WOMAN (around 60)
SON (34 years old)
A bedroom dressing table with a mirror. On it is a photograph. The WOMAN speaks to the mirror and the photograph. The SON speaks to the audience.
WOMAN (only her voice is heard): It's like a staircase. Like a spiral staircase: like the ones at Aunt Katerina's, in the old apartment buildings. You could see them at the back. From the kitchen all the way down. Fire escapes.
We used to go there a lot, every other day almost. My mother would take me.
I'd run up and down the metal steps and get giddy. "Stop it," my mother would yell out. "You'll get your legs tangled. You'll lose your balance. Watch out! You'll fall. You'll come tumbling down."
It was not on those spiral staircases that my life got tangled up. That was not where I came tumbling down. I keep falling; always falling. How can I regain my balance? How can I escape? All I want is to go back—to the beginning—to the first step. All I want is not to get old.
SON: I grew up in the shadow of his absent presence. With the guilt of denial dictated by the logic of reality. Slowly but surely time dissolved all false hopes. But I couldn't make it go away completely and put my life on a normal road. Unlike my mother, I was not a prisoner of the past. I had no past with him. It was an uncertain—or rather unlikely—future that was keeping me captive. I could never allow the present to turn into the past. Time had to be kept firmly in the present tense up to that day. His absence united us. But the prospect of that day kept us apart. Like her bedroom door that I never dared to open when she locked herself in there for hours on end. I never dared to open her life.
WOMAN: The elixir of youth is love. Happiness. Don't smile—I know what I'm talking about. I know. I read it somewhere. I read everything that has anything to do with this subject. And not just that.
If you want to know how to stay young, don't go to doctors or beauticians: read popular magazines. That's where you get the best advice. I don't mean the advertisements. I'm talking about the interviews—the interviews with the stars. They know. They have to keep young. "Love makes me feel young, so I make sure I'm always in love."
Headline. And underneath a photograph of an unlined face. Smiling. Smiling, without a single wrinkle.
This eternal smile of yours kills me.
I'm in love too. Always. In the past, in the present and forever and ever...I don't want to feel young; I want to be young. What I want is to stay young.
You men don't need it. Especially you, you haven't changed a bit. Your face is wrinkle-free. Just two little lines at the corners of your eyes and two commas around your lips. And that line across your forehead, deep as a riverbed. And a few barely discernible spots of grey on your long, old-fashioned sideburns. That's all. You are exactly the same. Unchanged for thirty years.
Time flows through mirrors. I will throw all the mirrors away. Put up photographs instead. Photographs of me everywhere. Time does not alter photographs. Photographs stop time. They immobilise it. At a particular moment. A particular day. A particular year.
That's all I want. Nothing else. To stop time. To go back to that day and freeze time there. To keep it waiting, as I am waiting. Fixed. Oh, God, how that fixed smile of yours is killing me. Always the same—and you, always the same. There for thirty years, unchanged. I hate my envious gaze.
SON: I look incredibly like him. Everyone says so.
WOMAN: You're the spitting image of your father. The eyes, the nose, the lips. The shape of your face, everything.
SON: We didn't have many photographs of my father.
WOMAN: Your grandmother had all the photographs from when he was a child. They're all gone. The same way everything else is gone. Homes, lives, people running to save themselves.
SON: My father was from a village in Kyrenia. My mother's photographs of him began from when they got engaged. My father was grown-up by then. My mother had them neatly arranged in an album. With dates and notes about where they were taken and on what occasion. We used to look at them a lot. In the evenings my mother would always tell me the story behind each photograph. It made her happy; she'd laugh with my father's stories. She took one of the photographs, framed it and kept it on her dressing table. In it my father was smiling for the camera; his hair was quite long, even for that time, he had long sideburns and a huge forehead. As soon as I was old enough to understand, I'd go in and sit at her dressing table and look at the photograph—trying to see the similarities. I didn't have sideburns, or long hair, and my hair fell differently on my forehead. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't get my parting to look like his. I'd place the photograph next to my face and stare at both of us in the mirror. I'd half open my lips and hold them frozen, fixed, like his smile. It was nothing like it. I wanted so much to look like him. I had to look like him. For as long as he was away at least, I wanted everyone to see him in me.
WOMAN: We live in other people's eyes. Our existence is confirmed in their gaze.
Do you know what Michalis said to me? You used to get annoyed if I so much as mentioned his name. Now even that doesn't change your expression. I hadn't seen him for ages. Years. I knew you didn't like me talking to him, so I avoided him. I ran into him by chance—quite by chance.
"It's incredible," he said. "You haven't changed at all—you're just like the last time I saw you."
He did say it, though. When he saw me after all those years. "You haven't changed at all."
