Swamped, a novel by Manolis Aligizakis

Posted: 28/06/2022 by vequinox in Literature

They may be tired of fighting, but their blood is still boiling, and this is why, when far away from the school grounds, the upper village kids turn at the side of the hill, from where they cannot be seen from the school anymore, take off their shoes and socks, lie down on the wet soil, and give the lower village kids their open hands and toes. This is their fiercest act of defiance. It’s the height of ridicule in this part of the world to be shown the open palm of another and especially when even the toes and soles of the feet take part in the insult.

Afterwards, in their respective houses, the children from both sides have to contend with their mothers’ angry questions: “what has happened to you?” and “who have you been fighting?” and “why have you got into another fight?” and  “how many times have I told you  not to do this?” These are questions they have all heard many times but that never stop them from repeating their ritual.

On another day the boys go hunting, all geared up and ready. It’s the middle of July, as hot on Crete as it is every July, and they leave their mom having her siesta and quickly head to the center of the village, past the angry dog that always barks at Eteocles, as if Eteocles exuded some special odor the dog particularly dislikes, and in the village square meet the rest of the rascals: Yanni, the one they called Hleeby, a word no one knows the meaning of, and Manolis, their cousin, and Antony, another cousin, and go hunting for sparrows. This time, since the birds must have new hatchlings in their nests, they decide to climb onto the roof of Hleeby’s house and search for sparrow chicks under the roof tiles. The only obstacle between them and their prey is Hleeby’s father, who is having his siesta as well, which means they have to be very careful not to wake him up because, if they do, they may as well forget about hunting. If he catches them with sparrow chicks, he will take them from the children and have his wife Anastasia cook them for him, and the boys’ struggle to get the sparrow mothers to fly away and give them room to grab the babies will have been an exercise in futility. The boys have a plan, of course, and Nicolas, as usual, is the mastermind who climbs up on the roof first and walks gently on the tiles, making sure he doesn’t break any. Carefully, he turns up a few tiles, only to discover that most of the babies have already flown away. Only one here and there, some smaller ones or sick ones are still roosting in the nests.

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