© Terri Munt
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A Village Called Faraway
“Some bastard’s poisoned my dog!”
The priest hesitated only momentarily, with the black bishop held delicately between his thumb and forefinger. He detested having his chess games disturbed, and was particularly annoyed with the large man who had crashed noisily into the kafeneio, letting the door bang against the nearest table as he roared about his dog. The priest deliberately placed the bishop on the board, savouring the delicious moment before his opponent realised that he was caught in a double pincer movement.
“Are you all deaf in here! Some malaka poisoned my best hunting dog! What kind of a dirty trick is that?”
“Would that be the dog that’s been keeping the whole village awake every night for weeks?” the priest asked calmly.
“Dogs bark, it’s in their nature. That doesn’t mean it’s OK to kill them. Anyway, if you want to kill something you should shoot it outright, not torture it with poison.”
“Niko, you should feed your dogs sometimes, then maybe they wouldn’t take poisoned meat from strangers.”
“Whose side are you on? Is it Christian to poison God’s creatures? Anyway, who says it was a stranger? When did you last see a stranger round here?”
At this point the priest’s opponent, a watery-eyed old man, decided to join in the conversation: “There were those gypsies passed through about two weeks ago.”
“Two weeks ago! You think they gave my dog some kind of delayed-action poison?”
“No, but they were strangers,” the old man reasoned mildly.
The priest sighed.
“No, it’s not a good thing to poison animals, and neither is it good to chain them up without exercise and to starve them. Now, I don’t think you need a priest, unless you want to pay for a funeral for the dog, so please shut up and let me continue beating Baba Christo at chess.”
Nikos picked up a chair, banged it down at a table and threw himself heavily into it as he shouted, “I want a beer!” Remembering the old woman who ran the kafeneio, he was immediately repentant and somewhat sheepishly addressed her. “Please, Kyria Angeliki, a beer, if it’s no trouble.”
Kyria Angeliki pulled herself painfully from her chair, took hold of her stick and slowly made her way over to the fridge. She took a bottle of beer from it, then tottered over to the counter where she picked up a less than sparkling beer glass and the bottle opener. Contriving to hold all three of these in the hand that was not needed for the stick, she hobbled over to Nikos, put the beer and the glass on the table and opened the bottle. Resting a hand on his shoulder, she gently said, “I’m sorry about your dog, my child, it was a wicked thing to do.” Nikos grunted his thanks as he sulkily poured his beer.
Having watched this scene in silence, the priest turned his attention back to the game in hand.
“Take your time, Baba Christo, take your time. But I think you’ll have to admit that I’ve beaten you this time.”
“Carefully, carefully,” the old man replied, “the game is not over yet.”
Silence once more descended on the kafeneio. Time passed. An old man came in and took his accustomed seat. Wordlessly, Kyria Angeliki got up and went to make his daily coffee. She knew how to make it to his exact taste. There was no hurry, no one was going anywhere, in fact the longer it took to make the coffee the better. The game dragged, the afternoon dragged, the clock ticked, the day passed much like any other, just the way the inhabitants of this forgotten village liked it.
At three fifteen the two thirty bus sounded its horn to warn of its arrival in the village, before turning in the square outside the kafeneio to commence its journey back over the mountains to the city. The chess game continued with only the occasional murmured remark. A little after four, a small girl entered the kafeneio and approached the priest shyly.
“Can I help you my child? Does someone want the priest?”
“Yes, Pappa” she almost whispered, “my grandma says to please come. Kyria Panayiota is dying.”
Baba Christo and Kyria Angeliki crossed themselves reverently. The priest stroked the girl’s hair, his hand massive against her small head, as he asked, “Who is your grandmother, my child?”
The old woman Panayiota had been claiming to be dying for years, but for all her complaints, she had never been too ill to carry her own ladder to the olive grove, nor to climb the trees and pick olives for eight hours a day. She carried the full sacks to the roadside too, where a neighbour with a tractor picked them up for her, and she whitewashed her own house and the outside of the church before Easter every year. Like so many of the older women, complaining was a habit with her. The priest had begun to suspect it was the only pleasure these women had ever been allowed.
“My yiayia is Kyria Evangelia”, the girl said, not without a certain amount of pride.
“Then we must not delay,” said the priest, taking the little girl’s hand.
