Barbed Wire in Aphrodite’s Garden
by John Bandler
Cyprus, 1955-1957. Love and courage collide with bigotry, decadence, and revolution in ethnically divided Cyprus as British control crumbles. A schoolboy battles his mantle of cowardice, a tycoon’s son rebels against his heritage, and a young womanizer seeks redemption as a guerrilla-assassin.
(Political drama, love story)
Irakles meets Fulya. Their first encounter. Translation: Eirini Zacharidis. Thanks also to John Vlachopoulos, Dinos Mavromatis, and Polychronis Koutsakis.
“I am Stavros,” the young man said.
From her beach chair on the sandy crescent of the Famagusta seashore, Claire Simmons lifted her magazine to shield her eyes. Cloaked in a halo by the sun’s glare, the man’s head cast a shadow across her face. Echoed by the paper cone he brandished, and distending the fabric over his loins, his hard-on intruded into her space.
Was this a classical hero thrust into the twentieth century? A Zeus poised over his next conquest? Cripes, no. Just local swagger assessing possibilities. Like her and fourteen-year-old Jane, her stepdaughter.
Under their umbrella, Jane now slouched in her chair as if to disappear into Great Expectations.
She herself, unable to settle, had dragged her own chair and Vogue and Illustrated London News in and out of the hundred-degree-plus shade. Why douse? Why spoil her makeup in the sea—her hair, her fuchsia lips, her matching toenails? Unlike the local talent, she was a natural blonde with sun-bleached wisps that accented her arms—not bad for a thirtyish English bird, albeit a NAAFI accountant’s wife. Packaged today in a form-fitting tan bikini that toned with oiled skin.
Still, she envied Jane’s Devonshire cream skin set off by jet hair. On jaunts into the pistachio-green sea, neither a Dickens nor a Bronte sister could shield Jane’s tits from gapers.
Jane’s blue eyes alone merited a detour.
Jane or her? Which of them had reeled in this so-called Stavros?
He must get up, check the back door. No. Better he rush to the hospital. Hold it. What if Rebecca’s back door was actually unlocked? He could enter the house, hide in her bed—
The gate jangled.
Thank God. He looked up. “Miss Ouzanian.”
His head slumped back to his knees.
Rebecca clanged the gate shut. “Is Fulya all right?” she asked. “Bad news? Look at me.” She touched his shoulder. “Didn’t her brother pick her up? Why, you’re teary.”
[Stavros] “The English beat me with sticks and bashed me with rifle-butts.” With one arm Stavros held him [Chris], with the other Stavros slashed him, backhand, across the face. One side, then the other, then another round. “Her father sleeps by an open window. You’ll fling the grenade into his bedroom.” Stavros slashed him again. “Are you paying attention to me?”
He [Chris] tasted blood.
He could duck. Roll off the roof. Would those knuckles ever stop?
“Where did Fivos hit you? Here?” Stavros hit him again.
Dear God, Stavros had cracked.
She fell to the floor and clung to his pants. “Stavrouthi mou, my baby, the English are executing everyone. Even if they only catch you holding a gun, you’ll be hanged.”
“I’ll kill them all,” he said.
He remembered her warning next day. Nose-to-nose, she’d looked him in the eyes and in front of his father said, “I implore you, don’t go. But if you join the national struggle and you betray a comrade, even under the cruelest torture, you must never return to my house. You will not be my son.”
Stavros fired a burst into Hadjipavlou’s face. The traitor’s head split open. Blood and brains splattered the wall, the floor, the wife. Pigswill. Women shrieked. For a moment, it seemed that the slop might backsplash onto him.
He shut his eyes. He wasn’t usually so close.
As he tested the Bordeaux that Loizos had placed before him, he wondered whether Claire’s arsenal also included dish-smashing. Rule number three—unsettle her by hinting that her secret was out anyway. “Rumor in the coffee shops is that the Englishman was the target, that he’s an intelligence agent.”
She frowned behind a cloud of cigarette smoke. “Who cares? You Cypriots randomly shoot unarmed people in the back anyway. Women included.”
“Take heed, Claire. Mr. Alistair McKay will surely be struck again.”
“And that poor Stelios.”
You Cypriots. Women. Blah, blah. He could hardly explain that Hadjipavlou, apparently culpable of dipping a greedy mitt into the British purse, also leaned politically too far left of center. That in today’s politics, right-wing Hellenism tipped the balance of prudence for Greek Cypriots. And that when clandestine initiatives required a payoff, a Hellenist should better be caught giving than receiving. “Yes,” he said. “Dreadful. Hadjipavlou was a good lawyer, with a dear wife.”
She alternated between cigarette and wine.
She sought a favor, certainly. Maybe she’d tried but couldn’t deliver him her NAAFI husband. Perhaps she wanted the dullard executed—with his EOKA contacts an easy matter to arrange. Clean. Arms length. Reggie could be the victim of one of those “random” shootings in the back that so angered her, if he hadn’t already pissed himself into extinction.
Retribution for the loss of her friends he’d leave to God.
Perhaps some merchant had cheated her and she needed redress. Yannakis could handle that. Perhaps she had a problem with the bureaucracy. An official needed a bribe. Yes, she likely needed money—women always wanted either romance or money.