What about you? What will you say to me after all these years?
It's all about looking after your face properly. Following the instructions to the letter and using the right products in the right order. "First wash your face with cold water, to firm up the muscles. Exercising the facial muscles by pulling different faces keeps the muscles strong and elastic and prevents flaccidity. Rinse with cold water and apply a cleansing lotion all over the face, rubbing vigorously with cotton wool to slough off the old, dead cells. Then apply a good moisturiser and after that..." Three minutes of treatment make time stand still. How many minutes will turn it back?
Don't laugh. I hate it when you laugh. I hate imagining it. Hearing it ring loud in my ears.
I can't see it—that's what gets me. Do you understand? What gets me is not seeing it. All I can see is a fixed smile. I want time to be fixed, not your smile.
I want a miracle. I want you to step out of the photograph. I want your smile to broaden, to turn into laughter, to turn into words, feelings, love, tenderness, worship, admiration, passion, love—mockery, even, and irony, sarcasm—anything—just to put an end to the frozen look in the picture, the beginning of a smile that never fully forms.
I'm tired of looking at it, I'm tired of trying to decipher it. I'm tired of wondering, guessing, trying to imagine whether you're still smiling. Are you? Will you ever smile at me again? Will you ever open the door and come in? What will you be like? As you are now? Will your eyes shine? How faded is your gaze? How wrinkled is your face? How big are the bags under your eyes? What is your body like? Straight? Stooped? Have you put on weight? Are you thinner? How desirable are you still? How much do you desire me still?
I read somewhere about a singer who used to wear wigs when she was young. She tied her own hair back with an elastic band. Pulled really tight to get rid of the lines around her eyes.
I used to wear my hair up too. Combed it into a little ball at the back of my head. Like ballet dancers. Even though I had a lot of hair. Very thick hair. Not because of the lines—I didn't have lines in those days. I just liked it like that. I liked the style. You always made me let it down.
MAN'S VOICE (off): I like to feel it flooding my face—smothering my breath when I kiss you. Its caress excited me.
WOMAN: I never wanted anything to come between us. Not a single hair. An endless argument. A game.
I let it down myself later, when the first white signs appeared at the roots.
It's terrible how quickly the white roots keep coming back.
I let it down later to hide the passage of time. Later. After you were gone.
"It is hard to tell you are over thirty," as Michalis would say. He was in love with me. But you were the one who got me. And kept me. And have me still.
"It is hard to tell you are over thirty!"
At thirty I wanted time to stop. Can it be done? Is that why he said it? Have I done it?
I hate mirrors. There shouldn't be any mirrors in the house. We should hang photographs everywhere. That's where we should see our faces. The way we want them to be. At the age of our choice. Always youthful. Untouched by time. Touched only by a cloth to wipe away the dust. Time is dust. Dust gathering on us. If I hadn't wiped away the dust from your photograph, you would have aged with me.
I have not aged. No, I have not. Look at me. It is your eyes I want to be mirrored in. It is your eyes I want to see me like this. I want them to say: Time has not marked your face. It is from your lips I want to hear: You haven't changed a bit. When you come back.
"Wait for me. Wait for me even when the waiting becomes unbearable. Wait for me. I will be back, I promise."
And I am waiting. Still.
Sometimes I wonder what I would do if you had said: Don't wait for me. Like you did sometimes when you phoned and said, "Don't wait for me for dinner. I'll be late."
And I didn't.
Now your lateness has lasted years. The years of my life.
I never said goodbye.
See you soon, I said, and take care.
SON: I never said goodbye to him when he left. My mother tried to stop him. She was packing a small bag of underwear for him and she said: "Don't go." He replied: "Can't be done. I have to. If I don't go, if the next man doesn't go, who will defend our country?" My mother said: "It's crazy out there. Where will you go?" My father said: "Whatever is going on, we have to fight." "Why don't you wait until we know what's going on? Don't be among the first," my mother pleaded with him. She had a bad feeling and was looking for a reason to keep him there a bit longer. My father smiled: "I'm not among the first; a lot of people have signed up already." My mother started to cry. My father hugged her, comforted her. "I'll be back soon," he said. "Don't worry." Then he turned to me: "Don't you worry, little man," he said. I felt my lip tremble, on the verge of tears. "No, no, no, don't you cry now, don't you cry," he said. He took me in his arms, pushed his face into my tummy—he used to do that—and tickled me with his nose. I started giggling. He held us both tight. He kissed me over and over again and started to leave. He stood for a moment at the door, looked at us again and waved goodbye to me. I was in my mother's arms, wriggling, laughing, trying to go to him. My father turned back, pointed his finger at me, tickled my throat and said: "Laughing, are you, you little monkey?" That's what he used to call me. "Laughing, are you?" Then he laughed too. He had a huge, broad laugh. I touched his teeth with my fingers. I was fascinated by how white they were. And by the little dark gap between his two front teeth that I always tried to push my finger through. He kissed my mother again, and said to me: "Look after your mother till I come back," and then he was gone.
