Yiannis

This story is literally true, for every event and name in it did actually happen and did exist. I thought there was no point in changing anything, and only memory can fail me, though I’m pretty sure I record here at least the basic facts.

I begin with the title name. This was a youth in our island, and his story, at least as far back as my memory is can carry it, unfolded just before the war of 1940 (the key year) and the following two or three years.

Yiannis was one of my mother’s first cousins, the son of Aunt Agatha, my maternal grandmother’s sister, a widow. Her story is itself tragic and can be told in summary to fill in the background related to the events as they occurred.

When I began to come to consciousness of my relatives—too numerous to recount— as a child of seven or eight, I had heard lots of stories about our kith and kin, and was absorbing willy-nilly whatever I understood, and even what I didn’t. Agatha’s husband had been what in modern lingo is called a “flasher,” or, to use a more formal expression, an exhibitionist. His name, well, he had one but he was generally known as Belelis, his nickname, a manner of naming people in villages where groups of relatives had a common surname. The villagers felt free to nick-name any of their fellow villagers at will and without malice, although some of these nicknames sounded ridiculous—“Psilias,” for instance, means a louse.

But back to Belelis: he was known to expose himself in front of women, not in their homes of course (or his), but in public places, especially when he saw one on the road, coming alone, driving her goat or other animal or walking back home laden with a load of drywood on her head. He usually rode his mule, sitting sideways, and it was easy for him to unbutton his trousers and expose his genitals to a terrified and revolted woman. His habit became known, though, and many women avoided him, turning back when they had time to do so, or went on their way without looking. This practice of his lasted for years; many women and their families were offended and shamed, for it was an insult in those times (and later) to approach a woman in an unseemly fashion, let alone do to them what Belelis dared to do. Anger boiled among male relatives of these women, but nothing was done, or could be done, for the law in a village was limited to real crimes, like shooting and stealing property, or other disputes brought to court. I’ve no idea whether he was ever reported to the police or arrested, but I did hear about the way he died. Some relatives of an offended woman took the law into their hands, ambushed Belelis in a narrow turn near the entrance to the village—a lane that wound up a path–and shot him dead with their shotguns. Those people went to trial but found not guilty (or were given light sentences) when the truth about Belelis was revealed in court.

The demise of her husband brought Agatha to extreme indigence. Like every villager, she had some property, vines and olive fields, but without her husband’s muscle—for Belelis had been a big man and a hard worker—she struggled mightily to bring up her numerous sons, and one daughter. At the time of her husband’s death, her oldest son was only fifteen, and I was told (I don’t remember any of this personally) once by my father that she had brought him to his home one morning, wearing his father’s coat, which reached down to his knees, and begged him to take him in. My father, always willing to extend a helping hand to any relative, did so. She was a shamed woman because of her husband’s behavior–still haunting her and her children for many years–but my father only saw the plight of a bereaved, and starving, widow.

But the boy, whose name was Andreas, had no inclination for carpentry and my father couldn’t turn him into an apprentice in his sawmill shop, but he managed to secure him a temporary job at a bakery for him. Though Andreas stayed at our house, and my mother had an additional mouth to feed, circumstances demanded such a sacrifice, my father insisted. Andreas had to get up very early, about three in the morning, to start his duties at the bakery. What he did was knead dough. His strong rustic fists were just right for that occupation, an arduous job, for the dough had to be ready at about five or six in the morning, when, in the form of loaves, it went into the hot oven. It was hard to find laborers to do that kind of a chore so early in the day, and Andreas soon grew to be a favorite hand of Avgerinos, the head baker, whose business was thriving. Fresh-baked bread came out of the oven early enough, between seven and eight o’clock in the morning and the fishermen coming back from their nocturnal excursions at the shallows beyond the harbor, bought loaves of bread still hot enough to scorch their fingers, dropped olive oil on it, and, with a piece of cheese, ate a hearty breakfast. Of course, housewives rushed to the bakery as early as they could to buy the famous franjoles, the long loaves, and many couldn’t resist and tore pieces and munched them before getting to their homes to feed their children ready for school. Urchins in the streets would get together a few pennies and rush to Avgerinos to ask for a “corner chunk,” their favorite piece, but Avgerinos, stingy and surly from his nocturnal labors, dismissed those poor devils with a few choice curse words, like “Tell your mother to go knead herself,” or something uglier.

