NEW: The English language version of Lucky In Cyprus is now available as in Kindle editions, and handsome trade paperback in Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and Brazil with FREE SHIPPING. Here are the links: Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, Brazil
NEW: BOOKS AUTOGRAPHED BY ALLAN DIRECT FROM AMAZON.COM. (ALSO CHEAPER) AUDIO BOOK CD COLLECTIONS FOR MANY OF ALLAN'S BOOKS. CLICK THIS LINK.
LUCKY IN CYPRUS is a coming-of-age story set in the Middle East during the height of the Cold War. An American teenager - son of a CIA operative - is inspired by grand events and a Greek Cypriot teacher to learn about survival and his art. He witnesses earthquakes and riots and terrorist attacks, but in the end it is his teacher's gentle lessons that keep him whole.
Here's what readers say about Lucky In Cyprus:
"Bravo, Allan! When I finished Lucky In Cyprus I wept." - Julie Mitchell, Hot Springs, Texas
"Lucky In Cyprus brought back many memories... A wonderful book. So many shadows blown away!" - Freddy & Maureen Smart, Episkopi,Cyprus.
"... (Reading) Lucky In Cyprus has been a humbling, haunting, sobering and enlightening experience..." - J.A. Locke, Bookloons.com
A SAMPLE FROM CHAPTER TWO
The plane rattled like a wagon full of scrap metal and broken glass. A great weight bore down on Lucky and his throat constricted as the plane strained to get off the ground. The rattling grew louder and Lucky felt wind against his cheeks. He swore he could see daylight gleaming through empty rivet sockets in the plane’s sides.
Lucky looked out the window and saw that they were rushing toward the end of the runway - rocky ground and stunted trees lay just beyond. Unconsciously, he braced his feet on the floor and strained up against his seat belt, as if he were lifting the plane himself. Suddenly he was flung back as the nose tilted crazily, there was a sharp bump and the crowd cheered again as the plane rumbled up and up and then they were in the air and the passengers burst into even louder cheers and applauded the pilot as if he had just performed a miracle.
Wedged next to Lucky, so close his knees nearly touched the boy’s pull-down seat, was a big, broad shouldered man with a thick shock of black hair, heavy brows over dark eyes, a grand Greek nose and a white-toothed smile.
“The pilot is the cousin of my wife,” the man said proudly. “The best in all of Cyprus!”
Lucky opened his mouth to compliment the pilot, but then passengers began to sing, clapping their hands to mark time. The man clapped with them, nodding to Lucky to join in. So he did, listening intently to the strange words for something he could pronounce. Then he caught a phrase - as each verse ended, the people would sing the refrain, “O, stok-ah-lo. O, stok-ah-lo.” He sang that part with them, mumbling over the rest as if it were a Latin prayer at Mass that he didn’t remember. The man laughed in delight and clapped louder, shouting “O, stok-ah-lo” with Lucky. When the song was done, there was more applause and then the passengers returned to their gossiping.
“What does that word mean?” Lucky asked the man. “You know – stok-ah-lo?” The word rolled off his tongue as if he’d always known how to pronounce it. His companion was impressed. He leaned closer, most serious. He introduced himself, saying his name was Paul - Paulo, in Cypriot.
“Stokahlo is a most wondrous word,” Paul said. “But there is no good translation that fits all of its meanings. It means hello and good-bye at the same time. As for the song, it’s one the villagers sing to the fisherman when they sail away to who knows what God intends. Maybe their nets will be filled quickly and everyone in the village can rejoice. Or, perhaps a storm will kill them and then church bells will ring and women will cry and tear their hair because there is nothing and no one to bury in the graves. In Cyprus, it is bad luck to say goodbye. So we say stokahlo, for one of its meanings is we’ll see you again, God willing.” Paul tapped his head with a thick forefinger. “You will soon learn, my young friend, that there are many such mysteries awaiting you in Cyprus.” He hesitated, then added, “Although we pronounce the name of our country as, ‘Kyp-ray-ya!”
Lucky whispered the word to himself – “Kyp-ray-ya.” Making it his own. This was a word, he sensed, that might open many secret doors, like Aladdin winning his way into the bandit’s cave when he cried, “Open Sesame!” As for the story behind “stokahlo,” he thought he’d never heard such a wonderful tale.
Paul studied the boy as he digested all these new things. Then, he asked: “You are American, yes?”
Lucky said he was. Paul beamed, gold teeth sparkling. “In Cyprus,” he said, “we love all Amerikhanos. You must tell everyone who you are when you meet them so they will be your friend.” Lucky said he’d be sure to do that. “You don’t want them to think you are English,” Paul advised. “If they do, they might not be so friendly.”
The boy’s interest deepened. He’d read that Cyprus was a British colony. That term - colony - roused his inbred mistrust of the British, and all his young patriotism boiled up. “We threw the British out,” he told his new friend. “During the Revolution. Maybe you should do the same.”