My mother shouted out, "See you soon, take care."
I couldn't speak yet. I didn't even say goodbye.
I know every detail of this scene. I don't remember any of it. I learned about it. I was one year old.
I grew up with a powerful sense of his presence. The presence of a man we were expecting to come through the door at any moment and embrace us. Like all the fathers who leave for work in the morning and come home at night. I always waited for him in the evening—when I was playing in the streets with all the other children and one by one they would run off home shouting, "Dad's home," or when their mothers called out, "Your father's home." Emilia always left first. Before dusk, before her mother called. Perhaps it was a kind of childish self-protection. Her father was dead. She knew he was not coming home. My father was always going to come home.
I discovered the reason for his absence when I was six. My first day at school. The teacher asked us our names, our mother's name, our father's name, and what they did for a living. As it was getting close to my turn, I felt a strange sense of unease. My father was away. I didn't know what he did for a living. I only knew he was coming back from somewhere. The teacher asked me the same questions as she asked the others, but only asked my father's name and moved on to the next child, a girl. Before she had a chance to answer, someone else jumped in: "Orestes didn't tell us what his dad does for a living." The teacher placed her hand on my head protectively and said, "Orestes' father is a missing person." I had never heard that phrase before. We never spoke it at home. That night, my mother explained what it meant.
After that night all conversation at home acquired new content, the words acquired new meaning. What is a "missing person"? There are people who are alive and are with us. There are others who have died and will not return. Others are away on a trip. They are somewhere; you can't see them but you know they are there. Sometimes they come back, and sometimes they don't. Missing person. What does that mean? How do you classify a missing person? The silences grew longer, heavier with meaning, now they hid within them secret thoughts which one of us tried to hide and the other desperately wanted to discover. "What are you thinking?" became our permanent chorus. The stories in the photographs stopped being happy. I kept asking:
(to the WOMAN): And now? Where is he now?
WOMAN: Somewhere; he's somewhere thinking about us.
SON: But has he got photographs of us?
I could tell that the questions I asked or wanted to ask did not have answers. My questions were painful to her. So I tried to find the answers myself. We looked though the photo albums less and less often until finally they were put away in a cupboard. We stopped looking at them together. I retreated into myself. My mother retreated into her room. My father's absence was now filling the house. The waiting was not the same anymore. The image of the return had changed. In the afternoons after our games, I would leave together with Emilia.
WOMAN: I remember a film I saw. The man was away. In exile. For many years, thirty, forty, something like that. And then he comes back. The woman stands waiting outside the house. It is afternoon, a dull day; he stands there looking tired, tall, thin, skeletal, looking at her with a guilty look. She looks old, her eyes filled with inexpressible sorrow. Bewildered. Her eyes are searching for the man who went away. They struggle to recognise the man who came back. She peers at him closely. They look at each other for what seems like an eternity. "Are you hungry?" she asks him. Just three words of welcome: "Are you hungry?"
Why isn't our life like an American movie? It all ends differently there. Coming home is different. You are at one end of the street, at a port, an airport, somewhere. You come closer. I am at the other end. A few white hairs on our temples to indicate the passage of time. Just a few white hairs on the temples. You might be unshaven. I recognise you. You see me. I run to you. You take me in your arms. You lift me up high. Your arms are still strong, they can still lift me. You caress my face. My hands search for yours. We wipe away the tears. We kiss. The sky is blue. Or it could be raining. A cleansing rain. Not a dull day, no fog. Everything is clear. The crowd walks past, indifferent. And we are at the centre. Two figures in an embrace—nothing can separate them now. And the crowd moves past, indifferent to our happiness. The end. A happy ending. With tears in your eyes, in my eyes, in everyone's eyes, everyone who is tired of me, who is avoiding me, who doesn't want to remember, to wait. All those who pass me by.
I could not pass you by.
Perhaps that woman also stared for years at a photograph, a smile, a face untouched by time.
"Are you hungry?" That's what I'd ask every time you'd come home late. "Are you hungry?"
I wonder what it is that I will ask you. Are you hungry? Can a plate of food wipe away all the years of your absence? Will that be the continuation of the hasty breakfast you ate before you left? Has it only been a few hours? Will that be my illusion? Whether you are hungry? Will you say, yes, I am hungry, what have you cooked? And then? Will I ask you how you got on? How was your day? Are you tired? And you? What will you say to me? Will you look around to see if anything has changed?
