourists there has been a great deal of development, not all of it
sympathetic
. Readers hoping to follow Cressida's footsteps may be disappointed to find how much commercialization has altered the landscape.

The soldiers came to our village just as we were finishing the midday meal. They told all the men and boys over twelve to go to the village square. Then they started searching the houses. They were all large men, clumsy in their heavy boots, but very young. The one who came to search our house, who seemed a little older than the others, was blond, his skin reddened by the sun. He seemed embarrassed by what he had to do. To our great surprise he spoke to my mother in Greek.

‘Forgive me,
kiria
. I have to carry out my orders. It will not take long.’

I said, ‘Who do you think you are, bursting in here, turning everything upside-down? You are supposed to be here to protect us, to keep the peace, not to terrorize innocent women and children.’

He looked at me and smiled and said, ‘I think it would take more than the British army to terrorize you,
despoina
! I promise I will not turn anything upside-down, or if I do I will put it back again.’

‘But what are you doing with my husband, and my sons?’ my mother cried out, with tears in her eyes.

He said gently, ‘Do not worry,
kiria
. They are quite safe. We just need them out of the way for a few minutes. When the search is over they can come home again.’

‘What are you looking for, anyway?’ I demanded.

He said, ‘I think you know the answer to that. Two days ago someone threw a bomb at a British army lorry. Someone is hiding
bomb-making equipment somewhere, and we have to find it.’

‘Do you really think,’ I exclaimed, ‘that you are going to find bomb-making equipment in my mother’s oven?’

He smiled at me again. ‘No,
despoina
. I’m sure no terrorist would dare to take such a liberty, with you to reckon with.’

But he searched the kitchen just the same, and the rest of the house, though I have to admit he didn’t make a mess.

Later, when the soldiers had gone, my brothers pulled the oilskin bag with the rifles in it up out of the well and returned them to their hiding place under the floorboards.

 

The soldiers are everywhere in the city, driving around in their armoured cars, manning checkpoints. When they are off duty they stand on the street corners or sit in the bars, watching the girls go by. Sometimes they call out to us. We do not answer, of course. We have our reputations to consider, and the anger of our fathers and brothers. Then, a few days ago …


Despoina
Ariadne!’

I did not recognize the voice. I looked around. To me, at that time, all British soldiers looked the same.


Despoina
Ariadne!’ He was running across the road towards me. It would have been rude to turn away, having once stopped and looked round. ‘You remember me?’

‘Of course. It was you who searched our house.’ I spoke coldly, with dignity.

‘Yes.’ His eyes were very blue and he looked at me appealingly, like a small boy who knows he has done wrong. ‘Don’t be angry with me,
despoina
. You know I have to carry out my orders.’

‘You are wasting your time,’ I said. ‘You found nothing.’

As I spoke there was a tremble of fear in my stomach, thinking what he might have found if he had come at another time.

He smiled. ‘But it was not a waste of time. After all, I met you,
Despoina
Ariadne.’

‘How do you know my name?’

‘It was easy. I asked someone, “Who is the beautiful girl with
the black hair and the proud walk who lives in the house near the church?” And they said, “Ah, that is the
Despoina
Ariadne, the schoolmaster’s daughter.”’

His eyes were teasing me. I saw that the skin of his face was no longer red and sore-looking but tanned a light gold, and without his army cap his hair was almost silver in the sunlight. I knew I should not be standing here, talking to a British officer in the public street, but I did not know how to get away.

He went on, ‘I did not expect to see you here in Nicosia. Are you shopping?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘You can see from my uniform why I am here. I am on my way home from school.’

He looked at my clothes as if he had not noticed them before. ‘I thought you were too old for school. I’m sorry. I mean, you seemed so grown up …’ I was pleased to see that he looked confused.

‘I am seventeen,’ I said. ‘I am in the Girls’ Sixth Form at the Gymnasium. My father believes in the value of education, even for girls. Now I must go. I cannot stand here talking to you.’

‘How are you going to get back to your village?’ he asked.