Paul grew quiet, gravely looking this way and that to see if anyone was listening. Then he said: “We should talk of other things.” He shrugged a sad and dramatic shrug. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, my young friend,” he said. “But you might relate our conversation to your father, or someone else. And they, perhaps, might accidentally pass my words on to unfriendly people.”
Lucky shook his head, very firm. “I won’t tell,” he said. Although his new friend couldn’t know it, from a CIA brat like Lucky that was a promise as good as gold. He asked, “Why are you so worried? Do the Brits punish people for saying things they don’t like?”
“Sometimes,” the man admitted - very somber. Another dramatic shrug. “Men have been imprisoned, even shot, for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person.”
“I won’t tell,” Lucky promised again. Then he shrugged, unconsciously aping the man’s gesture. “In America,” Lucky said, “you can say anything you like. Against anyone you like.” As he said this, he knew it wasn’t entirely true and for a moment we worried that Paul might call him on it.
But, to the boy’s relief, a broad smile returned to his companion’s face. “That’s why we love Americans,” he said. “They are the greatest people in the whole world. Look at your president, Abraham Lincoln. He set men free.”
Lucky tried to look wise. “The slaves,” he said fervently. “Lincoln freed the slaves.”
“Perhaps, someday when you return to your country,” Paul said, “you will tell someone important about Cyprus. We are only a small place, but we have a great history. And we wish to be free - like America.”
Lucky solemnly promised he’d do so, wondering if maybe the CIA could help. Fighting for freedom, after all, was the Agency’s purpose. At least that’s what his father and all his CIA pals said. As did Mr. Blaines.
Then Paul yawned, eased back in his seat, and closed his eyes. Soon he was asleep. Lucky stared out the window, wondering how long it would be before they reached Cyprus. His mother came up to see if he was okay. He said he was, except he was hungry and asked when would they get to eat.
“How can you think about food?” his mother said, clutching her stomach. “This plane’s so old and creaky it feels like it’s going to fall out of the sky. I hope I don’t get sick!”
She had a right to worry. Not only did the plane rattle and creak, but the engines smoked worse than the old pre-war Dodge that had once been the family car. Also, there was that constant current of cold air he’d noticed before and the light beaming through cracks in the metal. But then it came to the boy that it was foolish to worry. He just could not envision himself dying in a plane. From that flicker grew a conviction that would last as long as Lucky lived, no matter how many miles he traveled, or how many continents he visited. Airplanes would not be the death of him.
“You’ll be okay, Mom,” he said. “As long as you’re with me.”
His mother almost laughed at his sober tones, but when he told her why, she hugged him instead. In her Irish heart-of-hearts she was certain he spoke true. She took comfort in his words and returned to her seat. She must have told his father what he’d said, because Allan suddenly turned those wintry blue eyes on the boy. He wondered if somehow he’d gotten himself in trouble, but then his father shrugged and turned away.
The boy peered out the window again. Below was the Mediterranean and it was the bluest, clearest water he’d ever seen. Bluer than the Gulf Of Mexico. Clearer even than Crystal Springs, Florida, where they had glass-bottomed boats that let you see the fish and the turtles and the alligators swimming below. The blue of the sea filled his eyes and mind and he felt a great peace wash over him. He began to hum, “Far Away Places,” the song that had been so popular before he left the states.
The song went:
“Far away places with strange sounding names,
Far away over the sea.
Those far away places with the strange sounding names
Are calling, calling me.
Goin’ to China or maybe Siam,
I want to see for myself
Those far away places I’ve been readin’ about
In a book that I took from a shelf.”
The song had captured Lucky’s whole imagination the moment he first heard it. It was as if it had been written especially for a boy such as he. A dreamer, who would soon be flying to far away places. It even anticipated Lucky’s search for knowledge about those far places and finding them in “… a book that I took from a shelf.” When he first heard the song he thought “Or Maybe Siam” was one word - “Ormebesiam” - and until he learned better, he sang it that way, figuring it was a country he’d never heard of before. He wasn’t embarrassed when he was finally corrected. The person who told him - a nun - was never likely to see such things herself.
Already he’d sworn to himself that before his life was done he’d visit all the countries in the world - except, maybe the places where the Communists wouldn’t let you in. But, certainly, he’d set foot in all the continents. Well, perhaps not all. Antarctica was a continent, but so cold that not even Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and his mighty dog, King, would dare to venture to such a place.
A gentle tap on his arm interrupted his reverie. A cheery stewardess was handing him a tray. Lucky’s stomach grumbled with pleasure. On the tray was a plate containing a tomato, red and ripe, cut in quarters; there were cucumber slices as well and a boiled egg with a hunk of buttered black bread thick and heavy as rich cake. The whole thing was sprinkled with green bits of rosemary and olive oil and a tangy vinegar whose like he’d never tasted before. In a cup was pile of black olives. Greek olives, his seating companion – who’d awakened at the sound of the rattling tray - told him.
