By Dimosthenis Papamarkos
Translated from the Greek by Joshua Barley
Arise, O Lord, in thine anger,
Lift up thyself because of the rage of mine enemies:
And awake for me to the judgment that thou hast commanded.
They’d given me ten days extra military service, for not cleaning my bayonet properly. So they said. It had bits of rust on it. The Turks, though, they couldn’t care less about that kind of thing. You see, when we charged down that trench at Sarantaporos, to clear the bastards out, the bayonet the Turk stuck into me was so rusty that it broke in my shoulder. The doctor told me after that Ι’d looked at the wound too late and though I’d taken the blade out, it had got infected. It was serious. But in all the carnage, I was lucky at least to have found a doctor.
I had a fever and all my limbs were trembling and my spine was arched up. But the worst thing was my jaws. They were chattering and locking together. However hard I tried, I couldn’t open them except with my hands. It was serious, they said. They had to clean the wound again, as the drugs weren’t doing anything. They put me under and chopped off half my shoulder. I was half-awake. And later I was again struggling with pain and fever, because another load of wounded had come in, and they forgot about me. Only a young lad, just in from Nafplio, used to come twice a day to look at me, and now and then he would give me some pills: for the fever, he said. So it dragged on a fair while. I can’t even remember how long.
The war was over and all my lot had gone, some to their villages, some to their graves. When I finally got up and could stand on my own two feet, I was alone, with one arm crippled for life. All I could do with it was let it hang at my side. So I always put it away in my jacket pocket, because it hurt me when it hung down.
I made for home on foot. The weather had got better, so I wasn’t too bothered. I knew where I was going, and all that time in hospital had got me down. I wanted some air. Me, I wasn’t used to being shut away like that. Until I left for the war, all day long I was out in the open with the animals, then up in the mountains with my regiment. I reached the village late one evening. I’d had many days on the road and my hair had grown all wild, so had my beard. I looked through the crack in the door, and in the house there was only a candle glowing, in front of the icons. I knocked loudly, to wake them up, since they’d bolted the door and I couldn’t open it. I heard my mother creeping around, then the bolt, and she came out into the doorway in her nightdress, with her hair down. She looked at me as if she couldn’t recognise me.
“Mum, it’s me, Takis.”
She tilted her head to one side: she didn’t believe me.
“Takis, Ma. Your youngest son.”
She lifted up her hands and slapped her knees.
She hugged me and ran her hands across my face, to see if it was really me beneath my beard. And she stood for a while like that, in front of the door, leaning against me, just to take it in. Then she turned on the light and spread out a kitchen towel and gave me something to eat. She got out the fresh bread and some of the wine she kept for guests, and all the time I was eating she sat stock still on the stool with her hands on her lap, and she just looked at me. She saw that my right arm was lame, but said nothing. When I finished she told me to go and lie down and we would talk in the morning. I lay down and left the door open. When she thought I was asleep, she left her room again and went in front of the icons, and all night long she was on her knees, muttering and making the sign of the cross. I slept well, on a full stomach.
In the morning she made me coffee, which I hadn’t drunk since my father’s funeral. While I was drinking she just looked at me and waited for me to speak to her. Then she told me that when the others had come back and I wasn’t with them she thought I must be dead. Minas, old Yannis’ son, told her not to worry, that I had stayed back and would come later, but she hadn’t believed him. She told me that it was for me that she’d lit the candle in front of the icons. I told her not to be upset any more, since I was here now, and then she burst into tears. Just like when Christos, my brother, had died.
A couple of days went by and my mother didn’t leave the house at all. All my folk came round and welcomed me back, and my father’s sister brought me a present of two pieces of Turkish delight. The old woman, Sideres’ wife, told me that she would find me a wife now that I’d come back, so I could make my own home. But though they were all glad to see me back, I saw them looking at my lame arm. You see, I was twenty-two, tops, and no woman would have me, all crippled like I was, and with nothing to my name.
When all the comings and goings were over with, I told my mother I would go and see to the animals, since they’d been on their own for two days now. She told me that while I’d been away they’d all been stolen, probably by Yorgos – the son of the clubfoot – and these days she was getting by on the vegetable patch and the bits and bobs old Yannis brought. I told her I would go and ask him what was going on, and bring the animals back. I knew which were ours, and if he tried to mess me about I would kill the bastard. I took the gun with me and went to Panagia, where he had his pen.
I found him under the fig tree over there, smoking with his brother. I didn’t say anything, just went into the fold and took apart what was mine. But as I was about to get them out, he came over and asked what I was up to. I told him to stay away, that he should be ashamed to steal from a widow. But before I drew out my gun, his brother came over and whacked me with an iron poker on my lame arm and I passed out.
Old Christos, my mother’s first cousin, found me, half-dead from the beating, and took me home on his mule. And for many days my mother wept at my bedside. The old woman was at the house every day too, and she would give me potions and simples. And when everyone was gone from my side and my mother was asleep, I would cry too. Since I was half a man, and couldn’t even keep my own house in one piece. If only for Christos, I used to say. If only Christos were here, I would disembowel those bastards like lambs. But I was alone, and all my folk were in their graves.