As they started to leave, Kyria Angeliki pressed a chocolate bar into the girl’s free hand. At the door the priest stopped, and turning to Baba Christo, remarked, “Don’t touch anything.”
For all his affected disdain, this business of the poison bothered Father Nikodimos. He had been in the village only two years, and whilst he found much to admire in the independence and stoicism of his parishioners, their callous treatment of animals revealed a brutal streak that he found disturbing. The use of poison, too, was indiscriminate and casual. Many people had poison in their homes, he knew, casually stored amongst the bags of whitewash and animal feed. It was often left in the olive groves to deter foxes, but might be eaten by a marten or badger or indeed a domestic dog. The villagers could not understand why that mattered, but Father Nikodimos wondered what would happen if a child found the poison. Then there was the deliberate and malicious poisoning of dogs deemed to be a nuisance, either because they were chained up and barked all night, or because they roamed the countryside in packs. Many people feared dogs, and failed to distinguish between the feral and potentially rabid, and domestic dogs. Even these were not exactly pets, but kept as hunting animals and guard dogs. Though to guard what from whom was another unfathomable mystery.
“Wait there, little one,” he said, as he entered his house beside the church to get the holy oil required for the anointing of the sick. Emerging with his bag, he once again took the little girl by the hand. These two formed a picturesque image as they walked hand-in-hand down the narrow alleys of the village in the fading light: the burly man with his long black frock pulled into a knot just below the knee to facilitate his lengthy stride, his uncut greasy dark hair streaked with grey, the front locks pulled back above his ears into a kind of half-ponytail, his huge hand gently encompassing the tiny one of his companion; the quaintly-dressed child in her thick woollen tights and knitted suit, with her serious expression, resembling nothing so much as a grandmother in miniature. They walked in silence, both aware of the seriousness of the situation, until the child stopped abruptly by the fence surrounding Niko’s house. There, still in its chains, lay the dead dog, its arched, paralysed body and bared teeth showing clearly that it had died in the agonised grip of poison.
The priest sighed. “Come away, child,” he said, gently tugging the child’s hand. “Which is Kyria Panayiota’s house?” he asked, knowing the answer but wishing to remind her of her sombre mission.
“There, Pappa, with the blue door.”
Leaving the serious little girl on the doorstep, the priest entered the smoky, hot little room that was kitchen and bedroom to the dying widow. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light, but soon he could see the two women in the room: seated was Kyria Evangelia, the sensible and dignified attendant at every sick bed in the village, whilst in the bed, under a deep covering of blankets was Kyria Panayiota, her face pale and anxious, her eyes half closed.
Kyria Evangelia rose to offer her seat to the priest, and gave her report on the old woman: “She is very weak, Pappa, I believe she has only a few hours left.”
“I will anoint her and say the prayers for the sick. Has the doctor seen her?”
“It would be a waste of money. Why pay him to tell us what is obvious? Her heart is tired, her breath is very low, I’ve seen many pass this way.”
“You know best, Kyria, I will bring her to God.”
“Pappa, there is something else. I fear she is wandering in her mind. She may shock you with her words.”
“I am not so easily shocked, Kyria.”
Kyria Panayiota opened her eyes and saw the priest sitting at her bedside. She stretched her hand towards him and he gently took the frail fingers between his large paws. She tried to raise her head to speak, but the priest, seeing this, leaned towards her that he might hear her where she lay.
“Pappa,” she whispered, struggling for breath, “they have poisoned me!”
The priest looked to Kyria Evangelia for reassurance.
“It’s as I said, she is weak in her mind or dreaming. It’s not possible, she would be in much more pain.”
He knew she was right, the old woman showed no signs of poisoning. He had attended enough deaths to know that she was simply fading into death as was natural at her age. Still, it was disturbing to see her evident distress. He hoped he might ease her mind by dispelling her fears.
“Who do you think has poisoned you, Kyria?” He asked, “Who could be so wicked?”
“My sons-in-law.” This was as much as she could manage, without resting to recover her breath. She continued in little bursts of gasped speech.
“Want everything. My son is coming. From America. For land. My land his.”
The priest looked anxiously at Kyria Evangelia, who whispered, “She never had a son. She has two daughters here in the village, younger than me. I sent them away for an hour’s rest, but they will sit up with her again tonight. There never was a son.”
