By Alexandros Papadakis
“Put down the map, white man;
let me show you what you’ve done.
Take out your camera,
but first let me ask,
what have you enjoyed the most? The defensive walls? They look harmonic on the map. Ignore the middle, that’s a scar, the last divided capital, just look at the Venetian shards.
We have five on this side, the North has the other six.
Just go to the border and show your ID
pass the Green line, the no-man’s land.
Ignore the skeletons of rusty cars, the stacked sandbags, the broken hotel windows, the bullet holes on the walls. Even though this is what you are here for.
They had foreseen and called the line green back when it was still coloured shit.
When brown walls and crimson tiles covered miles of life and yiayia’s pies gathered cats, when we had had enough, to finish what we took for granted.
Until the grass took over.
Turn your eyes away, have a look at this; colour, graffitis; poems and people that left their mark, the coffee man that woke us up, the suited creep that sweeped the church’s grounds, the Vespa that got our mail around, the placards that denounce the local fascists, the capital.. No, don’t look at that. Look over here; an insane person’s answer is silence. Yes, think of that, it’s abstract enough, until I find the exit. I’ve been away too long.
Yes, the area of museums. Is this what you are here for? Safe points on your map.
Follow the wide streets, only the wide ones, and get lost in the placards.
Let go, let them distract.
If you’re feeling brave, sir, I’ll take you to the town square.
Can you handle the chaos? The colour? The festive babble?
the dark-skinned citizens they want to send back?
the folk songs we forgot how to play in the dark?
the desperate gamblers seceding to the North?
the church’s steps full of hopeless drunks?
the anarchists that forgot the plan?
the buskers that play for none?
the smell of ouzo and zivana and Greek coffee as we call it on this side,
the baklava that’s better on this side. Just half a mile away,
but keep your eyes straight, don’t look at the walls, don’t look at the floor.
Just across the church, eyes on the bell, hey!, eyes on the bell, we’re almost there.
Oh, just as I had thought, I’ve been away too long.
Welcome to Europe.
Thank you for funding us.
Let me just take you straight to the border. There’s more of the same, get your card ready. No, no ticket needed. Lefkosia in the South, Lefkoşa in the North.
And no hard feelings, love.
I shift the blame whenever I can.
My parents are used to it, they don’t complain when I get loud. After the war, they wanted us to have it all, our plate was always full, we never worked, we never fought.
Just keep buying coffee, lighters, sweets and hats;
since the conform, I heart Cyprus looks good on any uniform.
I’ll see you on the other side, I guess it’s all the same, but I haven’t been there for a while.”
I watch the tourist cross the border to the North.
My eyes are drawn to the writings on the walls;
This town is full of cozenage.
I walk back. I pass the myriad identical cafes trying to dodge the shine that blinds my eyes. I shut them and look to whiff the Turkish coffee, spot the tiny mugs. I try to smell the wood, scratched by the draughts and dice. The thrift fur sweat, the bare feet, the unchained dogs.
My nose is troubled by the recently familiar smell. Espresso, tap water, plastic playing cards.
I turn my face away.
The huge church, the rusty iron gate, the massive framed Mary on top.
You are not my mother, I don’t belong.
I enter pointlessly, a last resort. A home that will never change.
I smell the candles, commandaria, fermented bread, the old dry mouths.
I hear and feel the clinging desperation.
I stop to reprimand myself having found comfort in the fall. A home I’ll never cease to hate.
I approach the man in black, Papas;
the white beard, the authority, the hat, the superiority.
He tells me to kiss his hand.
You are not my father, I don’t belong.
I find the door, I slurp the blood, I gulp down my dose of nostalgia for the day.
I walk the yard, clinging to images of youth in black, yellow cans, makeshift cocktails, folk chants. They fade away when the
starts, Hodjas singing from afar, echoing in the town square; the holy customers put their highballs down and look at each other waiting for the end to their aural despair. I welcome the song, the foreign temper, the dissonant melody I didn’t have time to hate. Papas starts barking from behind me, stubbornly beaming through the bell tower, byzantine intervals of which I’ve had enough. This battle is too much.
I follow Hodjas’ chants, the least familiar sound.
I’m border bound. I play my part. I smile at the cops.
On the Green line I remember the brawl we had with the others that held placards, the “I Don’t Forget” ones, wanting their past back, screaming chants about ancient lands. Stereotypes with shiny heads and bloated chests trying to exaggerate the pride for nothing they themselves had done.
We all forgot, the ones to blame are long gone.
I pass the town square, the slender church, The Hodja halts, thank god, I’d had enough.
I go to Hoi Polloi to smell the Turkish coffee and I drop on a wooden chair to melt.
I see the skinny girls, the bronzen skin, tattoos for clothes, lighting spliffs, dancing fearlessly and just as I had thought, writing on the walls;
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner…
No, shift, it wasn’t me.
Wishing I was them, I smile back.