I got better, but out of shame I wouldn’t leave the house. I would only go to our plot of land and to the olive grove. And my mother was heartbroken to see me like that, emaciated and utterly useless.
It wasn’t long before she died too, from her sorrow, what with me being so wretched and miserable and struggling to do anything at all. At her funeral I was too sad to cry. Luckily, she had her older sisters to give her a decent burial. I couldn’t even dig her grave. Two metres of earth. Me, who used to wrestle bullocks to the ground.
All the while I was thinking if there was anything I could do. Since the sons of the clubfoot had sent my mother into the ground, and I was alone and couldn’t even harvest the olives.
One day I went to the old woman to get some ointment for my arm, because the weather had changed again and it was hurting. And she sat me down with a glass of wine and we got to talking. I told her then how I wanted Christos back, just for a day, so the two of us could go and take back what was ours. And I told her how everyone had abandoned me. Even God.
She listened to me for a while and didn’t say a word. She just listened. And when I began to cry, she told me that I was a fine young man and shouldn’t cry. She told me that she’d heard from her mother, who taught her about magic and potions, that in our ground the dead are just sleeping, they aren’t really dead. That’s why they’re buried face-down, with a black-handled knife stuck onto their tombs. That way they can’t get up. And if they try to shove themselves out with their backs, the blade will pin them back down. If I wanted to resurrect Christos, she said, she knew the way, but it was a sin, since he’d been blessed as he was buried. And if the priest blesses someone, you can’t just take him out of the ground. But, she said, it was also a sin what I was going through, and she would take this one upon herself, since she’d done quite a few others – one more wouldn’t make much difference. God loved her and forgave her every time. She told me what to do in a low voice – the way spells should be learned. She told me only not to hug Christos if he gets up, and not to kiss him, since he’d remember what it’s like to be with the living and then he wouldn’t want to go back to his grave. And what with the blessing the priest had given, he couldn’t walk with the living, except to do what he had to do and then go back again.
The same evening, when it got dark, I picked up a shovel and went to the cemetery. I soaked the ground with water from the Monk’s fountain, where the Neraids drink, as the old woman had told me. I spoke the words, I took the black-handled knife out of the ground and I dug and dug until late. When I opened the coffin, I found Christos face-down, with his hands bound behind his back. I untied them, turned him face-up and dripped the water and oil from the candle by his grave into his mouth.
“Arise, brother. Arise, for they’ve done us wrong.”
His ear was full of earth, but he heard me and opened his eyes – blurry, like they were full of sleep. He looked at me.
“What are you doing, Takis, getting me up? It’s a sin to wake me up.”
“It’s a sin, Christos, but it’s more of a sin that you’ve all left me on my own and I’m crippled and they want to send me too to my grave.”
I told him everything. And with the dirt still clinging to him, he got up and said we should go home to eat and drink. We went round the houses, so no one would see us. I got out cheese and olives, but he ate only the bread and wine. Just like that, dirty as he was, and without saying a word. When he’d eaten it up, he asked me for a cigarette. He inhaled it slowly and then said to me:
“Let’s go, Takis.”
I took my gun and he took the poker from the fire. We didn’t walk much, and in all that darkness, he didn’t stumble at all. His steps were sure, like a dog in the night. We got to the house and he leapt like a shadow over the gate and opened the bolt from inside.
Then he slipped under the crack beneath the door and did the same.
We found the two brothers in their beds. And next to them their wives and babies. We didn’t spare a soul. He didn’t spare a soul. He slit their throats in their sleep and later he snapped their bones and sucked up the marrow. I realised that my brother had forgotten the living, and he’d forgotten his mercy with them. When he was done, he turned and said to me:
“Do you see why you shouldn’t have got me up? Now that you’ve seen me, you’ll hate me. You’ll forget that I’m your brother, and you won’t come to look after my grave.”
I started welling up. Not because he was right. I started welling up because even then I loved him as before. He’d taken a weight off me and set me on my feet. He’d set me on my feet like a brother does. He hadn’t forgotten me.
“No, Christos. You’re my brother. You were my brother when I needed you most.”
And I hugged him and kissed him on the cheek, so that the earth turned to mud. He pushed me back and shook me by the shoulders:
“What are you doing, Takis? Now I will remember. Now I will remember and I won’t go back to be alone in my grave.”
I looked at him and hugged him again. I didn’t want to be alone any more either.
I took back the animals, both mine and the two brothers’. I made a new pen, and everyone was amazed that the cripple was getting things done. And they made me a good match, since I managed to do all my work though I only had one arm. And no one was surprised that I fixed everything after dark, since I told them that the sun messed up my arm, and they all believed me. Only the old woman, every evening that I went about my business, shook her head and said, it’s a sin to dine with the dead.
Originally published as Γρίχου, from ΜεταΠοίηση (Kedros, 2010)
Illustrations for Arise by Giorgos Gousis: