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Article: Tale of the Seas (Continuation)

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    Tale of the Seas (Continuation)

    0 Comments by Doc Vernon Published on 7th January 2020 04:04 AM
    THE APPARITION
    Novorossiysk, a large Russian city, belongs to the Novorossiya Region and is the largest port on the Black Sea. It is an industrial city, known for the production of steel and other metal products.
    Before the October Revolution, it had a very strong Greek community with many powerful Greek traders of that time being established there and who later fled to Constantinople.
    During the city’s occupation by the Germans in 1942, a small group of Soviet sailors defended a part of the city for 225 days until it was freed by the Red Army and thus prevented the German supply ships from using the port. For this great feat the city was honoured by being given the title of Heroic City in 1973, the year of my first voyage aboard the ship “SAN DENNIS”. The glory of the city is memorialised by the composer Dmitri Shostakovich with his composition “Chimes of Novorossiysk, the Flame of Eternal Glory”.
    The winter was on its way out at that time and the spring blooms were abundant. All the lush greenery brought great beauty to the city. We were sad to bid farewell to the beautiful location and the beautiful women, but they were even sadder to bid farewell to us. We were not very sad leaving them because in every port there were women waiting with open arms for the ships to return. It is commonplace for most seamen to consider these port-side loves as temporary games of flirtation and sex, without undertaking commitments and without being caught in love traps or ephemeral and dangerous relationships.
    We had discharged our cargo of oranges from our holds and took on timber. We filled the holds, and also loaded large piles of cargo up to three metres above them. Because of the extra weight, the ship lay low in the water and the deck was almost at a level with the surface of the sea. We all hoped that we would not come across any heavy seas because, being so overloaded, we ran a risk of sinking.
    Our destination was Egypt, the land of the Pharaohs and in particular Alexandria, the Greek city of letters. We left Novorossiysk and set sail for the famous city that Alexander the Great founded on his way to conquer the world.
    The entire shoreline between the Aegean and the Euxine Sea offered a view of great beauty. The landscapes were so amazing, they left our minds in awe. To this day, these remain beautiful and renowned places, awash with history. History full of real events, myths and fairy tales, all together comprising strange and bizarre folklore legends, created through time by repetition and the contribution of each subsequent narrator’s own imagination.
    I was also aware of these stories and every time we sailed the Bosphorus my thoughts wandered and gave life to fantastic intangible beliefs as if they were real, as if they were happening in front of my very eyes. Especially during nights with a full moon, when legend says that sirens emerge from the water, I would scan the horizon intensely in case I caught a glimpse of a mythical spirit surfacing in the moonlight.
    Legend says that the Black Sea had black mermaids with black hearts that lured sailors into the depths of the sea for their amusement.
    Legend also says that spirits and kind fairies surfaced and sang to the sailors to comfort them and soothe their hearts as they were in foreign lands and anyone fortunate enough to see them would have good luck for the rest of their life.
    I was standing at the stern one evening after my shift in the engine room daydreaming about seeing such a spirit when on the horizon in the distance, I thought I saw a large mass of water rise and form an apparition of a human face coming forcefully towards us…
    It was the deteriorating weather raising a strong wind and rough seas. It was Neptune rising in anger from the deep attacking us with the worst intentions. He stirred the sea and ordered the waves to strike us with menace, to toss us pitilessly and torture us, to torment and scare us.
    The ship listed dangerously with every wave and an indescribable fear of sinking filled our hearts. We knew that the sea was dangerous and that the myth about the black mermaids was true. The older sailors said that they were daughters of Neptune who emerged from the darkened depths of the sea at his command and pulled ships to the bottom. Our only hope was God, so we turned our faces up and prayed for deliverance. At such times of danger, man needs a miracle, so believers and non-believers alike pray to the same God for protection.
    We fought the heavy seas for many hours. Protected behind sealed doors to prevent the water that was washing over the ship coming inside, with our faces distorted by anguish, we felt that seconds were hours and hours were centuries.
    Finally, with God’s help, we entered the straits and the calm waters of the Bosphorus. With my heartbeat gradually slowing down, I thought that this time we had just made it. I realized how dangerous a sailor’s profession can be and wondered whether I would be able to persevere. I brought to mind the sayings of older seamen that, even though seamen fear the spirits of the Black Sea more than they fear its rough seas and storms, if a lucky seaman happens to see one, he will be fortunate for the rest of his life.
    Believing that I met Neptune’s spirit in the form of a big storm, maybe I too was touched by the good luck of this sea legend.
    P.S.
    Since then, I noticed that during difficult phases of my life God was always at my side to help me and that good fortune follows me to this day in life.