Lucky popped one in his mouth, savoring it.
“Try the fetah,” Paul said, suddenly awake and alert again. Lucky frowned, wondering what he meant. “The cheese,” Paul said, pointing at the thick white slices under the tomatoes. “Fetah is goat’s cheese,” he explained.
Although Lucky had never tasted goat’s cheese, he’d read about it several years before in a book called Heidi. It sounded delicious then and now that he was looking at the delicate white color of the cheese and smelled the sharp scent rising up, he was sure he wouldn’t be disappointed. Following Paul’s lead, he broke off a piece and put it on a hunk of bread and wolfed it down. It was glorious: light and sharp at the same time, and the taste lingered at the back of the tongue.
“Now the tomato and cucumber,” Paul instructed him.
Lucky did as he was told, and the mixture of tastes made him think of hot suns and clear skies. Next, he ate some egg, then more olives, and back to the cheese again.
“If you eat like this every day,” Paul said, “you will never get sick. Especially the olives. It is a fact. The only time I have ever been ill was when I was forced to do without olives because of unfortunate necessity.”
Paul suddenly sat straight and pointed out the window. “Cyprus,” he cried, voice full of emotion.
The boy peered through the porthole. First he saw a thick blue shimmering line; which became craggy peaked mountains, studded with green forests. And then the plane was sweeping over those mountains and coming down and down. He saw brown plains stretching in every direction.
“It’s summer, now,” Paul apologized. “The drought, you know, makes the great Nicosia plain quite brown. But soon it will rain and everything will be green. I tell you, my young friend, there is no place in this world so beautiful as Cyprus when it rains.”
Lucky didn’t mind the brown at all. As they descended, he saw villages with adobe homes with gleaming, white washed walls. He saw sprawling farms and people plowing with horse drawn machines. He saw a man driving a herd of goats across a field and nearby, on a dusty road, was another man riding a camel.
And wasn’t it all a wonder. And wasn’t it all that a Far Away Place should be?
As the plane approached the runway it slowed, then it began to rattle more furiously than before. Lucky was thrown about so much that if he’d been without a seat belt he would have been hurled to the floor. They slammed down on the runway with a mighty crash, bouncing high and crashing down once, twice, three more times. The engines howled like banshees and the brakes squealed in protest as the pilot fought to bring the plane to a halt. Finally, with one last loud backfire, the plane stopped.
The passengers cheered and applauded, but when Lucky looked at his new friend he saw that the man’s face was pale and his clapping was definitely subdued.
After several long minutes the doors creaked open and light streamed in, along with the sharp smell of aviation fuel. A Cypriot woman in a khaki uniform boarded, flanked by two big uniformed men. The woman stood at the head of the aisle. She raised something in her hand. It looked like a big insect sprayer.
“Welcome to Cyprus,” the woman intoned quite solemnly.
Then she advanced down the aisle and to Lucky’s supreme amazement, she was spraying everyone with DDT.
Lucky closed his eyes just before he got a blast full in the face. He heard his mother cry out in horror and he got his eyes open in time to see her cover his baby brother’s head with a blanket to keep the DDT from settling on him. No one seemed to be bothered by this. The passengers were all laughing and climbing out of their seats to gather up their packages and bundles.
Paul clapped Lucky on the back and wished him good fortune, then exited the plane. The boy held back to wait for his parents. A few moments later they stumbled down the steps. Just ahead, waiting on the tarmac, was a long black Lincoln with a small American flag fluttering on the antennae. Standing next to the car was a man in a suit holding up a sign that bore his father’s name.
A balmy wind blew out of the mountains, stirring up dust, and bringing with it the magical smells of high places, as well as the scent of the sea, all mingled with spices and citrus and roses.
For as long as Lucky lived he would remember that scent.
It was the perfume of Cyprus.
A SAMPLE FROM CHAPTER NINE:
Jim’s shop in Nicosia was just beyond the Famagusta Gate – a distance of a little over four miles from Lucky’s home in Pallouriotissa.
In the early days, Lucky made the round trip on the back of Yorgo’s motorbike, except when it rained, in which case they’d share a taxi. But even during what they called the rainy season – from November to March – precipitation was rare. Cypriots boasted that the island averaged 340 sunny days a year and from what Lucky could tell, it was no exaggeration.
He soon realized that if he rid himself of the schoolboy habit of dawdling in the mornings, he could get to Yorgo’s house in time to see Athena before she left for school. In Yorgo’s big, cheery kitchen, he’d drink the thick syrupy Cypriot coffee - brewed fresh on hot sand that covered a brick shelf set into the fireplace – and munch on warm black bread straight out of the backyard oven and dripping with honey, or cactus pear preserves. He and Athena would cast eyes at each other while her sisters and brothers giggled. Then Yorgo would kick start his heavy motorbike and Lucky would climb up behind him and they’d be off – wobbling through the canopy of gourd vines that sheltered the front gate, then bumping across gravel to the pitted tarmac of the main highway.
