The Trouble With Men
a true story
"Papou, what are you thinking about today?" his grandson, now grown, a father himself, asked of the bent old man sitting in the faded pink wooden chair in the deep shade under the old, gnarled fig tree.
"Yia-yia. Iím thinking of my wife, your yia-yia, God rest her soul," he smiled toothlessly, nodding his head and looking up, with sightless eyes, to the cloudless summer-blue sky.
"And what thoughts of her do you have of grandmother, Papou?", the grandson, who was named after this old man, asked, sitting on the low, white plaster wall around the garden, feeling the stone coolness under his hands.
"I am thinking that she is in Heaven now, Dimitaki. And that I will soon join her there." The old man closed his eyes, and settled back in his chair, taking a drag on his hand-made cigarette, blowing a thin stream of smoke up through the fig leaves. He reached out toward the garden wall, feeling his way toward his tiny glass of ouzo.
Dimitri quickly handed it to the old man. "Papou, how is it you have lived so long? You are more than ninety years old now, is that right?"
"Ouzo!" answered the old man, taking a tiny sip. "Ouzo, my boy, good Turkish tobacco, and the love of my sweet wife," he fairly crowed, then silently laughed to himself. "And tabli!" Dimitri had to smile at this. Tabli had been the old manís favorite past-time, the game called backgammon, played fast and furiously, with much shouting, gesticulation, and betting away of the weekís pay, by Greek men, night after night, in all the old kafenions (coffee houses).
"Yes, Papou, I remember the story about the..." but then Dimitri realized that the old man had fallen asleep, his chin on his chest, still holding the glass of ouzo, the cigarette fallen from his fingers to the ground, among the dry and curling, green-and-gold fig leaves.
Papou was born in northern Greece, of doubtful parentage, and abandoned as an infant, in a tiny village, around 1880. He ran wild through the ragged vineyards and ancient olive groves, and played with other boys who were just as rowdy and wild, living like they imagined the dark-eyed gypsies lived, and whom they encountered on the dusty roads to the village. The boys stole chickens, ravished the sheep, threw stones at the black-robed and bearded priests, and ate cherries plucked fresh from the trees, until they were sick. They chased the farm girls and made them cry, swam naked in the river, and slept under bridges, or in haystacks.
Every warm summer evening, in the village, the peripato took place. This was the promenade, by the villagers, around the platia, or plaza, which had, at its center, an ancient, spreading linden tree. The scent of blossoming jasmine filled the air, while the villagers, dressed in their best clothing, slowly and majestically paraded around the plaza, entire family in tow.
The little cafťs had spindly ice cream parlor chairs and rickety tables set out around the perimeter of the plaza, and, when the evening procession was considered complete, the villagers would choose one of the cafťs, and take seats, to enjoy a dish of sticky-sweet ice cream, and perhaps a Turkish coffee, while father proudly presided over his brood, keeping an eye out for wayward glances at his daughters from the packs of young men lounging about, who were smoking nonchalantly, pretending not to look.
One evening, Papou, whose name was Dimitri also, stole into the village with his two unruly teenaged friends. They hid behind a low wall, and watched the young girls parade by, around the plaza.
"Dimitri, my boy, do you see that one? The nice fat one in the red dress, with the long black hair in a braid down her back? Thatís the one I want!" whispered Yanni, elbowing Dimitri in the ribs.
"Sheís old enough to be your mother... if you had a mother," Dimitri sneered.
"Which one do you want, Dimi?" asked Pavlo, the youngest of the three. Dimitri was intently watching a beautiful young girl dressed all in white, with rose-colored ribbons trailing in her carefully curled black hair.
The other boys followed Dimitriís loving, rapt gaze. "Are you crazy?" whispered Yanni. "Thatís the mayorís only daughter! And sheís just a child!"
Dimitri smiled. "Sheís old enough," he replied.
"Thereís no way in the world you can have her, Dimi, you know that. Why even bother to look?" asked Yanni. "Her brothers will kill you, if they catch you even looking at her," warned Pavlo.
"They wonít catch me," replied Dimitri, calmly, never taking his eyes off her. "I intend to kiss that pretty little mouth before the sun rises tomorrow," Dimitri flatly stated.
"Iíll bet you canít do it, not with your ugly face!" laughed Yanni.
"They lock her in the house and in her walled garden, Dimi," pleaded Pavlo. "Sheís only allowed to play with the children of the rich people. Not someone like us."
Dimitri turned toward his friends, with a look of determination on his face. "I donít intend to play with her. I intend to marry her!" he said, with utter finality. The other two boys looked astounded at him, then fell to the ground, rolling in a fit of laughter.
After all the villagers had left the plaza, and had returned to their homes, all the lanterns and candles were extinguished, and the village was dark and silent, the three boys crept stealthily along a dry creekbed toward the mayorís house, being careful not to arouse the sleeping dogs, nor the dozing roosters protecting their hens. They led a white horse they had liberated from the butcherís yard, by a rope tied around its neck.
When they reached the mayorís house, they led the horse up to the wall, Dimitri climbed up on the horseís back, then stood up on the horse, and clambered up onto the low, tiled roof.