She pressed her wineglass to her lips. “I need money.”
[Mehmet] “The curfew will keep the Greeks indoors. I’ve painted out my sign. Nobody will know who we are.”
[Fulya] “Then why don’t we go the usual way?”
But Mehmet remained silent. The flat grit turned to stony hillocks, sheer ups and downs. Mostly up. They stopped on a crest, temporary peace from the jolts and jerks of their crawl. Mehmet unloaded a box from the back of the van and disappeared. Could she take another peek at Irakles’s letter? No time. Her brother was already returning. They proceeded further into the hills. She wondered why of all days he would choose this one to delay their drive home. But she dare not ask again. He’d lie. Under the new emergency regulations, there was only one penalty for possessing a firearm, even for Turks. Death.
Hadn’t she overheard her father say that any person who consorted—what did consort mean?—with a person carrying a weapon also faced death?
She opened her eyes and tugged the coat over her leg. “I don’t know why I’m doing this. I’m sure I'll get sucked under.”
“Here’s the plan. You’ll wade in towards me. First, you’ll put your face into the water and blow bubbles. Then, you’re going to hold your breath and let yourself sink, eyes closed of course, so you can feel how easily you float. Then I’m going to pull you towards me so you can feel the water rushing against your face. Ready?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’ll have to take that coat off.”
“I’m coming.” She waved him away.
Submerged to his neck, he steadied himself against the swell and held his breath as Fulya, with her back to him, slowly unbuttoned her coat.
Fuck that bastard. He downed his wine in a gulp, banged down his glass and charged to Rebecca’s bedroom. He whacked the door with Lawrell’s book. “I’m coming in,” he yelled and flung open the door.
She was sitting at her dressing table in her bra and panties. “What’s wrong?” she said without looking away from the mirror.
He heard a noise. A new commotion had begun. He panned the binoculars to the point where the trees opened onto the track. A cloud of dust appeared to be following something that had crashed through the bushes and was bumping down the slope. Someone slammed to a halt in the glade, at the crook where slope met clearing. The intruder seemed to be resting. No doubt a village idiot—empty-headed, empty-handed, unarmed.
The idiot hopped into a crouch, lifted his head, and jerked it from side to side. Holy Mother of God. Christakis! The idiot was Christakis, about to collide with Fivos’s bullets.
Christakis (Chris), a Greek-Cypriot teenager
Stavros, his cousin
Irakles, his friend
Jane, an English girl
Claire, Jane’s stepmother (English)
Rebecca Ouzanian, an Armenian-Cypriot piano teacher
Fulya, a Turkish-Cypriot girl
Sokratis, a tycoon, Irakles’s real father
Elena, Sokratis’s wife
Alistair, a British military intelligence agent
Harry Lawrell, an English teacher
Panaretos, a priest
Bambos, a terrorist
Fivos, a terrorist
I grew up in the British Crown colony of Cyprus during its pre-independence days.
In addition to my lifelong connections with Cyprus, this work of fiction draws on meticulous on-site research, newspaper archives, and on-site interviews with teachers, writers, politicians, policemen and soldiers, as well as Greek and Turkish fighters of the 1950’s and 60’s—then enemies. Thus, Barbed Wire in Aphrodite’s Garden remains true to geographical locales, public figures, and historical events.
A Partial List of Special Thanks
For their confidence and trust, the many Cypriot fighters that I have interviewed, both Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot.
Also . . .
Eleni Christoforou, Makarios Drousiotis, Eleni Hapidou, Dinos Mavromatis, John Vlachopoulos.
Carl Ballstadt, Catherine Bush, Wayson Choy, Brian Henry, Shyam Selvadurai.
Regina Haggo, Diana Lawton.
Nick Markettos, Arif Hasan Tahsin, Christos Tifas, Kyriakos Vassiliou, Eirini Zacharidis.
Valerie Burke, John Hewson, Steven Jacklin, Janet Myers, Theresa Sansome, Maureen O’Connor, Ross Pennie.
And numerous dear friends, old and new.
Makarios Drousiotis, Lawrence Durrell, Charles Foley, Harry Scott Gibbons, Christopher Hitchens, Nikos Kazantzakis, Costas Kyrris, Harry Luke, Penelope Tremayne, The Press and Information Office (Nicosia), Cyprus Mail, The Times of Cyprus.
John Bandler, “Bitter Lemons and Barbed Wire,” On Miracle Ground XIV: Durrell and the Archive: The Modernist Milieu, The International Lawrence Durrell Society, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada, June 25-29, 2006. Schedule.
John Bandler, “Durrell’s Cyprus—Tainted Observations on the Colonial and Postcolonial,” ACLALS Conference: Literature for Our Times, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada, August 17-22, 2007. (Archived by Wayback Machine, 2007.) Durrell’s Cyprus by John Bandler, 2009.
“Let the Japanese Do Kamikaze,” John Bandler, Finalist, Writers’ Union of Canada 2006 Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers. (Archived by Wayback Machine, 2009.)
These Excerpts for the Web
Carl Ballstadt, Janet Myers, Kathryn Smith.
EOKA, TMT, MI6, Volkan, Makarios, Grivas, Dhigenis, Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, Britain, colonialism, terrorism, terrorist
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