He knew that Kyria Evangelia knew everyone and was reliable, yet still these fantasies of the old woman worried him. She squeezed his hand as tightly as she could to draw his attention back to her. He leaned close to her once more, drawing back one of his hands to hold his long beard away from her face. He was even more worried when he heard the words, “I want . . . to confess.”
It was dark by the time a deeply troubled Father Nikodimos emerged from the tiny house. Kyria Evangelia had wrapped her shawl around herself and sent her granddaughter home, then waited patiently in the alley. She had been joined by the daughters of Kyria Panayiota and all three had waited silently for the priest to emerge. They looked questioningly at the priest, but could not read his expression.
“She’s sleeping,” he said, “can you stay with her?”
“Of course, I’ll stay till the end,” replied Popi, the elder daughter.
“We both will,” added her sister.
Father Nikodimos was tired, and wished he’d lit his stove earlier in the day. Not for the first time, he regretted that he didn’t have a wife at home and a warm meal waiting for him. He considered going to the kafeneio and asking Kyria Angeliki to cook him a chop, but he wanted to be alone with his thoughts. Still he had one more call to make before he could go home to a quiet supper of bread and cheese. Kyria Panayiota’s confession had disturbed him, and he was not sure what to believe. Clearly, by the evidence of his own eyes, she had not been poisoned, but he would have felt more comfortable about it if a doctor had been consulted. Could he believe anything she said?
He went over the details of her confession in his mind, as he turned his steps towards the harbour and the postman’s house. Of course, it was all possible, perhaps even plausible, but that did not mean it was true. But if it what she had said was true, it could hardly matter now to anyone living. Even if he were free to reveal it, what good would it do? He sighed and shook his head as he knocked on the postman’s door. It was Maria, the postman’s wife who opened the door. The priest was touched by the genuine warmth of her greeting as she ushered him into the cosy kitchen, where her husband was seated at the table. He rose to greet the priest, as his wife exclaimed “But you look worn out, Pappa, sit and take a glass of wine. We were just about to eat, and of course I’ve made far too many meatballs. Please say you’ll stay and help us out.”
In truth, the spicy aroma of the meatball sauce had already provoked a stabbing hunger, and these words were like balm to his aching soul. “Sometimes,” he reflected, “even a priest must give in to temptation. Your cooking is irresistible.” His answer delighted the busy little woman, whose surly husband acknowledged her culinary skills with not even a grunt of thanks.
“I have business with your husband, but I believe it is nothing that cannot be discussed in your presence. I know you are discreet.”
“How these priests suck up to the women,” thought Ilias the postman, “and how the silly women dote on the priests.” Ilias was a rather pompous, self-important man who thought that working for the government put him a cut above the farmers and fishermen he lived amongst. If the priest had business to discuss, it certainly should not be discussed in front of his wife or any other woman. Still, the rules of hospitality required him to welcome the priest to share his meal; of course, as the representatives of state and church, he and the priest were the two most important men in the village, even if this particular priest lacked a sense of the dignity of his office. He could only hope that he would not be too indiscreet in front of his wife.
As Maria poured wine, cut bread and brought the salad to the table, Father Nikodimos explained that Kyria Panayiota was dying, that he had administered the blessing for the sick, but that he was somewhat troubled by her verbal ramblings.
“In short, Kyrié Postman,” he concluded, “You can help me to at least establish one fact. Has Kyria Panayiota received a letter in the last few weeks?”
“It is many years since she has received a letter, I can assure you,” replied Ilias.
“Of course, you deliver many letters and have other heavy responsibilities. Is it possible you’ve forgotten delivering a letter to her?”
“It’s not possible, my friend,” replied Ilias smugly. Now was his chance to make the priest look foolish. “It is many years since she received a letter. There can be no doubt for, as anyone in the village will tell you, Kyria Panayiota cannot read. She used to receive letters from her friends in Athens, and I was always obliged to read them for her. Who composed her replies, I cannot say.”
“Well, I thank you. She told me she had a letter from America. She must have been dreaming. Can you tell me anything about these friends of hers in Athens?”
“Oh yes, I know all about them – Dr and Mrs Vassilides – very respectable people I believe.”
“And how did our Kyria Panayiota come to know such people, so far away?”
“I believe Mrs Vassilides was a distant cousin of the Kyria’s mother. Kyria Panayiota lived with them for some time as a child during the civil war.”
