فصل 02

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CHAPTER TWO

Pelagia and Mandras

Pelagia (resting in the afternoon): Papas says that Mandras is going to have tiny pieces of that pot in his back for the rest of his life. I like his body, what I’ve seen of it. God forgive me, I have such wicked thoughts. Thank God no one can read my mind, or I’d be locked up and all the old women would throw stones at me. I wonder what Mandras is doing. He’s so beautiful and so tunny too. He made my stomach ache with laughing before he fell out of the tree. That’s when I knew I loved him; it was the fear I felt when he fell on the pot.

When will he ask me to marry him? But he’s not a serious fellow, and it gives me doubts. He’s so funny, but I can’t talk to him about anything and you have to be able to discuss things with a husband, don’t you? I say, ‘Is there going to be a war?’ and he just grins and says, ‘Who cares? Is there going to be a kiss?’ I don’t want there to be a war. Let there be Mandras standing in the yard with a fish in his hands. Let there be Mandras every day with a fish.

Mandras (leaving the harbour in his boat): It’s going to be too hot again today, I know it, and all the fish will hide in the rocks and go to the bottom. Let the clouds hide the sun, let me catch some fine fish and I’ll take one to Pelagia and she’ll ask me to eat with them, and I can rub her leg with my foot under the table while the doctor discusses ancient poetry. I know he likes me, but he doesn’t think I’m good enough for her - he’s always calling me a fool.

The trouble is that I can’t be myself when I’m with her. I mean, I am a serious man. I follow politics, I want to improve the world. But when I’m with Pelagia it’s as if I’m twelve again. I want to amuse her and what else am I supposed to do? I can’t imagine myself saying, ‘Come on, Pelagia, let’s talk about politics.’ Women aren’t interested in that sort of thing, they want you to entertain them. Perhaps she thinks I’m a fool as well. I’m not in her class, I know that. The doctor taught her Italian and a bit of English, and they’re not a typical island family. I mean, the doctor’s sailed all over the world, he’s even been to America. And where have I been? What do I know? I love Pelagia, but I know that I will never be a man until I’ve done something important, something people can respect me for. I feel so useless and insignificant here on the island.

Pelagia (taking roast lamb from the village oven): Where is Mandras? He’s usually here by now. I want him to come, I can hardly breathe, I want him so much. My hands are shaking again.

I’d better take this silly smile off my face or everyone will think I’m mad. Come, Mandras, please come, stay for dinner and stroke my ankles with your feet, Mandras.

Mandras (mending his nets): We’re going to go to war with Italy very soon. I’ve got a letter saying that I’ll be ordered to join the army in the next few weeks. I know one thing, I’m going to ask Pelagia to marry me before I leave. With no jokes. I’m going to make her understand that in defending Greece I’m defending her and every woman like her, and if I die, I’ll die with the name of Pelagia and the name of Greece equally on my lips. And if I live, I’ll walk with my head held high for the rest of my life, and everyone will say, ‘That’s Mandras, who fought in the war. We owe everything to people like him.’

The island’s saint, St Geronimos, dead for five centuries, had lived a genuinely holy life and had left his ancient blackened body in an island church as evidence of this. He was so loved by the islanders that he had two feast days, one in August and another in October, and on these days he tolerantly looked elsewhere as the population of the island became excessively drunk. It was eight days before Greece and Italy declared war on each other, but it might have been any October feast day in the last hundred years. The cruelty had gone out of the sun, and the delightfully warm day was made even more pleasant by a light wind from the sea that wandered in and out of the trees. From all over the island, people made their way to the church where the saint’s body lay, packing the church tightly and squeezing together in the yard outside. At different points in the crowd, Velisarios, Pelagia, Dr Iannis, Kokolios and Stamatis all turned their heads sideways to hear the distant prayers of the priest. The sun climbed higher and the people, packed together, began to sweat. The heat was just becoming unbearable when the service ended, the bells rang out and the celebrations began.

