Vasiliki Savvidou-Mihalarea is a Teacher of English, Translator/Interpreter and lives at Rhodes, Greece
The small half- open door of the house was old and creaky. The three boys tried to push it slightly to lift their toy which got stuck under a huge heap of coiled old greasy rope. The door creaked and the noise deterred them from going inside this spooky dilapidated building. The neighbourhood was quiet and looked uninhabited. What was amazing was the fact that all doors and windows were wooden and very old. The last time they were painted must have been at least forty-six years ago. Not a sign of human activity anywhere! A couple of dogs were wandering in the streets looking for some food. What had happened to all the people of this place? There were broken chairs and door frames lying down in pieces on the floor. From a missing door opposite the basement they could see a table with four chairs around it as if waiting for four people to come for a meal. The table was full of dust and rubble and the walls were black as if someone had set fire to them. The place looked strange yet so familiar with lots of memories hovering in the air coming from not so distant a past. The boys stood there for a moment, as if participating in a movie , where actors were only the three of them and the settings, a bombed or deserted neighbourhood. Suddenly they saw an old man looked calm and engrossed in his thoughts, he did not raise his head to see them. So sitting inside an old café, looking at an object he had in his hands.
It was getting late in the afternoon and still no sound or movement from any of the buildings around, which were veiled with a mystery cloak that nobody was there to solve. The boys abandoned their toy under the heavy rope in the basement of that old building and puzzled, were about to make their way home when the old man raised his head and smiled at them.
The boys reluctantly smiled back to the old man wondering who he was and what he was doing in that empty, lifeless spot. Their thoughts were turning in their mind too puzzled to exchange any ideas or ask any questions. Similarly, one would wonder what these three boys were doing in such a place, quite unsuitable for children to be or even worse to play in. What kind of a toy were they trying to retrieve from that old spooky basement? Andy, the oldest of all, suggested leaving the place and returning to the spot where they had been in the first place as their parents would be sick with worry, knowing that nearby was the neutral line, where no one was allowed to cross, guarded by United Nations soldiers. The red line and the barbed wire were the prohibiting obstacles that kept people away from entering this side of the country. Andy told them that it was getting late and they should return and join their parents in the nearby church, where they had gone for a memorial service for all those relatives, friends, who were killed or lost in the invasion of July 1974. The whole area, including the region outside the city, was peaceful and dead quiet. What made this part of the country so sad, quiet and lifeless? That was a big question mark for the three young boys. Maybe, they were too young to understand what the older people often talked about or felt in their skins; something that shocked the people and made them extremely sad when looking at this city. A few rats were dashing from one corner of the street to the other bravely appearing from the rusty sewage canals, which were dirty and full of rubbish collected by the fearless wind and the stray animals, which undisturbed, sought refuge in the fierce winter conditions, unprotected by any human presence.
All three boys took a road trying to get back to the point they had left their parents. Nothing looked familiar and Andy, seeing that it was getting dark in a dark and unfriendly place, where no light was on in any of the low and tall buildings ,began to panic. However, they should keep calm and be brave. As they were walking , not knowing exactly where they were going, a noise made them spring up in fear.
Andy advanced a couple of steps ahead of the other two boys and being the oldest of the three, wished he were brave to instil courage in the others and dispel their fears of the unfamiliar surroundings he had led them to. Under a small plank, he caught sight of a crouched rat, apparently hiding in an attempt to avoid a sitting threatening cat. Two small animals in the middle of nowhere, trying to survive in this inhospitable place being fierce and harsh to each other. The devastated old place did not offer much safety as every movement of the animals caused panic coming from the noise the old floors and broken rotten furniture created. Every jump of the cat, created a noise culminating with a strange out of tune piano music when the cat raced over the old keys of an old and dusty piano. The boys stood there smiling as the funny lurking cat dispelled their initial fear and all three stood looking at it smiling and feeling sorry for the scared stiff big rat which became like a stone statue, motionless with a frozen look in its small eyes!
