My house was on the side of the road, by a narrow alleyway leading to more houses uphill. The heavy wooden door to the courtyard, although weather beaten, was familiar. I turned the metal knob I held as a child and opened the door. No rose bushes surrounded the stonewalled courtyard, my father’s beehives were long gone, and the mulberry tree was chopped down, probably for firewood. We walked up the familiar stone stairs toward the living quarters. When I doubted my memories, the faint scar on my upper lip from falling down these steps, reminded me that I once had a home. In my memory, the stairs were long and steep, our home imposing, and the village infinite. But now everything seemed so small and shabby. My memory and the actual surroundings were like a double exposed photograph that wouldn’t coalesce. The foreboding mountains, on the other hand, seemed to be encroaching upon the village, soon to crush it into non-existence.
“We converted the goat pen into an apartment,” mother said as we climbed the stairs passing the first floor where we used to house the goats. Was the scent an imbedded memory or did I actually smell manure?
“What have you done to the house?” I complained when we entered the living quarters.
Everything had changed. The fireplace, our only source of heat, and the heart of the house, had disappeared, replaced by a small living room, and a kitchenette with a sink and a cooking burner. I was glad to see the carving of a large flower on the wooden ceiling. I used to gaze at its petals a mandala as a child, until I fell asleep.
The plumbing barely worked but my children appreciated the indoor bathroom. They couldn’t comprehend having to use an outhouse.
“Didn’t your bum get cold when you pooped outside?” Nicholas asked.
“Yes it did. That’s why we hurried,” I said, laughing.
I walked around the two-room house, sniffing its corners for memories of my childhood. Even the trapdoor, where my parents dangled me over to threaten me when I misbehaved, was gone.
After we ate our lunch of bread and cheese, we crossed over the bridge to the center of town. Sophia’s yellow coat was the only color in the stark landscape of gray, black and white. When I was a child, I played in the stream under the bridge, walked this path to school countless of times.
“Why did our ancestors settle in this God forsaken place?” I asked father as we approached the church.
“Under the church are foundations of a monastery that was built hundreds of years ago. People settled around the monastery, maybe for protection, maybe for work.” He touched a granite column by the large plane tree. “This is the only thing left of the monastery. We danced around this pole at weddings and village festivals.”
We walked into the incense-scented church, I helped Nicholas and Sophia light candles, and then sat quietly on a bench by the wall looking around us in the dim light. Mother sitting next to me muttered to herself.
“What’s wrong Mama?”
“Can’t you see the church is empty? A few years after we escaped, God was banned, and the bastards destroyed everything. They sold what was valuable and burned the rest in the lime pit outside the village: relics, icons, bibles; they even burned the priests’ stoles and cassocks.”
“Who did this?”
“The same people who persecuted us, forcing us to abandon our homes to live as refugees in Greece. And now they’re not punished for the suffering they caused to so many people. Everyone pretends nothing happened. May they rot in hell, God forgive me,” she said making the sign of the cross.
The rusty gate to the cemetery creaked open, and as we trampled on weeds we read the names of our ancestors on the simple gravestones.
“When the time comes, I want to be buried here with my parents and brothers,” father said. I squeezed his hand, reassuring him that we would honor his wishes.