At night, I would lie beside your naked body, exhausted, happy, complete, I used to wonder...When my hands explored every inch of your body, I wondered what it would be like later on...How would it be when time had left signs of decay on you? Can anyone still love a body that is marked by time? Do the ravages of time destroy love? Does desire fade away?
I have no answer. I have not experienced it. I cannot say.
I waited for you. You said, "Wait for me." And I am waiting. "I'll be back," you said. "I promise, I'll be back." You always kept your promises. I waited, even when despair drowned all hope of your return. That was my role. Was it a role I wanted? Did someone else impose it on me? Did you? We all have a role to play. This was my role. To wait with a photograph in my hands.
Duty? To sit in the square every Sunday and say that I am waiting. For what? For you? For news? Any news? Never!
Lots of information. All of it written, scored on my body. My face. Each new piece of information a breath, a smile of hope. And then another stab of disappointment. Another line slicing across my face. Another weight bowing my shoulders. A new white streak across my hair.
Why does sorrow turn your hair white? Sorrow is black. Like darkness.
These are the things I want to say to you. How can I say them when I look at your eternally unaging face? I collected all the things I wanted to say. I feel guilty. I feel guilty, because I see my wrinkled face, my white hair, my broken body. And you? What have you suffered? What has happened to you? Are you alive? Are you dead?
No...no, you are alive.
Where are you living? How? Behind bars? In prison? In dank, filthy dungeons? Where are you? What is crushing your body?
Are you hungry? There is always a plate laid out for you. The food is always ready to be heated up again. Clean sheets to warm up your body. My own warm embrace to wrap you in. My embrace will be warm. As it was then. I am...I am still thirty years old, just like when you left. Don't look at me—feel me.
SON: At school, when the teacher asked me a question, I felt...I felt, I don't know if that's how it was really, but that was how I felt. When she asked me a question, I felt all the other children's eyes on me. Straining their ears to hear what I was going to say. I was the son of a missing person and everything I said had to be absolutely right. When I told my mother something that I had done or said at school, the usual reaction was:
WOMAN: Well done, your father will be very pleased when he comes back. Your father will be proud of you. That's what he wants of you—always to be first. He will be very pleased when he hears.
SON: Happiness was always put off to some indeterminate time. When Father comes back. Whatever I said or did had to keep. It had to keep for no one knows how long. Until Father came home to be told. All my actions had to make Father pleased when he came home. The grief and sorrow we suffered alone. We never spoke of them. These we did not defer. I was sure that wherever Father was, he was suffering. I didn't know what kind of suffering he was enduring. A vague mystery. Something similar to ours. That was why only joys could be saved for his return.
Emilia always came to me during break time. We weren't in the same class. She was a year above me. I felt that being older she had taken me under her protection. Protection from what? We often just sat next to each other without speaking. We'd eat our snack together, always close to each other even during our times of silence. We never spoke of our fathers. She never spoke about hers and I never spoke about mine. Until one day—we were nearing the end of primary school—she said:
EMILIA: I'm going to get a new dad.
(SON looks at her, puzzled.)
My mother's going to marry Uncle Costas. Someone at work introduced them. His wife is dead too. But he hasn't got any children. He loves me a lot.
SON: You're lucky.
EMILIA: Why doesn't your mum get married?
SON: I've got a dad.
EMILIA: What if he's dead?
SON: He's not dead, he's missing; he's coming back.
EMILIA: What if he doesn't?
SON: He will.
EMILIA: My grandmother says that my mother's luckier than yours. At least we know. So my mum can start her life again.
SON: I said nothing to my mother that night. I could not tell her that the thought had entered my mind that if my father was dead, our life would be different. I was ashamed, because I had entertained the possibility that I could acquire a new father. That my mother could start her life again. That we could rebuild our life. Emilia was my only friend. It was she who had approached me, it was she who had provoked our friendship. She never spoke of her father, and we never mentioned mine either, until the day she told me that her mother was getting married again.
I broached the subject again some days later. The thought was going round and round in my mind until I plucked up the courage and asked:
SON: What else does your grandmother say?
EMILIA: What about?
SON: About my father.
EMILIA: She says I shouldn't talk to you about him, because it will make you sad.
SON: I'm not sad, tell me.
EMILIA: She doesn't talk about your father, she talks about missing persons.
SON: What does she say?
What does she say?
EMILIA: She says they're not alive. It has been such a long time. They must have killed them all.
SON: My mum says she's sure he is alive.
EMILIA: My mother says a lot of them are alive too. But Uncle Costas...Uncle Costas says there's no way they're still alive.
SON: Emilia and I never spoke about this again.
