فصل 01

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CHAPTER ONE

August 1940: The Doctor and his Daughter

Dr Iannis had enjoyed a satisfactory day in which none of his patients had died or got any worse. He had removed a tooth, attended the surprisingly easy birth of a lamb, and had performed a successful, though minor, operation.

He had been called to the house of old man Stamatis, who was suffering from earache. After gazing into the dark, hairy hole of the old man’s ear, the doctor had cleaned up the inside of the ear using a matchstick, cotton wool and alcohol. He was aware that old man Stamatis had been deaf in that ear since childhood, but was nevertheless surprised when the tip of the matchstick touched something hard, something that had no excuse for its presence there. He took the old man to the window, where the light was better, and stared down into the ear again; then with his long matchstick he pushed the grey hairs to one side. There was something round inside. He scratched its surface and saw a pea. It was undoubtedly a pea; it was light green and slightly lined. Dr Iannis considered the problem for some moments, then requested a small fishhook and a light hammer.

The old man and his wife looked at each other with the single thought that the doctor must have lost his mind. ‘What does this have to do with my earache?’ asked Stamatis suspiciously. But the hook and hammer were fetched, and the doctor carefully placed the straightened hook into the hairy hole and raised the hammer. There was a terrible scream.

‘Oh, oh, the fishhook will enter his brain. May God protect us!’ cried the old wife, hiding her head in her hands.

This speech caused the doctor to pause and consider the possibility that the hammer might only drive the pea further into the ear. ‘Change of plan,’ he announced, and gave instructions that Stamatis should lie on his side till evening with his ear filled with warm water. He returned at six o’clock, hooked the softened pea successfully without the aid of a hammer, small or otherwise, and pulled it out. Stamatis clapped his hand to his ear and exclaimed, ‘It’s cold in there. My God, it’s loud. I mean everything is loud!’

‘Your deafness is cured,’ announced Dr Iannis. ‘A very satisfactory operation, I think.’ Shortly afterwards he walked home with a fat chicken under each arm, and an ancient pea wrapped up in his handkerchief.

The doctor was now left with an entire evening in which to write his ‘New History of Cephallonia’, a project which he had begun at least a dozen times. He seemed unable to achieve objectivity and so had never been satisfied with the result. He sat down and wrote: ‘The ancient, half-forgotten island of Cephallonia rises from the Ionian Sea, its rocks and red earth heavy with the heat of the sun and the weight of memory. In the stories of ancient Greece, the island played its part and had its gods - among them Poseidon, the god of the Sea and Apollo, the god of the Sun. Yes, once this island, with its brilliant light, its transparent waters, was an island filled with gods. But today Cephallonia has become a factory that breeds babies for export. There are more Cephallonians abroad or at sea than there are at home. There is no industry here that keeps families together, there is not enough agricultural land, there are not enough fish in the ocean. Our men go abroad and return here to die. The only good thing about it is that only the beautiful women find husbands among the men who are left, and consequently we have the most beautiful women in all of Greece…’

The doctor refilled his pipe and read this through. He listened to Pelagia moving about in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal. He read what he had written about beautiful women and remembered his wife, who had died from lung disease despite all his efforts and who had been as lovely as his daughter was now. ‘This island betrays its own people,’ he wrote, then seized the sheet of paper and threw it forcefully into the corner of the room. This was not good enough. Why could he not write like a writer of histories? Why could he not write without passion, without anger at the many betrayals and oppressions that the island had suffered in the past? He went outside for a breath of fresh air, returning indoors just in time to catch Pelagia’s little goat eating his writings with a look of satisfaction on its face. He tore the paper from the animal’s mouth, chased it outside, then marched into the kitchen. ‘That unpleasant animal of yours has eaten everything I’ve written tonight,’ he exclaimed crossly. ‘Any more incidents like this, and it’ll end up on our plates.’

Pelagia looked up at her father and smiled. ‘We’ll be eating at about ten o’clock.’

‘Did you hear what I said? No more goats inside the house.’ Pelagia paused in her slicing of a tomato, brushed her hair from her face and replied, ‘You’re as fond of him as I am.’

Dr Iannis turned away, defeated. It was an annoying thing when a daughter spoke cheekily to him and reminded him of her mother at the same time. He returned to his table, took the title page, ‘A New History of Cephallonia’, and crossed out the first two words, writing instead, ‘A Personal’. Now he could express his opinions as freely and unpleasantly as he wished.

When Pelagia heard from a neighbour that a strongman was giving a performance in the village square, she put away her broom and hurried to join the group of curious islanders that had gathered there. Megalo Velisarios, famous all over the islands of Ionia as one of the strongest men who had ever lived, was jumping up and down in time to the clapping of hands. On each of his outstretched arms sat a full-grown man. One of them held on tightly to his body while the other calmly smoked a cigarette. On Vehsarios’s head sat an anxious little girl of about six years, who was making matters more complicated by holding her hands firmly across his eyes.

‘Lemoni!’ he roared. ‘Take your hands from my eyes and hold on to my hair, or I’ll have to stop.’

Lemoni was too frightened to move her hands and Megalo Velisarios stopped. With one graceful movement he threw both men to their feet, lifted Lemoni from his head, threw her high into the air and caught her, kissed her dramatically upon the tip of her nose and set her down. Raising himself to his full height, he cried, ‘I will lift anything that it takes three men to lift.’

The village priest, Father Arsenios, chose just this moment to walk with a self-important expression across the square on his way to the church. He lacked respect, not because he was completely round but because he was greedy for both money and food and was much too interested in women.

‘Lift Father Arsenios,’ someone called.

‘Impossible,’ called another.