In no time, Andreas grew up to be a husky lad (he could outrun anybody), who thrived in the business (soon to become a partner in it), made some money, but he continued staying at our home, and my father didn’t protest, perhaps in deference to the widow, who remained destitute—or said she did, for my mother called her a hypocrite and a panhandler–for as long as I can remember in my youth years. Her other sons grew up too, and one of them, Yannis, was becoming a striking specimen of blossoming manhood. Tall, blond—unusual in a Greek–he made an impression, not as a peasant, but as a lost memory of a statue of antiquity that happened to be popping up now and then in the middle of a physically deteriorating race. For many Greeks, having lived in abject slavery during the four centuries of Turkish occupation of their land, and during decades of successive wars, poverty, disease, and what have you, became a race little resembling the mutilated statues their ancestors had left and these days deposited in European museums or gradually discovered under layers of gravelly soil. The usual specimen of an average Greek in those days I’m talking about (good food and tourist money improved the looks of the average Greek of today) would be a short-legged blighted male with bent shoulders, hollow chest (TB was rampant), a prematurely graying mustache, and a cap that hid a balding scalp at the age of forty-five. Once in a while, a sturdy young sapling would sprout in the midst of this hibernating populace, a tall, well-muscled youth who seemed to defy the gods and remind you that once upon a time this land had been the originator of Achilles and Hercules—but on the whole these names, and their descriptions, would only be confined to school textbooks, which the teachers shamefully used to preach that modern Greeks are the true descendants of those they called their glorious forefathers. But that is a topic that I would leave to experts and anthropologists.

Be that as it may, Yiannis gave credence to such hypothetical speculations in the history books of the Greeks. Just to see him pass by in the street gave a thrill to the beholder whose memories of demi-gods once immortalized in marble were awakened. Light of step despite his height—he must have been a meter and eighty-five, a good measure of tallness for that day of undersized midgets—he walked with an air of defiance, though not of arrogance, having about him that sense of measure in all things that makes an imprint on the casual observer. Heads turned as he went by wearing a luminous smile, not of conceit, which he must have dismissed as a contemptible means of attraction, but of self-assurance and wellness of body and mind. He was known as tavern-brawler, not out of any wild disposition (his mother must have managed to curb that), but because that was the fashion of the day. In a tavern—dark basements that served wine and chunks of meat on the spit to customers—one had to show off. Few women ever went there, for these were male haunts, but if one showed up, there had to be a brawl afterwards. A brother or cousin would not tolerate an improper word to—and about—such a woman and the manners of youths in taverns were not custom-made to inspire polished behavior. But Yiannis brawled good-heartedly, so to speak, not to offend anyone, but just to show who’s boss when he was there. Being probably the strongest youth in the entire town, he wanted to let the others know that he would fight when he chose, for whatever reason. He never drew a knife, though he sure had one (or two), but his fists were sufficient evidence that he could smash a head against a table if he had too. For the most part, he was left alone, but he inevitably attracted the attention of any woman who would go there—and of many others when he walked the streets. He remained unattached, though, until the war came and he was drafted. They immediately made him a “tsolias,” a kilted soldier of elect battalions, young men who commanded a certain height and who seemed to show no fear in battle.

So Yiannis went to Albania to fight during the 1940 war, and I only saw him once in our home—in the village—visiting us when on leave. This was the only time of my life that I came face to face with him. He was wearing his kilt when he came to visit our village home–a refuge from the bombings–and, as always, he smiled and looked perfectly healthy and unscathed. He told us a story about a tank which drove against their company, adding that that kind of weapon is an armored car that can drive over rocks and fences and shoot its way through hostile fire, climbing a muddy hill if it had to, and being the ultimate weapon of ground warfare. He said all that genially, not trying to exaggerate, but he impressed us with his temerity when he seemed unafraid to tackle that monster war machine he was describing, for once he dashed against it with his bayonet and he and his companions captured it from the Italians, whom they took prisoners.