Very soon the boys realised that they were in a friendless place and as the evening was descending adding to the mystery of the atmosphere, they pushed each other using body language meaning they had to leave. They did not wish to disturb and cat- rat chase. In the jungle the strongest survives and the weakest suffers. In this case, the skinny, dirty cat was after a rat as big as itself; yet, the cat created fear to the rat which was overwhelmed with the agony of being caught and devoured by it. The sky was still clear and turning their heads away from the side of the broken furniture, the boys’ eyes caught glimpse of wild flowers and weeds grown in the cracks of walls and alongside the streets. A beautiful rosemary tree gave off a light scent as if to glorify God for its abundance. Andy extended his hand and cut a small twig with some leaves on. He put it inside his shirt and all three started running…
They were running towards the unknown as nothing reminded them of the places they had gone through while roaming this part of the city. Rubble and piles of rubbish accumulated by the wind became obstacles in their effort to enjoy their little race back to the small chapel. Andy suddenly stopped running and gave out a cry of pain beginning to limp. Apparently he had stepped on a pointed object and his big toe was bleeding. He sat down next to some old bags and paper inflated by the light wind that began to blow late in the afternoon. The noise of the swinging plastic bags around him scared him initially but gradually he got over his fear and got used to this noise, which became rhythmic in the end. The other two boys, younger and fragile stood puzzled and frightened at the sight of blood. Tom, the youngest, only eight years old, panicked so much that he started crying loudly. His crying echoed in the narrow streets of this part of the town and the crumbled buildings acquired the sense of life. A nearby school, with its railings around its yard to protect the children from running into the streets, had its doors broken and hanging on one side of the wall ready to fall, with its hinges still screwed on well, although rusty from the passing of quiet, sad years. Years of abandonment due to fierce attacks from the enemies who suddenly invaded this part of the country. Andy put on a funny face to make Tom laugh, as he was a very sensitive child and easily crying and easily laughing boy! All this sensitivity derived from the fact that he had lost both his uncles, who went missing during the invasion. They were caught by the invaders, and are among the missing people in Cyprus. He had heard so many stories about this invasion and saw his parents cry so many times when they mention their names. This happened so often during the day, you can imagine how many times during all these years. Tom was very young, a baby then, therefore he has no picture of them of any life situations with them. A few pictures of them created a life picture of them in his little mind, and along with his parents Tom was doing his best to keep their memory alive in his little mind. Peter, the third boy, about 10 years old, pulled himself together and was determined to face any situation that would come up while they were there in that strange huge city.
It was September and although the weather was still very warm, that evening brought a change to the scene. A light cool wind began to blow and the dry leaves of a nearby skinny tree, drifted towards them making a strange noise; A noise, which did not frighten them but which sounded like a soft music, to their ears, a gift from nature in this unwelcoming city. Andy was walking looking left and right, trying to visualise what the city looked like in the good old days! He was not comfortable with walking but did not want to upset the other two boys, who were already frightened as they believed they were lost in this huge, empty, spooky place.
The sky was becoming darker and darker and the stars were taking their place in it. A huge sky spread above them as if trying to trap them, catch them and place them permanently in the city. Perhaps this abandoned city wanted some residents and these three young people could help it to revive. Strangely enough, although the children were afraid earlier on, the dark veil of the evening felt as a protection shield to them. Something was strange and magical at the same time in this big city. The old buildings with their broken doors and windows put on a new look and lights came from inside the buildings. At least, they saw light coming from a couple of these buildings. The flickering flame of a lantern reflected on the old yellowish walls of the building was putting up a theatrical play with actors being the old broken objects on the table and the frame of an upside down chair which stood on the surface of the table. The only theatre goers started passing by very fast, small in size and disinterested; The big rats and odd dogs and cats roaming the old houses and now the three new spectators, Andy, Tom and Peter. No one was sitting down and no seats were there to seat. The shadow theatre became more interesting when the shadow of a figure of an old man half-appeared. The man looked somehow familiar. They wanted to approach the house and see closely. Who was residing in this half destroyed city? The shadow on the wall turned towards them and the three boys fled in no time. They ran and ran and all of a sudden, Andy stopped. He told the others that he was not afraid of this old man. Maybe he needed some help and they were the only ones there to offer their help. The other two stood still overwhelmed with fear as they were too young to judge the situation and how risky that was. Andy started going back boldly and urged the other two to do the same. However, Tom and Peter looked at each other wondering.