When the priest had such information as Ilias knew about these Athenian people, which was in fact no more than that they had both died years before, he directed the conversation to more general topics. Before leaving, he again complimented Maria on her cooking, his comments being fully endorsed by his evident hearty enjoyment of the meal. He was equally enthusiastic in his consumption of the wine her father made, so that he left the postman’s house a happier man than he had arrived. His journey home took a little longer than was usual, and anyone spotting the priest wending his uncertain way that evening would not have suspected he was the owner of a worried mind.
The next day Kyria Angeliki was up early and by the time the first customers arrived the kafeneio was already filled with wonderful aromas, as she prepared savoury stifado, garlicky tzatziki, walnut cake and other homely delights. Kyria Anna came in, and after the customary greetings and enquiries after Kyria Angeliki’s health, remarked, “So, it’s today is it?”
“Yes,” beamed Kyria Angeliki, “Today.”
“Do you have everything you need? Can I help you at all?”
“Thank you, my friend, but I don’t need anything.”
“Well, I just came to see if you can spare any eggs, but perhaps you need them yourself?”
“I have plenty. I can let you have four today. Is that enough?”
Kyria Angeliki transferred the eggs from her own bowl to the one Kyria Anna had brought for the purpose, then graciously refused payment. Kyria Anna wished her joy and left her to her cooking and her customers, many of whom suffered an aching hunger that day, brought on by the heavenly smells emanating from the kitchen.
Looking at her ticket, Elpida saw that she had been given seat number thirteen. She was not superstitious, but she noted the irony and smiled grimly to herself. It would be a long, slow journey from Athens to the village of Makria. At least she had a window seat, but of course seat fourteen was occupied by a large voluble woman who thought to pass the journey in conversation. There was always a large voluble woman beside you on the bus, she mused, except when there was a nasty old man who stared at your breasts and rubbed against you.
Elpida was not in the mood for talking and for a moment thought of pretending to be a foreigner. But no, she was not clever enough to keep it up for the four hours to Metaxopoli, she would have to submit politely to the intrusive questions: where are you going, are you married, do you have children, how much rent do you pay, what do you earn, and so on. Divorced after twenty-seven years and going home to her mother with nothing, absolutely nothing, except what was in the suitcase and two cardboard boxes stowed under the bus, she fought hard to resist expressing the bitterness she felt. It was not just bitterness, she thought, but the utter waste and stupidity of staying for so long with a worthless man.
She answered the questions as briefly as she could, and in turn made polite enquiries of her neighbour, listening without interest to her family history. The voluble woman had been visiting her son who was a taxi driver in Athens, she had a granddaughter who was studying in Manchester – that’s in England, near London, you know. She had another son who had stayed in the village, and married a local girl; he was a good son . . .
Elpida’s friends all thought she was crazy to leave Athens, and had tried their best to persuade her to stay. One friend had offered her a spare room at a very low rent, another had offered her a job. She had refused both.
“My mother needs me,” she had said, and though it was true that her mother was struggling to run the village kafeneio alone, she knew in her heart this was an excuse. She was running away from her failure and the waste of her life. Her friends had openly wondered what she would do in the village, with no shops, no restaurants, no clubs, no cinemas, no men worth looking at. She would live quietly and help her mother, she told them. It was enough, she said, though she was far from sure of this.
“You’ll be back,” Maria had said. “I felt the same after my first divorce.” But Elpida was tired of it all.
At Metaxopoli the voluble woman was picked up by her good son, who arrived at the bus station in a battered old truck to take her home to her village. Elpida drank an iced coffee and ate a spinach pie in the cafeteria at the bus station, and thought about the village where she was born. Many of her school friends had left, and those who had stayed had married local boys and submitted to the village code: scrub, clean and cook all day; work in the garden or the fields; tend animals, children and men; never spend money on yourself; and never, never sit and drink coffee with other women, lest you get a name for being lazy. She would not fit in, she realised. She had changed too much.