When the war in Albania was over, around May, 1941, Yiannis came back with the other soldiers, and resumed his tasks at his mother’s farm. Andreas, who was not called to serve because of a defect in one of his eyes (I forget what), had stayed at our home all this time, and married at the beginning of 1942, when hunger took the flesh and fat out of the bodies of people in our town. That winter, the first year of the Italian occupation, hunger did not simply reduce the population—it broke the spirits of most of the people, for to find anything to eat besides greens, cauliflower, or corn bread was out of the question. And only people in the farms had these items in relative quantities. Some enterprising fellows made money in the black market, and Andreas was one of them. He had married a butcher’s sister with a soiled reputation (to say the least), for mercenary reasons—I imagine. The butcher was named Thanasis, who had a brother named God knows what, and they managed to smuggle meat from the mainland, which they sold at exorbitant prices, often bartering for olive oil, which they used to buy more meat. Andreas stuck to what he knew, smuggling wheat from the mainland, and selling real bread (occasionally bringing a loaf to our house, for he had never paid rent), to customers who had retained some property, or who had something to sell, like their wives’ wedding gold jewelry, or other valuables that had commercial value. Andreas thrived, and, before he left our home, I saw him hide stacks of banknotes into his trunk, for, though Italian money was nearly worthless, if you had carloads of it you could buy something or other. Andreas never gave his mother a penny, so the brothers living at the village, including Yiannis, had to work their butts off to provide for a younger boy, a sister, and their mother. There were six of them altogether—and I will come back to say more about them soon.

 

At this point, my story must make a turn, and practically start another, for what I began saying must be concluded at some point, and without this diversion, it will not. My mother had not just first cousins but numerous brothers. My Grandfather Christos had sixteen children (I would say that was my grandmother’s achievement too–for she got pregnant, I was told, until she was fifty), nine of which had survived to adulthood—six brothers and three sisters. The brothers were, in descending order, Yiannis (not the one I’m talking about), Panagiotis, Michalis, Nikos, George, and Pericles. Yiannis went to America at an early age and by the time Pericles was a teenager he had returned with a fortune and bought a large piece of land just outside town, and there he stayed and prospered. For some reason I don’t quite understand, he quarreled with his father, and I never saw them together while alive. The first time I saw Uncle Yiannis was at my grandfathers’ funeral—and I was amazed to see he was his father’s spitting image. Three other brothers went to America, worked for an honest living, and lived and died there. The two who remained home were Nikos and Pericles. Nikos married a woman from a neighboring village, but Pericles, still unmarried before the war, was drafted and went to Albania to fight. He was a remarkable physical specimen, fairly tall, well built, muscular, genial, and a hard worker. Grandpa Christos gave him work in his fields, for in a village where farm chores are the essence of life, a person of strength is worth as much as any other possession. Both sons worked hard, and before going to America, late in the 1930s, George joined them, and a whole field that had to be dug up in the spring or fall to plant things was finished by these three in one day—superhuman according to my father, who roamed these hills in search of timber and saw them do it. Grandpa Christos also employed laborers, but Pericles was always up to the task, going to work before dawn, and had dug up half the size of a field before the others had shown up.

Things changed when Pericles came back from the war. He had suffered up there in the Albanian mountains where the snows and the merciless winter took more lives than the battles. Many came back with amputated legs because of frostbite, though they had survived the Italian bullets. Pericles had been bothered only by a mild case of chilblains, mainly due to grandmother’s mailing him woolen socks, and he came back in fair shape, though weakened, but still strong. Soon he regained his husky frame, his smile came back, and his good heart cheered us up, for it was war time, and starvation, despair, and poor spirits wore us out, and some of us thought the end of the world was near. Pericles was our mainstay in a gloomy village environment, and, besides, his physical strength came in handy, for we were assured my grandfather’s fields would be tilled, and there would be wheat in the house, for, if you had bread to eat and olive oil to sprinkle the wild weeds dug out of the ground, your meal was assured. Grandfather also planted chick peas and legumes, and, boiled over the fire in the pot, they warmed your stomach. Firewood was also in good supply, and Pericles helped there too and was the major factor in saving our lives while we lived in the village.

