Whilst working in real estate here in Crete, I had the pleasure of meeting many interesting people, whom often took it upon themselves to tell me tales of their life. One aged gentleman, sadly, no longer with us, for the sake of discretion, I`ll call Nikos. I was particularly fond of this interesting and entertaining Cretan.
Nikos wanted to sell his old family home, which he no longer lived in. The house was a charming, two storey building, requiring complete renovation, with a ceramic tiled roof, which remained in place, apparently, through sheer will power alone. When I say charming, I take it for granted that others, as I do, get a feel for a place, can read it`s character or vibe, whatever you`d like to call it. It`s irrelevant how the house looks now, what`s relevant, is that the house, in the right hands, can be brought back to life again, to become a home which breathes with life.
After alerting Nikos on one particular occasion that I had clients to view the property, he disappeared back into his little ground floor bedsit and emerged holding two tins of fly spray and we wandered off for the viewing. After tying a large hankie around his face, he opened the door and proceeded to empty the two tins of fly spray fully into the doorway of his old home. Bemused, my clients looked around them, unsure of what they had just witnessed, but I assured them that this was Nikos`s way of keeping the potential wave of fleas at bay whilst we viewed the property. Past experience had told both of us that this was a good idea, having old wooden floor boards, old furnishings and such, it was a haven for breeding fleas.
When the haze had cleared and we entered the property, I once again witnessed the remains of a life, a story in danger of being forgotten, with a lifetimes gatherings still strewn around the room, dust caked photos hanging crookedly. The mixed feelings I always experienced returned, the sadness that this home was never allowed to continue its story, that the family moved on, disregarding the roots of their upbringing, the roof that protected them, and on the other hand, that ever persistent desire to reclaim, rejuvenate, resurrect this little treasure.
My clients, although I suspect sensing my feelings to a certain degree, seemed unable to draw on their own imagination, couldn`t possibly envisage the finished project, couldn`t foresee what the house could become. However, I could see their curiosity. Perhaps it was the remnants of the past life, the upturned chairs, tin saucepans, the old worn shoe which held a strange fascination for them. Despite this fascination, the sheer amount of renovation which the project required served only as a deterrent.
We completed the viewing in the rear garden, where Nikos sat down on the old stone wall under the almond tree and began chattering. With no pre-cursory, or lead-in, or he told us a war time story. My clients, not given the chance to take their leave, were obliged to take seats on upturned buckets and rocks and listened as I translated.
He was a child of 8 or 9 when Germany was invading Crete during WWII. The Cretans, resilient, defiant and proud, proved their alliance with the British forces on inumerous occasions, but were often punished or even slaughtered by the enemy, for this alliance.
Two British soldiers had arrived in his village late one night, dirty, hungry, with one of them slightly wounded. The family dog had alerted them to their presence and Nikos` father had peered through the upstairs window, seeing the two shadows on the opposite side or the road, had understood that they were British.
Not wanting to alert the rest of the village to his actions, he took his flash light and signalled to the soldiers from his window. After swift, but hushed gesticulations, the two soldiers were ushered into the rear store room to hide. Amongst the ceramic urns, wine barrels, sacks and donkey saddles, the soldiers were offered a meagre meal and water pulled from the well. Nikos`s mother adeptly organising plates of rusks, tomatoes and olives, silently giving thanks that her children were still too young to go to war, meekly took care of the basic needs of the two soldiers.
It would seem that Nikos`s father had prepared for just such an occasion, and indicated to the soldiers that they were to enter the attic by pushing up a ceiling board, as there was no hatch. Having no ladders, they were forced to pile several items of furniture together in order to gain entrance. Once in situ, the soldiers crept under the blankets provided by this kind family and slept.
The snoring of the two soldiers was the only evidence of their presence, and witness to their exhaustion, as they slept for over 18 hours.
As they began to awaken, and the noises from above changed, food and water was pushed through the loose ceiling board, with little or no conversation exchanged.
Ever cautious of reprisals from the Germans whom roamed the area, the Cretan family continued their daily duties as if nothing was amiss.
The third day into their visitors stay, suddenly, without warning, three German soldiers appeared at their door, rifles in hand. Unperturbed, and ever conscious of the Cretan`s need and reputation for hospitality, Nikos`s father invited them inside and offered them a seat at the kitchen table. His wife immediately laid out glasses of cool water.
With their broken Greek, the German soldiers attempted to make light conversation. Somewhere between the gulps of cool water, a strange scraping noise could be heard from somewhere above. The soldiers, at first paid no attention. Within seconds there was a second, louder, shunting noise. The soldiers halted in their actions and one of them cocked his head on one side, showing his question at the noise. “pontikia!, “ποντίκια!”, uttered Nikos`s mother, perhaps a little too quickly, which of course means mice, but also refers to rats. The German soldiers seemed to understand this word and continued with their refreshments. Eventually they departed, with ευχαριστώ`s and gesticulations.
The next morning, there they were again, outside. As Nikos`s father opened the door, one of them thrust into his arms an enormous rat trap, along with a small parcel of cheese wrapped in newspaper. Somewhat shocked and bemused by this gesture, he looked up and saw the soldier smiling, wryly, wink, turn and all three walked away.
Nikos concluded the story, reassuring us that their secret visitors remained in the attic for 7 days, before finding the opportunity to take their leave. His family never heard anything of the fate of these two soldiers.
His father insisted, that, for the sake of his country, Greece, he would always help should the occasion arise, despite the fear of the consequences of reprisal from the invaders. Nikos`s eyes swelled with emotional tears, he sighed, pulled himself up with his walking stick and walked carefully back to his home.
I never found a buyer for this old home, and as far as I know, it still remains derelict, unsaved, with few aware of it`s history.