Academic journal article Hecate

The Smile

Academic journal article Hecate

The Smile

Article excerpt

1948

As the land gets closer and closer, as the ship bears down on its final destination, as docking at Station Pier gets underway, as all on board begin to flutter and focus, in panic, joy or resignation regarding what comes next, the cook leaning out, pipe in mouth, from the galley - a man with a pocked and dimpled chin, a teasingly angled grin and a relish for the sorts of ironies that make others quail, a man who reads, not much but selectively, his rancid, wellthumbed library taking half the space in his duffle bag - is beaming, his gold incisor gleaming, his mind racing beyond the port, beyond the mainland, further south, obsessed with the darker aspects of displacement, his thoughts feeding greedily on the past, its diverse cleansings, decimations and erasures, savouring the image and idea of historical slates wiped clean.

1944

The air is still on the Samian mountainside today, sweet and heavy with jasmine, rose and almond blossom, unbearable but for the sharp resinous fragrance of pines. The faintest breeze becomes a censer ruffling crushed wild thyme and cistus into scents redolent of the Byzantine chapel below.

It's too hot to be out. It's not the right time of the day. Nobody else will be around. That's why it will be safe. So the woman reasoned as she led her small daughters Evi and Eleni up the goat path to the high place where the best weeds grow. The bitter green antidotes to a bad war-time diet. The chickweed, chicory and amaranth. The dandelion, sorrel and wild fennel.

Evi lingers, dreaming, by the weeping tree, its perfumed magenta balls strung like beads along its boughs, drooping gracefully into the crystal, green stream, as the smell of incense wafts again though no air seems to move. It's then that she hears the puffing sound, the muffled moan, the crackling of the scented undergrowth, and thinks she sees a smile, an odd-looking, lop-sided smile.

Now there's definitely someone. Someone else. Rushing footsteps, arguments in German voices. And just as abruptly, mid-shout, nothing, silence.

Eleni is coming back, scornful, her basket full. Their mother must have finished already. Perhaps gone down ahead. But she's not in the village. Not even at night when the round-up begins: the one that ferrets out their partisan father from his lair in the woods. Not even at dawn when the firing squad takes aim. For these are the rules on the Occupied islands: a dead German soldier must be balanced by ten dead Greek men. …

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