Continued from Part II
The brigadier was going from bad to worse, as he hadn’t had a whole-night’s sleep in weeks. He started to forget things, turned up to work in a dirty uniform, unshaven and deranged. He forgot his tendency to bully the major and his other subordinates, and was especially absent-minded to the point where he started leaving classified documents and important keys all over the camp. Despite his macho façade and his pretences of warrior status, he was a man constantly fighting to maintain control over everything and everyone in his life. He kept everyone at arm’s length, lest they saw through him and lost their fear and respect for him. He claimed to like guns and shooting and all things army, but at heart he detested it all. Weapons made his hands greasy and he hated the loud mayhem of practice shooting. He occasionally had to put on a show for the sake of hierarchy, but he loathed it all. His weapon of choice was one of his expensive pens tucked into his breast pocket, and his usual target was the daily crossword. He just felt that things worked out better when people feared him and did as he said-so he left no space for contradictions and arguments in any aspect of his life.
One afternoon he fell asleep in the office, only to wake up late at night when everyone was gone. As his driver had taken his leave, he decided to walk home. Passing through the sleepy village’s narrow streets, mud brick houses and dark arches, he felt that someone or something was following him, as if the dark itself was conspiring against him. He started walking faster, his legs making a vain attempt to run but failing to shift his heavy frame. When he finally got home he had the look of a mad man. His wife tried to calm him down, bathed him and put him to bed as if he was a baby. Then she picked up the phone. “Good evening Yiannís. We need to talk. Yes, tomorrow morning, I’ll come to the church. Thank you, goodnight.”
The brigadier was surprised to see his brother-in-law in his office. He couldn’t remember arranging a ceremony for the troops and it was definitely not a national holiday. Papa Yiannís had arrived informed and trod around the topic very carefully to avoid exposing the poor woman’s intervention. “You look tired Sofokli if you don’t mind me saying so. Have you been busy at work or partying hard?” he joked. When the brigadier tried to dismiss the priest’s concern, the priest insisted. “Seriously Sofokli, I’m worried about you as a friend and relative, and the man responsible for your soul. Is there something you want to tell me?” When the brigadier dismissed his concerns once again, the priest erupted in rage. He charged at him, grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him violently. “For fuck’s sake man! Look at you! You look like you’ve just crawled out of the sewer and you’re crazier than Pello-Kokos. I’ve seen men end up in the asylum for less! Tell me what’s going on before I kick your head in!”
The brigadier had never heard the priest swear, or threaten with violence, and was shocked at his directness but also at his strength. The priest was a young man and was far from being typical. He was rather pragmatic and sceptical about any kind of claims to the supernatural, but also understood its great value to the Church’s cause. He was a rather secular priest, playing guitar in a local rock band and occasionally playing football for the village team. He was in fact quite a good player, with a tendency to get stuck in and even have the odd fight. In the evenings he turned up at the coffee house, played pool and darts and smoked endlessly. The only thing that made him a priest were his beard and cassock. But the brigadier was shocked none the less and immediately explained to him what he had experienced in the past few weeks.
Papa Yiannís listened with caution. When the brigadier finished, he sighed in desperation. He’d been hearing these stories for a while but was utterly dismissive. “Sofokli, there are no ghosts, this is nonsense.” Papa Yiannís went on to explain to the brigadier the local legend of a young girl who was murdered around the chapel of St George by a villain and whose spirit is said to roam the area around the anniversary of her death every August. The priest had a cynical take on the tale and treated it as damaging superstition. “You know the tale of Pafitis, don’t you Sofoklis? Old man Pafitis rode to the cemetery on his donkey one evening to light a candle by his late wife’s grave. He dismounted and drove a spike into the earth onto which he tied the donkey. He turned and got up to go to the grave, when he felt something holding his vraka* back. He thought the dead had reached out from their graves and were holding him back and he died from fear. In fact he’d pinned down his own vraka when he was tying the donkey. They found him dead in the morning, his vraka pinned to the ground and full of shit.” The brigadier stared at him with blank eyes. “What I’m trying to say is that this ghost story is as ridiculous and silly as the story of old man Pafitis. We have to get over it now. For the sake of your sanity, your wife and your soldiers.”
“Please Yianní, can’t you do something? I am really tormented”, insisted the brigadier, his spherical body sunken in his chair. “You are tormented because you have fear in you, and you believe in this crap.” “Can’t you do something, a blessing, an exorcism, something? The soldiers have been seeing things too, something is not right, for sure.” “Listen, you are an intelligent man. If it makes you feel better, we can have a ceremony and consecrate the grounds again, with the soldiers present. Hopefully this will make everyone calm down so we can get on with our lives. I want a favour in return though.” “Anything, as long as we can put this matter to bed once and for all.”
On the following day a sombre procession began from the outpost. The troops, some of which were carrying crosses and the banner of the Virgin which Papa Yannís provided, Captain Kitsis, Major Troullos, the brigadier, Mastre Hambís and Linda the dog were all walking slowly behind the priest’s determined and fearless figure. He was chanting and burning incense all the way to the end of the trench where the bones were found. When they got there, the group still cowering with fear but also hopeful, the priest recited prayers to banish the evil spirits. He went on to sprinkle holy water with a bunch of basil and the cross held in his right hand, making the sign of the cross. It all had a strange resonance in the peaceful countryside. The wind was lightly shaking the cypress trees and there was not even a cloud to blemish the blue sky. When it was all over they all looked relieved and happy. The priest turned around to address them. “My children, now all this is over and laid to rest. I urge you to go back to your daily routine without fear. The Lord will protect you and shelter you from all evil.”
For the next few weeks the soldiers whitewashed the chapel, repaired the door, rebuilt the perimeter wall which was crumbling away and fixed the gate. They pulled the weeds and cleaned up, just as Papa Yannís had ordered. They had a renewed air of youthful cheer and arrogance, their playfulness had returned, as if Papa Yannís’ prayers had disintegrated their worries and cleansed their minds from all doubts and fears. They started teasing each other, splashing Sotirakis’ boots with whitewash and pretending they were ghosts howling and laughing. It was all back to normal it seemed, they were eighteen again.
Papa Yannís came with the brigadier on the last day and together they complimented the soldiers for their work. “Perhaps this ghost should come more often”, Papa Yannís joked. The brigadier looked back at his best, ubiquitous and loud as usual, but also happy it was all over. The soldiers gathered their tools, spades, rakes, brushes and buckets and started walking back towards the outpost. Mastre Hambís would be coming by later with some kléftiko and beers.
Nobody noticed the black-clad figure peering at them from inside the chapel.
Vraka=traditional trousers/shalvar worn in Cyprus and Crete
Part of the Army Tales