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Nouritza Matossian
Nouritza Matossian

Nouritza Matossian is a writer, actress, broadcaster and human rights activist. She writes on the arts, contemporary music, history and Armenia. She spent her childhood in Cyprus with her Armenian family and continued her education in England in Philosophy, Music and Theatre. She speaks nine languages. She broadcasts on the BBC and contributes to newspapers and magazines including: The Independent, The Guardian, The Economist and The Observer. She is currently enjoying an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck and is hosting a Writer’s Workshop in Cyprus in April 2012.


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Aphrodite's Rock


A story for Julia Bell

 

Gosti planted his hobnail boots on the rocky track keeping an eye out for snakes. He hurried up the steep cliff above the livid blue bay and chalk white rocks. Scrubby thorns, thyme, anemones and the odd spear of wild asparagus were all that grew on this arid land, all except for the odd wind-twisted carob tree. He stopped and took a deep breath. He crossed himself, from right shoulder to his left in the Greek Orthodox way. 

          "Panayia Mou. Praise be to God!”

          The air was crisp on this first bright morning of creation. He stood calm on the crest of the cliffs, looked out to the vast sea. It shimmered against the matt edge of sand and rocks. The rush of waves crushing gently onto the stones reassured him as comforting as his mother’s whisper in his ear. The noble curve of coastline extended east from his left to embrace two great rocks. One pushed out of the water with a sharp point, the other boulder burst out of the sea, a stone passion flower pointing its petals edged with foam, and still the curve struck out westerly to his right for the ancient lighthouse above the stone amphitheatre of Paphos.

          At least this hadn’t changed since he was a small boy. The cars crawling along the road below were different but the land all around was still virgin. A knot tightened in his chest.

          “So you want to confiscate my ancestors’ land as ‘forestry’, then build a hotel do you? Thieving bastard politicians! Over my dead body!” He shook a fist at the unclouded sky. He hurried and slid over slippery pebbles. He steadied himself with his knotty staff.

          “KORI. Girl. Aphrodite .e . e . e !” He yelled. “Aphrodite! Where are you, my beauty.” He put his thumb and forefinger on his bottom lip and let rip a piercing whistle which cleaved the silence, then throbbed and shredded the airwaves before he ran quite out of breath. He looked all around, impatient for his sweetheart.

 

Gosti’s craggy clean-shaven face, his boulder of a nose and grizzled scrubby hair were no match for his fine blue eyes, clear as the sky and as changeable. Now they lit up like a small boy’s as his ears picked up a sweet sound in the distance. He turned his face in the direction of the sea and from the valley below appeared Aphrodite on a rock above the foaming waves to the sound of copper bells. She dazzled pure white in the morning sun, teetered delicately between the slippery rocks, stopped to bend down to some tender grass here and there but resolutely picked up her brown hooves and flirtatiously tripped over towards him.

          Behind her followed the patriarch, Ares, a magnificent brown and cream ram with proudly coiled horns, his bell clanging loudly leading a scattering of goats in his wake.

          “Butanoua! You little tart! You escaped the pen again to go roaming did you?”  He grabbed the goat by her leather collar and bell and smacked her butt; bent down, tore out some young shoots and gave them to her.

          “Well, tonight it’s curfew and I’m sleeping up here with you. Now get out of my way so I can count.”

          He leapt around yelping, making whirring sounds at the back of his throat, waving his arms and herding the goats towards a cluster of low corrugated iron pens. He kicked the makeshift gate and found the dog lying lazily in the shade.

          “You useless mutt! Where’s your self-respect? What kind of a guard are you?” He scolded. “No food for you today!” But of course he didn’t mean it. Loulla was too old now.

          He spent half the morning counting his herd and every time he came up with a different number. 145 then, 139, and then 140.

          “Christos kai Panagia. Christ and Holy Mary. Have you lost me five or is it ten goats? I’ll go and see if they went down toward the sea or over to Spirri’s place.” He swung down the path, stooping to pick a few wild asparagus spears, but his mind was on his lost animals.

 

“Yinaika! Wife!” He shouted as he pushed open the door to the little kitchen at dusk.

A stocky woman with cropped brown hair stirred a big pot of chickpeas and spinach on the hob. He marched over and looked down. The smell of an entire herd of goats invaded the kitchen.

