The cave of inspirations

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 22/01/2023

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Mr. Christos was sitting in the café of the small village drinking his coffee. He was now retired but still held in high esteem. He had never lived in this village permanently, but his family came from here. He had also renovated his grandfather’s old house and came often in the summers. Everyone knew him and they were proud that this important archaeologist could also be called their fellow villager.

Today in the café, apart from some elderly residents of the village who played backgammon, there were also a couple who were born here, but now living in London. They had come on holiday and passed by the café to drink their coffee and talk to the villagers. Expatriates as they were, they valued their place more and liked to hear stories from the old days. When they saw Mr. Christos, who seemed different from the others, they chatted with him and became interested in the profession he had practiced in his life.

So, a familiar atmosphere was created and with the encouragement of the two Londoners, Mr. Christos began to talk about his past.

-You know, he told them, here in this village I made the decision to study archaeology. If you want I’ll tell you the story, how this started. I think it has some interest.

Those who played backgammon, stopped it, and sat near Mr. Christos. The Londoners ordered coffee for everyone and even the owner of the café, after bringing the coffees, sat with them.

Mr. Christos stared for a few seconds into the void, as if immersed in the distant past, and began the narration:

-It was in the 50s. Cyprus was still a colony of the British. I was around eleven and my sister Irene was about six. That year there had been a strong earthquake and the village here had been quite affected. Many houses had been damaged, including that of my grandfather, my mother’s father. When the schools closed for the summer holidays we all moved here for a month, so that my father, who was a builder, could help repair the house.

-At that time, children used to circulate freely, played all day and no one worried. It wasn’t like today that parents want to know every moment where their children are.

-So, I used to go every morning with my friend and peer Antonis, in the fields, where he went there to graze his goats. Much to the dismay of both of us, my mother forced me to carry my little sister, Irene, with me.

-Irene at the time was a whining little girl who wanted to do what we did. It was a big obstacle for both of us who wanted to climb the mountains like wild goats, climb trees and often abandon goats to God’s mercy. She was running after us, whining, and threatening to report us to our parents. So very often I was forced to carry her on my back and do her all the favors or even threaten her, so that she would not speak.

-Irene had a cloth doll that had given her the strange name Poupa. She loved her very much and never parted with her. She had red hair, two buttoned eyes and a tattered dress. Very often her legs or arms came off, because of the way she held her, and my mother sewed them back again since Irene would not accept to play with any other doll. Poupa was her child.

-That day, then, we had Irene with her doll with us again. She was sitting on a stone, talking to her and we were both chatting how to escape her and climb the rocky hillside opposite. As we were engrossed in our conversation, we did not notice a goat that had moved away. We found out about it when she was already far away and bleating. She had climbed the steep slope we were supposed to go. So, we thought it was a good excuse to let Irene sitting on the stone with her doll and climb the rocks.

-But Irene was adamant. She was crying and yelling that she would tell mom if we didn’t take her with us. So, I had to put her on my back. I told her to hold me tightly and resting on a stick we started climbing the slope. Antonis went ahead, whistling and shouting the name of the goat. We followed with great difficulty.

-At some point we completely lost the goat from our sight. Antonis then quickened his step and climbed much higher than us. In a while I didn’t even see him. I started calling him, but I wasn’t getting any answers.

-I was incredibly irritated to have Irene on my back. And the worst part: she had started crying again. Struggling and sweating, I reached the top at some point. I took down Irene and started calling Antonis, whom I didn’t see anywhere. As I walked with difficulty among the stones, looking for my friend, I saw the entrance of a cave. It was half closed by a large rock, which seems to have been moved when the earthquake occurred, and thus the entrance was seen. I shouted louder:

-Antonis where are you?

-Here, I heard a voice from inside. I’ve found my goat. I am coming.

-In a moment he came out with his goat. His eyes were dilated by the bright light he saw coming out, but also by his excitement for the discovery of the cave.

-My friend, he told me. This cave was not here previously. I don’t know how it had appeared..

-The rock must be moved from the earthquake, I told him and showed him the big rock that half-closed the entrance.

-You’re right, he replied. But we must explore it. It’s huge. I have not been able to go far, because inside is deep darkness. I couldn’t see anything.

-How do we do that? I replied, pointing out to him Irene, who had started crying and screaming again.

-In a moment we went near her. I had a desire to push her down the slope. I was so sick of her antics. But I restrained myself and took her on my back again. Descending, Antonis, and I began to organize the exploration of the cave. I was more educated because I went to elementary school in the city, while most days he went out to graze the goats and very little he learned or remembered from school. So, I talked to him about the myth of Theseus and Ariadne and how Theseus managed, with the help of Ariadne, to get out of the Labyrinth.

-Since the cave is very large, I continued, we should take a tangle of rope and tie it to a stone at the entrance of the cave. Then we will unfold it a little by little as we move forward and so following the rope back, we will return to the entrance. In this way, Ariadne also advised Theseus to get out of the Labyrinth. It’s tried and tested I tell you!

-This is not a problem, he replied. I’ll bring the rope myself. But it’s also darkness in there. How will we see?