On the way to Nicosia, almost all traffic headed to the city. There were very few motorized vehicles on the road – a few trucks, an assortment of 1920’s and 30’s era cars and one or two motorbikes like Yorgo’s. Several ancient buses, literally crammed to the rooftop with both human and animal passengers, also made the daily trip. When they passed Lucky could hear the chickens cackling, the roosters crowing and the bleating of lamb and kid off to end their days at the meat market. Water wagons groaned along the side of the road, wobbling back and forth - with the oxen bawling under the terrible weight - spewing water from the leaks in their tanks and leaving a trail of mud through the hot dust of the roadside.
Shopkeepers and their clerks favored bicycles, with their trousers tied at the ankles to keep them from being soiled, or caught in the chain. Shop girls traveled by bike as well – but usually in groups of five or six. It was always a delightful sight, the girls’ hair protected by colorful scarves - their skirts blowing in the wind, chattering away, while pretending to ignore all the young men who called out to them.
Most of the farm people went by wagon, some horse or mule drawn, some pulled by oxen. The carts all had huge wheels, many as tall as a man, with long hand-carved spokes. The wheels were rimmed, not with rubber, but with strips of flint-coated iron. Some of the wagons were enormous things – two stories high and full to the groaning with produce and baskets and crates of caged animals off to the slaughter. Of course, there were always a few camels swaying along on lazy legs that were so long that they moved swiftly through the traffic with elegant ease, their heads moving this way and that on necks so lengthy that the animals seemed half snake. Lucky noticed that people tended to make way for the camels – the creatures had a nasty habit of indiscriminately spitting and biting when annoyed. Or, sometimes, it seemed, just for the hell of it.
Out in the fields – which sprawled on either side of the road – people were at work, tilling or weeding or changing the course of an irrigation ditch. In the orchards, boys were plucking enormous oranges and lemons from the trees, or twisting off cactus pears with a special tool that kept the stickers from getting into your fingers. Herders were already changing grazing grounds, moving their flocks of sheep or goats across the highway, blocking traffic and making everyone curse for being kept from their tasks. But the herders only grinned and made rude gestures and if anyone got too threatening, a big ram or yapping sheep dog would attack and drive them back. Lucky once saw an ill-tempered bus driver forced back into his vehicle by a barrage of stones flung by a young herder with a deadly sling. The huge, over-loaded bus and the skinny, raggedy boy whirling his sling overhead was a modern-day David and Goliath if there ever was one.
Small, barelegged boys and girls with switches drove honking geese and quacking ducks to market, while through all this colorful and noisy procession, the gypsy kids would dart in and out of the crowd, looking for targets of opportunity. When people saw them they struck out with cudgels and fists. They alternately crossed themselves and blasphemed the gypsies – clutching their valuables and calling down the wrath of saints and devils alike on these interlopers.
Yorgo disliked the gypsies as well, but he was more philosophical than most. “Gypsies have to live,” he told Lucky, “like the cock-a-roach and flies your mother hates. If we killed the gypsies, like the poor pests in your mother’s kitchen, why, we’d be like Mr. Hitler with his moustache killing the Gypsies as well as the Jews.” He made a cautionary gesture. “Not that I am comparing Gypsies and Jews,” he added. “Jews have been in Cyprus for thousands of years. I might even be a little Jewish myself, who knows.” He shrugged. “And maybe Gypsy as well. Who can say where the seed of our fathers flowed.”
Setting out from his house in the morning, Nicosia was nothing more than an indistinct gray-brown hump on the horizon. Set astride the Pedieos River, which flowed from the distant Troodos Mountains, the city sat virtually in the center of the island. It rose out of the fertile Mesario Plain, which on this fine early Spring day was lush with budding news life.
When Lucky had lived in the hotel he’d explored the city streets only a little. He’d driven past Nicosia daily on his way to the boarding school, visited the cinema and a few other places. Other than that, his main interests had been the village and its surroundings.
But on this - his first day at a new school that wasn’t really a school, but something exotically different - Lucky took special note of the city as they approached on Yorgo’s motor bike. At first all he saw when they grew closer was an imposing gray stone wall, bulking up like a ragged mountain. The area around the walls was naked of trees and buildings, making the walls even more foreboding.
Lucky eventually learned that ancient ordinances banned all structures within range of a missile from a catapult, or, later, a cannon shot. The city’s origins went all the way back in time to a Neolithic trading village, then a fortress for early kings, then a supreme fortress for the Crusaders in the 12th Century or so. Peering past Yorgo’s bulk, Lucky could see the walls gradually growing to their full grandeur. It was nearly impossible to talk over the roar of the engine, but even if he could be heard, Lucky would have been silent, the view was so impressive. He imagined how cowed attacking armies must have felt marching on such a magnificent defensive structure.
