The following is an excerpt from the English translation of "Closed Doors: An Answer to Bitter Lemons by Lawrence Durrell" by Costas Montis. It is translated from the original Greek by David Roessel and Soterios Satvrou and published by Nostos Books of Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2004, ISBN: 093296310 and can be purchased online along with other books about Cyprus here.
Read my previous post for an introduction.
....FROM THAT NIGHT, we regularly heard the bombs and dynamite. As soon as darkness fell, the noise began. We all waited impatiently to hear the explosions, and we grew anxious if they were delayed. We children were not simply nervous, we were in agony. A curious kind of agony, even greater than when we were quite small and would wait for the overdue knock of our mother upon the door after she had promised us that she would return early and we were alone in the house as the sun began to set. Occasionally the bombs were so late we would no longer be able to fight off the sweet insistence of sleep (as long as we could resist, just another moment more), no matter how hard we resisted. We nodded off only to awaken in an instant at the sound of the blasts, into that same half-sleeping state we used to have in our early childhood on Christmas Eve when we waited to hear the bells ring, so that we could wake our mother before she came for us. (No, we did not wake our mother.
Later she told us that many times she had in fact woken before us, but pretended to sleep to give us the joy of coming to her. And when we did not appear, and it seemed as if we would sleep through the bells, she tried with noises, slight nudges, and a thousand tricks to rouse us so that we, in turn, could wake her up.) When finally the long anticipated explosions shook the air we would scream with relief and jump up in our beds; it wasn’t a gentle rousing, you can add to our relief that our agony did not let us rest quietly. We held onto it tightly so sleep could not take us; we held on to it, unlike other anxieties that put their grip on us. We held it as we used to grasp a New Year’s toy in bed with us and if anyone so much as touched it we awakened immediately. (How did we manage to guard it so vigilantly?) "Mother! Father! Did you hear that?" Of course they heard it. "Yes." (A long drawn out "yes" like a trickle of water on a field, whispered, without vowels, after midnight, deep from within, a "yes" that says everything, a "yes" that echoes like the sudden opening of a tightly closed spigot.) After the yes, a complete silence in the house. Concentrated listening. The rooms were tip-toeing. "Another one!" "Yes" (the same "yes").
I said the explosions shook the air, but it was not exactly like that. It was something different.You had the sense that these ephemeral April nights, the satin sky, and the blossoming almond trees; I don’t know how to say it, but you had the sense that they opened up their arms to the bombs to provide them a place in which to hide, and then closed around the explosions so that no harm might come to Spring.
...MEANWHILE, we had our first casualty. This first one, I admit, made us question our commitment. "The poor fellow. How did it happen?" Despite our enthusiasm for the cause, we were unprepared for casualties. Deaths are difficult to accept when you have not had them for centuries. You stop suddenly to take another look, to reassess the situation. Perhaps tomorrow it might be your brother, or even you yourself? Yes, perhaps. The war stories you had read as a boy seized this moment to parade before you; dismembered bodies with severed legs, eyes glazed over, bullet holes in the foreheads of handsome blonde youths.(Such things as that here on the island? Yes, those very things. What do you think of all this now? The eyebrows of Kolokotronis darkened a bit, the sword of Dhiakos and the Inn of Gravia dimmed.) Nevertheless we passed through that stage quickly (surprisingly quickly). It had to happen quickly, actually, for we had no time to wait for the usual progression, the protracted stages, the complicated process of normal changes. Just put all that aside. Even the stories and pictures of war no longer found fertile ground in our minds, they managed to disturb us just once or twice. We soon became less queasy about spilled blood, that holy fluid that matters when nothing else matters, and controls (who knows for how long?) the harsh fate of humans. Who knew how long it would be before he might pay the ultimate penalty at great moments, to close with red finality the open questions, to cut away the small pretexts? ("Very well, I’ll pay.") I can’t say that such phrases as "the poor fellow" or "how did it happen" vanished from conversation, but they definitely took second place. They remained inside of us; they withdrew into a subconscious space, into the region of our private logic and private worlds (again to pierce the ceiling with the wide-open eyes and to hear the kri-kri of the cricket in the corner – that’s a completely different matter), and they left the struggle undisturbed.
...IN AUGUST, the English hanged three other boys, and in September another three. Each time, Nicosia was unable to sleep the night before. The houses, walls, and people tossed and turned with restlessness, the military vehicles traversed the city (like ants released from a box), a crowd knelt in the area outside the prisons, and the voices from the cells sang the Greek anthem. Then came the hopelessness, the silence, finally broken by the cry ("Long Live Greece!").
