Read The Messenger of Athens: A Novel Online

Authors: Anne Zouroudi

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General

The Messenger of Athens: A Novel

BOOK: The Messenger of Athens: A Novel
13.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub








For Will


No words were lost on Hermes the Wayfinder who bent to tie his beautiful sandals on, ambrosial, golden, that carry him over water or over endless land in a swish of the wind… A gull patrolling between the wave crests of the desolate sea will dip to catch a fish, and douse his wings; no higher above the whitecaps Hermes flew until the distant island lay ahead…

The Odyssey




t was the spring of the year; the air was light and bright, the alpines were in bloom. It was a fine day to be out.

She had been out there for two days.

They had found her, at last, but they were not treating her with reverence, or due respect. How could they? Beneath the rising helicopter, she dangled between a soldier’s khaki-trousered legs, arms flung wide like a welcome, her own legs spread, open to them all. The deafening beat of the rotors, amplified and echoing off the canyon walls, killed all talk; but the men of the search party had already fallen into silence, now they were bringing her up. Along the unfenced roadside, in small, somber groups they waited—soldiers, policemen, civilians—looking across the scree of landslips, down towards the dry, rock-strewn riverbed where she had lain.

Dropping low over the dirt road, the helicopter hurled out debris: dust, stones, vegetation ripped from its roots. Behind the windscreen of an old, black Toyota, the driver draped his arm around the shoulders of a man with tear-red eyes, who, flinching, turned away his face.

Shielding his own eyes from the debris, an army officer screamed orders at a group of young soldiers—
Line up, four-a-side, line up!
—but his words, lost in the roar of the rotating blades, failed to reach them. Running forward, mad with impatience, he seized one of the boys by the arm and dragged him into place, pushing and shoving the boy’s comrades into the two rows he had planned.

Catch her as she comes down
, he shouted.
And don’t screw up!

They didn’t hear him. They pulled faces and made obscene gestures at his back. New National Service conscripts, hair shorn gray and muscles still soft, they stood in two shambolic rows, hearts racing and self-conscious, arms outstretched to receive her.

Due respect, they had been told. Due reverence.

The other men looked on.

She began her descent. The wide canvas sling beneath her underarms set her at an angle, so her spread legs came first. At once, the boy soldiers were confounded: how to look up to receive her and not look up her skirt? Due respect, after all. But as she descended, the storm of whirling dust grew worse, more distracting. Snorting dirt from their nostrils, spitting grit into the road, when her legs came within their reach, none of them noticed. Above them, the winch man was yelling:
Get hold of her, you cretins!
They didn’t hear him. Then her legs were before their faces, changing their dilemma—no longer how not to look up her skirt, but how ever again to think of a woman’s legs without seeing these: the glistening of protruding, splintered bone, the foot angled bafflingly to the
shin, the livid bruising spread over the yellow-tainted skin, the heaviness of purple at the backs of thighs and calves where her blood had pooled.

Steeling themselves to touch dead flesh, they took the weight. Her naked arms were cold, no worse than that. Preparing to remove the sling, they were coping, and confident that they had borne the worst. Then, the two boys at her head saw their mistake: her eyes were not closed as they had thought, but gone, eaten. Shrieking, they pulled their hands from under her. Her head snapped back. The officer, who had placed himself at a suitable distance, moved his mouth in curses they couldn’t hear; running forward, he bullied the gagging boys back into place, putting her head in their hands as the others struggled to free her from the sling.

It was done. The officer signaled to the helicopter crew, who winched up their man and slewed away, upwards and to the south, out towards open sea.

The silence in the helicopter’s wake seemed profound. Unprepared for the sudden quiet, the men coughed, ground out cigarettes, looked around. Some action was expected of them. She was here; now what? The boy soldiers held her at their waists, faces averted and grimacing.

Stepping up to the army officer, the Chief of Police brushed dust from the sleeves of his jacket and smoothed his hair. Now the air was clearing, the nauseating smell of her began to drift over them. Flies came from nowhere to settle on her face.

“Who’ll take her down?” asked the army officer. He knew their superstitions and beliefs, and the local taboos.

“I’ll ask Lakis.”

Lakis, the Cretan, an outsider. Any job for cash. The Chief of Police beckoned to the tall, balding man standing beside a white pick-up and gestured—towards the corpse, towards the vehicle, a twist of the hand to ask the question in the silent language of the Greeks. Lakis bowed his head.

The army officer signaled to the boy soldiers. Staggering to the tailgate, they slid her into the truck, face-up on its dirty floor.

The Chief of Police called out to a black-robed priest—a young man, heavily bearded—who sat on a rock, smoking a thin, untidily rolled cigarette. The priest stood, flicking ash from the skirt of his robe. Approaching the pick-up, he looked in at her, and reached over the side to fold her arms across her breast. He raised his hand and made, slowly, the triple cross of the Orthodox church. Lowering their heads, the men all signed the same symbol, over their hearts.

Lakis took his seat behind the wheel. Hitching up his robes, the priest climbed in beside him, followed by the Chief of Police. Slowly, they moved away down the mountainside; one by one, the trucks, cars and jeeps of the search party followed.

It was no time for humor, but as he put the truck in gear Lakis could not resist a crude remark about the smell she brought with her; before they had reached the first bend in the road, the Cretan, the priest and the Chief of Police were all laughing.

BOOK: The Messenger of Athens: A Novel
13.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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