As the traffic thickened, Yorgo slowed his approach to the gated entrance, putting his legs out to balance the bike. Immediately all the sounds and scents crowded in. Lucky could smell raw petrol and oil – the mixture used on less than modern engines, like the bike Yorgo was riding and half the vehicles around them. He heard horns blaring – not the sound of horns you heard in America, but the eerie hoot-hoot-hoot of European horns.
Lucky saw a taxi, desperately signaling a right-hand turn into a narrow place in the single lane that entered the city through the gate. Besides his frantically waving hand, the signal he made included a bar of illuminated yellow plastic that shot out from the side of the car. From experience Lucky knew there was a similar bar on the left. A camel loped into the taxi’s path, turned its head and spit a terrible yellow and green glob of camel spittle on the windshield. The driver leaned out and cursed, shaking his fist. The camel driver –a Turk in baggy black pants - gave the man a look of great sorrow and shrugged - What can you do with a camel? Immediately, the cab driver veered the other way, flipping up another long bar of illuminated direction to point out his path and laying on his horn to clear the way.
Then Lucky saw why the cabbie had been fighting for position: they were about to enter Famagusta Gate and with all the traffic – mechanical, animal and human - even maneuvering on a motorbike would be tricky.
He looked up and caught sight of a long, deadly row of spikes hoisted over the gate. It was as if they were entering a mouth with fanged jaws above and only blunt gums below. Yorgo indicated the spikes. “Closing gates…” he said. Then his hand swept down – his palm a knife – “… crushes your enemy.” Now Lucky realized what he was looking at. In ancient times, as the enemy approached, the city leaders would trigger a release and an enormous, fanged gate would crash to the ground, barring entrance.
Yorgo was still talking over the roar of the engine. “But wait and see, Lucky, there is a very clever trick. Wait and I will show you.” Then he cried, “Elbows in, Lucky,” and he shot for a gap in the traffic blocking the entrance.
Lucky gasped, he couldn’t see how Yorgo could do it. But his friend soon proved himself a past master of such difficulties. He leaned sharply to the right, his foot going down and sliding across the pavement. Lucky had a sudden view of a wagon draped with crates of chickens, all squawking at once as Yorgo headed straight for the wagon. Then, he leaned in the other direction – heading for an ox cart. Lucky spotted a narrow pathway between the lead oxen’s horned head and a streaming water truck.
From Lucky’s viewpoint it was too narrow for their passage. But Yorgo slowed slightly and reached out with his big left hand and gave the ox a mighty blow on its flank. The creature bawled with more indignity than pain and jerked its head to the side. Immediately, Yorgo straightened the bike, gave it some juice and – wheels at first spinning in the spilled water from the water truck – he shot through the entrance and they were inside the Famagusta Gate.
Calmly, as if nothing unusual had occurred, Yorgo pointed overhead. “Look at the second gate, Lucky. That is the trick.”
Lucky looked up and saw that indeed there was a second set of fanged gates hoisted into the vaulted ceiling – easily three stories high – and set many yards past the entrance.
Yorgo paused, caught a moment behind a towering camel. He thumbed back to the first gate, the one that guarded the opening. “You allow some of the enemy to enter. Let them think you are stupid and didn’t see them. Then…” He indicated the second set of gates… “You let the first gate go… wait until they enter… then the second. And they are trapped in between.”
Lucky nodded, he could see it clearly. The enemy troops tormented by taunting Cypriots, charging the entrance to the city. Shouting in glee when the gate didn’t close – stupid Cypriots were too slow, too busy bragging about the thick walls of their city. Then, once a goodly number were inside – rushing toward that distant point of light that Lucky could see at the far end of the tunnel - Cypriot commanders would give the word and the second set of gates would slam down. Fanged points catching anyone who dodged too slowly. Then, when they tried to retreat, the first set of gates – the ones meant to bar the entrance – would crash down, imprisoning the bravest of the enemy attackers.
Lucky leaned close, so Yorgo could hear. “What happened then?”
But at that moment, as the camel advanced and the motorbike slid forward, the answer became apparent. A flood of sunlight beamed down from above. Yorgo’s thumb shot up, indicating the wide, iron-grated hole set in the ceiling. “Boiling oil,” he shouted, tipping his hand, to indicate upturned pots. “That’s the real trick… Hot lead as well… They poured it on the soldiers.” He chortled. “They got a good, Cypriot roasting.” His laughter was hearty and a little unsettling. “Like the oven at my house. A grand thing to cook all your enemies in.”
Lucky’s mind was suddenly filled with visions of men screaming in agony as molten lead and boiling oil poured over their heads and shoulders. Before the picture could take too firm a grip on his imagination, the camel decided to lift its tail and do its business. Yorgo cursed in Greek and swerved to the side. They just barely escaped the huge load of camel shit and piss that came pouring out.
“That damned Turk,” Yorgo grumbled. “Camels must empty their bowels before they enter the gate. That’s the law. A good and sensible law, even though it is British.”