The local bus had a conductor. When she named her destination, he asked if she wanted a return ticket. She smiled faintly as she said no. She had chosen a seat on the right, which would be the seaward side as they headed south towards the end of the peninsula that was the also the end of Europe. As the bus left the suburbs and started to climb the high, familiar mountain road she felt the first pleasurable anticipation. The road zigzagged steeply upwards offering a spectacular view back down onto the ancient city of Metaxopoli and the glittering blue waters of the gulf. After half an hour of climbing through olive groves they had reached the villages of the high plateau. The famous old bakery and the olive oil press were still there in the village of Paliopigio; people sat on the pavement chairs drinking coffee and arguing loudly, as they had always done. No one ever seemed to mind drinking their coffee just inches from the passing traffic. A herd of goats was visible on a rocky outcrop just below the ruined castle of Zarna. Elpida began to be excited as the road started to crawl down the other side of the mountains. All her life, this first sight of sea had thrilled her and signified homecoming. They passed a bend in the road and there it was, far, far below, flashing a dozen shades of turquoise and blue, the underwater streams of freshwater clearly visible from above as they forced their chilly fingers out into the bay. The road zigzagged steeply down to the sleepy coastal town of Palmyra. From there it was only about half an hour to the village at the end of the road, almost the end of the earth, she thought, where the bus would turn around before heading back to the city.
Yes, soon she would be home, where her mother was waiting. She would live with her mother, basking in the unquestioning, uncomplicated love only a mother could give. She would insist on her mother sitting and resting while she made the coffee for the old men. She would feed the chickens and tend the vegetable plot, and in the winter she would pick the olives. Through the long unchanging days when nothing happened she would sit with her mother, in comfortable silence or in languid conversation. She realised she was no longer running away but going home, and to her immense surprise Elpida realised that she was feeling happy.
She was startled from her reverie as the bus slowed round a bend and the tobacco-coarsened voice of the conductor hoarsely called out the stop: “Makri-a!”
The bus was only twenty minutes late when it turned into the village square. Angeliki grabbed her stick and bustled outside as fast as she could at the first blast of its horn. The old men feigned indifference, but they looked up from their coffee cups to see how much the child Elpida had changed. They had to wait as Kyria Maria, who had only been to the next village to tend to the shrine of her dead son, lowered herself painfully down the steps. Could that be Elpida behind her, an eager face dwarfed by a mass of dyed red hair looking over the old lady’s head? As Elpida emerged into full view, to be hugged, kissed and cried over by her mother, whilst trying to keep one anxious eye on the conductor to make sure that all her luggage was taken down from the bus, mutterings of dismay were heard amongst some of the female onlookers.
She would have liked to go straight inside to the bedroom above the kafeneio, but she knew she must face the ordeal of greeting those villagers who just happened to be in the square at that moment. She gave general “Good afternoons” and shook hands with some of the men. She submitted to being kissed and fondled by the older ladies. She thanked them when they bade her welcome home and tried to smile not frown when they commiserated with her for being abandoned by her husband. In answer to their questions she said her journey was not too bad, yes, she was here to stay, and told them, to gasps of horror, how much she had paid her hairdresser in Athens. She looked around the square expecting to see her old friend Toula, but she wasn’t there.
At last she was allowed to escape into the dark interior for a cup of mountain tea with her mother and the gossips were able to voice their amazement at her expensive hairdo and their disgust at the fact that she was wearing trousers.
That evening the death bell tolled and the phrase “Pyos pethane?” – “Who died?” was heard in the kafeneios and among the brightly-painted fishing boats in the little harbour. Elpida now understood her school friend’s absence. Toula had been keeping vigil with her dying mother. The next day Father Nikodimos sang the funeral service for Kyria Panayiota in a ritual that was as old as Christianity itself. Though Elpida was not religious, she loved the beautiful traditions of the Orthodox church, and she noticed that the new priest had a rich, full voice that reverberated through the church. Afterwards she helped her mother to serve coffee and brandy to the mourners with the simple accompaniment of twice-baked bread, cheese and olives. The mourners were mostly elderly apart from Popi and Toula, the two middle-aged daughters of Kyria Panayiota, and their respective husbands Babis and Stavros. Elpida had known all four of them all her life.