    IN NICOMEDIA, TODAY’S IZMIT
    In 1920 a big number of Turkish inhabitants from nearby areas attacked the Greek residents of the villages around Nicomedia. They ransacked their homes and slaughtered the women and children. Setting the houses alight, they led the old men and young children of over 14 years into the village Church. There, the Turkish commander tortured the seventy-year-old priest with indescribable barbarity. He put a horse’s halter around his neck and gouged one of his eyes out with a knife, dragged him into the sanctum and there, he butchered him on the altar like a sheep. They then dragged his body out with his head barely attached, tied it behind a horse and dragged it around the streets of the village before finally throwing it down a ravine. Afterwards, they set fire to the others in the Church. Those who managed to break the door down to escape from the fiery hell met their death in the churchyard either by gunshot or stabbing. Those that managed to escape ran to the mountains naked, barefoot and hungry. Young women threw their babies down gorges and ran like crazed animals in the forest in an attempt to flee from the menace of the Turkish mob and army renegades while others, like the women of Souli, jumped with their babies off a cliff thus liberating themselves with an honourable death. And so, with the usual anger and hatred these barbarians have for the Greeks, they cleared another Greek territory and repopulated it with Turks.
    Izmit was one of the first ports I got to know. Like every other port, it had its own interesting characteristics that inspired one’s imagination. Once known as Nikomedia of Bithynia, today’s Izmit is located on the coast of the Bosphorus, at the exit from the Black Sea and at a short distance from Constantinople. It was one of the largest Roman and subsequently Byzantine cities of the world, after Rome, Antiochia and Alexandria. It was built on the route connecting Europe and the East, making it a great commercial centre.
    During Roman times, the Prefect of Niomedia ordered the beheading of Saint Barbara and decreed that the sentence should be carried out by her own father. This was the father’s own wish because his beautiful daughter had loved and embraced Christianity. She “accepted her end from her father’s hands and by her father’s sword”. As soon as he carried out his crime, he was struck dead by lightning and this was said to be divine judgment.
    I was employed on a small ship travelling between Greece and Russia and sometime between these routes we docked once at this Turkish port to load scrap metal for transport to Tito’s Yugoslavia, as it was known at the time.
    This was my first commission, the ship was a small vessel of two and a half tons called “SAN DENNIS” and it was so small, it fell prey to every storm and every wave. All members of the crew spilled their innards from the rolling of the ship, but it was worth the hardship because we were world travelers and this fact alone compensated for all our suffering.
    The Bosphorus is famed for its beauty. There are majestic castles and palaces built on and in the sea. From ancient times until today it is one of the most significant sea passages. People sailed through here for years from the time of the Argonauts’ expedition to World War II operations. In the winter the weather is foggy and with a lot of frost. The sea has many currents that flow against each other and when they collide and swirl, they create waves that break in different directions making the sailing of a ship difficult and necessitating the use of a Pilot to navigate.
    The shores of the Bosphorus are filled with ancient civilisations, ports and modern cities. There is Constantinople, the most beautiful of them all, the city which gave birth to kings and intellectuals and developed letters and culture, the city which has the covered market, the forgotten Fanariotes Quarter and, most importantly, Saint Sophia Church which draws all the attention and causes such sadness to Greek visitors who cannot but remember the lyrics “glories past when thou wert aweless and recounting them to cry”.
    Next to Constantinople is Izmit, possibly the biggest protected natural harbor. Its mahalas spread over low hills on the opposite side of the port and a little behind the lower part of the city since Turks usually like to live on higher grounds to enjoy the views and a cooler breeze. Izmit used to be the ancient and renowned byzantine Nicomedia which has now changed its name, with the calm sea almost touching the houses lined up around the shore, with the beautiful view reminiscent of Greek landscapes where the sea belonged to both the Gods and the people, a little like ancient Greek art.
    Outside the low buildings, the cobbled streets and lined up like soldiers sat many middle-aged men. Playing with their worry beads, smoking cigarettes and hookahs, they gazed lazily and watched us and the sea. They spoke in the Greek language and asked about events in Greece.
    I was speechless. I saw people with physical characteristics like ours, speaking our language fluently, even better than we did, and sounding a lot like Cypriots. I was on Turkish land, a few months following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and I was wary about being arrested by fanatics since they had captured so many Cypriots prisoners and transported them to Turkey. Following the exchange of prisoners, 1619 Greeks captured by the Turkish invasion forces between July and August were unaccounted for and presumed missing. There were rumours that some were kept in isolation in various parts of Turkey in order to be islamised, forced to join the ***** and renounce their Christian faith, either by persuasion or force. My mind immediately went to the Cypriot missing persons, my heart leaped from my chest and I thought to myself “Oh my God, maybe I have come across our missing, those sought in earnest by the Cypriots…”. On the other hand, I knew that it did not make sense as they were all middle-aged and, seeing how friendly they were, I was encouraged to approach and talk to them.
    They told me their story. They were Cretan Turks that were relocated to the city of Izmit during the exchange of populations in accordance with the 1924 Treaty of Lausanne. They confessed to me that they felt Greek because they were Greeks that had been islamised and in their mind they worshipped Mohamed together with Christ and Saint Mary. It was a sad story of immigrants violently uprooted from their land and turned into refugees. Following the defeat of Greece, the Turks enforced the treaty relating to the exchange of populations and, using this as a rouse, deported almost all the Greek inhabitants of Asia Minor.


    VOYAGE TO LIBYA, The long wait
    Our little ship “Agios Dionissis”, bearing the name “SAN DENNIS” on its bow, was heavily loaded with scrap metal.
    We set off from Nicomedia in Turkey, now known as Izmit, a naturally protected harbour next to Constantinople, where we took on cargo for a short trip to Yugoslavia. Exiting the closed sea of Marmara, we passed the city close to ancient Troy and the infamous straits of the Dardanelles, sometimes called Çanakkale.
    We entered the eastern Aegean Sea where Asia ends and Europe begins. We passed the Archipelago and having navigated the deep blue sea of the Cyclades we entered the Isthmus of Corinth. Those of us not on duty stood on the stern admiring the beautiful Greek coastal line as we navigated the narrow man-made strip of sea that connects the Saronic bay with the Corinthian bay. We sailed by the Ionian Islands and through the Ionian Sea, passed Corfu and Albania, and entered the Adriatic Sea.
    We set sail for Yugoslavia, the southern land of the Slavs, a country created as a kingdom in 1918 after the defeat of the axis and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. At the time, we were heading to the port of Bar to discharge our cargo. Yugoslavia was a large independent country re-established by Marshal Tito after its dissolution by the axis army during World War II.
    The port of Bar is the only access of the country to the sea and it is located in the southern part of the Adriatic, in an area where the sea and the inland traffic are connected so cargo can be transported to the state-owned metallurgical industries via this network.
    Following a quiet voyage on the tranquil Adriatic Sea, we reached the port and while the labourers were discharging the cargo, we went for a walk in the city. The city was separated from the sea by a street, long and straight, full of shops and cafes situated in ground floor buildings on both sides. Sweet Greek music was emanating from all these buildings, songs by Demis Roussos and the hospitable proprietors were standing at their shops’ doors smiling and beckoning to us to enter.
    I thought they were Philhellenes who loved Greek music and us Greeks, but I also thought that probably this was a trick to entice us into becoming customers and buying their products.
    Whatever the case, we spent a few pleasant hours in this port, since discharging the cargo did not take long. Another cargo of bagged cement was already on hoists awaiting us on the dock and this was quickly loaded into the ship’s cargo holds by the port’s large cranes. It was a low and very heavy cargo stowed at the bottom of the holds. This cargo was dangerous because it added weight to the lower part of the ship, leaving the upper part light and prey to rough seas or currents. It was the worst type of cargo a captain would want to load on his ship…
    We set sail for Libya, the engines effortlessly spinning the propeller without churning the calm waters and causing a wake. The sea was still and looked asleep, tranquil as if it was resting.
    We were travelling with economic speed and calculated that this would be an easy short voyage that would last a few days.
    Down in the engine room I was on shift and could feel the engine working without difficulty from currents and waves. The propulsion of the ship was easy, and I thought we were surely going to have an easy trip. I checked the oil in the hydraulics of the tiller and the tiller itself – the rod that turns the steering wheel flap – and then I turned on the pump to empty the bilges from the backwash and oil.
    I looked at the clock on the engine’s dial. It was four o’ clock. My shift was over, and I handed over to my replacement who came down exactly on time. After I explained to him that he needed to keep his eye on the eighth piston because it was leaking oil, I carefully climbed the oily and slippery ladder and came out on deck. I was grateful to breathe in the fresh sea air after leaving behind the atmosphere of the engine room the air made heavy by the constant operation of the engine. I went into the kitchenette and made myself a black, bitter eastern coffee, just as I liked it, and went out to the stern to sit on the thick metal plate that was the floor of the deck. I leaned on the railing and my thoughts wandered into the depths of history, trying to recall the past of the country where we were heading… A country which, according to mythology, bore the name of a young woman called Libya who was the granddaughter of the Nile and Zeus and in whose honour they named an area west of Egypt.
    A country in Northern Africa having the Mediterranean Sea as its northern border and the rest being covered almost exclusively by hot, dry sand. A vast barren and dry desert blending with the calm, cloudy and yellow sea, the same yellow colour as the desert land. In the haze of the hot atmosphere the yellow colour gave the impression that the land and the sea came together as one and could not be told apart.
    The days passed and having reached our destination, we waited in queue for the official customs inspection.
    They came and they left, ordering us to anchor pending further instructions.
    We cast our anchors in the cloudy sea and we saw them disappear into the unending depths. It seemed like the sea was bottomless and my mind wondered to mythology, ancient theories and metaphysical beliefs about bottomless seas where underwater there was nothing but a dark and mysterious abyss, filled with the remains of ships that had turned into stone, filled with treasures and petrified mermaids wearing golden wreaths in their stone hair guarded by dragons and sea monsters.