In the following days, Lucky watched more law-abiding camel drivers push their beasts to the fields on either side of the gates. Commands were given, switches were switched and the camels bawled with irritation. Eventually, they gave up their loads of stinking feces and urine. Then, complaining as if they’d been relieved of a treasure instead of bodily waste, they growled and moaned as their masters goaded them through the gates. Clean of bowel and bladder, but certainly not of temper.
Yorgo laughed and made a rude-fisted gesture as he goosed his bike out of harm’s way and blended into the tunnel’s traffic. It was a very long tunnel – the exit was a mere shimmer of light in the distance. Lucky would later learn that in many places the city walls were as wide as a soccer field. At the narrowest, the ancient masters who had once ruled the island had decreed that the roadway running on top of the wall must be wide enough for at least two heavy chariots to pass. But the tunnel through the walls was built to handle traffic from a Medieval – and therefor far smaller – population. So on this day, which was not even a regular market day, it was packed front to back and side to side with people, animals and vehicles of all descriptions – both ancient and merely antique.
Pinching in the flow even more were lines of stalls that ran along both sides. Stall keepers cried out their wares in several languages. “Black market,” Yorgo said as he gunned past a stall stocked with British army bayonets, field rations and medic packs.. “Don’t come here.” He spit to the side. “Very bad people.”
Immediately, Lucky determined to return as soon a he could. A moment later the tunnel spilled out onto a broad thoroughfare, jammed with every conceivable vehicle, traffic creeping slowly along as people railed at one another for causing the delay. Narrow sidewalks on either side were packed with foot traffic perusing the wares of small shops of every variety – from boot makers to tobacconists. Spotted here and there were little cafes, and tavernas, with tables and chairs outside, all occupied by men smoking big water pipes and sipping tiny cups of coffee. Waiters scurried from these cafes, heading for the shops with breakfast coffee and sweets for the owners. They carried their orders on three-tiered trays, dangling one beneath the other on chains and never spilling a drop as they wove through the hurrying passersby.
Yorgo made an easy left (traffic in Cyprus kept to the left, in British fashion) at the second street from the gate. It was a cobbled street, rather than tarmac and much narrower than the main avenue. The road climbed a hill that curved past businesses that seemed more industrial than those on the main street. Lucky could hear the steady grind of hand saws, the shriek of drill bits and the rhythmic sounds of foot-driven sewing machines and hand-driven looms. The smells were a mixture of machine oil, glue pots cooking over dung fires, fresh cut wood shavings and good things frying in olive oil from a little restaurant at the top of the street. Lucky craned to see the street sign when they swept past, then sighed in frustration. He hadn’t learned how to read Greek as yet and the Cyrillic letters on the sign were impenetrable. In most of the countries he’d visited, they used Roman letters and even though he didn’t know the languages, he could make out the names of the streets and even locate them on a map, or follow directions from a hotel concierge. The Cyrillic letters made him feel illiterate and he hoped Jim planned to teach him how to read and write Greek.
Yorgo downshifted to a lower gear to help the bike up the hill – the tires bumping across the cobbles – and gestured with his chin. They had nearly reached their goal. “There is our good friend, Jim.”
Jim’s shop was easy to spot. It was about a third of the way up the hill on the right. Gleaming bicycles were lined up in a rack outside a fairly large, glass-fronted store front. Above the door – jutting out from the wall was a large truck tire, painted jet black. A sign dangling beneath it read in English: “Davis Tires.” Beneath that, a smaller sign, hanging from two slender chains off the first, said: “Raleigh Bicycles.” Both signs were professionally done and a bit out of place on this street. Not because they were in English, but because the styles were so modern.
Jim was standing in the doorway. He was every inch the proud, young proprietor. He had his suit jacket over his shoulder, his shirt was blazing white, the tie stylishly wide and his shoes were shined to a high gloss.
As they rumbled up, he was helping an old Turk sweep the front sidewalk, while a raggedy Cypriot kid polished the bicycles. A waiter was trotting down the hill with newspaper-wrapped bundles under his arm that turned out to be breakfast for Jim’s two workers.
When Jim heard the motorbike he looked up and grinned that crooked smile of his. “Lucky!” he cried, in a delighted voice that made the boy feel entirely welcome. Then he looked ostentatiously at his watch and said to Yorgo “I see that our new scholar has arrived early for his first day of school.”
The way he said it, implied that Lucky had been personally responsible for his early arrival, instead of merely abiding by Yorgo’s schedule. “Seven o’clock at my house, Lucky,” he’d said. “I must be at my mill by thirty minutes after seven o’clock. I cannot wait, you understand. If you aren’t here, you will have to take a taxi.”
Mr. Blaines had coached Lucky to be early to all appointments – the reasons having more to do with inspecting the lay of the land rather than satisfying the grace of punctuality. However, in this case, Lucky had the added inducement of a sloe-eyed Greek beauty named Athena.
He was not about to mention any of this, but he still didn’t want to claim credit that wasn’t rightfully his, so he said shyly, “I was just coming with Yorgo.”
