فصل 14

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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1953: Earthquake

The thirteenth of August, 1953 was a fine day, with small white clouds scattered here and there most charmingly in the deep blue sky. That morning Antonia, now eight years old but as tall as a child of twelve, went to pick up a sheet of paper from the floor, and when the sheet flew upwards and stuck to her hand, she cried, ‘It’s magic,’ and ran excitedly outside.

Strange things were happening all over the Ionian islands. There were no birds in the sky; on the hillsides and in the undergrowth, snakes and rats left their holes, and in the villages all the dogs began barking.

Drosoula came inside sweating and shaking and told Pelagia, ‘I am ill, I feel terrible, something has happened to my heart.’ She sat down heavily with her hand to her chest, taking deep breaths, and Pelagia went to her medicine cupboard and made a drink for her. Antonia, who had come back inside, suddenly burst into tears, exclaimed, ‘Mama, I’ve got to get out,’ and ran outdoors.

Drosoula and Pelagia were exchanging surprised glances when suddenly there came a low, terrible roar from the earth that made the two women feel as if their hearts were exploding in their chests. ‘A heart attack,’ thought Pelagia desperately, and she saw Drosoula, with her hands on her stomach and her eyes staring, stumble as if someone had struck her.

It seemed that time had stopped and the indescribable roaring of the earth would never end. Dr Iannis rushed out of the room that used to be Pelagia’s and spoke for the first time in years. ‘Get out! Get out!’ he cried. ‘It’s an earthquake! Save yourselves!’ His voice sounded small and far away, and immediately afterwards he was thrown violently sideways.

More frightened than they had ever been in their lives, the two women stumbled towards the door, were thrown down and attempted to crawl. But again and again they were thrown upwards and sideways and, unable to crawl on their hands and knees, they spread their hands and legs and moved towards the door like snakes, reaching it just as the roof began to fall in.

Outside in the yard dust was slowly rising as the earth went up and down, while in the centre of the street a stream of water suddenly rose to a height of twelve metres and then disappeared as if it had never been. Houses suddenly leapt upwards and solid stone walls moved like paper in the wind, and then suddenly there was a stillness like that of death.

Pelagia, spitting and covered in dirt, filled with a sense of utter helplessness, began to struggle to her knees. Suddenly the strange silence was broken by the wild cries of the priest, who rushed from the church with his arms raised to heaven. ‘You pig!’ he roared. ‘You evil dog!’ He fell to his knees and, with tears in his eyes, struck at the earth with his fists.

At this point, as if in response to his cries, the terrible roaring began again and once more the Cephallonian earth danced, the peaks of the mountains rocking like boats. During those intervals when the motion stopped, Pelagia, Drosoula and Antonia held tightly on to each other, gazing in horror at the old house, of which there was little left. The walls were reduced to half their height and the roof lay in ruins on the floor. This ruin contained the sad soul and tired old body of the doctor, who had planned his last words for years and now died beneath the stones without the chance to say them.

The British were the first to arrive, sending four large ships carrying water, food, medicines, doctors and rescue equipment. Italy, remembering its shameful past, sent ships loaded with rescue workers, and American ships arrived carrying earthmovers, helicopters and 3,000 sailors. The Greek Navy turned up late but eager, and the King of Greece and his family travelled around the islands. The earthmovers began the slow work of clearing the ruined houses, and foreign aid workers built cities of tents as temporary accommodation for the islanders. Aeroplanes and helicopters dropped food to hillside communities whose roads had been cut off by the earthquake.

In Cephallonia, because of the wide streets and the fact that most buildings were only one storey high, few people actually died in the earthquake. There were the usual stories concerning people who had lost their sense of time and appeared from beneath the ruins of houses after nine days, believing it had been a few hours.

The islanders reacted differently, according to whether or not they found a natural leader among themselves. Where none appeared, people became sad and purposeless and had terrible dreams of falling into endless space. During the earthquake itself perhaps a quarter of the islanders, like the doctor, had remained calm, but afterwards the remaining three-quarters suffered terrible shame remembering the way they had abandoned their children and elderly parents.

Although he had always been considered a slow-thinking man, Velisarios, who was now forty-two years old and stronger than he had ever been, took command in Pelagia’s village. With a strength that seemed greater than that of the earthquake itself, he threw off the beams and stones that imprisoned the crushed body of the doctor, because he was aware that decay was followed by disease. Then he gathered together the confused and hopeless villagers and ordered them into small working parties.

For months after the earthquake, there were times when the earth would shake and tremble, not violently as it had done in the earthquake itself, but enough to make people scream in fear. It was Velisarios who told people to get back to work, threatening them with broken bones unless they returned to their tasks. Even Pelagia, who was almost crazy with grief, was given the work of caring for people’s wounds, while Drosoula, who at first could only cry, was put in charge of the children so that their parents could work.

When the aid workers finally arrived at the village, they found a small community living in tents made of sheets of iron, with toilets dug at a safe distance from the water supply. An enormous man was in charge, who in old age would be more loved and respected than the teacher or the priest.