    The sea around us was still but as soon as the evening fell, we felt the ship move like a pendulum in the water. Its centre of gravity down in the holds was immobile due to the weight of the cement while the rest of the vessel moved and pitched rolling forcefully and jerkily. It was a wild movement that killed us, we were all holding onto the rails or wherever we could reach so as not to be toppled by the pitching. It was a weird phenomenon; the surface of the sea was completely still and not affected by the strong currents wrestling each other underwater.


    The days passed and our supplies finished. The water from our tanks was coming out cloudy and rusty indicating that this too was coming to an end. The currents did no cease to shake us about, making our lives difficult and intolerable.
    The Libyan authorities showed no indication of allowing us to dock and left us prey to the strong currents of the Libyan Sea. We were in a country with no order, a dictatorship, and the Libyans had no regard nor cared about foreigners. The head of the state was Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, a coup d’ état instigator and revolutionary who established himself as the de facto leader of the country since 1969. He was a cruel dictator who many times clashed with other states and in particular, with the western world, and maybe that is why they left us for so many days in the queue without replenishing our stores and water. He was a lifelong dictator whose luxurious palace loomed majestically over the culturally ancient city of Tripoli. The picturesque old market surrounded by the walls of Medina was at the entrance of the city while a little further was a great central square known as the Green Square, which extended right down to the sea. The surface of the sea was calm and still while in the deep the strong swirling currents disturbed the bottom causing the sand to lift into the water giving it a cloudy yellow colour, same as the desert covering the whole country…
    The days passed and it looked like we were forgotten. It was as if we did not exist, and in vain we waited for any indication from the port authority. Our food was running out, and the whole crew was ordered by the captain, to fish for food. The lower the level of the water in our ancient tanks, the rustier it was and whenever we drank from it, we suffered from stomach aches. It was summer and we had no hope of rain, the Libyan authorities had forgotten about us, so the odds were against us.
    We were ordered by the shipping company not to seek assistance from the authorities and wait until they took a decision. The order was strict because the dictatorial authorities of Libya were inhumane, they could arrest foreigners without cause and imprison them in jails where they were eventually lost and never seen again. They were hostile and they showed it without regard to anyone.
    Fearful not to annoy and anger them and not to give them reason and opportunity to manifest their power and cruelty, we remained quiet without asking for assistance. Our life became intolerable and our only food were the fish we caught and cooked. These were big tasteless fish that lived in a sea with no flora, in water that was cloudy because of the sand on the bottom, fish with no substance which we used only out of necessity, as food.
    Our biggest problem however was the water. We used seawater for our personal hygiene and the captain undertook to ration the potable water among us in small measured quantities so that it lasted longer. We boiled it before drinking because it had become dangerous to our health. By now, all we had left was the water on the bottom and it was full of residue, limescale, mud and rust.
    Unfortunately, and despite being careful, the second officer and an engine room trainee fell gravely ill with chills, high fever and immense pain all over their body. We were sure that they contracted Legionnaire’s’ Disease. We prayed to God that they hung on and at the same time hoped that we did not succumb ourselves.
    We were worried, thirsty, scared and exhausted, so we put all our hopes in God.
    We could see the shore a few kilometres from us, but it was impossible to go there and find the water we desperately needed. The dictatorial regime was being inhumane, and we expected and hoped for a miracle, we hoped that their God would guide them to allow us to dock quickly and end our suffering.
    Their God however may not be as kind as ours who proved to be charitable and compassionate. Maybe somewhere in our crew there were honest men whose prayers were answered. When we were almost without hope, we suddenly saw the mid-summer weather become darker. The clouds gathered quickly and thickened hiding the sun and leaving the day with very little light, and us in twilight.
    At the same time the wind picked up and lightning tore through the sky. In the distance the sea seemed to evaporate and rise to the sky forming grey clouds, and we felt that the atmosphere had become heavy. It was a sudden squall, a sudden change in the weather that caught us by surprise.
    Happy and feeling hopeful, following orders by the captain and the first officer, we spread tarpaulins in readiness to collect the rainwater. We spread the tarpaulins in a way to form creases and placed empty receptacles underneath, to collect the water.
    The sky darkened even more, and it started raining relentlessly, increasing in intensity and the rainwater was so dense, we could not see each other. In the beginning it was yellow because of the dirty atmosphere but soon it cleared and fell clean and strong.
    The rain pitilessly beat us, but we stood in it with our faces turned upwardly, one could say masochistically enjoying the beating, while at the same time cupping our hands to drink with greedy pleasure.
    As suddenly as the squall started, the same way it ended. The blue sky appeared once more and the atmosphere, clear of dust, smelled of freshness, sea and iodine.
    The sun, also clear of the desert dust, reappeared after the rain bright and hot and started heating the weather that had somewhat cooled by the rain.


    I felt pleasure and relief, I was sure that God had performed a miracle to help us. A certainty nested in my heart, that soon we would see the launch coming from the port with the pilot who would navigate us to the dock.
    Walking with my legs apart to balance against the constant rolling of the ship, I went to the small kitchenette of the crew to make myself a coffee, now that we finally had fresh, cool water. I allowed the coffee to brew well and greedily inhaled its aroma, as it was days since I had the luxury of a well brewed Turkish coffee. I filled a cup to the brim holding on to it with one hand to prevent it from sliding off since anything left on a table would fall off and break because of the rolling of the ship. This movement was very annoying and would not allow us to relax, it tormented us pitilessly. It was a constant, irregular rolling that did not stop for the whole time we were anchored, while the currents underwater relentlessly continued their irregular flow, shaking us in the same, irregular manner. The furniture was fixed to the floor with screws or stuck so it would not move during rough seas. I sat on the settee wedging my legs under the table to prevent myself from falling over and I sipped my strong coffee with great pleasure.