          “What kind of food is this for a man who’s been on the farm all day?”

          “Lenten food, you heathen? Or don’t you realize it’s Easter in two weeks time?” She yelled in great good humour as though to her husband on the hilltop. “You’ll have to wait till then to eat your goat on a spit!” Her round face was flushed from the heat, her cheeks bright red and her small eyes piercing.

          “Stavroulla, get away! No time for your jokes.” He growled and dropped onto a stout rush chair, kicked off his boots and left them there, releasing a cloud of sweaty sour stench. “Don’t talk to me now, girl! We’ve lost five goats.”

          She clanged her brass ladle on the pot and turned to face him. Her faded flowery apron drooped below sagging breasts and over lumpy hips. Thick black stockings surrendered in dusty folds over her shabby slippers. He knew she tried to wield the upper hand since her dowry had been big enough to make up for her lack of height and looks. “You’re God’s own fool!”

          “I’m a fool for leaving them up on the hill unguarded.” He suddenly looked grey and crushed in the dark little kitchen. “That old dog is past it. Why did you quarrel with the young goatherd?”

          “He was wasting our money, lazy bastard.” She shouted again.

          “Now they’re stealing our goats and that’s costing us far more! Just before Easter too.  The butcher in Avdimou ordered twenty kid goats for village feast. Twenty!”

          “Here eat some revithi and I’ll get you some water to drink.”

          “Water? You think I’m a goat too?”

He stood up, stretched for the shelf with a plastic Virgin icon next to an oil wick lamp and grabbed an unmarked bottle. “If it’s good enough for Father Panteli and Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for me. Oh sorry, and you, Mother of God.” He poured a glass tumbler brimful with black wine and gulped down half of it. “Now, where’s Adoni. Adoni . .i . . i!” He hollered.

          The inner door grated, then opened with the shove of a young shoulder. Black curls over a tanned face and dark eyes, Adonis was poised to throw off the last signs of teenage uncertainty to become a younger version of his father. Same broad shoulders and quiet dignity, slimmer than Gosti but with the same magical blue eyes. He took in his father’s mood with one glance and tossed the schoolbook he was holding onto the shelf and went to wash his hands in the kitchen sink. The three of them bent over their bowls of soup, a dish of quartered raw onions, coriander and radishes, dried olives and salted herrings. A large hunk of village bread was quickly torn apart by three pairs of hands mopping up the olive oil and vinegar.

          “I just finished my homework, Patera. I’ll sleep on the hill with the goats tonight.” Adoni said to his father.

          “You won’t!” shouted his mother.

          “But you have school.” Gosti looked at his son with pride.

          “I’ve got nothing else to do! One-legged Ianni will take me in his truck on his way home from the coffee-shop and bring me back in the morning for school before market.”

His mother snarled.

          “He needs a rest Ma, and I’m fed up indoors. Who’s stealing our goats Father? Is it the Zervas brothers?”

          “Come to the coffee shop. Someone is sure to have caught wind of it.”

 

Young Adonis lay on a metal cot under the corrugated iron shelter wide-awake. First there was the acrid smell of goat’s dung, though he was used to that, and the noises of goats rustling around restless but he had to admit he wasn’t warm under the coarse blanket.

          He got up and went outside the pen. From the miserable tin shack in which he had been so uncomfortable, he was instantly transported to a magnificent world of rich heavens and open terrain high up above the sea. He looked up at the sky, so freckled with multitudes of tiny stars squeezing between the large brighter constellations that he could barely see the midnight blue skin of heaven. Surely the lights were pressing though a dark canopy overhead. He focused again but it seemed to him that the stars were jostling and crowding out the sky itself. Shooting stars fell every few minutes. He didn’t get time to finish a wish before the next one zoomed down.

 

He lay down on a rock still warm from the sun and cleared his head of everything. His spirit surged. The dampness of evening had loosened the smell of thyme, myrtle and sage. Aphrodite, the goddess, came out of the sea just a few hundred metres from here.  Everyone around Paphos talked of her as a real person, just as they believed in the Virgin Mary and prayed to her for favours. Aphrodite fell in love with a mortal, the young prince Adonis. He was young like me, he thought, and desperate to hunt game but Aphrodite was older and easily seduced him. Poor Adonis did not live to a ripe old age. He was gored by Ares her lover, disguised as a boar. His blood vessel burst and blood shot out like a fountain scattering the earth. Anemones and poppies blossom every year where Adonis’ blood was spilt. I wouldn’t swap my Myroulla for Aphrodite . . . She was older than him, but so quick and vivacious, her dark locks tumbling around her shoulders with the sheen of black olives, her eyes questioning under heavy lids and dark brows, that diaphanous skin and throaty voice . . . Myroulla, Myroulla, my fate . . . Tomorrow I will come to your window . . .

