It remains an almost mythical story; a story about the ancient temple of the village. Centuries had passed since then. After years and years of research, still nothing had been found. He never really expected to find much during his very first excavation with the university.
The vase had enchanted him at first sight. He slowly dug it up. When he took it in his hands, it left him in a restless sleep. It was full of images of love. Love and war.
He slept by the ancient ruins, holding the vase tight curling his body around it. His mind, delicate and fragile in the hands of time, was burning under the heat of the scorching sun.
He first saw her on the seafront by the cliffs, many years ago, listening to the waves crashing. Her freedom caressed his eyes. Her head was adorned with a turban, embroidered with flowers. She was dressed in Spring; she was Spring. Their eyes met, holding a promise. A promise held by people, weak as seedlings withered by the downpour of rain, orchestrated by the clouds of life.
“Al Saif”. He said with a smile, revealing dimples that were forming on each cheek.
“Leia”. She replied, humbly raising her eyebrows.
The sun, upon seeing their shadows mingling, took a glimpse into the future. It flickered its light softly from behind the hill, painting the skies purple. It took one last glance at the Moon, as it slowly emerged from the skies, ready to dress their union in gold and white. The smiles on their faces cast a force so strong, a force that pummeled a birth of love into the very depths and bowels of the sea, only to have it emerge into the foam on the shore.
He was a theater craftsman, and when he was not in his garage working on the sets, he would spend his free hours in the orchard he built around his house. Leia, a potter, would make beautiful art from clay, for hours and hours on end. She had set up her pottery workshop in the city center. When she was done for the day, exhausted as she was, she would lay in the hammock among the trees in Al Saif’s field, reading and listening to him mumble in the background, with his hands in the raw soil.
The fire burning in her eyes was a calling to him for love at night. Naked, tangled in the sheets, with the wind piercing through the open balcony door. His moist lips kissed hers, then moved down to her stomach, to the opening between her legs, giving her spasms and bursts of pleasure. She pulled him towards
her with her feet, raising him to her height, urging them to come together; to become one. Intensely, louder, he’d take her in his arms. A wild, standing erotic dance lifted them in the air; inarticulate cries filled the room. His arms wrapped around her body, moving up and down the arch of her back. He took her with a force of desire, as his teeth pressed into her neck. Her breath was caressing his, her eyes wide shut; her teeth sinking into her lips and her voice, almost broken and hoarse, gave out cries of an imminent orgasm.
Two people, free from the wounds inflicted on them by society, were completely given to each other. The freshness of the spring morning air swallowed their bodies whole, and lullabied their now untethered souls.
With nothing but their bare bodies, and a coffee in their hands, they walked over to the freshly watered soil of the field that morning. Under the tall Platanus tree which cast a soft shade over the hammock, was a patch of peculiar soil. Vibrant, red, and moist.
“Bring me a jar.”
“Red clay soil! I had brought it along with the Platanus tree from the village, when I first planted it here.”
“I want to make something for us. For you.”
“You know Leia, history has it, as a madman in the village would say, that fairies are hidden in the roots of the Platanus tree.”
Leia broke into a smile, as that was what Al Saif would call her. He took the jar and filled it with the vibrant red clay. Over the following days, the fairies would help her in her workshop as she processed the clay, and would sing with her until the clay took the shape of love.
She cleaned the soil a few times. She let it dry completely and then began to prepare it with fresh water from the river.
Kneading and stirring again and again until there were no traces of trapped air inside. Using a handmade wooden wheel, she began to give it form. However, no shape could embody what she felt for him. No shape could be cradled in their arms.
When the muses called out to her, her hands started dancing on the clay. A winemakers’ amphora. Its shape formed two bodies, as though merging to become one. Its two handles, on the one side was the hand of Al Saif, engraved with flowers from the field, and the other side, the hand of Leia, strong and muscular from the art of making clay. Two branches of the Platanus tree started forming at the bottom, and grew upwards, embracing the two bodies securely. Its opening was made to represent the top of the tree, with two nightingales resting on the edge, happily chirping the songs of that Spring.
With colors taken from the stones on the hill by the lake, she dressed it for three days and three nights. She placed it in the kiln oven and left for her usual reading in the hammock next to Al Saif. The next day, the two bodies had fully merged by the furnace and the fire.
Leia woke with a song on her lips. She ran to the workshop to pick up the amphora and hastily make her way back home, skipping to her own rhythm. From there, she would pick some fresh vegetables from their orchard, prepare dinner, refill the amphora and give all her love to Al Saif.