    Having quenched my thirst after so many days and with the bitter taste of coffee still in my mouth, I allowed my thoughts to wander. I thought of the customs officers of the country and wondered how people could be so unnecessarily cruel. The port was empty of ships, but for reasons unknown to us, we were not allowed to tie in the port; they did not even give us water. They allowed us to suffer thirst and hunger, drink dirty water until two of our number came down with an infectious disease, maybe even typhus, putting their life at risk.


    Deep in my thoughts I did not see the sailor on duty come in and stand beside me. He nudged me to make room for him to sit, and he quickly told me that our troubles were over, the bridge had spoken to the customs authorities and we were told to prepare for entering the port, tie up and discharge our cargo. In a while, not too long, the launch with the pilot would come bringing also a doctor to examine the Second Officer and the trainee mechanic who were gravely ill.

    VOYAGE TO LIBYA, Thenvicious nmurder
    Libya is a country with ancient Greek cities, a lost Greece with ancient remains, Greece that passed its civilization to the whole world, even to this God forsaken country. The capital of the country is Tripoli, an ancient city established by the Carthaginians under the name Ia which, around 600 B.C, was renamed by the Greeks and given the name it bears today.
    In my thoughts, before getting to know the country, I imagined Libya to be a dry land with windswept castles made of plinth and yellow desert soil inhabited by humans and not only by snakes and other desert reptiles due to its geographical position and its subterranean wealth.
    I read it was governed by the iron fist of Gaddafi and that it was one of the safest countries without thefts, robberies and terrorists, that one could walk the streets, narrow alleys and markets freely without the slightest danger and that the Libyans were a proud and hospitable people.
    As I disembarked, I saw Tripoli in front of me like an extension of the port, separated from it by a wide street. I crossed over risking my life as the cars were both right and left-hand drives and the drivers drove on both sides of the road, did not stop at traffic lights and sped without considering others beside them. They were frantic drivers, using the roads without regulations and every now and then one would hear the “crash” of a road accident.
    As it were, Libya was as I had imagined it to be before I became acquainted with it, a country with dry land full of yellow low buildings and parched sandy soil. There were no clubs, only coffee shops and restaurants which stayed opened until midnight, while few people – only men – circulated in the streets wearing white, dirty jellabiyas. The Libyans were ****** Sunnis who would become hostile – as I had read – and dangerous if a foreigner showed disrespect to local traditions and morals and if his actions were disrespectful, especially during Ramadan. A foreigner should not provoke, for example, by drinking alcohol in public places since drinking is strictly prohibited to ******s, and women visitors should dress modestly.
    After I crossed the avenue that separated the port from the city, I saw in front of me a huge square lined with palm trees that stretched towards the sea and in the distance loomed the magnificent walls of Medina and the Tripoli castle which housed a museum with exhibits ranging from ancient historical times to the present.
    The Medina market was in a small alley and consisted of a small parallel square called a “covered market” because it was covered by roofs held up by magnificent old columns built with exquisite artistry and skill. One could hear the metallic hammerings of the copper beaters and ironmongers who were manufacturing mainly souvenir items for tourists and hanging them up on the wall ready for sale. This was called the copper market, even though other metal and silver goods were also made there.
    I entered the covered market crowded with merchants who had their wares spread on the ground or small benches. The smell from the dates mixed with the fish laid out on the low benches. Flies whirled around the air in clouds and the carpet merchants shook cloths around in an attempt to shoo them away.
    In this intolerable stench I walked the whole Tripoli bazaar without finding even a small thing to buy as a souvenir. I only bought a fan to shoo the awful flies and deflect the hot atmosphere of 45 degrees Celsius which literally cooked the country and its people. I walked away from the benches with the fish and the strong odours and sat at a small table behind a wooden bench where a busy little man with his jellabiya sleeves turned up was standing over a brasier filled with fire, cooking meat in a frying pan. As soon as I sat, he came towards me. He spoke broken Greek, so we understood each other without difficulty. I told him I wanted to try an Arabic dish and he said that he would fry some meat I would surely enjoy. In a few minutes he brought me a plate with a large piece of meat, a huge steak. I tried it and loved it. I ate it greedily and really enjoyed it. These were new flavours for me and I was happy to taste them. When I asked, he said that it was camel meat. He explained that the nomads in the desert drink camel milk because it is very nutritious and like eating parts of the animal as well, its chops but mainly its hump which is considered a delicacy.
    The older the camel, the more one needed to cook the meat because it was tougher. Camel meat was popular in the Middle Eastern countries but in recent years had started becoming popular in the west as well due to the export of large quantities of tasty salami and pastourma sausages made with it. My fillet was actually a chop and I really liked it. Since then, and whenever I happened to pass through Arab countries, I always asked for the same dish, camel meat.
    He finished his story and offered me Arabic coffee, bitter and strong which I also enjoyed, and I laid back on the old, comfortable rope chair, musing and watching the merchants peddling their wares.


    The ancient historian Diodorus of Sicily wrote that the Gorgons were a Greek mythical nation of women living in Libya near lake Triponis and were constantly at war with the neighbouring Amazon tribes.


    According to Greek history, an ancient Delphic oracle encouraged settlers from Santorini to emigrate to Northern Africa and in 631 B.C., they founded the city of Kirini.


    Near the port of Kirini was Apollonia. During the Greco-Turkish war in Crete, a group of Cretan ******s abandoned the island and found refuge next to the ruins of the ancient city and ended up building the village of Sousa.
    Even today, the older generation speak almost fluent Greek in the Cretan dialect and dream of Crete as they heard it described by their forefathers. Even during the ottoman period, a considerable number of Greeks fled to Libya, mainly to Tripoli and developed it, as most Greeks dealt in commerce, shipping and sponge-diving.


    In Medina, the architecturally prettiest part of the old town of Tripoli, there is a Greek quarter next to the Green Square with houses and a part of the market around the orthodox church of Saint George.


    The entire market of Tripoli that is enclosed within the Medina walls is made of narrow streets and alleys, small squares full of open air and closed tiny shops with peddlers and larger scale merchants advertising their wares by trying to shout over each other.


    In the closed market of Tripoli there were many shops with gold and silver jewellery, brass and ceramic artefacts, leather goods, carpets and fabrics while at its eastern entrance, under a tower with a big clock showing the time, stood the small café where I was sitting.


    The helpful and busy little man, the proprietor, asked me whether I wished to enjoy smoking a hookah, and said that it was very rare for Europeans to pass without smoking one.


    I had just started smoking, a bad habit I picked up to break the monotony of the endless hours of my shift in the ship’s engine room. A cigarette was my only companion and pastime during my lonely hours when my only company was the du-dum du-dum of the diesel engine turning the propeller with such force that it roared against the force of the sea while pushing the ship through the water.


    I accepted gladly and, leaning on the comfortable old wicker chair I started enjoying the smoke while watching the comings and goings of the mixed crowd of vendors and shoppers of all kinds filling the covered market.