The admission immediately endeared him to both men. Beaming, Yorgo clapped the boy’s shoulder and said, “Find me when you and Jim are done, Lucky my friend, and we’ll ride home together.” To Jim he said, firmly, but in Greek, “The boy has a good heart, Demetrios. He reminds me of you, when you were being schooled at the monastery.”
Lucky understood some of this, but pretended he didn’t, looking over the bikes in their racks with exaggerated interest. Lucky was pleased – and a little startled - to hear Jim reply, but in English, “Of course our Lucky has a good heart. I saw it the moment we met.”
Then he said to the boy, “Come and see the books I purchased for us. I think you will be pleased.”
As Yorgo drove off, Lucky and Jim entered the tire/bicycle shop that was to be the boy’s schoolroom for many months to come.
It was a rather drab room, its dimensions unencumbered by any furniture other than a large desk in the back, which had two wooden chairs resting in front of it and two more set against the wall – rather like a cantina. The room was large – Lucky learned later that it was two shops knocked into one – and much deeper than it was wide. The walls were white plaster over ancient stone. As one entered the shop the immediate walls were bare, except for a few poster advertisements – in English – touting the qualities of Davis Tires, or Raleigh Bicycles. After a moment, Lucky noted that Davis Tires posters were confined to one wall, Raleigh the other. Under the Raleigh wall, was a display of a dozen or more bikes, plus empty floor-slots presumably for the ones outside. Against the Davis Tire wall, there were eight different tires of various sizes and quality, resting in slots that held them upright. Above them was a shelf, displaying tire cross-sections to show their inner strengths.
Electrical lines were exposed, rather than hidden. The bricks behind the lathe and plaster façade were nearly as ancient as the city and no electrical line had ever penetrated them. White-painted metal tubes containing the electrical lines ran along the ceiling – where two bare bulbs hung down, one near the front, the other near the back; another line ran along the bicycle wall where a receptacle fed power to a complicated antique lamp that had been converted from gas to electricity. The shades were hand-painted with faded images of Raleigh bicycles going back to the company’s Victorian origins of giant front-wheeled bikes.
On the desk, Lucky noted a double-tier of wire baskets on one side – presumably in and out baskets – there were Greek labels top and bottom identifying each. Nearby was a large basket, very new-looking, with a hand-lettered label in English that said: “Lucky.” Nestling in its wire sides were several books, documents enclosed in official-looking covers and a neat pile of unbound papers. The basket was set at the far left corner of the desk, between the wall and a large black telephone with an enormous dial that gave off sparks when you turned the wheel. When a phone call came in – depending on the weather - sparks would shoot out from the bottom where the bell was mounted.
As they approached the desk the phone rang demonstrated its quirky behavior: it rang and sparks shot out, but Jim picked up the receiver without a flicker and started speaking in Greek. He slipped behind the desk, settling into an imposing leather executive chair. As he talked, he pulled a tablet from the top drawer of the desk, then a pencil, and he started writing swiftly. Lucky stayed very still as Jim talked – this was obviously his business – watching for a moment as Jim penciled in Cyrillic letters and Arabic numerals. From his own limited experience at the local market, the rise and fall of Jim’s voice and the scratched out numbers on the pad, Lucky got the idea that Jim was in the process of closing a large order. He spoke so quickly, however, and in a businessman’s idiom Lucky was unfamiliar with – that he missed the gist of the deal and soon grew bored.
He looked at the basket marked “Lucky,” craning his head to see the titles of the books. Without pausing his conversation, Jim pushed the basket toward the boy, smiling and nodding for him to go ahead.
The first book wasn’t so interesting – arithmetic – the same text he’d used at the British school. The second was a little more intriguing – a slender volume with a paperboard cover: “Euclidean Geometry.” The third book gave him a bit of a start. It was labeled, “Common Mistakes In English.” He glanced inside and saw that it was book meant for foreign students of the English language. Beneath it, was a regular English grammar; then a French textbook. That was interesting… was he going to learn French? A geography full of maps followed; then a single volume world history; A book on Greek mythology by Edith Hamilton was next. He smiled when he lifted that aside and saw a collection of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories and poetry. Finally, he came to a small book with a drawing of an old bug-eyed Greek wearing the robes of the ancients and reclining on a stone bench. The title was, “The Last Days Of Socrates.”
Intrigued, he opened the book, turning pages, scanning the text until his eyes fell upon the following:
“Socrates: What is the charge? Well, a very serious charge, which shows a good deal of character in the young man, and for which he is certainly not to be despised. He says he knows how the youth are corrupted and who are their corruptors. I fancy that he must be a wise man, and seeing that I am the reverse of a wise man, he has found me out, and is going to accuse me of corrupting his young friends…”
As Lucky considered the words of the ancient philosopher, an ox cart passed by, bells jangling, hooves a slow, clump, clump; flint-edged wheels grinding against the cobbles. Next, came an incense maker’s push cart, smoky twigs swinging from strings and perfuming the air. Automatically, Lucky drew in a breath and the sweet smell filled his soul as well as his lungs.