"How do you know which room is hers?" Yanni whispered.
"Iíve been watching her for a long time, boys. I saw her in that window many times," he replied, pointing.
"Whatís her name, Dimi?" asked Pavlo.
"I donít know," answered Dimitri. "But Iíll be sure to ask her before weíre married."
Dimitri disappeared over the rooftop, paused a moment at an open window, then silently crawled inside the dark room. The boys waited fearfully, staring up at the house, holding their breath. A few moments later, they saw Dimitri coming out of the window, carrying something. He crawled slowly and carefully across the roof tiles, and slid down onto the horseís back, still holding something wrapped in a cobalt blue rug.
"What did you steal, Dimi?" asked Yanni, gleefully.
"Shut up! Letís get out of here!" quickly urged Dimitri, though clenched teeth.
The two boys hurriedly led the horse along the moonlit creek bed until they were far from the village. They trudged out into a field of dark poppies, and stopped.
"Is this far enough?" Pavlo asked.
"What did you get, Dimi? Did you get to kiss the girl like you said you would?" asked Yanni, excitedly.
"Not yet," answered Dimitri, dropping down from the horseís back, and carefully laying the rug-covered object down among the poppies.
He gently unrolled the rug. The two boys were stunned to see the mayorís young daughter lying there. The smell of chloroform wafted up from her face.
"Oh, no! Holy sh..." cried Pavlo.
"What the hell have you done, you idiot!" shouted Yanni.
"I havenít done anything yet," coolly replied Dimitri. "Now I want the two of you to wait over there, while I make this girl my wife."
The next morning, the sun rose over the village, the vineyards, the fields of blood-red poppies, and the olive groves; the roosters began to crow, the donkeys brayed, and young boys went out to the pastures with their herds of sheep and goats, the animalsí brass bells ringing hollowly through the rolling hills and the dewy, wildflower-strewn grass.
A womanís hysterical cry was heard, ringing through the village. Old women, dressed in black were seen to run through the streets, screeching, pulling at their thin strands of white hair, and sounding the alarm, beating their breasts. Grim-faced, mustachioed men saddled up horses and rode wildly out into the fields and orchards, shouting and waving guns in the air. Old men and boys gathered in the streets of the village, their heads together, talking angrily, and pounding their fists on the tables in the tavernas, causing their tiny coffee cups to jump and rattle.
At evening, the men trailed back to the village, exhausted with their fruitless search for the young girl.
"Stolen by gypsies!" one shouted.
Ran away with a sailor from the British Navy," cried another.
"Kidnapped and raped by Bedouins, those damned desert nomads," suggested one woman, almost delightedly.
'Turks! It was the Pasha who wanted her virginal beauty," keened an old crone.
"Well, whatever happened, weíll never see her again," sighed one young man.
"Yes, her father and her brothers would never allow her to return to the family, now that she has been...uh, taken," answered another young man.
"The family has been shamed, that is true," murmured the priest, contentedly sipping his thick, sweet cup of Turkish coffee.
The three boys, leading the horse, which was carrying the sobbing girl on its back, walked long into the night, toward the distant sea. When the moon had gone down behind the mountains, they stopped. Dimitri pulled the girl down from the horse, tied her to a twisted tree, and lit a campfire. The two boys looked at him with uncertainty in their eyes.
"Dimi, what are you going to do now?" Pavlo asked, tremulously.
"What am I going to do now?" asked Dimitri. "What do you think Iím going to do?" Pavlo just shook his head, staring at the fire, afraid to look at his boyhood friend.
"Iím going to find some work, so I can put a roof over my new wifeís head, and can feed our children," replied Dimitri, glancing over his shoulder at the girl.
"Did you even learn her name?" sneered Yanni.
"No, she wouldnít tell me. But she will," said Dimitri, grimly.
Dimitri got up and walked to where the girl was standing, tied to the tree, her features lit by the flickering firelight. "What is your name?" he asked. She stared straight ahead, not looking at him.
"You are my wife, now. Tell me your name!" he shouted. She looked at him now, and suddenly spat in his face, then turned her head away, expecting a blow that never came.
Yanni began to laugh, and said, derisively, "Ooooh! Big man you are. You donít even know your own wifeís name! Make her tell it to you, I dare you!"
Dimitri merely sighed and turned away from the girl, and returned to squat down by the fire. "She will, when she is ready."
Yanni stared, open-mouthed. "Whatís the matter with you? Are you in love or something?" he yelled, incredulously.
"Yes," said Dimitri, looking at the girl through the wisping curls of smoke from the campfire. "Yes, I am."
The crude little hut stood at the bottom of a hill along the roadside. The girl, now grown into a woman and mother, carried a willow basket of wet clothes to the low wall around her garden. Two little children, a girl and a boy, were playing in the dirt nearby. Jasmine grew next to the house and sent its sweet aroma into the windows, in the heat of the day, and long into the warm summer nights. Dark purple globes of eggplants lined the walk, along with ripe, red tomatoes and shiny green peppers. Onions poked their heads up through the damp soil, and golden russet pears hung from the black branches of the pear trees.