But I did start to talk to my mother again. I told her that it was possible that Father might not be alive, that he might not be coming back. She looked up from the homework she was correcting—my mother was a high school teacher. She stopped what she was doing and came up to me and asked me what I meant.
SON: Lots of people think that the missing persons aren't alive anymore.
WOMAN: What matters is what we think. What is important is that we don't write him off.
SON: Will you get married again?
WOMAN: What if your father is alive? What if he comes back one day?
SON: I asked her if she was sure he was alive.
WOMAN: I am not sure about anything. I don't know, and since I don't know, I can't be sure if he's alive or dead. I can't just write him off, when nothing is certain.
Would you like me to get married again?
SON: I did not answer. I did not know what to answer. It was not a question of what I wanted. I was twelve years old and was just beginning to realise that her life was beyond my own sense of logic.
WOMAN: How can a life be rebuilt? What is life that someone can rebuild it? With what tools, what materials? I'm not the one who ruined my life and should be remaking it now. Get married again? Find a new partner? When I was capable of deciding, I faltered. Now it is too late. I did not want to write you off. I did not want to replace you. You were here—I could see you all the time—you were next to me.
MAN'S VOICE (off): Don't believe what you see with eyes wide open. The only truth is what you can feel, what you can see with your eyes closed.
WOMAN: You told me that on Aunt Katerina's spiral staircase. That summer evening. It's only a fire escape, what am I supposed to feel? A spiral staircase like all the others.
MAN'S VOICE (off): No, it's not like all the others. Close your eyes. Hold my hand. Put your other hand on the rail, climb up with me. First, second, third step. Don't open your eyes. My love is on every step. Can you see it? My love has made this spiral staircase different from all the others. Come, come up higher with me.
WOMAN: You took me up to the flat roof.
MAN'S VOICE (off): It's not a roof—we're in the sky.
WOMAN: It's a dirty roof, I said.
MAN'S VOICE (off): Close your eyes.
WOMAN: I closed them. I received your first kiss. I flew with you to your truth.
Where are you flying now? What skies will you come back from?
Don't look at me when you come back. Don't look with open eyes at the truth of time.
Just feel the truth I want you to see.
Feel my flame—the flame that for thirty years has been raging every night in my empty bed. It won't go out. It burns me. I am young. Feel me—young, like you in the photograph. I don't know what I will see when you knock on the door. What will you be like? Young? Old? Laughing? Miserable? Will your hair be grey? Will you be fit? Will you be crippled? Has my absence bowed your shoulders? What are you like? What will I see? How will I recognise you? Come back. Come back with whatever picture time has painted on you. I am not afraid of that. The only thing I am afraid of is what you will see.
What is the truth? Is it the one we wanted? The one we dreamt of?
I am the truth. This is the reality, here. Carved out day by day.
MAN'S VOICE (off): I want to live my whole life at your side. To grow old with you. I want to live a whole life with you, a whole life, so I can remember it. When we grow old together I want to remind you of our sorrows and joys and tell you that if I could start my life again I would want to live the same life with you.
WOMAN: How much life do you want to live again with me? Which life? What would you remind me of? Waiting, that's all I remember. Endless waiting. Half-finished conversations that always end there, when if... begins...
What shall I say to you on the night of your return?
This is what I remember. Here. Here on my temples. Where I saw the first white lines. When two days had gone by without any news from you.
These lines, here on my forehead, when the coaches were arriving with the prisoners and I waited in the sun looking to find you among them.
This is his photograph, look at him. Was he with you? Have you seen him?
"I don't know. There were a lot of us. We didn't see them all."
"I don't know. We were all unshaven. Exhausted, faces change, I don't remember."
"Yes, I think I saw him."
You saw him? You spoke to him? Where?
"There was someone sitting next to me on the boat. He looked like him."
Did he speak to you? What did he say? What was his name?
"So many names. I don't remember. I never saw him again. We were together, we were surrounded, we ran. That's where we lost each other."
You didn't come back. The weight of your absence hunched my shoulders. I was bowed down by fear.
Why? Where were you? Where was your promise? "I will be back." It was your promise that weighed heavy, not the words of the others who for years have been saying: "They will be back, they will be back, they will be back."
SON: I began to look into the matter more systematically, not just through my mother's stories. I was now in high school and it was easier to make inquiries. Emilia remained my faithful companion. We spent hours sieving through old newspapers, reports by people who had been there, statements by politicians, reports by committees and anything and everything that was in any way connected with the missing persons.
Emilia, my valuable assistant, provided the balance between a cold acceptance of reality as dictated by common sense, and the undying hope that my mother's face would not allow me to abandon.