-I will arrange that, I told him. I will bring an oil lamp from home. With the hustle and bustle in there, no one will notice. I will also bring my water bottle full of water, lest we be thirsty.

-I will also bring the food that my mother prepares for me. Olives, bread, and tomato, that is.

-With the enthusiasm that fascinated us, organizing the exploration operation, we forgot about Irene who curled up on my back, listened to all the conversation.

-When we got to the plain and took her down, she said triumphantly:

-I’ve heard you! I’ll tell mom everything!

-At that moment all the anger and frustration I had with her came to the surface. I immediately grabbed the doll by her hands and took with one hand her head and with the other the rest of the body ready to pull them and dismember her.

-If you say something your doll will die, and I will feed her to the dogs. You will never see her again! I threatened her.

-She immediately started crying again and begged me to give her doll back.

-I will not say anything. I swear, she kept saying.

-I gave her doll back, making it clear once more that she wouldn’t see her again if she spoke.

-The days passed. Antonis and I had gathered the supplies we needed and put them in a hiding place in the area. Our problem was Irene. Of course, we could not carry her with us in the cave. We had to find a way not to come that day. After a week the solution was found. A cousin of my mother had come to the village, who had a daughter at the age of Irene. So, my sister stayed to play with her. Great relief for us.

-Thus, we started, excited about the adventure that awaited us. We let the goats down on the plain grazing and began to climb the rocky slope. Everything was very easy without Irene on my back! In a short while we reached the cave. We tied the rope to a stone and Antonis unwrapped it a little by little as we walked in. I was holding the oil lamp and I had the water bottle hanging on my shoulder.

-The cave was huge. We were moving on, moving on, and there was no end. It had various ramifications and fortunately we had the rope with us. We would not be able to go back any other way. In some places we had to bend our bodies to pass. So narrow and low they were. Suddenly, Antonis said to me:

-My friend, we can’t go any further. The rope ends.

-Only a few steps I told him. There I see an opening. Put down the rope and when we return we take it.

-Indeed in a few steps the cave opened, and a large chamber was in front of us. Stalactites sprouted from the ground and stalagmites hung from the ceiling. As the lamplight fell upon them, they shone white, like diamonds. We were both ecstatic. We couldn’t talk. We had never seen such beauty before.

-We were slowly advancing on the uneven terrain, admiring the unexpected sight, when at one point we saw some bones and some broken vessels. We approached fearfully at the sight of the bones. I put down the lamp and bent to see better. Among them was a statuette made of stone or marble, of a female figure. It was not very large, fifteen to twenty centimeters. Now I can conclude, as far as I remember, that it would belong to the Neolithic era. Then of course I didn’t know.

-So, I took it in my hands and felt its cold texture. But as I held it in my palms it began to warm up. And then I felt that it was alive. I caressed it and remembered Irene with her doll. I thought that’s how she would feel too. We did not touch the bones. We were afraid.

-At that moment, however, the unexpected happened. As we moved with difficulty, one of us pushed the lamp sitting on the floor and it slumped down on the uneven ground. Its glass broke and the oil spilled. I was about to run to get it, but I didn’t have time. As the oil was spilled, a fire started, which lit up the cave like a firework for a few minutes and then went out. But in those few minutes, despite our fright, the scene was spectacular. It was as if the long-asleep stalactites and stalagmites came to life and brought out all the beauty that had been hidden for centuries in their frozen hearts.

-Then came the total darkness. So dark, I’ve never seen it in my life!

At that moment Mr. Christos fell silent. As if he had sunk into his memories. This experience must have been one of the most intense of his life.

-Well, and how did you get out of there? The owner of the café asked him.

-At first we tried to find the route we had followed entering the chamber with the stalactites, but it was impossible. We had left the rope outside the chamber, and out of our excitement at the sight we had seen, we did not notice how we were progressing. We had completely lost our orientation. On the other hand, we were limping on rough terrain and there was a risk of a serious injury. So, we found a corner and sat down crying. We had completely forgotten that we considered ourselves explorers and began to behave like frightened children.

-We’re going to die in here,” Antonis told me. They will never find us!

-At that moment I remembered Irene.

-Irene knows where we are and will tell them. Do not be afraid, I comforted him. Don’t see her like a crybaby. She’s smart.

-But you threatened her not to say anything!

-My mom knows the way to get her talking. Don’t be afraid, I told him for consolation.

-In the meantime, we had begun to get cold. Outside it was summer, the temperature was high, but inside the cave there was cold and humidity. We wore short trousers and sleeveless jerseys. Either from the cold, or from our fear, we began to tremble. We thought about eating some of the supplies we had with us and we tightened on each other, trying to warm up. We must have slept hugging at some point. I was still holding the statuette in my hands. I felt it was alive and could help us.

-Outside the cave, the sun followed its course like every day and went west. The goats, when the time of the evening came, set off on their own and returned to the village. When Antonis’ father did not see his son accompanying them, he ran to my parents and searched for him. Then everyone realized that we had not returned. They started out angry, thinking we had stayed in the fields playing, and they searched for us in the familiar pastures. Of course, they didn’t find us and in the meantime it was getting dark. Then they got really worried.