Tom turned back frightened. He saw his mother, upset and worried looking at him and then at the other boys.
-We were very worried about you. We even went to the police as we thought you were lost or kidnapped by someone.
-Why are you here? Don’t you know you are not allowed to be here? This is the dead city that was caught in the middle of the invasion by the Turks nobody lives here. It belonged to no one.
Tom looked at her in a relief and related to her that they had seen someone in an old house. Mother explained that there are thieves and ramblers in the city finding temporary accommodation.
Where is your electronic helicopter? Mother asked. Tom put his head down and said that he had lost it.
-It actually got stuck under a coil of old wire and ropes, said Tom and we could not get it from under there.
-Do you know where this happened? Tom replied that he remembers the house very well and that he would take her there. It was getting darker now and Tom’s mother got scared, too, finding herself in the middle of nowhere. As the boys were going through the narrow streets away from the main road, they approached the old big house where the toy had rolled down into the basement.
Tom’s mother stood there motionless. This house looked familiar. She had the impression that she had been there before. A very long time ago, though! She must have seen it on a picture? Yes, that’s it. She had seen it in her grandmother’s house; an old picture, a souvenir from the old days, when they were living in the city, before the Turkish invasion to Cyprus. She had recognised the garden and the tall bay windows from her early childhood. Happy memories came to her mind mingled with bitterness, sadness and nostalgia. She had not come here since the invasion, when they fled with a bundle of a few clothes and pictures to go to the refugee camps, where they joined thousands of other people who had abandoned their home and ran away to save themselves from the war attacks.
-She looked in the basement. The old coil of wire-fence was put there by her grandfather in his last attempt to prevent dogs and other wild animals jumping into his garden spoiling the fresh vegetables and the lovely flowers, which were always in blossom. She tried to lift the coil to find the electronic game, but it was impossible. Just then, in the middle of the creaking noise, she heard some steps behind her and she froze. She started sweating in fear. An old hand tried to give her a hand to lift the coil of wire-fence.
-Here, let me help you, muttered the old man smelling tobacco and dirt!
-Thank you, sir! Mother whispered as the fear choked her and could not utter more words
-I used to be a neighbour of this house. I lost all my property, my family and I have come back here, looking for any traces of them to put the pieces of my lost family and life together! His deep eyes became watery and tears were trickling down his neck.
-I remember you, when you were a little girl. You used to play with my daughter who was captured and killed by the Turks!
-Why was there so much hatred? Mother asked. We used to be good friends and we had neighbours, who were Turkish. What kind of seed was sown in our country which grew to be hatred and war?
-I do not know, said the old man. I compromised with this new life and I cannot live in another place. Here is the toy. It looks beautiful and not damaged. I hope it will take you to many lovely places, boys, where there is no misery, no poverty, no death! These were the man’s last words and he started walking away from the place satisfied that he proved to be useful to people, after so many years.
Mother took us children back to the small church taking the main road. It was very dark by now and all the streets were sunk in a black veil. Some animal eyes were the only little stars in this abandoned city with so much going on, although nobody was there to share its quiet life.
THE CITY WAS FAMAGUSTA IN CYPRUS!! IT STILL IS ABANDONED AND HALF DILAPIDATED BY TIME. Only wild and stray animals live there peacefully, where man has not been able to find a solution to their dispute and re-inhabit it, bringing it back to life again!!!