    The little man started explaining the history of the hukkah in his broken Greek.


    He explained that the hukkah, or narghiles, is a Persian invention for a light and pleasant smoke, and its name derives from the Persian word nargioul meaning coconut because, in place of the glass globe used today, the used a coconut. A vertical pipe is connected on the top of a glass globe half filled with clean water. This vertical pipe is called “Loulas” and tabaco with small pieces of lit charcoal is placed on top of it. As soon as the smoker starts sucking, the air in the globe is reduced creating a vacuum and the smoke from the burning tobacco together with air enters the globe through the vertical pipe and creates bubbles and a rumbling sound. The smoke is filtered and cooled when passing through the water, and this is the difference between the hukkah and other types of smoking.
    Sucking on the light smoke and filling my lungs, I subconsciously started singing a song called “when Loulas smokes”. Wondering how this song came into my head, I concluded that it was because smoking a hukkah was passed into Greek culture and tradition through the “rembetika” songs that played every day on the radio.


    I finished, paid the man with an extra dinar as baksheesh and he thanked me by saying “may Allah keep you safe”.


    I had heard and now realised that Libyans loved Greece and the Greeks because I detected a warm appreciation and hospitality in the kind man’s attitude towards me, and I considered this as a first sign and indication that this was true.


    The city spread around the wide square. On the right there were low modern buildings built along a street parallel to the square. They were built in accordance with European standards and housed shops with windows full of European products.


    I followed that route and, walking leisurely, I was looking in the windows with the Japanese Seiko watches. My sailor colleagues had told me that they were very cheap in this country. I intended to buy myself a Seiko watch, it would be my first ever watch so I wanted it to be both good and cheap.


    While walking and looking in the windows, the sun relentlessly bore down on my head, made me perspire and gave me a raging headache. The dry and thin air caused the horizon in the distance to shimmer in the intolerable heat and created multicoloured lines and a fog that limited visibility. Constantly waving my fan I tried to cool myself down, but this was ineffective as the draught I created was hot because of the hot air coming in from the desert.


    I started thinking of my colleagues, the second officer and engine room trainee that were gravely ill, maybe suffering from Legionnaires’ Disease and fighting for their life. They were sick for many days on the ship without medical care but now, fortunately, they were in the hospital in Tripoli, transported there by the Libyan Customs authorities. I hoped the hospital had air conditioning so my colleagues would be in a cool environment to recuperate and survive.


    The whole crew was worried about them as we knew the notoriety of the Libyan leader and the hatred he had instilled in his fanatic followers for all people coming from countries with western culture. Gaddafi was a descendant of Bedouin nomads and was a cruel and inhumane dictator whose name was linked with the recent history of Libya. In 1969 he led a revolution and ascended to power, overthrowing King Idris, establishing a totalitarian and military regime. In America he was known as the rabid dog of the Middle East as he was a great adversary of the West. His name was linked to high-jackings, and incendiary speeches always aimed against western imperialism that stole, as he claimed, wealth-producing raw materials from Third World countries.


    The information about this man was conflicting, in Greece the left-wing parties praised him while the right-wing parties accused him. It was, however a fact that in the 70’s, when the cost of living everywhere else in the world was becoming more expensive and a large section of people, even in advanced countries, did not have easy access to food, the government in Libya had abolished all taxes on foodstuff. Another result of his government was that Libya had the highest per capita income in Africa and Libyans were richer than the people of other neighbouring countries. This was because Gaddafi did not allow the exploitation of Libya’s mineral riches by foreign companies and countries.
    The people may have suffered under the strict dictatorship, however this was the case for those who did not worship Moammar Gaddafi, the leader. This dictator however, had passed laws under which a large part of the income from oil was distributed to the people.


    The USA were against him because he was the main threat to the USA domination in Africa since his views were totally against their interests and also because he was attempting to unite the Arab countries against the USA.
    The creation of a strong Arab world was contrary to the interests of the USA and Israel, so they were trying to bring Libya to its knees by creating chaos and anarchy. For this reason, the dispute between Gaddafi and the West had reached its peak during those years and his fanatic supporters saw everyone coming from the West as an enemy of their leader and were hostile towards him. This also happened to Libyans who did not declare their love, respect and allegiance to the leader of the nation.


    Under these circumstances known to all of us on the ship, we were ordered by the captain to be careful with our conduct while at the same time we were greatly worried and afraid about the future outcome for our colleagues. Were they going to treat and look after them or were they going to abandon them to their fate, and allow them to succumb to their illness like helpless dying dogs?


    With these uneasy thoughts in my mind and constantly waving my fan to air my face, I stood before a shop window selling Rolex watches and was examining the small tags with the prices, trying to extinguish the unpleasant thoughts in my mind. The prices were astronomical but fairly so, as these were gold watches of a globally renowned luxury brand.


    He was young, slim, tall and handsome. He wore a bright white spotless jellabiya and his movements had an air of authority. He appeared from opposite the road and walked tall, exuding authority and superiority while at the same time his appearance caused awe and was reminiscent of a prince from an eastern fairy tale.


    The few pedestrians as well as I looked at him with curiosity because his appearance was interesting. He walked across and stood in front of the shop window next door and nodded his head towards me in a discreet greeting. I returned the greeting with a nod and, as I took my eyes off him, I caught a glimpse of a short Arab a little further on the pavement, in a faded jellabiya and a turban covering his head swiftly walking towards me in a strange manner.


    Maybe my curiosity was caused by the hard look on his face as he looked at the man in front of the next shop window or maybe I got a bad vibe about him.


    He seemed to head straight towards him without any special reason but just seeing the hardness in his eyes made me realise that something bad was about to happen.