          His eyelids refused to stay open. He made his way to the cot and fell into a deep sleep, lulled by the rustle and rhythm of waves from the Rock of Aphrodite.

 

“If you don’t want your brains shot out, don’t open your mouth!” Something cold and hard dug into his left temple. His body convulsed but a hand pinned him back on the bed. He opened his eyes. The voice was rough, nasal and high-pitched with a North Cypriot accent.

          “We tasted your meat last night. Compliments. D . d. done a good job rearing your goats.” Adonis’ became aware of a heavy smell of jasmine on the man’s hands mixed with car oil and goats.

          “Now we’ve come back for the rest.”

His eyes got used to the dark and he saw a narrow face with a thin moustache and slit eyes.

          “If you move or make a sound you’ll be slaughtered before they are.”

Adonis started to speak. The hard nozzle jammed into the roof of his mouth and squashed his tongue souring his saliva with the taste of metal. His stomach lurched and he heard his heart drum outside his body. He noticed the rumble of heavy engines. A lorry backing up, men running about.

          “Careful you fucker, you’ll break the axle on a rock. Stick to high ground.”

          “Hurry, pimp! Get the bloody goats out quickly.”

He heard gates ripped open and a man pushing out the goats,

          “Shurr, shurrr, come on, come on!–"

          The goats bleated pitifully and pattered past him. He made an involuntary move as if answering their call, as if the animals wanted to take him with them.  He recognized some of them. Each one, he and his father had brought into the world and nursed and grazed. Bibi, Mavrou, Susu, Phrini, Stroumbo. He saw his father rearing them, they had each passed through his hands - the entire flock.

          “Stay still, Rey  . . .Dog!” said the high-pitched creep. “Don’t look at me either. Rey . .  Rey . . . Shut your bleeding eyes or I’ll tear them out for you. I’ll shove your te . .te. testicles into your mouth for good m . m . measure!” He stuttered between words as he spoke.

          Adonis could not move.

          The bastard rammed his left elbow into his lungs and sneered showing a gold tooth. He shouted across. “Have you finished you queer faggots? Or shall I go get some real men on the job?” He squealed in a high-pitched giggle like a pig being prodded.

The dog was barking furiously. A single shot then silence.

          “Idiot. Son of a Turkish whore. You’ll give us away.”

          “Come on Hambo. We’re almost done. Hurry, the first lorry’s gone!”

Adonis stole one last look at him under half-closed eyelids.  The rustler in the black hunter’s hat ripped out his revolver nozzle roughly out of Adonis’ mouth and ran out. A lorry revved up, voices shouting, goats bleating and he heard the bumps over the rocks and down the slope.

          Adonis ran out and looked around him. The folds were all empty. Even Aphrodite was gone. The gates swung open. The dog lay on his side at his feet, a stream of blood meandered black down the path. There was no other live creature breathing on the farm.

 

“Father, I told you this is a professional gang! Mafies! We should have taken guns with us in the first place!”

          Adonis was holding onto a revolver, a .36, his knuckles white. His father stood across from him at the other end of the kitchen table. He was shaking with fury, his eyes bloodshot.

          “You stupid boy. You think guns will solve the problem?”

Stavroulla rocked on the chair between them, her apron flung over her face sobbing.           “They took every last one. 150 animals. They didn’t even leave us one for Easter! Not one kid for Easter!”

          Gosti’s shoulders heaved. “The bastards slaughter them straight away and sell them to the butchers. No one will be able to find them. They can’t be identified.” He saw them in his mind’s eye being held down and a knife plunged roughly into their necks, bleating and kicking hard. He could feel their death throes.

          “Every man my age has a gun, Father. You just don’t know it. We have to defend our own.”

The two men leaned towards each other like intertwined trees trying to separate.

