by Kıvanç Houssein
I’m an idiot, you know this by now, but my quest to find our mutual coordinates continues, surely there must be something to bring this fractured island together. Some rhyme or reason for us to unite as one exists, I’m certain, but it remains elusively vague and hidden from me. For the moment. I do recall one thing that unified the island back in 1964. I was very young then and the only way I could tell that there was a difference between people was by the main picture hanging in the living room.
Everything else was the same, the furniture, the colours, the tea and coffee on offer in the same cups, the home-made desserts, the nuts,the fruit, the warmth of the people. However some people had pictures of a long bearded man wearing a black church hat and others had pictures of a non bearded man wearing a red fez.
In 64 however, they were replaced by a black and white picture of a man I sort of recognised from somewhere but was too young to grasp the significance of who he was and why he had replaced the other pictures.
My reference point had gone and that in itself was liberating, the welcome was the same wherever we went. The picture was bugging me though, every house, there it was. I asked my mum “Who is that?”, “ Not now” she’d say. “I’ll tell you later” she’d say. “I’m busy” she’d say. “ You wouldn’t understand” she’d say. “It’s complicated” she’d say. “Not that again!” she’d say.
Finally after three weeks of hounding her she gave in. “You don’t know him but he was a man that was trying to do some good in this world and was killed because of it. Tamam?“ Well that shut me up. Is that what happens to people that try and do good? Fifty years of living on planet Earth has proven that yes, that is generally the case, shunned, ignored, ridiculed, shamed, killed. You have to be very brave to speak the truth and reveal corruption in this present world.
I have noticed a few things that bring us all together in agreement, the love of food, more to the point Cypriot food, and the endless conversations about who’s recipes are the better version, an unsolvable discussion because it boils down to how your mum made it. That’s always the best. A love of our beaches, its golden sands, crystal clear water, its hidden coves. A love of our land, past, present, future, its soil eternal and life sustaining. A love of a good story well told, exaggerated of course. Mixed marriages that bear the brunt of both sides but still endure. The human chain that blossomed at Ledras, united in word, song, dance, poetry, hope. That still resonates with me. But on the other hand people have many reasons and events not to unify.
Ouff it all gets confusing. With this in mind I set off to Assop’s Stables. Now I’ve already told you that I am privileged to be a member of The Assluminati, and one of the benefits is being able to consult with Assop, the wisest of all Asses. His stable is in a hidden grove of ancient olive trees and only Asses have the ability to find it. I ambled through the Karpas observing hidden hoof prints, chewed straw pointers, discretely placed patties, until I saw a circle of gnarled twisted olive trees and in the middle, Assop’s Stable.
I trotted up to the Stable door and was about to knock when a soft bray said “Come in young Ass, I’ve been expecting you”. I pushed the door open and let out a gasp of surprise. It was a stable, and there was straw on the floor, but there was also a gigantic zebra-patterned sofa and a fully stocked cocktail bar next to it.
The walls were adorned with pictures of notable humans throughout history and right next to them a picture of their mentor Ass.
Van Gogh’s held my attention for a while. It took me an age to spot Assop in the shadowed back of the barn, so transfixed was I by all the faces and Asses. He stepped out of the shadows towards me, limping slightly, wizened, crazy hair sprouting out of his nose, his ears, on his nose, his ears. Teeth yellow and scaled after years of non-flossing, hooves can be a bitch. His Mona Lisa eyes however where young, bright, brimming with intelligence and his smile and bray where as innocent as a baby’s.
“The hooman that wants to be an Ass” he said and fixed his eyes on me, looked me up and down and deep into my soul. We stood like that for maybe five seconds but to me it felt like an eternity…….. finally he nodded his head and said “Okay, makes sense, he is an ass.” He walked over to me and we nuzzled. I felt great, what a compliment, acceptance!!! “ How can I help on this beautiful, sultry Cypriot afternoon?” I told him my dilemma on unity and let him think. Zeke had warned me that Assop had a ritual and that I should silently follow his lead until he was ready.
We ambled outside into the olive grove and he slowly went from tree to tree mumbling to himself… “No, not this one,……. wrong sort of shade,…….. too high,…………too low, ……..maybe, …….. no, it’s this one, definitely this one.“ Tree having been selected he began to eat the loose straw that had been blown across the fields and had got caught by the extensive root system. I did likewise. We finished eating and he walked away a bit and produced one of nature’s patties. I did likewise. He looked at my pattie and said “Good shape, but we’ll have to work on the size”.
Finally we settled back under the tree and he started: “There is a beautifully placed village, harmonious with its surroundings and its inhabitants. There is always one empty house in this village. A single road leads to it which snakes up the hillside and is the only access apart from open countryside.
Before you enter the village there is a large rock imbedded in the middle of the road. Now most travellers see it and avoid it and carry on. Others, in their haste to get to the village and trade don’t, preoccupied by themselves or their greed or their own precious time. They’d hit their carts on the rock and damage a wheel, or their Ass would trip and become lame. How did this rock end up in the middle of the road and cause such a problem.
One day a man and his wife and their young daughter were riding their cart up the road. The young girl was singing to herself in the back and mom and dad were discussing what a tough year it had been but their crop should provide enough to see them through the winter…when the wheel hit the rock and snapped.
The worn out cart collapsed immediately throwing everyone onto the road and the entire crop into the soil spoiling it immediately, they had lost everything, just like that. All three began to cry and wail at once, despairing of the future. In the girl, however, an anger began to build, at the rock. How dare it ruin their lives like this…and with that thought she got up with a determination that it wouldn’t ruin anyone else’s.
She threw herself onto the ground and with her bare fingers began to dig away at the road, she toiled and grunted and cried. Her hands were bleeding and sore but still she carried on. Her parents, through the veil of their despair finally noticed what was going on. “Daughter, what are you doing?” “Making sure this rock doesn’t hurt anyone else like it has us!” She carried on digging. Her parents got up and joined her and with all three consumed by their task eventually freed the rock. They heaved it up and pushed it to the side of the road sighing and wiping the sweat from their soiled dirty faces. The daughter went back and looked at the hole left behind by the stone and noticed a little leather bag, she picked it up and felt something inside, showing it to her parents who gathered to her side and she opened it. Out fell a key.
At that moment the villagers appeared in a joyous mood. It was always good to welcome new neighbours. They escorted the family into the village and straight to the empty house. “Use the key” the little girl was told when they were standing by the door. She inserted it into the lock and turned it, the door slid open. There was hot water waiting for them to bathe and the villagers brought plenty of food and drink and the ceremonial welcoming feast was prepared.
They shared food and stories late into the night as they got to know each other. The next morning the villagers set about putting another bag in the hole and covering it with the rock. When this was done they started building a new house. This was the type of person they wanted in their village, people who could lose everything but still be thoughtful and aware of others not coming to the same harm.
“Heeehawww, the end”
With that my audience with Assop ended, he high-hooved me and limped back into his stable. I’m sure that limp was put on. I stayed under the olive tree for a while ruminating on the story and finally got up and worked my way back to civilisation invigorated with new hope.
Cyprus has a gigantic stone dividing it, blocking it, and I saw that little girl’s spirit in the Human Chain that dug away night after night at Ledras and although they may not be as apparent now as they were then, the σπίθα, the kivilcin, the spark ignited there, will have echoes and ripples I’m sure. Oh, before I forget, in Assop’s Stable I saw that very same picture I had seen in 64.
See you somewhere in Cyprus soon.
The Village Idiot.