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Posts Tagged ‘stories’

 

The old woman was sitting in the shade of the tree. Dressed in black, following the tradition of widowed Mediterranean women, and with a scarf covering her head she was rocking from side to side; watching. A small group of people was gathered in the open surveying the dusty, stone strewn soil about thirty feet away. She extended two gnarled fingers and made the sign of the cross against her chest, bowed her head and continued her vigil. It was early afternoon, the sun was high in the sky and yet she pulled her shawl closer about her as an involuntary shiver ran through her body. She stared at the people one by one until her eyes came to rest on the person nearest to her, a younger man in a yellowing panama hat, wearing a leather satchel over his shoulder and carrying a large sketch pad. As he pushed the brim of the hat back to run his hand through his hair the sun lit up his face and she gasped. A small lizard, sensing the vibration in the air scuttled for cover under a rock close to her foot. She would sit there in the shade and watch a while longer. From his place of concealment the lizard also surveyed the scene.

 

Three people, two well tanned local men and a fair haired woman, were moving shovelfuls of sandy soil and stones held within a wood frame which formed a box some two feet high, and filling a shallow trench in the ground. They had almost finished the task and the men were sweating, their clothes were damp from their exertions. The woman stopped, leaned on her shovel and tugging the red-spotted handkerchief from around her neck wiped her forehead. She was younger than the men and not yet touched by the sun and the Greek summer. She glanced in the direction of the man in the panama hat and motioned with her shovel, her meaning clear.

He nodded, closed the sketch pad with his drawing of the woman’s face taken earlier from the recently excavated mosaic floor and placed it inside his satchel which he had already dropped on the ground. Stepping forward he took the shovel and felt it in his hands. The wood was worn smooth and the metal where the blade met the shaft was hot to the touch. The two other men stopped to watch, their part of the task done. He added the last of the earth from the pile onto the ground by his feet and smoothed it flat, patting it down in a final symbolic gesture. As he stood he said, “Thank you for allowing me to gaze upon you, Eleni. I hope you will see the light of day again soon and not have to wait another two thousand years.” He turned to the girl and added, “Perhaps we can come back next summer.”

From beneath the tree the old woman crossed herself again and muttered. “You can bid her farewell, Englishman, but you will meet again far sooner than you think.”

He handed the spade back and went to retrieve his hat and satchel. As he picked it up the sketch pad fell out onto the ground. The face of a beautiful woman, Eleni, dark hair, curled and tied high on her head, blue eyes, full lips and an enigmatic smile stared back at him from the ground. He knelt to close the drawing pad, to push it back inside and secure the flap. That’s when he caught sight of the old woman in the shade of the tree and wondered where she had come from. Most of the locals and the old women chose to sit in the shade of the trees by the harbour enjoying the gossip and the relief of any breeze off the sea, not here amongst the stones and ruins with hardly a tree or shade in sight.  She was watching him intently and nodding, muttering something to herself which he could not quite make out. He thought about offering her a drink of water and started to pull the bottle out of the bag.

“Ohee, ef haristo, no, no thank you,” she said with a shake of the head holding up her hands palms towards him, waving him away.

He smiled, pushed the bottle back into his satchel and did up the flap. “Yasou, goodbye,” he said and turned to follow the two men and the woman who were already heading back towards their hot dusty car parked in the open by the rutted track. As he passed the site of their dig he stopped and looked back at the ancient land and the distant horizon shimmering in the haze. In the shade of the tree the lizard came out from beneath his rock. The old woman was nowhere to be seen.

 

Words and photographs Copyright 2017 by Antony J Waller

 

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There was just one small cardboard box left on the floor, scuffed and well worn. Jack knelt in front of it and slowly began to untie the string holding it together. Carefully he removed the lid putting it to one side. He knew what was hidden within, it came as no surprise, but he liked this moment all the same. He was helping to decorate the Christmas tree and this was the last, and for Jack, the best and most important part of all. The smell of the freshly cut tree standing on the floor in front of the window filled the air. The coloured lights were draped through the branches, the swathes of tinsel hung, the fairy was sitting securely at the top and the globes and decorations all tied on, all that is except for one.

Jack gazed lovingly down at the wooden Father Christmas lying there snugly cushioned on his bed of cotton wool and gently picked him up. A faded red coat, scuffed black boots, a worn smile and a stare without much of a twinkle left in the faded blue eyes looked back at him. This was the final decoration to be placed upon the tree, Grandpa’s old Father Christmas. Jack knew the story well. He had sat on his Grandpa’s knee in front of a roaring fire with the chill winter winds tapping on the windows and listened to the tale, his eyes wide moving between Grandpa and the wooden figure of Father Christmas on the tree.

 

Jack heard the words of the tale once again. Christmas Eve and Grandpa and his young sister were hanging their stockings near the ticking clock on the mantelpiece over the fireplace. A carrot and small glass of port carefully carried on a small tray from the kitchen and positioned in the hearth. How they had both scuttled up the stairs and jumped into bed waiting for Mum and Dad to tuck them in and wish them goodnight, thinking all the while of the morning ahead and willing themselves to fall asleep quickly. The next morning waking early and tip toeing downstairs, peeking into the front room and finding the glass of port empty and the carrot gone and their Christmas stockings lying either side of the fireplace and filled with small presents and sweets, an orange and a shiny new penny piece.

One year a brightly painted Father Christmas with a bright red coat, black boots and a twinkle in his eye had smiled out at Grandpa from the top of the stocking. A short length of string hung from the middle of his back and when pulled his arms and legs had shot out, up and down, up and down. Grandpa had eventually tied him to the Christmas tree and every year thereafter the little wooden man was hung in the tree to see them enjoy Christmas.

Jack felt a lump in his throat for this year Grandpa was not here to tell the story or to help. “Happy Christmas, Grandpa,” he whispered as he tied the decoration to the tree, “I know you’re watching.”

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