Thus things went in the first year of the occupation—the hardest. We survived, and some kind of normalcy was restored, despite the presence of a foreign army in our town. Being an occupied person means a degraded person—a slave really. The still proud Greeks, who had defeated the far superior numbers of Italians in Albania, did not bear this calamity easily. Pericles, who had fought them and held them for cowards, gave us that image—that of an undefeated man. He laughed and joked that he could catch an Italian by the legs, turn him upside down and split him in half. He didn’t quite mean it, because he was too kind a person to commit any real atrocity (even to a hated enemy), but his assurance was infectious and we laughed with him, especially us youngsters, and one of us—I don’t remember who—challenged him by asking him to lift his father’s horse. And Pericles did, not the entire horse, but its front part, grabbing it by the shoulders and lifting half of it in the air. To be sure it was a small horse, but a cantankerous animal I could never ride, for it threw me off. Pericles had no fear of it—and it had a fear of him, for when he rode it it became a slavish, compliant creature, enduring Pericles’ occasional nudges with his heel—and dashing forward, its neck low, to do the onerous task of a tamed slave. Pericles did other things, like lifting heavy stones, etc., but soon a question arose, for he was just about thirty years old, and time to get him married. That was my grandmother’s wish, but Pericles must have craved a wife himself. Since Grandfather Christos died that same year, a period of mourning had to be kept, but after that searching for a suitable wife for him became a family pursuit. That was a practical matter: finding the matchmaker, usually an older woman relative, who would undertake to look at the available brides, make a suggestion or two (or several), and then leading a delegation to that chosen household and start negotiations—how much dowry, what piece of land the bride would inherit, etc. All this was done in due time, and soon a bride was found. Actually, there were several around eager for a husband like Pericles, a brave lad and a warrior, as they called him, and Pericles was as eager as any to make a choice. There were consultations and secret meetings, with my grandmother, a large, white-haired woman now the head of the household, always presiding. But it was Pericles who would be the choosing party, and only her maternal approval would be needed to seal the deal.

When Pericles announced his choice, some eyebrows were raised, for he chose the oldest and not the most beautiful of these women. Her name was Harikleia, and she was a bit older than him and rather plain, though by no means ugly-looking. Well brought up, she was the daughter of a prosperous man at the other side of the village, the head of a clan who had fields and other property—so the question of money and her dowry, generous to be sure, would never arise. Only her looks seemed to be the question, for there were several other women around, much younger and prettier, and just as wealthy. But some secrets began to surface, and when gossip spreads it is a river of no return; no dam has yet been invented to stop its flow. Eventually, the secret rumors came to my ears, for I was still an occasional visitor to the village, my mother and paternal grandparents still living there, refugees from the war. I heard, how I don’t remember, that Pericles’s choice had been influenced by the fact that he was in love with a woman already married, and that the woman he chose was his future bride’s first cousin! In fact, Pericles, again according to rumors, had been in love with this woman even before he went up to the front, and when he came back, his flame was renewed, but by this time, the lady had married another. Her name was Kaliroe, and she was the beauty of the village. I knew her well, because I had attended her wedding. My parents, then living full time in the village, had been invited, and, since this was a feast, they took me with them. I had seen her before, for great beauties have a way of being known by all males over the age of three. I did not know the passion of my uncle then, but when these rumors came about, despite my still very young age (I was about 13-14 then), I understood why he loved her as he did. Women in those days did not reveal any part of their bodies, for they wore long brown tunics extending down to their shoes, and their head was covered with a bandana that hid their heads and hair, and only the face, and part of the neck were visible. It did not matter. Kaliroe’s figure may have been hidden under a mattress and still show how elegant her movements were, how supple the body underneath, how full of furiously luscious life it was. And the face, oh the face! Let me not use triteness like “launching a thousand ships,” for such expressions wouldn’t make a bit of difference here. Kaliroe should not even be described to you as a Greek goddess, for that would mean looking at a statue. Her face was the softest pale-pink you could imagine, the surface of a rose-leaf in May; the lips, well I don’t remember outside the fact they were perfect, the teeth sparkling white, and the eyes almond-shaped black flames darting arrows that would ravage the heart of gorilla—let alone the limber and melting youths passing underneath her window. It was somewhat of a letdown to the villagers that the husband her parents had chosen for her was much older, about thirty seven, short, ungainly, though a good man, and, naturally, the wealthiest of the prospective grooms. The wedding was celebrated with much food and dancing, despite the fact it happened during the war.

So Pericles, who must have known that Kaliroe had reciprocated his feelings, chose Harikleia, a decent lady, but not the real object of his affections. But by marrying Kaliroe’s first cousin he would be able to at least make some formal contacts with his beloved, though he never entertained (as far I know) questions of infidelity, for any such things in those days would mean gunshots.