-They could not look for us in the dark and decided to return the next day, notifying the policeman who was in the next village. My mother cried all night. Irene, who saw her, went near her, and caressed her tenderly, crying too. When she really understood the reason for my mother’s despair, she said to her:

-Don’t cry, I know where they are. But Christos had told me that he would kill my Poupa and he will give it to the dogs, if I tell you.

-My mother tried to behave calmly and assured Irene that no one would hurt her doll, as long as she told them where we were.

-They are in the cave! Irene replied.

-What cave, both my parents said in unison. There is no cave in the area.

-There is, where Antonis’ goat was lost!

-The other day, when they gathered to start looking for us, namely Antonis’ father, the policeman and some other villagers who wanted to help, they all assured that there was no cave in the area. Nevertheless, for better or for worse, they also took Irene with them, who in the meantime had described to them all our plans. Most people thought they were her fantasies, but my mother trusted her.

-Arriving at the familiar pastures, my mother asked Irene to show them where the cave was. She did not hesitate at all.

-Well, how did you get up there? My father asked her.

-Christos took me on his back, she replied.

-When I find him I will kill him! It’s not enough that he takes risks himself, he takes Irene with him!

-You don’t say luckily that he took her! My mother answered. May we find them, and I will never let him leave the house again!

-With Irene’s instructions, they found the cave, which no one knew that existed. When they spotted the rope tied to a stone, they realized that Irene’s story was true. My father and Antonis’ father decided to go inside following the rope. The others waited outside. Irene for the first time in her life did not whine. She even felt like a heroine, because she showed them the entrance to the cave. Fortunately they had brought lanterns with them, otherwise they would not have been able to proceed.

-We, who had completely lost our sense of time, at one point heard some voices calling our names.

-Here, here, father! We both responded with one voice.

-Following our rope and voices, it didn’t take long for them to find us. Our first reaction was to run to them, and their first reaction was to scold us:

-Bad boys, do you know you could die? If it wasn’t for Irene, we would never have found you!

-But when they saw how miserable we were in, they took pity on us, and the matter ended there. They almost carried us out because we were both trembling. We had apparently suffered hypothermia, but also the terror we got was also indescribable.

-As soon as Irene saw me, she ran to hug me and for the first time I realized how much I loved her. Although we could hardly face the light, from the many hours we stayed in the dark, I realized the presence of many villagers and the policeman waiting for us. I was still holding the statuette I found, in my hand. I wanted to give it to Irene, but I didn’t have time. As soon as the policeman saw it, he grabbed it from my hands, saying:

-I’ll take this myself to deliver to the museum.

-I tried to resist, but my father’s fierce gaze made me drop it. Now I’m sure he never delivered it to the museum. At that time, looting was very common and people poor enough to seek for easy profit.

Here one of the villagers commented:

-So many years in this village and I don’t know the existence of any caves in the area. I remember something, when I was also young, about some children who perished, but nothing more.

-You are right, Mr. Christos replied. I’ve been looking for it since then but haven’t found it yet.

And he continued his narration:

-After this adventure we returned to the city. My mother didn’t want to hear about the village again. So, I lost all contact with Antonis. I haven’t seen him since. But what remained deeply engraved in me was the interaction with the ancient statuette. The feeling that it was a living creature who protected us in that cave, never left me. So, growing up I became an archaeologist.

-I wanted to get to know the people who lived in the past and what they left behind. To understand the history of mankind and the history of my country.

-Later, I returned many times and walked in the hills outside the village, trying to find the cave again. It was impossible. At first I thought I was wrong; it might not be the hill I remembered, maybe it was on some other hill in the area and so I walked them all. But the cave is nowhere.

-Well, how is this possible? The owner of the café asked.

-I thought of various things. Perhaps the policeman, when he realized that the cave had ancient art crafts inside, deliberately closed the entrance so that he could find and sell them himself. Perhaps the wild vegetation slowly closed the entrance. Maybe both. However, I wasted endless hours and did not find it.

-And Antonis? What happened to Antonis?

-When I came to the village and searched for him, I was told that he went to England to an uncle of his and never returned to the village again. I haven’t seen him since.

The two Londoners, who had been listening in silence until that moment, spoke then:

-It will be very important for the village to find a cave with stalactites. A lot of tourists will come. Explain to us where it is, and we will go and search for it.

-I will take you myself, said Mr. Christos. It may be your luck to find it. But deep down, I believe that if the earth does not want to open its arms and reveal its secrets to us, we will not find the cave. Circumstances then helped us to see a world that had been unseen for centuries. Before our eyes the continuity of life was revealed, the importance and connection with our ancestors. Because of this revelation I became an archaeologist and I believe that I did everything I could to bring the history and wealth of my homeland to the surface. But I have also learned that if the time does not come, the secrets of the earth are left to sleep.

-Will you then, take us tomorrow? The Londoners asked again.

-I’ll take you. Perhaps it is time for the miracle to happen again.


Photo: A neolithic statue from the Greek Archaeological museum


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