The statements that were issued from the mouths of the various officials meant nothing to me now. It hurt me that they insisted on keeping alive the hope that our people would come back. Especially when I accompanied my mother on her Sunday sit-downs. The presence of strangers there upset me too—people who had nothing to do with our own personal drama. There was no truth in the words they spoke to us. They were just attempts to cover up what they really wanted to say. Spouting words they thought we wanted to hear. We didn't—at least I didn't—want to hear their false words of consolation. I wanted the truth. Only the truth could set me free. I never shared my thoughts with my mother. There was no point. The illusion that he would come back was the only thing that kept her going. For me the phrase "establishing the fate of the missing persons" meant putting an end to uncertainty. It meant breaking the chains that kept my life in a state of suspended animation. It meant no longer putting off my actions to a future time "when he..."—some future undetermined time—would it be soon, would it be in the distant future? No one knew. I desperately wanted to understand why it had all happened. Who was to blame, who should take responsibility and how much? I felt that only then would I find peace.
I asked to see my father's file. Each missing person had his own file with all the information that related to him. They refused. The files are confidential, I was told. My mother has not seen it either.
WOMAN: What's to see? What can a file contain apart from the data that I have collected myself? I have spoken to all the people who had any contact with your father.
SON: Confidential, they tell you! Accessing information about what happened to your own people! Examining the facts and trying to understand what they mean! Trying to come to some conclusion of our own!
I did not give up. I kept trying.
I finally got to see the file before I left for university. My mother and I looked at it together. It contained nothing of importance. But it did confirm what my own common sense had been telling me all this time. Everything pointed to the fact that there was no way my father could have survived the chaos of the war. But what my mother said was:
WOMAN: Lots of people saw him alive. He is alive. He is hiding somewhere; perhaps he is in prison. He will come back.
You have all been turned into files. File 165. File 307. File 1619. Things are simpler that way. Painless. It is not hard to say, "File 163 is closed." There is no pain in that. Files can be dealt with. But lives cannot. Even when they are lost.
Your lives have become sheets of paper in files. Numbered pages. In blue pencil. Blue numbers. Each step of yours a blue number. Blue steps in the darkness that engulfed you. The statement of Pambos Heracleous, Blue number 10: "We joined up together. Then they split us up. My platoon went up to Pentadactylos, his went to Kyrenia. I never saw him again."
Anastasios Ioannou of Nicosia, Blue number 15: "He was in my platoon. We fought side by side. Then the cannon shots started. Someone shouted, 'Retreat!' I saw him running with two or three others in an eastwardly direction. I took the opposite route. I never saw him again."
Takis Themistocleous, Blue number 20: "We were all running away together to save ourselves. We got to an olive grove. It was quiet and we sat down to catch our breath. We fell asleep under a tree. Suddenly we heard gunfire. Someone was shooting at us with an automatic. We jumped up and started to run. I do not know if he ran too. I never saw him again."
No one ever saw you again.
The first page in your file as a missing person is mine. Blue number 1: "My husband, Giorgos Demetriades, left our house at 10 Venizelos Street on 20 July 1974 at approximately 11.00 am to enlist in the army following an announcement by the government, which was formed after the coup, issuing general mobilisation orders to all Greek male reserves. On the following day 21 July, at approximately 10.00 am he telephoned to tell me that he was well and I should not worry. He also told me that they would probably be transporting them to the Kyrenia district in order to fight off the Turkish invasion. Since then he has shown no signs of life and I never saw him again."
These are not my words. Don't laugh—the policeman wrote them. He heard what I said and then he drafted my statement. I could not be bothered to tell him that what he had drafted had nothing to do with you or me. I never wrote you off with "Since then he has shown no signs of life." How could he possibly understand that since then you have been giving me signs of life every day—that I see you in front of me every single day. The time you left, the time we spoke was not "approximate." All the things you said to me the policeman tied up in a neat parcel—"Not to worry."
"Don't be afraid, my darling," that's what you said to me. "Don't be afraid, my darling. Things are tough, but don't be afraid; I will be careful. Have I ever left you alone? You take care of yourself and the baby. I'll be back tomorrow or the next day. When I say I'll be back tomorrow or the next day, I will be back. Wait for me."
I am still waiting for you. What file would be big enough for all the days I have been waiting for you?
SON: I spoke to someone. One of those people who used to get up on the stands and orate when my mother and the others joined their silent cry to the silence of the photographs they held in their hands.
"My father is not alive," I said to him. He looked at me with pity and condescension. "How can you know that?" was his reaction. "I saw his file." I could tell that he was shocked and bewildered. His sense of shock and bewilderment transmitted itself to me, and I saw a shadow of fear flitting across his eyes. He was afraid. Of what? Me?