Things progressed well with the negotiations, and the parties started thinking of dates for the wedding, when a complication came out of nowhere. Harikleia’s father and his clan were the very people who had assassinated Agatha’s husband, Yiannis’s father! Almost right away a commotion started, tempers rose, bad language was exchanged, by third parties to be sure, because Pericles, being a real gentleman, never used ugly words against any relative. But Agatha was fuming, came to see her sister, and in the most categorical terms she threatened violence if the match went any further. In this she was seconded by Yiannis, of all people, who had been first rate friends with his cousin up to that point, and, after all, they had both fought the same enemy in Albania. Yiannis had by now come back to live in the village, to help his mother who needed hands in the field to make do while the war lasted. Yiannis was supported by his younger brother Panos, also strong, and a cousin who felt their way about the marriage and had joined them. The three of them, and may be a fourth, one could never tell, waited at certain spots the village, hidden behind fences or around corners, knowing when Pericles would pass coming back from the fields, and lash out with verbal threats. They carried clubs, knives, and one of them even had a shotgun, ignoring the Italians, who often ventured up the villages in military vehicles and raided the basements of any people they chose and “bought’ (read stole) food, giving useless currency in exchange.

Tension between the families rose to a pitch, for even during the day of the engagement Yiannis and his band shouted curses from behind a fence near the bride’s house and the feast that followed the engagement was spoiled. I remember Uncle Nikos’s wife, Phroso, crying loudly, unable to stand the insult, for to be threatened during a sacred feast such as an engagement was humiliating.

But they decided the wedding would go ahead as planned and was a week or two from taking place, when the terrible news arrived. I was in town then but I heard all about it. Pericles had been ambushed by his cousins, stabbed and beaten, and left for dead. A breathless relative brought us the news, heartbreaking to my mother who wailed and cried for hours. They had lain in wait for him at Malikotsi, a small valley where my grandfather and some of his cousins had their best vineyards, and Pericles went there almost daily to supervise the work being done by hired hands or work there himself. That day, a Sunday, he went alone to do some chore or other, when three or four men jumped from a stone fence a few feet above the dirt road he walked on and started beating him with clubs, stabbing him in his arms and legs, hitting him in the face, biting him, spitting on him and calling him ugly names. Strong as he was, he tried to resist, but he was overpowered and left gasping for his last breath; the person who brought us the news said they had actually intended to kill him. But they probably thought they had, and left him there lying unconscious, taking to their heels and staying out of sight.

But Pericles was alive, came to after a while, and managed to drag himself to the main road, one or two hundred yards away, where some passer-by found him and carried him home on his beast.

Naturally, my father and mother rushed to the village, and I asked to go with them. The doctor had been called, and Pericles, we were told, could either be alive or dead in twenty four hours. Women had filled the house, and my grandmother and mother started wailing as if he had already died. I peered through a crack in the door, and I saw him stretched on his bed, bandaged from head to foot with sheets his mother had shredded for that purpose, for gauge bandages were impossible to find in war time. I only saw his eyes, bloodshot and staring at the ceiling, the eyes of a man seeing death coming. The doctor must have given him some sedative, but Pericles groaned so loudly you thought the very walls would crumble down.

But, miraculously, he lived. Next day when the doctor came back we had the re-assuring news. The man was so strong only a falling building could kill him. But the doctor warned the recuperation would be long and painful, and that he would never be the same man again.

I stayed in the village with my mother, skipping school for a few days, and watched things evolve. The house was full of women who came to visit and help if they could in any way and my mother and grandmother, though grateful, found that most of the women were simply in the way and they had to serve them coffee on top of having to care for the patient. And none of them had any idea of how to nurse a heavily wounded and constantly groaning with pain man, suggesting various home cures, like applying olive oil to the wounds or rubbing him with boiled chamomile herbs. It was all confusion and chaos, when unexpected help arrived. Kaliroe came to visit her soon-to-be relative (for no one even ventured to suggest the wedding was off), and, surprise (to me at any rate), she knew a lot about real nursing. I had no idea how she had acquired such knowledge, but I later learned that one of her uncles had studied medicine at the university and had transmitted some ideas of how to treat a sick person, probably intending to train his niece to be a modern mother, for she would marry one day, as all knowing her expected. Kaliroe not only knew things about nursing, she took over the situation right away. Dismissing the herb solutions with a sneer, she consulted with the doctor who came back several times, and started using the bandages properly and cleaning the wounds with alcohol (plenty in the house of a farmer) and some iodine and peroxide the doctor supplied, and doing all that with great skill and delicacy, for after all she was forced to see a man nearly naked when she had to nurse him. My grandmother, with the help of a few other women, took care of the feeding and cleaning of her son, carrying the chamber pot and other unsightly items early in the morning, so when Kaliroe arrived to do the bandaging, the room of the patient was tidied up.