Iacovos did not sing the Greek Anthem on the way to the gallows, but a religious hymn. He had a calm, high, sweet voice, one of the sweetest voices that had ever praised God). Then came the retaliatory attacks by the Organization, and the desperate attempts of the English to benefit from the terror of the gallows. It was after these hangings that the English instituted punitive curfews. (I use the English word because it is weighed down with such pain, blood and hurt, that it’s not possible to find an equivalent to the cursed thing in Greek.) As soon as an "incident" occurred (they always referred to them as "incidents"), they imposed a curfew (I’m only speaking about Nicosia of course). A daring attack in Ledra Street in Nicosia – called "murder mile" by the English – was an "incident", an ambush in Royiatiko was an incident, as was an unexpected skirmish where the gun had been concealed under a rain coat, or a bomb thrown through the door of a restaurant or dropped from a roof onto a passing jeep or truck. The curfew could last several days and for poor families who had little in their cupboards and no income except the daily wages of a father or brother it was a real hardship. When the curfews became regular events, the English would let the women go out for one or two hours to shop for food, but there were often so few provisions in the stores and so great a crowd of customers that some people found nothing to buy. Those who had no money had to run (if you could have seen with what anxiety they ran) to beg a loan from a relative or friend ("Just a few pounds for the children’s sake") and then run again to purchase whatever they could find before the two hours was up. After a while, shipments of food had to be sent from all over the island. And it was not only hunger that the lower classes had to endure, but thirst as well. Many homes in Nicosia got their water from public taps, and how could they all manage to draw what they needed in the space of two hours? And the strain of the curfew did not end with hunger and thirst. There was a nagging nervousness that affected everyone equally. It was a strain on the nerves similar at times to a breakdown. What, people would ask themselves, will I do if my child suddenly becomes sick during a curfew and I can’t get a doctor or medicine? What if my pregnant wife needs attention?
A thousand such cares ate at the mind. The strain was greatest in downtown Nicosia inside the walled part of the city (look how quickly it accumulates, see what happens when it builds up). There the streets were narrow, and the houses were glued to each other, and neighbours made irritable by confinement would needlessly argue. In suburbs like ours, where the houses were set apart and each had its own garden, the pressure was a bit less. And the curfew in the suburbs was also less severe because their size and expanse made it difficult to patrol them as rigorously.
It was in the suburbs that the kites first appeared. During the curfews, you could see hundreds of kites in the air, flown not only by children but also by grown men and women. I don’t know how it started, or if there was a reason behind it. Were they meant to be some comic relief in a period of stress, or did they have a deeper significance? Did a childish prank first send them into the air (to confuse us even more, and to make it impossible to discover when childhood begins and ends?), or some subconscious desire? (I don’t know if there is not a common subconscious for adults and children, if the subconscious ages like a person – why should it? Why couldn’t it age in reverse, and get younger as the body gets older?) Were the kites, as some foreign journalists suggested, a desperate attempt to escape from the curfew, so desperate as to be almost laughable? Or was it just playing? You could see adults, even old women in black, enjoying their kites dancing in the sky and you feared that all of Nicosia had gone mad. Whatever the cause, the kites from the suburbs arrived over the houses within the walls of Nicosia and brought support and encouragement. The kites maintained contact between people separated by the curfew (it seems a bit romantic and at the same time contrived, no?). Who knows for whom the old woman’s kite was sent up? The kites were mostly blue and white. They would make their daily walk over the prison walls and offer greetings; they carried our souls above the gallows. (No, now that I think about it, it was surely not a childish prank at all. I ought never to have suggested such a thing.)
The kites of the English, for they joined in, were simply child’s play. The English had to participate, to join that sky filled with Cypriot kites, when their children became jealous, when their children cried and stamped their feet. "Daddy, I want a kite, too." Was this the reason that the English never dared forbid the kites, they were afraid to face the wrath of their own children? These brave servants of the Queen were not only forced to make kites for their children, but, many times, were forced to fly them as well. ("Daddy, I can’t. I can’t make it stay up.") Adding to the ridiculousness, during the worst of the emergency measures, they flew their children’s kites while armed, a kite string in one hand and a sten gun or pistol ready in the other! (The kites of the English, I must tell you, were not like ours, but similar to the ones they had known as back in Brighton or Bodmin. In the Cypriot sky, among our blue and white kites, those foreign kites seemed like some strange migratory birds.