    In his right hand he tightly held a large shepherd’s crook that ended in a huge, club shaped gnarl. The size difference was obvious; a huge club and a small human figure, barefoot and with fiery eyes, inside a large, dirty, sack-like jellabiya. The eyes were like those of a wild, enraged animal, determined and hard, and the closer he came, the cleared I could see them, dark, red, bloodthirsty, demonic eyes, full of hatred, fixed on the man who appeared to stand majestically and fancifully in front of the shop window full of Rolex watches.
    I felt sure that something was about to happen to the young man standing before me. I thought of shouting a warning, but I immediately thought of the instructions of the captain not to involve ourselves in other peoples’ business and not to provoke anyone in this country.
    In a fast pace he came where the man was standing and, stopping abruptly behind him, he lifted the crook. The sudden movement caused his turban to fall away, revealing a young, adolescent, but not at all innocent, face as cruelty wrinkled his skin and made him look like an unstoppable dog ready to pounce.
    Before the other man had a chance to sense his presence and react, he forcefully brought the crook down on his head. As if struck by lightning, he fell to the ground dead, without uttering a sound. His head was pulverized, blood and brain matter spattered everywhere, and I felt lucky that none of it struck me.
    He held his crook in one hand and with the other lifted the turban and, looking in my eyes, wrapped it around his face. He quickly left the scene and disappeared towards the port.
    The other pedestrians walking up and down the same street showed no interest in what had just happened. Nobody seemed to mind, nobody leaned over the lifeless body to see whether he was still alive and needed help. It was as if nothing happened, as if this was a usual part of daily life, like someone had discarded a bag of rubbish that nobody wanted to pick up because the rubbish truck was going to pass and collect it soon enough.
    Stunned, I stood for a while looking at the dead man’s white jellabiya quickly turning red and his blood pooling on the street, and I was not sure whether I was frightened or shocked by the whole incident. I only remember that I decided to return to the ship, hide in my shell and my security, because I just witnessed that Libya was not the friendly, safe country that I had read about in a magazine.
    With quick steps, almost running, I found my way back, looking left and right, ready to defend myself in case I was attacked by the murderer who knew I had seen his face. My imagination was out of control, filling my mind with frightening thoughts and creating all sorts of scenarios about being attacked. If need be, I was prepared to fight for my life with my bare hands.
    I completed the route in a short while though it felt like a century, and when I reached the pier where the ship had tied, I climbed the ladder two steps at a time. When I arrived on deck, I scanned the whole harbour and the street. I saw no trace; the little man was nowhere.
    I was relieved and thought that these are the things that happen in countries under dictatorship, where the laws are not applied equally to all. I thought that maybe the victim was a dissident and the killer a secret policeman of the regime that governed the country. This would not surprise me, I was almost sure that his was the case since only a few months ago I had seen similar incidents taking place in Greece under the junta government of Ioannides, a dictatorship which, on the 25th of November 1973 with a similar coup d’ état, succeeded the Colonels’ Junta which governed Greece since 1967. Brigadier Ioannides, a dissatisfied hard-core junta supporter, used the Polytechnic uprising as an excuse to restore public order, and, with the pretext that dictator Papadopoulos deviated from the Principles of the Revolution of the 21st April, organized a coup d'état on 25 November 1973.
    I knew this firsthand because on the day before I sailed I happened to be trapped in Omonoia Square, the central square of Athens, on that terrible day of the Polytechnic uprising and saw the cold blooded shots fired into the crowd of students who were protesting for liberty and democracy, and the savage treatment of the Greek people by the soldiers supporting the junta.
    Maybe my recent experience was the reason I considered the action I had just witnessed as a natural occurrence, since this country was also governed by a military junta. In this country, in 1969, a Libyan army officer, Muammar Gaddafi, a revolutionary and coup d’état instigator, together with a small group of army officers, staged a coup d’état under his leadership and overthrew King Idris while he was on holiday in Greece.
    I formed the opinion that one should avoid travelling to non-democratic countries.
    With these thoughts, I turned and walked to the small kitchenette of the ship to make a coffee, bitter like the incident I had just witnessed with my own eyes, a tragic episode during which an unsuspecting human being fell dead, killed, murdered, most likely for political reasons.

    VOYAGE TO LIBYA, The stowaway
    It was almost time for my shift and I was sitting in the small kitchenette of the ship waiting for the few minutes left to pass before I descended the ladder down to the engine room. At that moment the door opened, and the First Engineer walked in.
    - “Kyriako, get ready, we are on Stand-By, we will be leaving this God forsaken place soon”, he said.
    Worried, I asked him about the Second Officer and the cadet who were sick in Tripoli hospital and, with a sad look on his face, he answered that we had no information from the Libyan customs authorities. We would head for home, hoping that they will recover and be sent to Athens by air.
    I was quite upset about the bad news because I was aware of the bad faith and malice of the Libyan authorities against Christian Westerners, and I feared that the worst could very well happen and my colleagues would disappear, be lost forever like so many others in this country.
    I got up with a heavy heart and went down to the engine room. There, I found the Third Engineer and we carried out the last inspection of the engine and the auxiliary machinery.
    We started the pump to load ballast sea water, that is to say, fill the ballast tanks with sea water to increase the weight of the ship so that it sinks a little and sits lower in the water. Taking on ballast is done when the ship is to sail empty of cargo to make it heavier, enabling the propeller and the rudder to engage better.
    So, we took on ballast by filling the auxiliary tanks with sea water so enabling the ship to sail better but also have the required draught to avoid rolling when we sail empty having discharged our cargo.
    As soon as the First Engineer came down, we received the order from the captain to prepare. We started the engine and as soon as the tug pulled the ship away from the dock, we followed instructions from the bridge and gradually increased the engine’s revolutions, fore and aft, and headed for open waters. We stopped to allow the pilot to disembark, and we headed full speed ahead for the motherland.
    The engine was ticking over like a clock, the sea was calm, and the currents had subsided. The ship was cutting through the water effortlessly.
    The first Engineer stayed a while below deck and, like always advised us to have our eyes focused on the engine. We started chatting and were told that we were heading for Novorossiysk in Russia, to load timber. We would then return to Greece to deliver the cargo to various islands.