For three months the earth moved, as if it was breathing. Then, at last, it became quiet and motionless once again, and reconstruction began, to be completed three years later. Ancient and beautiful Italian towns were rebuilt as plain white boxes. Pelagias village was put up further down the hill and her old house was abandoned, the contents of the hiding-hole in the kitchen buried, it seemed, forever.

The earthquake changed lives so greatly that, even today, it is still the most important topic of conversation in Cephallonia.

Islanders cannot resist informing strangers of the facts, and tourist guides will mention the earthquake when it seemed they were only going to discuss the weather. Old people remember an event according to whether it was before or after the earthquake. The disaster caused people to recall the war as unimportant by comparison, and they woke up each morning amazed and grateful to be alive.

In the new house that Pelagia, Drosoula and Antonia now lived in, Pelagia’s guilt was the central issue in the three women’s lives; the thought that she had played a part in her father’s death made Pelagia suffer horribly.

‘He was seventy,’ said Drosoula sensibly. ‘It was better to die quickly like that, trying to save us.’

But Pelagia could not accept this. She knew that in the moment of disaster, her mind had been spinning with nothing except the need to save herself, and she knew that when her father had fallen she should have tried, even at the risk of her own life, to drag him through the door before the roof fell in. She fell into a bottomless pit of self-blame, took no interest in her appearance and did not perform her household tasks, preferring to sit by the doctor’s grave, chewing her lips until they bled. With her untidy greying hair and her pale face, she simply sat and watched, as if expecting his ghost to rise up through the earth and speak to her. Time after time, in the winter storms and rams, Drosoula and Antonia would go to the grave and drag Pelagia away, while she sighed and wept.

One day Antonia and Drosoula could stand no more; they began to feel impatient and angry, and the old woman and the young girl discussed how they could cure Pelagia of her sorrow.

‘Why don’t we just tie her to the bed and hit her?’ suggested Antonia.

Drosoula sighed with pleasure at the thought and for a moment wondered whether or not it would work. Then her eyes brightened and she kissed the young girl on the top of her forehead. ‘I’ve had an idea,’ she said.

At breakfast the next morning, Antonia suddenly announced, ‘I had a dream about Granddad last night.’

‘That’s funny,’ said Drosoula, ‘so did I.’

They looked at Pelagia for some kind of reaction, but she simply continued to tear a piece of bread into tiny pieces.

‘He told me he was glad he was dead,’ said Antonia, ‘because now he can be with Mama’s mother.’

‘That’s not what he told me,’ replied Drosoula, and Pelagia asked, ‘Why are you talking as if I’m not here?’

‘Because you’re not,’ replied Drosoula truthfully. ‘You haven’t been here for a long time.’

‘What did he tell you then?’ enquired Antonia.

‘He told me that he wants Mama to write the History of Cephallonia that got buried in the earthquake. He said it spoils the fun of being dead, knowing that it’s got lost.’

Pelagia regarded them suspiciously and Antonia asked her innocently, ‘So are you going to write it?’

‘There’s no point in asking her,’ said Drosoula. ‘She’s on another planet.’

‘That’s not true,’ protested Pelagia.

‘Welcome back,’ said Drosoula rudely.

Pelagia went back to her father’s grave and thought about what Drosoula had said; although she knew that the story of the dream was nonsense, it occurred to her that rewriting the History would indeed be a way to keep her father’s spirit alive. She travelled into Argostoli and returned with pens and a thick pad of paper.

It was surprisingly easy. Although the History had been destroyed in the earthquake, she had read it so many times that the old phrases rolled through the kitchen door and flowed down her arm and right hand into her pen:

‘The ancient, half-forgotten island of Cephallonia rises from the Ionian Sea…’

Drosoula and Antonia spied on her as she sat at her table, tapping her teeth with her pen. They crept away to a safe distance, embraced each other and danced.

Pelagia almost became the doctor. She did hardly any housework, leaving it all to the women. Her father’s pipe had been found in the ruins of the old house, and she stuck it between her teeth as he had done, but did not light it. She began to add small details to the text that she remembered so well, supplying information about such matters as clothes and baking, and the cruel but traditional treatment of widows. The joy of the work caused a deep change in her. She sent letters of enquiry to universities and discovered that all over the world there were people who loved knowledge so much that they would spend months making enquiries on her behalf.

Finally, at the end of 1961, she put her completed work into an enormous file and wondered what to do next. She learnt from publishers that such a book would have no market and was advised instead to give it to a university. ‘I will when I’m dead,’ thought Pelagia, and she left it proudly on her shelf as visible evidence of the fact that she was an intellectual in the tradition of the Ancient Greeks.

By this time Antonia was a fresh and beautiful seventeen-year-old, who opposed her adopted mother’s ideas as a matter of principle, and the two would sit up late into the night discussing philosophy. ‘When you’re my age, you’ll look back and see I was right,’ Pelagia would say.

Antonia had no intention of reaching Pelagia’s age and said so. ‘I want to die before I’m twenty-five,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to get old. You old people caused all the problems and it’s us young ones who have to solve them.’

‘Enjoy your dreams,’ commented Pelagia.

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