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Cain and Abel

May 30, 2014

Spiros, the second son: I saw him born as Cain to his brother Abel: At night he slept on the floor of Eleni’s shack, dreaming he heard his father’s voice; that he saw the wrinkled face turned to him with an expression of sudden hope. Spiros had seen that look the day Adam announced he was getting married. He remembered how it had vanished as quickly as it had come, and old jealousy stirred, followed by aching loss. Damn you Adam, where the hell are you?

 

Awake, Spiros felt half of himself missing, the space his brother occupied against which he’d always pushed, empty, and guilt washed over him that he’d been the one to survive. Another thought untangled itself: he would have to be Adam, as well as himself; earn money fast and build it up for the sake of family reputation, for Adam’s children. 

 

Energized by these resolutions he entered Mr. Stavros’ rough, lean-to pub near the railway lines, hoping to find solidarity among fellow refugees, help in finding a job, even to establishing a business.

 

“I’m Spiros Kouvalis, successful merchant from Smyrna.” His voice bounced into the smoke-filled room. Into a sudden silence came grunts, a voice saying, “Successful, weren’t we all? Turkish sperm, that’s us. People spit and tell us we’re not real Greeks. Find a job − if you can. Forget the merchant stuff.” 

 

But Spiros, oddly excited, knocked on local factory doors. He was turned away. Walking until he reached the city centre he approached merchants, retailers, owners of brickyards and cement factories. He’d do any job, start this minute. “I know merchandize,” he insisted. “I can sell anything. You want a driver, a trucker? I do dirty jobs, any jobs.”

 

“Too many real Greeks looking for work.” With this he was dismissed. Undaunted, he went door-to-door along the streets of Patras, climbed the steps to the upper city and begged home owners, “I can clean, fix things, do anything – you try me.”

He was told there was nothing. Some swore as they turned from him. Tormented by a sense of time passing, that his father was watching, he walked the long distance back to Eleni’s shack. Her nine-year-old son Alekos sat hunched on the floor with a book loaned him from the priest.

 

Daughter Melina, squatting in the dirt outside, called to him, “Uncle Spiros, I made a picture of you.” In the dust with the point of a stick she’d drawn a thin face with slant eyes, hair scattered over a wide forehead, the mouth below a ragged moustache turned down sharply at the corners.

 

Spiros forced his mouth upward and patted her shoulder. Pulling the bottle of brandy from his coat pocket he poured two cups. “Talk to me,” he said to a morose Eleni. But she remained mute as she pushed a needle through Melina’s torn dress. Spiros himself did the talking, words spilling from him about the war, about the Onassis family with whom he’d resumed his old obsession: Socrates, treasurer of the Ethniki Ameni and therefore a traitor, had been jailed in Smyrna’s Turkish quarter. His brother Homer had fled. Alexander executed, Basil and John sent to a concentration camp in the interior.

 

“Adam and I were members of that organization too,” Spiros said. “It was to help the Greek army after the war to get an independent Greek area inside Turkey. So, the Turks saw we worked for the Greek Government.” He gave a sigh that he had to explain these fundamentals to his brother’s wife.

Darkness encircled the two of them, and stars dotted the night sky. Candlelight flickered out in the houses opposite, but Eleni had not bothered to light any.

 

 

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