    I thought that it would be one of my best voyages because we would pass the Bosporus and the narrow isthmus that separated European Turkey from Asian Turkey and connected the Sea of Marmaras to the Euxine Sea. Euxine Sea is a name deriving from the euphemistic replacement of the previous name Axine Sea which denotes an inhospitable sea, a folkloric etymology corruption of the Phrygian word “axaenas” meaning dark or black from which derived the later name “Black Sea” as the waters there have an unusual darker colour in comparison to that of the Mediterranean.
    The name Bosporus means passage of the ox, that is Vous (Greek for ox) and poros (Greek for passage) and derives from the Greek myth of Io and her voyage after being turned into an ox by Zeus for her own protection. Mythology also suggests that this is where the Symbligades Rocks crushed every ship attempting to pass the Bosporus, until Jason succeeded in getting through, after which the boulders stood still. The beauty and strategic significance of these straits led the Roman Emperor Constantine to build Constantinople at this location. The area around the Bosporus is and always was renowned for its beauty and its endless shores that are the most beautiful in the whole world.
    Therefore, we would sail the mythical Black Sea no ancient God could tame, and reach Novorossiysk where girls waited for us at the port holding scarves and gifts to welcome us. After, we would pass the Euxine Sea once more, the sea and straits of Marmaras and then we would be in the Aegean Archipelago, the cradle of Aegean civilization. According to mythology, the sea was named after Aegeas, father of Theseus and king of Athens who threw himself and drowned in the sea when his beloved son, returning victorious after slaying the Minotaur, forgot to change the black sails of his ship to white sails, as they had agreed between them before he set sail for this difficult expedition, to indicate his victory.
    And finally, the islands, scattered over the blue waters of the Cyclades, a circle and two parallel lines of islands, given this name because of their circular formation around the sacred island of Delos, birthplace of Goddess Artemis. A complex of rocks and islets with centuries of history, a creation of Poseidon, God of the sea who, according to myth, transformed the Cyclades nymphs into islands after they caused his wrath. A group of islands with minimal and simple landscapes dominated by the optimum Greek colours, the white of the buildings and the blue of the sea, creating amazing natural views as the Gods decided to adorn them with abundant charm giving them a particular image that is famous around the world.
    The ships’ engineers are in charge of the maintenance and good operation of the ships’ engines.
    They work mainly in the engine room and ensure that the engine and other auxiliary machinery such as the electricity generators work smoothly. The overall control is mainly carried out from a console and with the assistance of the engine crew who carry out maintenance and repair, enabling the ship to sail without any problems.
    The profession of a ship’s engineer is difficult and hard. It comes with a lot of responsibility, entails manual work, long hours one one’s feet and night shifts. The work is done with other crew members of various nationalities, habits and customs as the ship owners prefer other nationalities because of the lower labour costs, a fact however that creates problems in daily life since cooperation and team work is essential in the limited space of a ship. The working conditions are particularly hard and unhealthy and include also all difficulties and problems that are part of a seaman’s life as well as additional risk of accidents when working in an engine room. It is a profession for people who love the sea and travelling, have special skills around machinery and it demands a high level of responsibility and attention as the correct and safe sailing of the ship depends on the actions of the engineer.
    Engineers need to be intelligent and skillful in order to carry out precise calculations regarding the consumption and supply of fuel, lubricants and spare parts. Within the context of their work, third officers and cadets need to inspect and register the exact amount of fuel and lubricants in their storage tanks every four hours, which is also the duration of their shift. They check the gages to see whether they are working properly, the amounts they register, they inspect the hygiene and water supply pumps, the air compressors, the storage bottles and their mechanisms, in other words, they make sure all machinery provides full service so that the living conditions of the crew are good.
    My shifts were 12:00 to 16:00 and 00:00 to 04:00. It was getting dark, I had not gone to bed, and was sitting in my cabin listening to music on the cassette player waiting for the time to come to relieve my colleague. I remember I was listening to a song just out by the popular singer Mitropanos about a place in Greece called Kythira. It was a lovely song but that night, having sailed from Libya, I could not concentrate on the music because my thoughts were still in the market place of Tripoli and the murder of an unsuspecting Libyan by a person of his own faith. As much as I longed to forget the whole abhorrent incident, it was impossible, it was too soon.
    I slipped into my boiler suit and headed to the engine room, but my mind’s eye could still see the dark and determined cruel look of the killer, his features altered by hatred, terrifying and fierce. These were images I did not want in my thoughts and, in an attempt to delete them I forcefully shook my head left and right, but to no avail. I knew that in time, these thoughts would only be a memory but now, they were dancing in my head and would not leave me.
    I descended the tall stairs and stood before the control and operation console of the engine room, looking at all indicators and gages showing pressure, temperature, water level, fuel, and making sure all was well. All was well and at the same time I heard the voice of the third engineer behind me confirming – “All is well”.
    I turned and saw the third engineer and the cadet I had just relieved descending the stairs to the lower deck. We talked for a while and we were joined by the other third engineer, the one I was joining for this shift.
    We took over and signed the engine’s log and were left to ourselves. The third engineer was a likeable man and he loved telling jokes. We had an argument in the past because he sometimes became boring, but he was relentless, never stopped talking and got on people’s nerves. So, with the excuse of wanting to inspect the auxiliary machinery on the lower deck, I would leave him to go and find some peace and quiet.
    This time, before he was given the opportunity to start talking and while he was inspecting the console, I picked up a spanner and descended to check the bilges.
    I was checking everything, taking my time and, as I had four whole hours of shift to kill, I was meticulous with every inspection, counting the minutes for each one, the same number of minutes I had counted hundreds of times before.
    I knew I needed forty-five minutes for a full inspection. I needed another fifteen minutes to empty the bilges, that is, start the pumps to empty the backwater into the sea. After that, I would go upstairs and make two coffees, one for me and one for the third engineer. During this coffee break, whether I liked it or not, I had to put up with his endless monologue. His jokes may have been boring, but admittedly they were clever and humorous. Thirty-five years have passed but I still remember his name was Michalis and once, when I felt I could take no more, he told me the following one-liner I remember to this day:
    - “Once there was one then he left and there was none”.
    It was a witty short joke understood only by those with a fine sense of humour.
    At dawn, close to four o’clock and almost at the end of my four-hour shift, I started doing one last inspection, as I always did.
    I descended to the lower deck, the lowest part of the engine, and started my inspection from the bilges up. I went to the edge, were the bilges ended leaving a gap between them and the ship’s hull in order to look at the underwater part of the hull to see whether water had accumulated. By observing any rise in the level of the water without good reason, we could tell if there was leakage.
    In nautical terminology, bilges are the lowest part of the engine room at the ship’s underwater hull where all the backwater collects, they are the water receptors or, in layman’s language, the ship’s drain. I turned on my flashlight and threw a beam of light in the dark opening. I noticed the backwater moving. As the ship was sailing on a completely smooth sea without any undercurrents, this indicated a possible leak. Quite concerned, I leaned forward and lifted the cover of the next bilge to see what was happening.
    The sight before me was one I could not have imagined, it startled, worried, scared me. I was caught completely unprepared.
    In the bilges, between the ship’s pipes, sitting in the backwater and oil was a curled up small, dark human figure. The beam of light from my torch fell on a frightened face, eyes wide with terror. My instant fear dissipated upon realisation that it was a harmless stowaway.
    With the wrench raised in readiness to use if necessary, I leaned in and looked at him closely. To my great surprise, I recognized the killer of the unsuspecting citizen standing in front of the shop window with the Rolex watches in Tripoli.
    - “Why are you here?”
    I asked in a menacing voice. He opened his mouth with fear and in a faint voice repeated the words “please help”.
    Realising that I had nothing to fear and seeing that he spoke English, I sat back on my knees and started questioning him.
    The short story he recounted was heart wrenching, touched me and brought me before a dilemma on what I should do. Deliver him to the captain as was my duty and as the law provided so that he would notify all nearby port authorities, in which case, as we were still in Libyan waters, the relevant authorities would pick him up with all the expected repercussions? Or keep quiet and be guilty of aiding a stowaway?
    And he told me his story…
    His sister was twelve years old and was a student in their neighbourhood school. One day, a so-called education inspector visited the school. This man was actually one of Gaddafi’s secret agents. There were many cases like his; when Gaddafi wanted little girls for his bed, he would send his people out to get them.
    He took his sister forcefully, while she cried and fought, and spirited her away. All traces were lost, and despite the efforts of her brother and parents, they could not find her.
    Time passed and eventually a jeep stopped outside their house and dropped off his sister. They all ran to embrace her with joy, but she seemed different, she could not smile and remained sad and speechless.
    They all knew what had happened, and it caused them great pain, she had been subjected to an ordeal that damaged her soul deeply and she would carry the trauma for the rest of her life. But they were her family and hoped that time and love would help her overcome this and pull through.
    As she recounted what had happened, it seemed that she was raped multiple times, degraded and beaten by Gaddafi, who was known to be a pervert and a sadist who enjoyed subjecting boys and girls in his personal harem to unspeakable acts. When he was bored with her, he gave her to his agent, the one who took her from the school, and when he was bored too, he sent her home…
    After a few days her brother found her hanging from a beam in their home. She could not stand the shame and took her own life. A black cloud shrouded their home and their hearts. She was his only precious sister and he swore revenge. After her funeral, he came up with a plan of action. He knew that he could not get close to Gaddafi, the instigator of this act, but he decided to kill his henchman, the man who captured, stole and raped little girls.
    He stalked him for many days until he got his chance to kill him outside a shop window full of Rolex watches…
    Everything he said convinced me and made me feel empathy towards him. I thought that had this happened to me, I would do the same thing and maybe more. So, without second thoughts, I decided not to report him, leave him in his hiding place until we docked at a port where he would have a chance to escape. I was even going to help him, give him food and money if he needed it.
    I told him this and left him reassured in his hiding place. I climbed to the deck, handed over to my colleague and went off duty.
    During my next shift I went down to the bilges, called him but did not receive an answer. I leaned under the bilges, but he had vanished. I was not surprised, for sure he changed hiding place to protect himself in case I changed my mind and reported him. I knew the ship had good hiding places where a man could hide and not be seen. He could find food in the small kitchenette where food was always kept in the fridge so long as he moved carefully during quiet hours, while the crew was asleep.