The sirens of war interrupted her song. Her eyes swell with fear. The song on her lips, turned to a song of mourning. Bombs began to fall, far into the horizon. Clouds of dust indicated where the first battle would be. “Al Saif. Al Saif.” A chant turned to a shout, as she hurriedly approached the house. Al Saif snatched her from behind. He already had a bag in his hand.
“Run. Run with me and do not let go of my hand. They are waiting for us on top the hill, in the temple of the ancient gods.”
“What is going on? Who are they? What do they want from us? Why?”
Now was no time for answers, he thought, as he took her hand, and ran forth without hesitation. Leia did not let go of the vase that was in her hands. It was their unborn child. It was love that was being split in two by the hatred of man, it was the spring flowers that were being drowned by rain. It was their peace; peace that was being killed by war.
They arrived at the ancient temple with hope. Hope that everyone would board the boats that were next to the port, in time. Anxious but patient, they waited for their turn. They were surrounded by chaos and panic, arms and faces pushing to board the boat. Karim, the city’s eldest and wisest, turned his gaze upon Al Saif.
“There is not enough room for everyone. Some of us will have to be left behind”
“Al Saif, I will not get on this boat without you.”
“Leia, my dear daughter, go and I will bring him safely back to you.”
Al Saif turned to look at Captain Joseph, his childhood friend from the neighborhood, and nodded his head towards Leia. He held her in his arms, in an attempt to calm her down. In an attempt to reassure her. He laid a gentle kiss on her forehead, between her eyes.
“Joseph, look after her, until I come to find you.”
Before Leia could speak, he took the vase from her hands, and replaced it with her bag. He gently pushed her into the captain’s arms. Old man Karim grabbed him by the arm, so they could walk together. He would not leave. He was born here. He had no other roots, to look for soil in another land. His roots were old now. He would stay.
Leia, already in the boat, was screaming, but Captain Joseph would not let her out of his arms. His eyes flooded with tears at the thought of leaving his childhood friend behind, in an impending hell. Honoring his wishes of keeping Leia safe was the least he could do. Holding her with one arm, and steering the boat with the other, they started drifting away. Everyone on the boat, frightened, had their eyes on Leia, the lioness in captivity. Her voice, broken and hoarse, was beginning to crack.
“Be careful. This vase carries a part of my soul. Look after it. I’ll wait for you.” She cried, broken and still.
Al Saif, along with Old man Karim and a dozen others, slowly walked towards the temple. They could not seek refuge elsewhere, and had to hide as soon as possible. The temple seemed to be the best solution.
He sat down, with the vase cradled in his arms. He glanced down at it and a smile escaped from his lips, as if seeing it for the first time. His mind was running to her and as he anxiously waited for the end. The end; whether it was his own, or that of people’s thirst for power, he could not know.
Old Karim broke into a chant, a hymn so deep it sounded like he was mourning. The song, however, was praising life.
In a field of flowers I encountered spring
We rejoiced with a hug
Full of love it was to bring
Barefoot I walk Upon this earth
To hear the lullabies
Of each flower giving birth
And those who think
They can master another life
Will live their own
With no love or joy in sight
A whistle was heard tearing through the sky. A menacing whistle, carrying on its back all the ugliness of humanity, all the darkness of the human soul. A hatred for life. Al Saif wrapped his whole body around the vase. A mixture of flesh and clay.
A deafening explosion filled the void of the temple. But the Gods were absent that day, leaving mortals to lift up their pillars to the sky. Because this is what is left for people to gather; ruins and the remnants of a false life split in half.
He saw her. She hugged him tenderly, wrapping her arms around him. He felt her breath stroking his neck. She grasped him tighter. “I am by your side.” She whispered. “I never left. I am waiting for you by the edge of the sky. A child is in my womb, looking for you too. This is what I wanted to tell you today. I am waiting for you, to see you. To tell you. That what you hold in your arms, is our child. I am waiting for you to return safe, you would never lie. You said you would come. I want you. I’m waiting for you.”
He woke among the ancient ruins. The vase was still in his hands, but the figures had faded. Like a bolt of lightning, his mind tried to recall what he had experienced. Anxious, he turned his gaze to the sea. His mind, delicate and fragile in the hands of time, was burning under the heat of the scorching sun.
A voice was heard amongst the rubble. “Come on, Al Saif. It’s time for a break. The professor asked to see us. The others from the group are waiting for us to join them for dinner.”
Time flows, wild and untamed like a river. It sweeps people off their feet, dragging them along its path, merciless and free, spreading them apart through cliffs and streams. Those who survive, stand the test of time. Those who survive, live to call the rest history.
Written by Giorgos Papakonstantinou
Translated by Danielle Neophytou