Swamped, a novel by Manolis Aligizakis

Posted: 04/08/2022 by vequinox in Literature

Eteocles and Nicolas walk around the house. There are lots of stones on the ground, mostly flat ones, but spread all over the small yard around this strange house with its sheet metal roof where the rain played a strange game during the night, a game Eteocles had never heard before. He bends down to the ground, takes

one stone and throws it toward the edge of the lot. His brother starts doing the same and, stone by stone, in an hour of work they have cleaned the lot of its flat stones, which are now piled by the edge of the yard. Now they can play freely around the house. They can even practice their football skills, but since they don’t know anyone in the neighborhood yet, or any other place where they can play, it will be as good as it can be under the circumstances. They don’t even have a soccer ball yet, but they hope their dad will find some money to buy them a proper ball made of rubber and already inflated.

Nicolas spots a stone they missed while clearing the lot. Quickly he grabs it and throws it toward the edge of the yard, but Fate has put Eteocles in the path of the thrown stone and it hits him on the head. The younger boy feels a sharp pain on the left side of his head and his hand instinctively reaches for the spot only to discover his own warm blood. He presses his hand against the wound as Nicolas rushes to take him inside where their mother is still arranging their things in her new home. She wraps a clean handkerchief around Eteocles’s head and tells him to press hard against the wound. It only takes a couple of minutes for the bleeding to stop. Then she looks sternly at Nicolas and asks, “Didn’t you remember what I said to you? You’re older. You have to take care of your brother. You have to take care of him!” Nicolas bows his head. “I know, Mom. I remember.” A single tear trickles down his cheek. Eteocles cries too and hugs his brother. “I’m okay, I’m okay,” he repeats, and taking his brother’s hand, he leads him outside to play again.

A few days later after the two brothers start going to the closest school, Eteocles in grade two and Nicolas in grade four. It doesn’t take them long to gang up with other kids, but because they are newcomers, some of the other children start picking on Eteocles, choosing him because he is the smaller of the two. Sometimes they push him against a wall or block him from going down the stairs before others. Sometimes they try to intimidate him with threats. This goes on until Nicolas discovers what is happening, and after he finds out who the ringleader is, he rewards him with a few good punches on the stomach and head. These make the third grader start howling, and Nicolas ends up in the principal’s office and is suspended from school for two days. It’s his first suspension, but more will follow as the days and years go by.   

Within only a couple of weeks, the two brothers have done all their exploration of the immediate area, made new friends in the neighborhood, and become familiar with all the surroundings. They like their new neighbourhood, but especially the water pump they call touloumpa. Eteocles loves to work its lever and draw water from the depths of the earth. He loves the freshness of the cool well water and with some practice gets good at working the lever with one arm while drinking the refreshing water out of the palm of his other hand. Another favorite spot is by the two big trees about a hundred meters from their house where all the boys and girls of the neighborhood play their favorite characters,Tarzan and Jane, Gaour, and Tatambou, and all the other heroes, the detectives, the resistance fighters during the German occupation, all the daring characters they know so well from their comic books.

Every Sunday afternoon their parents take the boys down to the promenade by the Gulf of Salonica where they walk from west to east, usually stopping near the White Tower where their dad buys them ice cream during the hot summer days or roasted chestnuts during the cold days of autumn and winter. This is the only entertainment they can afford, but the boys love it every time, even if the scenery is always the same and the long walk tires them out especially on the uphill walk back to their suburb of Sikies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s