Father Arsenios quite suddenly found himself grasped around his chest and lifted up on to the wall. He sat there speechless with surprise, his mouth opening and closing like a fish, and a guilty silence descended. Pelagia felt her heart overflow with pity for the poor man. She stepped forward and extended a hand to help him down, and the priest walked off without a word. Pelagia now spoke sharply to Velisarios. She was only seventeen but she was proud and knew her own mind, and her position as the doctor’s daughter meant that even the men were forced to respect her. ‘You shouldn’t have done that, Velisarios,’ she said. ‘It was cruel and horrible. You must apologize.’

He looked down at her from his great height. This was without doubt a difficult situation. He thought of lifting her above his head.

‘We want to see the cannon,’ called an old lady, and others in the crowd echoed her.

Velisarios was immensely proud of his ability to raise the old Turkish cannon, which had the date 1739 on it and was much too heavy for anyone else to lift. He looked down at Pelagia and said, ‘I’ll apologize later, pretty one,’ then announced, ‘Good people of the village, to see the cannon, you must bring me your old nails, your broken pots, and the stones of the streets. Find me these things while I pack the gun with powder.’

People ran off eagerly in all directions to seek out these objects, and the cannon was soon prepared for the great explosion. ‘I will fire the gun down the road,’ said Velisarios when all was made ready. ‘Everybody out of the way now.’

With a theatrical expression, the enormous man put a match to the cannon and lifted it to his waist. Silence fell. Breaths were held. There was a great roar as the old pots and nails burst from the gun… and then a long, low cry of pain. There was a moment of confusion and hesitation. People looked around at each other to see who had been hit, and Velisarios dropped his cannon and ran forward to a young man lying in the dust.

Mandras later thanked Velisarios for firing at him as he came round the bend at the entrance to the village. But at the time he greatly disliked being carried in the arms of the strongman to the doctor’s house and he did not enjoy having a bent nail removed from his shoulder. What he thanked Megalo Velisarios for was that in the doctor’s house he first set eyes on Pelagia. There was a moment when he became aware that he was being bandaged, that a young woman’s long hair was brushing against his face. He opened his eyes and found himself gazing into a pair of anxious eyes. ‘At that moment,’ he liked to say later, ‘I recognized my future wife.’

Dr Iannis put on a fresh shirt in readiness for his daily visit to the kapheneion, and stepped out into the yard. He was entirely unsurprised to see Mandras there, talking to Pelagia. The young fisherman’s face went red when he saw him. ‘Oh, good evening, doctor. I’ve brought you some fish,’ he said.

The doctor twisted his mouth and pretended to sigh. ‘Mandras,’ he said, ‘you know perfectly well that I know perfectly well that you have only come here to flirt with Pelagia.’

‘Flirt?’ repeated the young man, attempting to appear both innocent and shocked.

‘Yes. Flirt. Yesterday you brought us another fish and then flirted with Pelagia for an hour. Well, you’d better get on with it.’

‘Then I have your permission to talk to your daughter?’

‘Talk, talk, talk,’ said Dr Iannis, waving his hands, and he set off for the kapheneion.

‘Your dad’s a funny fellow,’ Mandras said to Pelagia.

‘There’s nothing wrong with my father,’ she exclaimed, ‘and anyone who says there is gets a broom in the face.’ She pushed the broom at him and he caught it and twisted it out of her grasp. ‘Give it back,’ she said laughing.

‘I’ll give it back… in return for a kiss.’

Pelagia gave the young man a flirtatious smile.

At the kapheneion, the doctor collected his tiny cup of coffee and sat next to Kokolios, as he always did. The coffee shop was full of the usual characters: the Communist Kokolios, with his splendid moustache; old man Stamatis; Father Arsenios, round and sweating. ‘What’s the news of the war?’ Kokolios asked.

The doctor twisted the ends of his moustache and said, ‘Germany is taking everything, the Italians are behaving like fools, the French have run away, the Americans have been playing ball games, the British have been drinking tea, the Russians have been sitting on their hands. Thank God we are out of it. Why don’t we turn on the radio?’

The large British radio in the corner of the room was switched on, its whistles reduced to a minimum by moving it around. Just then, Pelagia appeared at the door, gesturing urgently, greatly embarrassed by her presence in the men-only kapheneion. The doctor raised his eyes to the ceiling, put his pipe in his pocket and went to the door. ‘What is it, girl?’

‘It’s Mandras, he’s fallen out of a tree on to a pot.’

The doctor shook his head in disbelief and allowed his daughter to hurry him home. There, he made Mandras lie on the kitchen table while he removed tiny pieces of the broken pot from the young man’s muscular back. ‘You’re a fool,’ he told his patient.

‘I know, doctor,’ said Mandras, biting his lip as another piece came out.

‘Stop being so polite. I know what you’re planning. Are you going to ask her to marry you or not?’

‘Not yet, doctor. Everyone says there’s going to be a war, and I don’t want to leave a widow. You know how people treat a widow.’

‘Quite right,’ said the doctor and wondered, as he wiped away a spot of blood, whether his body had ever been as beautiful as this young fool’s.

It was several hours before he returned to the kapheneion. When he entered, he knew immediately that something was wrong. Warlike music came from the radio and Dr Iannis was astonished to see that the faces of several of the men were shiny with tears. ‘What’s going on?’ he asked.

‘Those Italian pigs have sunk one of our ships at Tinos. And they fired on the harbour there. It was full of people. On a holy day too.’

The doctor put his hands to his face and felt his own tears fighting to appear. He was possessed by a feeling of helpless anger. He did not stop to question whether war with Italy was inevitable. Although he did not believe in God he found himself saying, ‘Come on boys, we’re all going to the church.’ The men of the kapheneion rose and followed him.

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