Somewhere far off he heard a cart seller take up the cry: “Galla oxino… Galla oxino…” sour milk, sour milk, which Lucky knew to be yogurt pudding with sweetened rose water – “straight from the Gods.” Another cart seller broke in… “Phastusja… phatusja… phastuja vasta…” peanuts, peanuts, salted and hot.
A camel tromped by, turning its head to peer into the window, fixing its solemn eyes on Lucky and chewing its cud. For a moment, both the camel and Lucky considered one another. Then the animal’s master gave it a switch and it groaned with indignation and continued onward.
Lucky looked back at the page: “…I fancy that he must be a wise man, and seeing that I am the reverse of a wise man, he has found me out, and is going to accuse me of corrupting his young friends…”
But this time he was reading it as if it were a newspaper article and the tragedy of Socrates’ execution was happening here and now instead of something that had occurred two thousand, three hundred years ago. And as he thought about this gentle old man dying, forgiving his killers and teaching one last lesson in his death, his heart ached as if it were a tragedy fresh and new.
Lucky sighed and as he did so he suddenly realized that Jim had been silent. The boy looked up and saw Jim smiling at him. The phone was in its cradle.
“What a pity,” Jim said. “A pity of monumental proportions.”
He poured them each a demitasse of coffee and pinched a lemon peel into his own cup, pushing the other to Lucky.. “Imagine what a different world this would be,” Jim continued, “if Socrates had not been forced to drink that cup of hemlock.”
Lucky frowned. “Forced? I thought he was given a choice. All he had to do was leave Athens. To go into exile. Also, that happened hundreds of years ago… way before Jesus Christ. How could that affect what happens today?”
Jim said, “Well, I guess you’ve chosen your first lesson.” He indicated the pile of official papers still in the box. “We were supposed to do tests for the School of The Americas.”
Lucky nodded. He knew what that was – a home study program set up by the foreign service. Larry and his brother were signed up with something similar, except their mother was their teacher. The program assured proper academic progress of the students and gave them official credit that was recognized by all American schools at home.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m good at tests like that.” And he was. Multiple choice, true and false, he’d taken so many tests of that type that he could pass examinations for subjects he’d never even studied.
The moment he made this boast, however, he regretted it. Jim only smiled, but Lucky saw his eyes narrow slightly. The boy mentally kicked himself for giving away such a valuable secret to someone who, in the end, was a Teacher, after all.
Jim looked at his watch. “I have an appointment in a hour or so,” he said, “which should be plenty of time for our first lesson.” He rose. “You’ll need your notebook and a pencil.”
“Where are we going?” Lucky wanted to know, scrambling to grab the required items.
“We’re going to ask some of my friends the same questions you asked me. What made Socrates choose death over exile? And why would the world be different if he hadn’t been killed by his own people.”
With that, Jim strode through the door. He paused just outside, put fingers to lips and gave a piercing, goat-herder’s whistle. Immediately, the ragged boy Lucky had seen earlier came hustling up the street. Jim patted his head, slipped him a coin and whispered something. The boy stiffened like a private getting orders from a general, then pulled a bicycle chain from around his waist. As Jim and Lucky walked away, the boy started strolling up and down in front of the shop, swinging the chain, like a policeman swinging his truncheon. Lucky looked back at him.
“Are you worried about gypsies?” he asked.
Jim looked surprised. “Gypsies?” he said. “Oh, sure, a little. But I pay them to watch out for my shop, which means they only steal a small amount.”
“Well, what do you need a guard for?”
“The communists, Lucky,” Jim said.
Now it was Lucky’s turn to be surprised. “Communists steal?” he asked, incredulous. “Yorgo’s a communist and he’d never steal anything. I mean… material things aren’t so important to communists, are they?”
Jim said, “Material things are important to everybody, Lucky, no matter what they say. And there are many criminals in Cyprus and elsewhere who claim to be communists so they can behave like gangsters.”
“But not Yorgo,” Lucky protested. The father of Athena could not be suspected of such things.
“Not Yorgo,” Jim agreed, to Lucky’s immense relief. Jim shrugged. “However, there are others… But let’s not talk about them just now. That’s a lesson for another day. Today, let us interview the experts about Socrates.”
As they turned the corner, Lucky looked around, expecting to see the imposing edifice of a school or university. Instead, all he saw was a wheelwright’s shop – with wide doors, like a barn, that were flung open. Inside, a wagon had been hoisted up and one wheel had been removed, apparently to be repaired. Just inside the entrance, several men were crouched over a camel dung fire. They were taking turns stirring a large, odiferous pot, of some sort of gooey substance.
Lucky was dumbfounded when Jim said, “There’s Socrates, himself.” He indicated the oldest man. “Let’s see what he has to say.