          “I’d rather eat dry bread and onions every day and go hungry than have to hold a gun to another man’s head.” Gosti shouted.

His face was ashen, his moustache trembled as he spoke, his voice breaking.

          “Patera, I saw his evil face.”

          “No guns!” Gosti stood his ground.

          “His eyes. It was dark but he was this close to me. His breath stank of brandy.”

          “We’ll catch him. You’ll see.” Gosti’s mind was racing. Should he contact the men in the next village to help him, question every butcher in the district?

          “Father, I just remembered! They called him! Let’s go Hambo! Hambo! I’ll find the bastard and hand him over to the police.”
          “Let them steal a thousand goats. You are not carrying a gun. It’s not worth a single hair of your head.” All Gosti could think about was how to restrain the youngster’s fury.

          “I am disgraced, father please! The men are laughing at me in the village.”

          “Adoni, one son I have left. We buried your older brother in the war against the British. No more guns! Don’t break your mother’s heart.”

          She looked up. “Mi Hirotera. At least you are not hurt!” She stands up. “Show me your mouth, it’s bleeding.”

On Adonis’ tense face a blue bruise marked where the gun was torn out of his mouth.

          “Leave me alone Mitera!”

          Gosti holds out his hand. “Soulla, stand aside!” He is counting his losses but determined to control the boy. “May my hand wither and die, I swear on the Panayia, if I hold up a gun to another man’s head!” His voice rumbled through his bulky frame.

Adonis reached the revolver toward his father’s hand.

          “Rey, stop!” Soulla yelled hoarsely.

          Gosti was startled. “Have you gone mad? I want to take it away from him!” His calloused hand almost touching the boy’s.

          “It’s bad luck. Adoni mou. Don’t put a gun or a knife into someone’s hand. It’s a curse! Never! Oh my God!”

          “Oof! Put it on the table, son!” Gosti withdrew his hand.

All three were mesmerized by the cool dark weapon on the chequered tablecloth. Stavroulla crossed herself repeatedly, her lips moved. She wiped her eyes with a corner of her apron, went to her son and kissed his bruise. He stood motionless without the blinking an eye. Gosti watched them, but in place of in place of Adonis he fancied he saw eldest son, the freedom fighter who had last held the gun.

 

Gosti had it all figured out. The butcher in Avdimou freely admitted that he bought carcasses from some strangers. They were newly slaughtered, the blood still running, the men had insisted on cash and driven away, even refusing to drink a coffee over the deal. His son had been asking questions in other villages. 150 goats are not easy to sell without people talking. He waited for his coffee at breakfast a week later.

          “For Easter this year we take the truck and we go to your Uncle Savvas. He’s expecting us. He wants you to live with them and finish school in Nicosia.”

          Stavroulla dropped the spoon in the coffee pot on the hob. “Rey, what are you saying?” She shouted in a hoarse voice. “Have you gone berserk, sending the boy away?”

          “If he stays he will get in trouble here. Let him cool his heels and come back smarter than you and I.”

The coffee foamed and overflowed over the hob. Gosti was relieved by her distraction.           “The devil take it! Dkiyaole Mavre! You made me ruin the coffee.”

          “Stavroulla, woman, what we need is not guns, it’s books! Adoni, you have to study. Learn! Then you’ll be able to defend our land. One day it will be yours.”

          Adonis jumps up from his chair. “How long have you been planning this?”

          “You’re not going anywhere!” Stavroulla shouts. But she sees Gosti’s blue eyes deepen, he has set his mind to it.

          “I promised your uncle! I swear by the Virgin Mary, that is my last word. We leave on Saturday and we will celebrate Easter with our family. Get his clothes ready Stavroulla!” He turns on his heel leaving the coffee untouched on the table.

 

Adonis wipes the tables in the little Bar Thermopylae run by his uncle near Phaneromeni Church. He works the evening shift after college, from six to midnight. Sometimes his uncle sends him home early to study. Nicosia school is harder but he likes the new equipment in the science labs and sharp teachers from Athens. He’s made new friends but misses his old mates. He’s working harder now to help the family. He never wiped a table in his life but it keeps him in pocket money. The narrow old streets are empty at night after the market is closed, small bars with faded signs, shuttered shop fronts, the odd cat sniffs through rubbish. Not many clients at this time of day. He was a hair’s breadth from catching the thieves if he’d only stayed there. It makes his blood boil. Once a week he calls his father and mother. She is convinced he is starving. They bring him jars of Halloumi cheese, strings of wine-cured Loukanika sausages, Trakhana for soup and boxes of oranges. His father is pleased to hear him speak a few words of English. The girls in Nicosia drop bold hints and even some of the lady teachers at the school offer to tutor him after class. He does not make enough cash to take out a Nicosia girl. Adonis thinks of Myroulla in the village swinging down the steep narrows, laughing with her friends, her black locks glinting in the sun.

          “Hurry back.” She writes.

 

His mates come to the bar to hang out after nine or ten besides the regular customers. Some nights he plays bouzouki for them and a few old timers give him hints and teach him old songs. Near the Turkish Quarter this is a borderline area and some dodgy characters drop in from time to time. Zigzag Street with ageing prostitutes, homely aunties and grannies lazing in open doorways with open legs.

          “You want jiggy-jiggy, rey?” they say.

He’s learned to be discreet, not make eye contact, and if thugs come in Uncle Savvas is usually about. The local police drop in for a free Ouzo and keep pestering him when he’s going to bring a kid-goat from Aphrodite for a souvla.

 

On his last evening in Nicosia before returning home for the Festival of Phota for the souls of the dead, when the priest would bless the sea and the boys would dive off the pier into the January waters to bring back the silver cross, Adonis was packed and ready to catch the bus after work.

          He stood in front of the red formica top of the narrow little bar pouring beers for a couple of students sitting in the corner when two men in black leather jackets and black jeans pushed into the bar, goosing one another, making obscene gestures and shouting curses. Adonis put beers on a zinc tray, a glass saucer of nuts and roasted chickpeas and carried it over to the students. The two men staggered and yelled. An older man in the corner looked over at them and shook his grey head, went on reading his Eleftheria. Just then the local dentist, Dr. Mavropoulos called out,

          “Adoni mou, how about a nice cold beer for an old man? And help yourself to one, it’s a holiday.”

          “Right away, Doctor!” Adonis replied and opened the fridge. He took out the bottle while the two men glared at him.

          “Ey, runt, you’ve still g-g-got mother’s milk behind your ears. Are you keeping us waiting till morning?”

          His mate backed him up. “Yeh, you wanker, Malaka! Pour us two brandies straight away!” They stank of stale booze; dangled forgotten cigarettes.

          Adonis’ body changed temperature at that voice. “I’ll be with you in a minute, straight away.” And he skirted the bar to take the tray over.

          One of the drunks elbowed his sidekick. “He’s a villager. A peasant. I suppose you’re from Pedhoulas, boy! Never been to town before!”

          Stung Adonis replied, “Actually I am from Pissouri, not far from Aphrodite’s Rock!”

          “Of course, that’s where the women are so ugly the men prefer jumping their goats!” His friend let out a nasal squeal of sarcastic laughter.

          Adonis stiffened. He tried to steady his voice. Who was this guy with narrow eyes, thin moustache. “OK, what would you like?”

          “Two double brandies and quick.”

          He took the bottle of Five Kings and poured without a measure. “You guys come here much?”

          “No, pretty boy. And I’m not queer like you, so lay off!” He puffed out his little chest and parted his bowlegs to stand taller in stacked cowboy boots. Adonis towered over him. He caught a whiff of jasmine water.

          “He knows you?” His sidekick lifted his heavy drunken head.

          “The d-d-devil he does! G-g-goat-fucking punk!” He yelled, his face red. He downed his drink and slammed the empty glass on the counter.

          The owner’s wife came from the kitchen removing her apron. “Hey! What’s going on?” She picked up the phone.

          “Nothing, Aunt.” Adonis reassured her.

The doctor was on his feet; the young couple in the corner hunched their shoulders.

Adonis’ nostrils flared. That sweet sickly odour which reminded him of something. He tried to keep cool. The shock of realization hit them both in the same split second. Adonis stepped back into the alcove. The short man whispered in his mate’s ear. His eyes narrowed until they became two slits and fixed the boy’s questioning face.