"Does it say in the file that he is dead?" he asked. It did not, but it was obvious. Anyone could work that out if they pieced the puzzle together. "You have to tell my mother," I told him. "What about hope?" he replied. "What about their hope?"
I looked at them. I saw no hope. All I could see in them was dumb helpless despair.
"Why?" Only Emilia heard my unanswered whys. Why? Why? Why won't they tell the truth?
EMILIA: Even if they told them that their people aren't alive, would they believe it?
SON: She was right. Now that the files and statements had been abandoned to the dust of self-deceit, what kind of logic could open their eyes?
What truth could triumph over the false truths of so many years?
How many people have said they had "seen" my father over all these years! With what bitterness and anguish had my mother seized on any crumb of so-called information! He had been seen chained in a dungeon. He had been seen working in a quarry in the depths of Anatolia. Trying to send us a message with a fearful look. He had been forced to get married, we heard. He was living with a new family, they told us.
So many lies told to us by officious committees and officers. What truth could now be believed if spoken by these same lips?
Only my father could convince my mother of the truth. Only my father's return!
Soon after I had finished my studies, the agreement was signed and work began to locate and open mass graves on both sides. Unknown remains, dead men waiting for someone to collect them. It was not hard for me to decide. I had to find my father. He was there. And the only way to identify him was through DNA, a method that had only recently begun to be applied.
I told my mother I had decided to give blood for DNA matching. It was possible that the unknown remains they were digging up from the graves that were being opened on both sides included those of my father.
WOMAN: I am not looking for your father among the dead.
SON: I did not reply.
WOMAN: Do as you like.
SON: It's unlikely that he is still alive, we have to accept that. It is common sense.
WOMAN: Whose common sense? Your father said he would come home and he will come home.
SON: This is a kind of coming home too.
Her eyes filled with terror and bewilderment.
WOMAN: Do as you like.
SON: We never spoke about it again. I never told her when I went to give blood or what steps I took, or the negative answers I was getting when bones were being matched from various graves. Nothing. She did not want to know and I did not want to add to her anguish. This was my decision. This was a road I had to follow to the bitter end. DNA testing was the only thing that could give us a definite answer. But would it? That was the question that tormented me. The information on the graves was not always accurate. Time was now deepening my own anxiety. I was consumed by the fear that perhaps we would never know. The certainty I had been feeling was gradually being replaced by doubt about official confirmation, which as time went by, I was becoming more and more afraid might never come.
WOMAN: It's like a staircase. A spiral staircase: like the ones at Aunt Katerina's, in the old apartment buildings. You could see them at the back. From the kitchen all the way down. Fire escapes.
We used to go there a lot, every other day almost. My mother would take me.
I'd run up and down the metal steps and get giddy. "Stop it," my mother would yell out, "you'll get your legs tangled. You'll lose your balance. Watch out! You'll fall. You'll come tumbling down."
It was not on those spiral staircases that my life got tangled up. That was not where I came tumbling down. I keep falling; always falling. How can I find my balance? How can I escape? All I want is to go back—to the beginning—to the first step.
Which spiral staircases have tangled me up?
The first was ours—the one you used to raise me up to heaven. The other one was yours—that hurled me into a dark pit.
Two twisted perpendicular metal tubes make up the first. Each step a sheet of metal. Steps I would climb one by one to follow your dream.
The other, an endless chain of chemical compounds eternally spiralling. Phosphates and sugars, steps made of protein bases leading me to your final loss.
"DNA is a molecular compound made up of nitrogen-protein bases, phosphates and sugars. The large DNA molecules are shaped like two long chains spiralling against each other. There are four protein bases: cytosine, guanine, thymine and adenine."
DNA. Deoxyribonucleic acid. Who discovered it? Who invented it?
Four protein bases: cytosine, guanine, thymine and adenine. Is that what I have been waiting for all these years? Is that what has spiralled though the unknown to come to me? Is that what I have been imploring to come back? Is that what I am going to ask "Are you hungry?"
This staircase is unlike all the others.
With eyes wide open I failed to see the truth. Now with eyes tightly shut, what truth can I feel?
I count the steps. There is no end.
I do not descend the steps one by one. I am sucked up as if by a whirlpool in the ocean. It throws me up and hurls me down like a tornado.
Whose hand shall I hold? Where is the rail for me to hold on to?
I count the steps. With each step I bleed. At which step will you bend down and lift me up?
"The sequence of the protein bases in series of three and the myriads of small and large variations in this sequence define the uniqueness of each human being. Analysing this sequence, which is transmitted genetically from one individual to another, is an extremely reliable way of establishing family relationships."
I don't want this testing of yours. I don't want these results. I don't want a bundle of bones to knock on my door. What will I embrace? What will I kiss? Your bones? Will your remains hold me tight? Will they lift me up?
