Gordon G Hall
Writer and Neo-Philhellene

Short Stories about Greece
Reaping and Sowing

With long-practised precision he turned the small tractor through 180 degrees, then engaged the plough as the machine started its return run. Nearly done now. It was a small well sheltered field, bounded by a series of rough hedges on three sides and his grove of peach trees on the fourth. He was a smallish man, in that he was less than 160 cms tall, but his barrel of a chest and chunky upper arms suggested that he was not someone to be messed with. He had not been messed with. Never in his life until now.

The village was just under a kilometre distant. As a boy he had run truant through its narrow maze of streets, so confusing to a visitor, yet etched indelibly upon local memory. It possessed a charm, a spirit of historical continuity that had seeped into its walls in Ottoman days, even in places a distant memory of the Byzantine. Unlike its ugly modern neighbour the place had not suffered greatly from the German occupation, nor from the ravages of the subsequent Civil War. Yes, atrocities had been committed. Not by foreigners, nor by factions fighting for the political future of their country. Here it was the villagers; they of the lynch mob who had torn apart the five collaborators of the municipality. Who had savagely enacted a terrible revenge upon those men of local substance who, by their efforts to please the Occupier, had saved their village from the wrath of the Hun.

That was all a distant folk-memory now, and well before his own time. His father had been killed in 1949, his throat slit by a Nationalist. Now he had inherited these few fields from the grandfather who had taught him the ways of the land. Not that his duties as a farmer were unduly demanding. His mornings were spent in the kafenio just off the village square. A dozen or so of them met at about ten o’clock every day. A game of cards or a couple of games of tavli kept him out of the house at the time of day when menfolk should not be within sight of the kitchen sink. Then there was the lake. Only a river in his grandfather’s time it was to here that he came almost every evening with his three rods, a practical source of food in these difficult times, but also, though he would have been loathe to admit it, the fulfillment of his need to get away from home, to find some peace.

He was a local man, and always would be. There had been a time when he had left the village, just after his National Service, with ideas of seeing the world. He had got no further than Athens and had returned from those parts only a few months later with the woman that was to become his wife. His mother reacted as every village mother would have done. Why not choose a nice girl from the village? Why bring in a stranger, a foreigner, someone who would always be alien to this close-knit community and its ways? But he was determined. Rather than be married in the capital, or even in the centre of his village he had chosen a small chapel in a village some 8 kilometers away up in the mountains. The marriage had not been wonderful.

They had laughed at him this morning in the Kafenio. What was he doing hitching up his plough at this time of year? Did he know nothing about farming? Had he forgotten everything his grandfather had taught him? He had let them chide him, simply replying that there was a time and a place for everything. They had let it go at that. He might not be a tall man, but he had never been worsted in a fight.

But there had been fights; verbal to start with. His wife had brought into the house her different ways; the ways of Athens. She cooked differently to his mother, she was lax about cleaning the house, about making the bed, about doing the washing up. Her dresses were colourful, and thin, and short. Her hair was sometimes blonde and sometimes red, rarely her natural dark brown. But above all she was dissatisfied. She moaned about the village life. She griped about his lack of ambition. She hankered after loud music. She missed her lively friends. She did not want a family. She talked constantly about leaving.

He had not borne this patiently. He was a man of the village, and he well knew that women needed to be kept in their place. A few well-struck blows about her body where they would not be on display to everyone. Later it did not matter. Everyone in the village knew everyone else’s business here, and there was not a man, or a woman either, who would judge harshly a husband who had to keep an erring wife in check. There was no question about allowing her to leave; the shame it would bring upon him would be unendurable.

He turned the tractor and started back up the field; the final furrow. The seedbed would not be harrowed for another three or four months, indeed he might have to plough again before he could rake it with the tines. But before he finished this last run there was still some planting to do. Deep planting.

He carefully replaced the spade behind the link bar of the tractor. There was more room there now that the bundle in the old carpet had been safely interred. Good nutritious stuff in that. It would give a fine start to anything growing there. He engaged gear and expertly ran the furrow out over the freshly dug ground. The disturbance caused by his digging was scarcely noticeable except to the trained eye.

He was not an imaginative man, but he wondered about the crop that might grow from this place in the coming summer. What young sweet shoots would push up from under that damned oblong of ground? Would the flowers be just a bit too colourful? Would they be of a species native to the village? Would their petals be blonde or even red? And would their leaves grow just that little bit too short?


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Distant Fells
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