Fragrant almond trees, silvery-leaved, twisted olive trees and huge-leaved fig trees filled the garden behind the house, where earthen jars of goats-milk cheese were cooling in the shade, and black chickens scratched in the dirt for seeds and insects. Tall, sweating terra-cotta vases, filled with water from a cold mountain stream, and brought in on the white horseís back, were lined up under the porch, and covered with a gay square of gingham cloth, and tied with a bright piece of yarn around their necks. A green pine-cone had been dropped into the water, to keep it fresh during the summer months, and tasting sharply of resin.
The woman laid the clothes out to dry on the low wall, and over the aromatic thyme and oregano bushes, then went to the house, where she began to sweep the porch with a handmade broom. The children ran to her, and hid under her long apron, playing a game of hide-and-seek with each other. She stopped sweeping, to look up the dusty road, toward the little town, and shading her eyes with one hand.
Dimitri sat in the dark taverna, drinking ouzo and playing tabli with his friends, Yanni and Pavlo. The sun had long gone down, the moon had risen, and still they played, betting ever larger amounts of their meagre money, belligerent, and sure that the next roll of the dice would make them rich. More ouzo was drunk, and more called for, the dice continued to roll, the ivory backgammon tiles were slapped noisily on the board, the men shouted at the dice, unwilling to admit their losses, and eyes began to grow bleary with drink.
Finally, there was no more money to lose, or to pay for another ouzo, and Dimitri had to go home. Yanni and Pavlo staggered outside, holding him up, and roaring with drunken laughter. The white horse, now completely blind with old age, was waiting patiently, tied to an old olive tree branch. The two men put the drunken Dimitri on the horseís back, slapped the horse on the rear, and watched while the horse ambled blindly on toward home in the dark, as he always did, bringing the nearly comatose Dimitri back to his waiting family.
When they arrived at last, Dimitri was unconscious, and the horse neighed toward the house. The woman opened the door, and a golden patch of candlelight illuminated the image of her husband astride the white horse, and almost falling off its back.
"Greetings, wife. I have come home at last!" Dimitri cried out, when he could get his eyes open.
As always, she ran out, and caught him before he fell to the ground, and dragged him into the house, leaving him lying on his cot, while she went out to feed and to put her beloved white horse away for the night.
One night, when the men were again playing tabli, this time as a foursome, with the town baker, and drinking more than their usual amount of ouzo, Dimitri lost heavily. He lost his entire pay for the day, and was determined to win this roll of the dice, but had no money to bet.
He said, daring anyone to refuse the offer, "Iíll bet the horse."
Pavlo and Yanni laughed in his face. "That old blind nag? Itís not worth ten drachmas!" shouted Yanni.
"Your wife will kill you if you lose her horse!" cried Pavlo.
"I am the boss in my house. I say I will bet the horse," stated Dimitri, with finality, taking a quick gulp of ouzo.
The dice were thrown, the bet was lost, and the baker owned the old horse. More ouzo was drunk, and the three men left the taverna, staggering down the moonlit road to Dimitriís house, singing and shouting to keep up their bravado, afraid of facing Dimitriís wife, when she learned that her beloved white horse had been lost in a game of tabli.
Dimitri didnít make it to the door, but passed out in the yard. Yanni tip-toed to the door, knocked, then staggered off into the bushes with Pavlo, to watch what would happen, when the wife opened the door. The woman came out, looked down at her peacefully sleeping husband, then looked up the road. She shook her head, turned and went into the house, closing the door behind her, and leaving him lying in the dirt. She spoke not a word.
And she never spoke a word to him for the rest of her life, thought Dimitri, the grandson of the dying old man, who was nodding in the rickety pink chair under the twisted old fig tree. The little girl, who became his mother, had told him the sad old tale, because she wanted him to know the truth about his grandfather and grandmother, and what life was like in the old days.
Papou began to stir, and his soft snores quieted, as he raised his head, shakily. "Ah, is that you, Dimitaki? Still here, are you?" said the old man, his blind eyes searching for his grandson.
Yes, Papou. Iím still here," answered Dimitri, sadly. "Papou. Tell me, did Yia-yia ever tell you her name?"
The old man smiled, "No, Dimitaki." He sighed and shook his head. "She never told me her name."
Elizabeth English is a Renaissance woman who happens to live and work in our times. Theatrical director, producer, playwright; fiction and non-fiction writer; screenwriter: feature films, documentaries and animation; mythologist; archaeologist; feng shui consultant; interior designer/architect; cartoonist; lyricist; poet; sculptor/painter/illustrator/graphic design artist; editor, literary agent; independent film producer.
Ms. English loves to travel the wild places of the world, and hopes to
spend the beginning of the new millennium, whenever it occurs, on Easter
Island, among the sacred petroglyphs. Or maybe inside an Egyptian pyramid,
or on the Acropolis in the moonlight, up on the Enchanted Mesa with the Hopis,
or swimming in the sunset-lit waters of the Tasmanian Sea. Words by which
Here's an article she wrote on character and characterization for