          The earth shook. The floor quaked under everyone’s feet and their bones rattled through their shoes. Their eardrums smashed into their anvils at high pressure and crashed to a stop. A gust of warm air from the shockwave shook their bodies. The blast deafened everyone as every surface echoed; mirrors shattered; tables jumped; bottles clattered. Then they realized it was not a bomb but a gunshot in the little room. Adonis had disappeared. His body crumpled sideways in the narrow space between the bar and the bottles. His eyes were open, his lips apart. Blood spurted from his neck like a fountain and bloomed on the clothes of the people standing in shock. The telephone swung from the cord.

 

“Stavroulla, find my father’s trousers. The vraka! ”

Gosti has the look of uncontrolled pain. It’s dulled his eyes and his mouth droops at the corners. His hair is a shock of white in the shuttered bedroom. Tears stream down his face but he doesn’t notice.

          A long thick coil of black cloth lands on the bed. He picks it up and unties the string at the top and the bottom. Black narrow pleats unfold fanlike. He shakes it out and steps into the massive garment. He pulls in the cord around his waist over his black shirt, bunches several metres of tightly pleated cloth between his legs, lifts, twists and tucks it into his waist at the back. A black check scarf he wraps around his waist and ties it in a sash. Stavroulla is in severe black. Her eyes are red and puffy, her face pale; her hands tremble. She is shocked by him but her fire is gone, fizzled out in grief.

Outside voices are keening and shouting.

          “Adoni, you were too young, my boy.

          Why did you hurry away and leave us.

          Adoni, handsome boy,

          Pride of our village,

          Flower of manhood . . . “

The mourner’s deep voice is echoed by shrill women’s voices.

          Myroulla’s younger voice falls heavy on the first syllable, “Adoni, Adoni, Adoni mou.”

Stavroulla holds onto the metal bedstead, shaken by sobs.

          “Now his boots.” He pulls on the black leather knee high boots, then ties a black kerchief around his head. He wipes his eyes and stands tall in his father’s stance.           “Now we are ready. Put on your gold cross, Stavroulla, so we can take Adonis to church.” He stares past her, through the crack in the shutters, past the houses down to the sea.

          “You haven’t shaved. Are you going like that, Gosti, to carry our son?” She drops onto the edge of the bed, convulsed.

          “This vraka was good enough for my father and for me, until these modern times destroyed everything. My hair has turned white overnight. Why not let my beard grow? Where are the ashes of our home? ‘Sackcloth and ashes’, the Bible says. They killed our sons, they ruined our family, ruined our next generation!” A blade of light between the shutters slices Gosti from head to toe in two, half of him light and half dark, a silhouette etched on a black amphora, from another time, another world. He reaches out to his wife’s shoulder, lifts her by the arm. “I swear to you, I will not rest, I will not shave, I will spend every last cent to catch that cursed murderer and see him sentenced in the Court in the clear light of day!”

          She faces him and leans her forehead banging it against his strong chest.

          “Curse the day we took him away from here! Curse the light of the sun! We should be walking to the altar with our son, Gosti, on such a spring day . . . not carrying him in a black box! I lay a curse on the hand that killed him. May he choke for breath, drown in his own blood and may his mother weep as I weep for my son.” The couple remain leaning into each other in the shadow of death.

 

In the harsh light of high morning a strange figure strides through the sandstone colonial courtyard of the Central Law Courts of Nicosia, with its arches and carved insignia, headed towards the Courtroom. The clerks at their outdoor desks stare, the city lawyers in black, people with nothing better to do on a Tuesday morning, all are arrested by the tall man with broad shoulders, in a pair of baggy pants, all fifty metres, swinging as he stomps in peasant boots. All this is strange enough. No one wears the ancient vraka nowadays, but the man’s face is almost invisible behind the mighty bush of white and grey beard which stands out beyond his chest and his ears, over a baggy white shirt, covered with a film of ashes, for all the world like the icon of St. Onufrios. His hair is unkempt, long and white. Only his eyes gleam under fierce dark eyebrows. Those eyes are an unbearable blue. His austere dignity saves him from the titters of the casual onlookers. In fact there is something about him which is so painful people avoid looking at him altogether. No one dares to take on his gaze.

          A lawyer comes forward to shake his hand. They sit next to each other.

          “Mr. Gosti, as I told you, this case has taken a perplexing turn. Our witnesses have all withdrawn their evidence and refused to testify in court. I’ve never known this before. The accused has produced testimony that your son attacked him. We will have trouble proving it was murder.”