A small band began playing while a line of pretty girls stepped from side to side at the back, and a row of young men danced with their heads twisted backwards. Those who were drunk began to insult each other, and in some places fighting had already begun. Pelagia moved nearer the church and sat on a bench. Someone tapped on her shoulder and she looked up and saw Mandras. He fell drunkenly to his knees and declared dramatically, ‘Pelagia, will you marry me? Marry me or I die!’

She regarded him silently for a moment, then said quietly, ‘Of course I’ll marry you,’ When he heard this, Mandras leapt joyfully but unsteadily into the air, then suddenly became extremely serious and said, ‘My darling, I love you with all my heart, but we can’t get married until I get back from the Army.’

‘Go and speak to my father,’ said Pelagia. Then, worried by the strange way in which she did not feel as happy as she ought, she made her way back to the church in order to be alone with the saint. Time passed, and Mandras failed to find the doctor before drink overcame him. He slept sweetly in a pool of something disgusting but unidentifiable, while, nearby, Lemoni attempted to set fire to the beard of the sleeping Father Arsenios, and Kokolios and Stamatis became lost in the bushes while searching for their wives.

Pelagia walked back from the feast with her father, bursting with a painful mixture of anxiety and happiness, desperate to mention Mandras’s proposal. But the doctor was in a much too drunken state to be sensitive to his daughter’s feelings, and when they reached the house, he danced about the yard before falling onto his bed fully clothed.

Pelagia went to bed and could not sleep. ‘I love you, Mandras,’ she declared, at the same time as doubts rose in her like an invasion of tiny devils. How much did she really know Mandras? What evidence did she have that he was patient and kind? Can you trust someone who replies immediately, without thought? She was frightened by the suspicion that there was something hard about his heart. If it were not love that she felt for Mandras, then why this breathlessness, this endless desire that made her heart beat fast? She imagined that Mandras had died, and as the tears came she was shocked to discover that she also felt relief.

In the morning she took herself to the yard and created tasks that would cause her to see him as soon as he came around the curve of the road. But he did not come, and Pelagia passed the day with feelings of impatience that soon turned into real concern. That evening, when he had still not appeared, her father said, quite unexpectedly, ‘I expect he hasn’t come because he’s feeling as sick as everyone else.’

Pelagia took his hand and kissed it gratefully. ‘He’s asked me to marry him. I told him I’d have to ask you,’ she said.

‘I don’t want to marry Mandras,’ said Dr Iannis. ‘It would be a much better idea if he married you, I think.’

‘Don’t you approve of him, Papakis?’

He turned and looked at her gently. ‘He’s too young. Also, I have not done you a favour. You read poetry, you speak Italian. He isn’t your equal, and he would expect to be better than his wife. He is a man, after all. I have often thought that you would only ever be able to marry happily with a foreigner, a dentist from Norway or something.’

Pelagia laughed at the ridiculous thought, then closed her eyes. The doctor went inside and came out with something that he handed very formally to her. She took it, saw what it was, and dropped it into her skirts with a cry of horror.

The doctor remained standing. ‘There’s going to be a war, and terrible things happen in wars, especially to women. Use the gun to defend yourself. It might happen that your marriage will have to wait. We must make sure first that Mussolini does not invite himself to the wedding.’ He turned and went into the house, leaving Pelagia to her fears, and after a few minutes she went to her room and placed the gun under her pillow, imagining once again that Mandras was dead.

It was not until the third day after the feast that there was a quiet knock at the door. Mandras stood, speaking fast, a bucket of fish in his hand. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner, but I was ill the day after the feast, and yesterday I had to collect my Army papers, and I’m leaving for Athens the day after tomorrow, and I’ve spoken to your father, and he’s agreed to the marriage, and I’ve brought you some fish.’

Pelagia sat on her bed and went cold inside; it was too much happiness, too much pain. She was engaged to a man who mixed marriage together with fish and war, a man who was too beautiful to go away and die in the snows of Tsamoria. Suddenly Mandras seemed to her to be an extraordinarily delicate creature, so delicate and beautiful that he was sure to die. Her hands began to shake and she whispered, ‘Don’t go, don’t go.’

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