After only two years in the village, they were still relatively unknown to Father Nikodimos, whose mind still ran on poison. Popi and Babis were in many ways a typical peasant couple, he thought: she worked hard and made sure everyone knew it; he drank coffee, played backgammon and rode proudly around on his tractor. He wondered if they were happy. Probably they never considered the question of their own happiness to be one worth asking. They existed, it appeared, in a permanent state of disgruntlement. “Life is hard and we know it,” their faces seemed to say, “other people may see the frivolous side of things, but we are serious people.” They were proud, old-fashioned and morally upright people, impeccably honest. Babis was known to have occasional fits of violent temper, but Father Nikodimos could not imagine him doing anything so calculated and cruel as poisoning his mother in law. And for what? A few more olive trees and a dilapidated house. No, it was beneath Babis’ dignity as a man to care about such things. The sisters had competed in their loving care for their mother and genuinely grieved her loss as anyone could see. As for Toula’s husband, big-hearted Stavros was sniffling into his second brandy and had cried all through the funeral service.
No, Father Nikodimos decided, there was no poison, no son in America, no “foul play” as the detective novels called it. The poor old woman had been confused in her final hours. He glanced across at the still unfinished chess game in the corner. Three moves, he thought. Later, when the mourners had gone their separate ways, he would beat Baba Christo in three moves.
The death and funeral of Kyria Panayiota had caused a ripple on the quiet surface of village life, but thanks to the discretion of Kyria Evangelia no wave of scandal followed in its wake. The return of Elpida was another disturbance, but after a while people seemed to forget she had ever been away. If any gossip maliciously remarked on her unfeminine habit of wearing trousers, Kyria Angeliki had learned to respond tartly, “They’re not trousers, they’re bluejeans.” Life resumed its usual rhythm: the fishing boats went out and returned, the hens were fed, the gardens were tended, the goats were milked and the cheese was made. Most days Father Nikodimos played Baba Christo at chess and sometimes he won. He hoped to find out more about Kyria Panayiota’s Athenian friends, and although Baba Christo was not the oldest of the villagers, far from it, he was old enough and sharp enough.
“How old are you, Baba?” the priest asked one day.
“I’ll be eighty seven next St George’s day,” the old man answered, “and I’m still the best chess player in the village.”
“Hmm, we’ll see about that. I think I have the advantage over you today. And you’ve been here all your life?”
“More or less. So what?”
“I was wondering about that old lady that died. You knew her well I suppose?”
“Little Potta?” laughed the old man. “Of course, she was the same age as my little sister, they played together as children. Ah, Potta was a sweet little thing and pretty too.”
Father Nikodimos tried to imagine the grim-featured old lady as a sweet child, but the image failed to materialise.
“She went to stay in Athens at one time, didn’t she? Why was that?”
“That was during the war, a long time ago. About ’44 I think. The war with the Germans was over but we got no peace. That’s when we started killing each other. The fighting was very bad round here. The Communists took everything we had and then the Fascists punished us. Bad times, my friend, and best forgotten.”
“Of course,” the priest placated the old man. The Civil War was still a very delicate subject for the older people. “It was the girl Potta I was interested in.”
“Oh well, yes, there was a cousin or aunt of her mother, a Mrs Vasilakis or maybe it was Vassilides? Anyway, she was married to a very smart doctor, they lived in Athens and they wanted the girl.”
“Wanted her? I’m not sure I understand you?”
“Actually, they were her godparents too, I remember now. Yes, they doted on sweet little Potta. You see they had no child of their own and Potta was the youngest of four. And as she was only a girl, they thought her parents might spare her.”
“But they wouldn’t?”
“Strange to say, they wouldn’t give her up, though the godparents were wealthy and kind. But when the civil war was bad around here and Potta was about fourteen, they agreed that she might go for a long visit.”
“How long was she away?” the priest prompted, his chess game forgotten for the moment.
“About two years or so she stayed. Very sad, very sad.”
“You mean the war – sad times?”
“No, no I mean Potta. When she came back our sweet Potoula was gone, she was a different person, so sad. It was as if something terrible had happened.”
“Did you ask her about it?”
“Never. We were no longer children. She just seemed broken. It was a long time before she smiled again.”
“What do you think happened? Did you hear anything”
Baba Christo hesitated and sighed deeply before answering. “Pappa, we live in a wicked world. Greeks were killing their brothers everyday. I never heard, I never asked, but she was a pretty young thing and men are beasts. Let’s not talk about it any more.”
The curtain of silence fell between them, as it always fell when anyone was foolish enough to ask about those darker times. Father Nikodimos found he was in a hopeless position in the chess game, but for once he didn’t care.