    VOYAGE TO LIBYA, An unlikely saviour
    Troumbas street in Piraeus was a neighbourhood of ill repute, its side streets full of brothels and cabarets.
    Between 1950 and 1967 there were more than 100 red light houses and many cabarets offering all kinds of services, as well as coffee shops that doubled as drug dens, while most people circulating there were dangerous criminals. Life in the area was also dangerous with many gangs and muggers lurking in narrow alleys while murder as a means of settling disputes between racketeers and pimps was a daily occurrence. In 1967 the military junta governing the country closed most night spots and dives, and even changed the name of the street from Troumba to Notara in an attempt to develop the port area since this street of ill repute was parallel to Akti Miaouli where many shipping companies had established themselves in office buildings.
    Despite this however, Notara street and the surrounding alleys had revived during the 1970s and 1980s, and cabarets advertised their wares with photographs of naked girls posted in their windows, while, the narrow alleys and squares were once more, full of thieves and homosexuals and transvestites established their own areas where they solicited and picked up customers.
    On the street crossing the old Troumba and Akti Miaouli there were two cinemas that remained opened during the early hours until late at night, and they screened porn. These were the first years after the screening of porn was allowed freely following the fall of the junta and all the timewasters of the port and surrounding areas from Hadjikyriakos and Drapetsona until Pasalimani crowded these cinemas, and where the more “comme if faut” homosexuals, wearing their trilbies, were frequent customers in the hope that, in the dark and with the libidos of the viewers heightened during the screenings it would be easier to find companionship.
    Next to the cinemas was the coffee shop “Voskopoulla” a place frequented by Cypriot seamen. This is where I used to go whenever I disembarked and where I always managed to find Cypriot acquaintances to hear news about my long-suffering country since, after the 1974 invasion of Turkey, many people I knew were registered as dead, missing or prisoners of war.
    One day I was at Akti Miaouli and, as time passed and it got dark, I decided to leave. I had disembarked from the ship “SAN DENNIS” and arrived at the offices of the Fraggistas ship owning company to collect my pay. On that day, I had a considerable amount of cash in my pocket having been paid my wages for almost seven months of work aboard the ship as a trainee engineer.
    On that day, I first went into the “Voskopoula” coffee shop and then one of the cinemas where I watched two back-to-back films, one pornographic and the other karate. It was the time when porn and karate were very much in fashion.
    Having passed my time I exited the cinema and realized it was evening. I walked towards the train station to catch the train for Petralona. The distance was about one kilometer, so I leisurely made my way looking into the shops’ windows. A little before the station was Themistocles Square, where recently they had erected a big bronze statue of Themistocles, so I sat a while to look at it. I struck up a conversation with two women, a mother and daughter who owned the kiosk in the square and so time passed, night fell, and it became dark. I thought of taking the bus rather than the train, so I changed direction, crossed the square and passed the Agia Trias church, with the intention of going to the bus stop that was on King George A’ Avenue that crossed Akti Miaouli street.
    The area behind the church was dark because the light from the electric street lamps could not reach that spot and it was deserted. I quickened my step wanting to pass through the darkness and reach a lit area, my mind filled with thoughts of criminal gangs lurking in dark areas waiting for lonely victims.
    A few metres before I reached the light, four human silhouettes suddenly appeared in front of me and blocked my way. In the dark I saw their arms stretched out towards me. In the dense darkness it appeared as if they were holding deadly weapons, maybe pistols, knives or crowbars and clubs. I turned back ready to flee and realized that three other human silhouettes had blocked my escape route. I knew that they were going to rob me and decided not to react but give them all the money I had on me without resisting and maybe in this way escape with my life.
    As they menacingly moved slowly and steadily towards me, one of them made them all stop by uttering an abrupt whisper, like an order, in a foreign language that sounded Arabic. He said a few more words in their language and they all turned and left, swallowed up by the darkness.
    He was a small, skinny man and he approached me with his hand stretched out wanting to shake mine. I gave him my hand and felt him squeezing it warmly. In the beginning I did not comprehend, I stood trying to see his dark face that became one with the darkness of the night. He spoke to me in English, I heard him call me “my friend” and pulled me gently by the hand towards the lights of the square. I was intrigued with curiosity but also had a suspicion. I tried to pierce the darkness with my eyes to see his face. When we reached the lights, I saw my unexpected savior.
    He was the small human figure with the fiery eyes, the eyes of an enraged wild beast hardened by determination. The same dark, red and bloodthirsty demonic eyes, full of hatred that I had seen just a few months back in the Libyan capital when I became the witness of a brutal murder committed right in front of me. The man I discovered but did not report to the captain as was my duty, after he explained to me why he had killed the man standing in front of the shop window filled with Rolex watches.
    And now, I meet him in Themistocles Square, the leader of a gang robbing and probably killing unsuspecting and innocent passers-by. I thought I was lucky that he was the leader and I was spared but, after we said our goodbyes and I boarded the bus to leave Piraeus, I thought that, had I reported him, maybe his gang, without him as its leader, would not have appeared before me, maybe even the gang itself would not have existed at all

    (To be Continued)
    Last edited by Doc Vernon; 7th January 2020 at 04:29 AM.
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