‘On the bus, of course.’

‘Let me give you a lift. I have the jeep just here.’

I confess I hesitated, just for a second. His eyes were so blue, so sparkling with life. Then another soldier came out of a shop across the road and shouted, ‘Hey, you coming?’

He said quickly, ‘Let me introduce you to my friend. He’s a nice chap, really.’

But the interruption had given me time to collect myself. I lifted my chin and spoke very coolly.

‘No, thank you. I have to go now. My father would not like me to be seen riding around with two British tommies.’

On the bus all my friends were asking me about the handsome Englishman, but I made them promise not to say anything to anyone in the village.

Next day, when I came out of school, he was sitting in his jeep outside the school gates. He waved to me but I pretended not to
see him. I knew it was impossible for us to meet, but I couldn’t stop myself from imagining what we might have said to each other if things had been different.

 

Next Sunday afternoon I was sitting with my family in the shade of the grapevine behind our house. My father was reading the paper and my mother was sewing and my two brothers, Iannis and Demetrios, were playing backgammon and arguing, as usual. When the knock came at the door they all stopped what they were doing and looked up. Any neighbour would have walked straight in. Who could this visitor be? Then they all looked at me, so I left my homework and went to open the door.

He was outside – my English soldier. Before I could speak, he took off his cap and said, ‘Forgive me for disturbing your Sunday afternoon,
despoina
. I am not here on official business. I wish to speak with your father. Is he at home?’

The expressions on my brothers’ faces when I led him out into the courtyard would have been enough to intimidate most men, but he appeared not to notice. Instead he said, politely, ‘Good afternoon,
kirios, kiria
. Please excuse this intrusion. My name is Stephen Allenby. Before I joined the army I was a student of Greek language and literature and now that I am here on Cyprus I am anxious to learn as much as I can of your history and culture. I know that you,
kirios
, are a schoolmaster and I have been told that you are also an expert in the history of this island. I have come to ask if you would do me the honour of allowing me to study with you, if we can arrange a time that is mutually convenient. Perhaps an hour a week? I should, of course, pay for my lessons.’

There was a silence. We all looked at my father and I knew none of us believed what the Englishman had said. I knew, too, that my brothers saw a very different explanation for the
subterfuge
than the one that was making my heart race.

After a moment, my father rose to his feet. ‘Let us go into my study, Lieutenant. We can discuss this matter there in private.’

As soon as they had gone indoors, Iannis let out a growl of
fury. ‘What is he doing here? Studying our history? What sort of fools does he think we are? He is here to spy on us.’

‘Calm yourself,’ my mother ordered. ‘He may be telling the truth. In any case, you will do us no good by making your
hostility
so obvious. He has behaved with perfect courtesy and you will do the same while he is under our roof.’

‘I will not stay in the same house with that man!’ Iannis declared. ‘He is the enemy, however good his manners! If he is going to be received here, then I am leaving.’

And he slammed out of the house. I sat very still, pretending to get on with my work, but all I could think was ‘His name is Stephen and he has come here to find me’.

It was some time before my father came out again, with Stephen beside him. I was sent to fetch wine and honey cakes and for half an hour we sat and made conversation. In all that time he only looked at me twice but when he did my heart jumped in my chest and my pulse beat even faster.

After Stephen had gone, Iannis came back. He was furious to learn that my father had agreed that Stephen should call on us every Sunday afternoon for his lesson.

‘What are you thinking of?’ he demanded. ‘He is a spy! It’s obvious. Why are you inviting him into our house?’

‘Think a moment,’ my father said quietly. ‘Who will suspect a humble schoolmaster who entertains an English officer in his own home every week? What better camouflage could we have? And if you keep your temper under control, what reason could he have for suspicion? There is nothing here to incriminate us. And if he is a spy, is it not better for us to make a friend of him? He could be very useful one day.’