Of course, under the circumstances, no one could object to her doing all this, for the patient’s recovery was of utmost importance. A few of the women gossiped, naturally, but nothing could stop Kaliroe from performing her duties with the zeal and devotion of a professional. Besides, she ignored the gossip. She was an independent person, and if some of the women dared to even look in her direction, she would nail them with a sharp glance. She was not to be trifled with, and her beauty was mightily reinforced by her intelligence, and, so long as Pericles was improving, no one in the household dared utter a word about her duties or presence there.

But things dragged on. The recovery of the patient was slow, and Pericles stayed in bed for weeks. And Kaliroe was never absent, not one day, for the wounds had to be dressed everyday—so the doctor said—and then slow murmur turned into suspicion. “What is she doing there, all these hours?” one of the boldest aunts asked—and the other soon began to have the same question. What scandalized them even more was when they saw Pericles one day on his feet, venturing into the garden, a sloping, tree-filled paradise with white almond-tree and pink peach tree blossoms everywhere–for it was now spring–not to mention the roses and the carnations in the pots, and the birds having their mating twitter, and other marvels of nature. And when Pericles started taking these walks regularly, Kaliroe was always with him—she and she alone, for Pericles would not ask his old, fatigued and busy mother to take a walk with him! I was young but I intuitively understood all that was happening in front of my eyes, for I visited the village due to school breaks often during the war. A love affair it was, but quiet and unobtrusive—to everyone except the gossiping women, who eventually stopped coming, not being able to endure the sight of a young man going around a garden with a married woman. But because the man had been beaten so badly and would probably remain a cripple the rest of his life, and because my grandfather had commanded such respect in the village, they held their tongues, at least openly, and things didn’t get to the point of a scandal. Besides, talk about the wedding came up as soon as Pericles was recovered enough to walk without pain, and a new date was set. Yiannis and his brothers remained out sight, and they were never prosecuted by the law, for the Italians had more serious things in mind than chasing down cousin-beaters. So the wedding took place six or eight months later, and, for your information, Pericles and Harikleia lived happily together for almost fifty years. They never had any children. He died of a stroke (he had several, for his health had been permanently ruined) at the age of eighty five, and his wife, now over a hundred, is blind and still alive. (Note: she died in 2006.)

 

But to come back to those days, for this story has an end. It must have been a year or two after Perciles’s wedding, our family still split and in the village (the Germans had come in), when my father had come up to see us, and he and I were trotting down the winding road towards town, when the sight of a boy I knew pushing a bicycle uphill caught our attention. His name was Thanos, the son of widow, poor and doing chores for a living, anything that would secure him a tip. He was sweating and struggling, for the grade was a sharp turn at that point, and the bicycle was a burden if anything, but I knew he meant to ride it as soon as he got on the flat stretches, as everyone would do.

“What’s the matter?” my father asked him. “Where are you rushing to?”

“Yiannis has been stabbed,” he said breathlessly. “I’m going to tell his mother. They don’t know anything yet.”

“What happened?” my father asked again, though Thanos had almost disappeared around the bend.

“A tavern brawl. He’s dead.”

We were both stunned, for we knew instantly which Yiannis he was referring to, though the name was common enough. We reached town in a hurry, and everything was in a flush. Despite the German occupation, such news was very upsetting and traveled instantly from ear to ear. One of my father’s cousins told us the story—or what he knew of it—right away, though the details were sketchy. There was a brawl in a tavern, a woman was offended, some people came to blows, knives were drawn, and Yiannis, who was in the middle of it for some reason that was not cleared, received a stab wound in the chest, so deep it reached his heart. Holding his chest with both hands, he staggered to his brother’s, Andrew’s house, several blocks away, and died at his doorstep.

Agatha came the same evening with her other sons. The funeral was the next day, at the cemetery in town, where Andreas purchased an expensive grave. It was attended by the entire populace, it seemed. My father went, but not my mother, who was still in the village. Upon his return, my father said Andreas broke into a loud yell when he saw the shovelful of dirt falling on his brother’s coffin, and he started running. He was a fast runner and nobody could catch him. He ran for a mile or so it seemed, and finally they found him at the ridge of the mountain, exhausted and himself near death.

A few days later my mother returned from the village. It was the next afternoon when she chose to go visit her brother, also named Yiannis (as we said earlier), at his farm, about a kilometer and a half out of town. We were walking together, and she whispered in a low voice, but made sure I heard her.

“God forgive me, but it was Pericles’s blood.”