Archive for 07/05/2022

Swamped, a novel

Posted: 07/05/2022 by vequinox in Literature

When the boys grow a little older, Nicolas starts going to school while Eteocles, two years younger, stays at home with their mom. Whenever they can, they still go swimming in the beautiful sea, the inviting sea of the Bay of Chania, where they start swimming as early as March, and every year they pride themselves on the number of swims they have already had by Easter. After their almost daily walk down the one kilometer road from the upper village to the lower and to the sandy shore to the right of the village or the rocky area to its left, they usually swim at the sandy beach and do their fishing and crab hunting on the other side, where the huge rocks create hiding places for their prey and small limpets stick to the faces of the rocks. Sea urchins are also abundant, and the boys are experts on how to deal with all the different creatures. They have mostly learned from the older boys but have also devised their own new ways of working. Like all the boys of the world, their young minds are creative and inventive. For instance, they have figured out how to push a limpet along the rock face until it becomes unstuck, lift it from the rock, and suck on it until every edible part is gulped down. Then, using the shell as a tool, they get as many more as they want from the abundance of nature. With the small crabs, it’s only a matter of swiftness of hand. When they lift a rock, their hands have to be fast enough to grab one or more of the creatures before the tiny things scurry under the next rock. The boys are often hungry when they go to the sea and so they have learned how to fend for themselves.    

They swim and play in the water for hours until they are tired and hungry enough to run home for their main meal, which is usually eaten in the early afternoon. But when their mom lies down for her siesta, which is mandatory from late spring to the end of autumn, they grab their slingshots and join the other boys in hunting adventures. In groups of four or five, they roam the groves and fields until the sun disappears behind the mountains in the west, the signal to go back home for supper, which usually consists of fried potatoes and salad or leftovers from the main meal.

Today Eteocles and Nicolas are at the sea with Manolis, Yanni, and Antony, Yanni’s older brother, As the oldest member of the gang Antony is always the first in the water and goes farthest from the shore, from where he challenges the younger ones to dive and try to touch the bottom of the bay, about three to four meters down, in a single breath. Another village boy, also called Yanni, who lives next to Georgia’s house with the barking dog, the dog that barks at Eteocles every time he runs, can hold his breath long enough to swim underwater from one side of the bay to the other, a distance of at least twenty meters. He has such strong lungs that he can blow up a football when it becomes too soft.

On their way back today, they pass the lower village with its two cafés where they don’t like to linger because the old men who sit there always make fun of them, and then passing the butcher shop and the post office, they reach the long, empty kilometer of road that takes them to the upper side of the village. They pass the Makaronas stable where cows are sheltered during the winter, a stinky place that smells from afar with the familiar smell of manure mixed with hay, and here they hold their breaths until they distance themselves from the stable and then, almost exhausted for lack of air, they breathe to their hearts content.

From there to home is only a few minutes of good running, and the two brothers always compete to see who can outrun the other, but Nicolas, older and taller, wins each and every time. When they reach their house they find their mother smiling and happy and holding out the sweet treat she has baked for them while they’ve  been swimming or sometimes ready for them with two small cups of her special sweet made from grapes and syrup which they gulp down and then lick the cups clean.

Until Eteocles starts going school, the two brothers are inseparable from the time they get up in the morning to the time they go to bed at night, and they spend all their day playing and bonding, two inseparable buddies who play whatever comes to mind and collect the covers of cigarette packs, which the boys in the village compete for. When they gather for a game of cards, each boy places one card one on top of the other in the middle of a circle and then the first boy, decided by the usual play of their fingers, throws a flat-shaped rock from a defined distance against the cards and whichever card he manages to knock out of the circle he takes as his. If he misses, he has to add another card on top of the others, and it isn’t uncommon to see a stack of ten or more cards at any particular time, with the next thrower having a chance to win all of them. Even the boys’ mothers and fathers help them gather the covers of cigarette packs for the game. Eteocles does well in this game. He throws his flat stone very accurately, and Nicolas is not far behind him in skill. They are the two boys of the village who are hardest to beat. The boys also collect buttons for another game. They like to play this one in the winter when they can’t go out to the fields. They gather in one house and dig a shallow hole in the dirt floor about five centimeters in diameter and the same in depth. Then they each place one button in the bottom of the hole and each boy in turn leans down to the floor and in one breath blows as many buttons out of the hole as he can, and they are then his. In this game, cousin Yanni is the best in the village. He can blow almost all the buttons from the hole every single time. Eteocles, one of the youngest, can’t blow as hard as most of the others and usually loses all his buttons. Then he teams up with his brother to be able to stay in the game a bit longer.

Until their father goes away, what the two boys enjoy most is their evening supper because they share it with both parents. With their father working at his café, the noonday dinner is only between them and their mother, but at supper their father starts giving them a small amount of wine with their food, and so their mom puts four glasses on the table, and after they have their food they cheer to their good health and drink their small portions of wine just like the adults do. Then their father takes an orange and peels it with his knife in a circular fashion, making sure he keeps the whole peel in one piece, which their mom hangs on a wire from the ceiling and after it dries, uses to season her stews and other dishes. And after their father peels the orange, he divides it in four and gives one piece to each of them and two boys enjoy that piece of orange more than any other orange they ever had.