 

Three days after Stephen’s visit, during our English lesson, we became aware of noise from the street outside. To begin with it was some way off, a low roar like a distant stormy sea. Then it came closer and we realized it was men shouting. Our teacher told us to remain in our seats and concentrate on our work, but
the noise grew louder still and we knew something important must be happening. Someone near the window called out that the street was full of people and we all jumped up and went to look. There was a great crowd, waving Greek flags and banners
proclaiming
our desire to be united with the Motherland. Everyone was chanting in rhythm and it sounded even more like waves crashing against a cliff.

‘Enosis! Enosis! Enosis!’

One of the girls shouted, ‘Let’s join them!’, and everyone crowded towards the door. The teacher called to us to sit down and get on with our work but no one paid any attention. We flew down the stairs and out into the street. The crowd pushed and jostled us but we stuck together and forced our way with the rest along the narrow streets. The heat was stifling and the smell of sweat made me gag but it was exhilarating to be part of such a mass of people and we all joined in the chant.

‘Enosis! Enosis! Enosis!’

Eventually we found ourselves opposite the building that houses the British Institute. The police were lined up outside to prevent us reaching it. The crowd milled around, jeering at them and calling them traitors, and boys began pushing their way through the throng, selling bottles of Coca-Cola. We were all parched by that time and the bottles were sold as fast as the boys could bring them from the cafés and bars round the square. I remember that they were warm by the time they reached us and I can still recall the violently fizzy, sickly-sweet taste. Then someone threw the first bottle at the line of policemen. The girl who had led us out of the classroom yelled, ‘Let’s get them! Let the traitors have it!’, and we all surged forward, hurling our bottles at the men’s heads. I have a good aim and I saw my bottle knock off a man’s helmet.

Suddenly I remembered Stephen and wondered what he would think if he could see me. The line of police broke under the rain of bottles and some of the crowd surged forward into the building but I held back. The other girls had all rushed on ahead. I waited
until the crowd had thinned out and then I began to walk back towards the Gymnasium.

I thought of Stephen and wondered how it was possible for us to be enemies. I realized, of course, that he was not acting of his own free will. His government had ordered him to do National Service and he had to obey orders.

Later that afternoon I heard that the British Institute had been burned to the ground.

 

The following Sunday, when Stephen had finished his session with my father, he came and sat with us in the courtyard, as before. I suppose it was only natural that he should ask my father’s opinion about the riot. My father replied that it was regrettable but as long as the British government refused to allow us to determine our own fate, the situation could only get worse.

‘But,
kirios
, as I understand it,’ Stephen said, ‘my government has offered you a large degree of self-determination, provided only that we retain control over defence and external affairs.’

‘That is not true independence.’

‘Perhaps not, but it’s a start, surely. You have to see the British point of view. Cyprus is a vital strategic base in the Cold War. We have to protect our oil supplies through the Suez Canal.’

As the discussion went on, the feeling of confusion that had been growing in me since the riot deepened. Until now I had accepted what my father and my brothers had told me – that the British were the enemy and the soldiers an occupying force
determined
to crush our people. I could no longer reconcile that image with the handsome man who sat in our garden, discussing the situation so earnestly and reasonably. When he said, ‘It breaks my heart that we cannot find some way of existing side by side as friends,’ I believed him. I could only hope that my father did, too.

The discussion was interrupted by Demetrios. He had been up on the hills, watching the wild creatures. Demetrios loved animals and birds and everything wild and natural and his ambition was to study zoology, but a village schoolmaster cannot afford to send
his sons to university. Instead, Demetrios was apprenticed to a local tailor and had to confine his studies to his evenings and days off. That day he was distressed and furious because he had discovered that one of the shepherds up in the hills had shot an eagle. Stephen immediately expressed an interest. It seemed he too liked to study birds and he asked Demetrios if he could show him where to see the eagles. In a moment, all talk of politics was forgotten and Demetrios was arranging to take Stephen up into the hills with him the next weekend. I was delighted! I knew Iannis would be furious, but Demetrios was a kind soul, willing to make friends with anyone. I thought that if he and Stephen started spending time together it would be much easier for me to see him.

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