DNA. Will that define who you are? Does it know the kind of life we had? What does it know about the life I am waiting for? What is DNA? A coffee cup? A line on my open palm? A deck of cards shuffling my life?
The cytosines and thymines will not establish your identity. Guanine and adenine will not identify my man.
Even if he is unrecognisable only I can identify him when he returns.
In what sequence can you see his smile? In what order will you place the protein bases that will form his caress? On which step of your chain is his tenderness? Which structure can express his love?
You can't find what makes him unique in any blood. Look in my blood. This is where he took root; this is where he haunts me. I am become flesh of his flesh. I carry him within me and I will carry him alive. Completely alive. Only I. Forever and ever.
(The WOMAN exits.)
SON: Eventually the answer came. My father's remains were found and identified in a mass grave on Pentadactylos mountain range. The first person I spoke to was Emilia.
EMILIA: Your mother?
SON: I didn't know how to tell her. I couldn't pluck up the courage. I felt guilty. The sense of satisfaction and release I was expecting did not come. I had confirmation that my father was not alive. But what about everything else? How did it happen? How did he die? Who killed him? What were the circumstances? Who were the culprits? Who will pay?
EMILIA: You know all that, but you will never be able to get that confirmed. There is no DNA for that.
SON: My mother embraced Emilia first when we went to her and told her as calmly and simply as we could "They found Father's remains." She hugged her and said:
WOMAN: Thank you, my dear girl.
SON: Then she held me tightly and allowed herself to weep the tears she had not wept all these years.
WOMAN: It had to be done; it had to be done. It is over now.
SON: I never understood whether these words held a question or acceptance.
She did not want to go to the Anthropology Institute. I went with Emilia. On the way there I was calm. In the lobby they gave us all the details of how my father was found. Then they said we could go in.
I faltered at the door. I was afraid. Emilia squeezed my hand. I went in. His bones were on a table. Laid out like a man asleep. All around were icons and oil lamps. It was like a small chapel. Next to the table was a box with his few personal effects. On top was a label with his name and age. Thirty three years old. I looked at him again. The man who had come back, who was laid out on the table, and who I was seeing for the first time was younger than me. Could he really be my parent?
I moved closer and looked at the tangle of bones, trying to see in them my father as I had known him from the photographs. I looked at him for a long time. Fearfully, I touched the bones of his fingers.
"He died from a bullet," the man who was accompanying us told us.
I felt Emilia holding me as my tears began to fall.
I stroked his whole hand. It did not have the coldness of death. A gentle roughness returned my caress. I looked at his skull. A large hole gaped on the right temple. Bewildered, I looked at the man in charge. He lowered his eyes. "I'll leave you alone for a while," he said, and left discreetly. I smoothed the few strands of hair on his head. I smiled at him. My father was laughing. A grimace of laughter was frozen on his skull. The smile in his photograph had turned into broad, inexplicable laughter.
I touched his teeth with my fingers. They were brilliantly white. The gap between his front teeth was not dark. The light from the oil lamps shone through it.
"Goodbye, Father," I said, and kissed his huge forehead...
(Enter the WOMAN. She is wearing black. She places the photograph centre stage. It is lit by a long narrow shaft of light. She sits on a chair stage left. The SON is standing next to her with his hand resting on her shoulder. EMILIA is next to him.)
WOMAN: Blessed is the road on which you walk today. Immaculate art thou on this road.
A sleeping servant am I as I walk on this blessed road.
Where is the bright and peaceful place to which my suffering can escape? In what endless life can I banish my grief and sorrow?
I looked upon the bare bones and said, "Which is the righteous man and which the sinner...?"
Which is the righteous man and which the sinner, O Lord?
Forgive him his sins, O Lord. And their sins? Are we praying for you to forgive their sins too, O Lord? Do we pray for forgiveness for all their knowing or unknowing sins, O Lord? Am I to forgive all the sins they committed, O Lord?
Am I to overlook all their crimes?
Earth to earth and dust to dust shalt thou return. Where is his earth? Give it to me. Give me that too. I will fashion clay out of blood. I will mould strong arms, a broad chest and lips for one last kiss, for a last embrace.
Who will give my soul rest, O Lord?
My Justice, Lord...My Justice, Lord...
Blessed is the road on which I walk today.
VOICE (off): Our immortal Hero,
We are gathered here today to pay tribute to your heroic death.
You fell in the line of duty.
The burial of your remains will put an end at last to the ordeal of expectation and uncertainty.
We are here to bid you farewell and give a tribute of honour for your glorious death.
WOMAN: And me...What about me...Who will give me back the years I lost?
translated from the Greek by Rhea Frangofinou