Having lived most of my life on an island, I had the good fortune of being allowed to play outdoors even after sunset and do things a city-child wouldn't normally dream of. It's this sense of security that small places provide that make even the most protective parents less worried about and, of course, more tolerant towards a child's need for adventure.
For all the above, I spent all my restless childhood searching for buried treasures in the forests and cycling along the endless coasts of my Greek island looking for pirate ships( not that I found any).
And yet, from all my strange experiences, there's one which stands out to this very day, maybe because my blue coat is still hanging in my closet- in a far-away end.
Well, a good story-teller should start from the beginning so...
It was one of those days when a child wakes up feeling so energetic, almost naughty. I jumped out of bed, barely having the patience to have breakfast and ran to my bicycle while my poor mother was trying her best to remind me to be on time for lunch. Ten minutes later, and, having summoned the rest of the pack, we were cycling along the south coast of the harbour without a single plan in mind. We spent most of the morning and afternoon hours racing and teasing one another and then, tired as we were; we "camped" outside an old graveyard exchanging ghost stories from the past. Needless to say so much for lunch and our midday nap!
It must have been close to sun-set when Sophia (one of the oldest in the group) began telling a story that had supposedly taken place in that very abandoned graveyard. As the narration progressed, the less comfortable we all felt and every now and then we would turn round to check on the Iron Gate that stood as a barrier between us and the dead! I, personally, had the distinct feeling I was being watched but would hesitate to look closer in fear of ruining the reputation of being fearless!
Finally, the story ended with the dead bride claiming the life of her disloyal groom and my fearless friends having piled up in a corner, completely terrified! I could see Sophia feeling proud for the fright she had caused and, to this very day, I still wonder what came over me to so sarcastically utter "Right! And then what? She jumped back to the grave with an everlasting smile on her face-one that passer-by wanderers can detect even today?"
That, of course, initiated a whole riot among the pack, and as I should have guessed, Sophia challenged me to go check it out if I dare...
Why, just tell me why one gets to say the wrong thing at the wrong time? And as if that wasn't enough, there goes another suggestion, "and while you're at it, bring us some proof that you have actually been inside and not hidden behind the bushes or something..."
Right! Now I knew I was in deep trouble but I refused to let Sophia humiliate me and, despite my growing terror, I jumped over the old gate ignoring the chills I was feeling.
"And don't be too long because we might not wait!"
I can still hear my friends screaming, Sophia laughing and a voice in my head saying "don't, don't" but I walked on until I was far from sight and deep into the creepy wilderness. At that point, despite the foolishness of my youth, I felt awkward, knowing that I was trespassing. In my culture, we were taught to respect the dead and what I was doing was not respectful and yet, I would have rather died than have Sophia calling me a coward.
I recall walking among half-open or broken graves and I was overwhelmed by the feeling of abandonment when, all of a sudden, I detect an open grave-the tombstone was in pieces pilled up on the side of the hole. I stopped, whispered a prayer and tried to find my courage. I must have been there for quite a while because I suddenly realized it was gradually getting darker and darker, so, finally I stretched my arm in the interior until I touched something solid and pulled it out.
It was part of a human pelvis, worn off due to exposure to the sun and rain.
Being a little darker now and having accomplished my mission, I made my way for the gate once again but, to my surprise, everyone was gone but Sophia and Nickie. And they were obviously not happy with my success!
They inspected the bone and then said they would now have to go so they jumped back on their bikes and off they went leaving me baffled.
I was ready to throw the bone to the ground and run back behind them but, having realized I had been enough disrespectful for a day, I jumped back into the graveyard wishing to undo the wrong.
It took me ages to find the open grave again and when I did, I placed the bone back in and, this time in tears, set off for my way home feeling a taste of bitterness in my lips. "I shouldn't have done that, I should have just kept quiet," I thought.
Some time later I reached home and letting the bike fall to the ground (little did I care at that point) I opened our front door and stepped in to face my mother's wrath! There also goes dinner as you would have guessed. The only thing I still clearly remember about the rest of the evening was my mum yelling about me having destroyed my coat, a muddy coat that resembled what I was wearing that same day flashing in front of my eyes, and then, my bedroom door hitting me where the sun don't shine as mum shut it behind me!
I didn't get any sleep that night going over and over the whole day but sometime during the early hours I managed to close my eyes and let go of my worries.
"Have I ever broke into your house and disturbed your sleep? Have I ever misplaced your clothes?" The angry voice can still be heard in my head as I woke up from that terrible sleep soaking wet! At that, my door opened wide and my mum rushed in to hold me and tell me it had just been a dream. I fell asleep again.
It must have been ten in the morning when mum returned to my room to ask me what had happened to my coat. Thinking she was referring to the previous day I seemed reluctant to explain when I realized she meant that same morning.
"I washed the mud off last night and this morning... It was, I don't know, dusty again. Did you touch it again since last night?"
"No I didn't! But I did something stupid," I began saying as I broke into tears and went on to tell her about my little adventure and the disturbing dream I had.
She was unhappy about my revelation but then tried to sound firm while setting down some rules and, finally, reassuring that there was nothing to worry about as long as I did not do that again. That day I stayed indoors, not feeling up to anything.
The next morning though I was in for a rough awakening as mum came rushing into my room accompanied by my grandfather: "Did you touch the coat at all-we need to know the truth?"
And again I refused to having done such thing when, to my terror grandpa asked me to get up and take him to the old cemetery. I cannot describe my state of mind at that moment but, since they both refused to take no for an answer, I got up, dressed and showed him the way. On our way there he insisted on making sure that the voice in my dream had not told me his name and finally stopped the effort.
All that's left to say is, we were circling the interior of that lonely place attempting to find the opening from where I took the bone and then, the spot where I misplaced it but, to no avail. The whole did was done in the cover of darkness and finally my grandpa decided that the only way to ease the dead was to bring a priest and get him to read a prayer, with me present, of course.
As for the coat, despite my mum's frequent requests to throw it away, you can still find it to this day (twenty-two years later) hanging in the far away corner of my closet under which I have to vacuum every now and then.
Thank you for being patient,