          Mr. Antonopoulos is a distinguished lawyer whose fees will cost Gosti every last acre of land and vineyard. His black suit is pressed, his hair groomed, his eyes clear, but his hands twitch with his files.

“I want justice done.” Gosti voice is calm and dangerous. “I have waited eleven months for this day. I am prepared.”

          “We still don’t have any motive for murder. We don’t know if your son knew this man, Iannis Petrides from Dikomo. Whether he had a reason to attack Adonis. If it was just a bar-room brawl, then it is only manslaughter.”

          Gosti listens quietly. “Will he get life for that?”

          “No, he will get a few years, and if he behaves he could be out in less, a matter of months. Look the judge is coming in.”

          Gosti stands up with the rest of the court. For days he has practised looking at his son’s murderer. Being in the same room makes him feel sick, his heart beats too fast, he breaks into a sweat, then he goes stone cold and can’t understand why he doesn’t jump onto the killer, the dwarf, tear him to pieces with his hands and teeth. “Patience, Gosti,” he tells himself, “down, down.” He sees his son on the hillside holding a newborn kid, he hears him calling and whistling from the bottom of the hill, he sees him swimming out to sea with strong clean strokes, he feels his little son’s soft face against his grizzly cheek. Gosti is in another world but he understands that the Prosecution has summed up and asked for life-imprisonment. The Defence has countered and pleaded self-defence. The Judge is now summing up. Gosti looks around the wood-panelled room now that all eyes are on the judge. Against the wooden the gallery women press forward. His wife is somewhere with his relatives.  But he is concentrated on the murderer standing in the dock, his beady eyes darting from the judge to his lawyer. Who is this Petrides from Dikomo? Gosti notices a gold ring on the right hand, and an elongated fingernail on the little finger of this hand which shot his son. Who is this murderer with a gold ring?

          “Iannis Charalambos Petrides. . .You will be incarcerated for two years and six months . . . “ he hears the judge say as if from far away. Gosti slowly repeats the name to himself.

          There is a yelp from the prisoner. He does not even suppress a big grin and waves to his cronies in the gallery.

Gosti stands up. His head reels. He wills himself to stay upright.

          “Your Honour,” he raises his hand.

          Advocate Antonopoulos pulls him down. “Sit. We will appeal. Don’t worry. That is an outrage. We will appeal.” Gosti holds his ground.

The Judge is a bald sixty-year with fleshy lips and soft face in a hurry to go home for lunch.

          “Please be seated. You have no right to address the court.”

          “Your Honour, I know. I have no right but I don’t speak as member of this court but as a father. Your Honour, if you are a father, I pray that God will grant your children long life, I ask you as a Christian and a father to allow me to ask this person who killed my son one question.” He speaks in the archaic Cypriot dialect, rocky consonants thunder and tumble around the courtroom.

          “You have no right to speak in court.” The smooth Judge replies.

          “Then I shall speak out of court, as a human being.”

Gosti’s voice is so powerful, so quiet, so beautiful, he has hypnotized the court. People stare at him. No one breathes. He strides up level with the prisoner in the dock and they lock eyes for the first time, just twelve strides apart.

          “Son, I ask you one question. Were you acquainted with my son?”

          “No, old man. But even if I had, I would not have spared him!”

          The Judge stands up. “I have pronounced the sentence. You must respect the court. This court is adjourned. You are both in contempt -”

          “Your honour, I tried to save my son from guns.”  Gosti appears to be scratching his chest with his right hand under his beard while he speaks. “I took away the gun he wanted, to defend our flocks. But it was a gun which killed him, Sir. This  . . . this man’s gun. In the name of the law, you have done your duty and pronounced your sentence.”

          The Judge starts to walk out, then stops in his tracks and returns, mesmerized by Gosti. From beneath his long grey beard his right hand emerges wrapped around a small object. The Judge opens his mouth to interject but Gosti continues without pause.

          “Now, I will execute justice for you.” He extends his right arm and shoots with steady hands. One deafening shot. The gun kicks back in his hand.

          After the screams and reverberation, an eerie silence falls on the people frozen in the courtroom.

Then Gosti heard a mother’s voice in the gallery scream out,

          “Hambo! Hambo!”

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