An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Gilbert's left arm was outstretched. His right arm was crooked behind his back tucking into his waistband. His right eye was closed loosely - not screwed shut. In the absence of beta blockers he made the final exhalation of his breathing pattern. He was calm now and he held onto that calm. His concentration was nigh perfect. He had drawn his bead during the run up to this moment. A breeze that had played for the last seconds dropped away and he squeezed the trigger evenly.

He lowered the pistol and walked up to the target. Low and to the left. Not as good as his right handed efforts but coming along nicely he observed. Gilbert was teaching himself to shoot left handed. He had been reared in the days when it was considered perfectly acceptable for teachers and coaches to aver and honestly believe that there was no such thing as a naturally left-handed person. The knuckles of his left hand had been repeatedly rapped with a ruler as he struggled to teach himself handwriting until a sympathetic headmistress had intervened on his behalf and forbad this barbaric treatment to all teachers. But thereafter, he received no help in mastering pen and ink and script because none of the teachers knew how to teach penmanship in the sinister mode. And so things continued throughout his school days.

The most painful of these episodes was literally the most painful: in secondary school he met, in his boxing master, a man determined that, no matter what any authority might say, the entirety of the product of his tutelage would be orthodox. And so Gilbert learned bloodily to box in a simulacrum of the orthodox style. He literally had it beaten into him. But his most notable successes in competition came when he switched to southpaw in the third round. The shock of the unexpected, together with the total ignorance amongst his opponents of how to defend against a right lead usually opened things up very profitably for him. Until he met his first genuine southpaw and was forcibly and violently brought to the realisation that he was similarly ignorant and unprepared. It was an ugly fight to watch and even uglier to be in. It was his last fight.

And so, when the following year he was forcibly inducted into the school cadet force although the blood was stale and the flesh had healed the memory was fresh and he offered no resistance to being taught marksmanship and gun handling in the right handed fashion. Nonetheless it scarcely came intuitively to him and it took him longer than the other boys to achieve his marksman's badge. He had hardly questioned from that day forward but that he was a right handed gun. A shooting friend had once remarked on how awkward he looked with a gun on a crow shoot but he had not thought much of it. Until yesterday that was.

Abby had volunteered to trek off down to the bank and that had left him free to wander the odd mixture of shops in the back streets of the Venetian part of town. A tiny haberdashers no more than two metres wide shares an entrance with an equally tiny ceramic pot shop. Both seem to have more dusty faded stock than they could turn over in a lifetime - stacked floor to ceiling and wall to wall. A bookbinders. An agricultural machine repair shop with most of the repairs seemingly being effected right out front on the pavement. A shop, dark and dusty, with unusually grimy windows that sells nothing but corks and above the tattered, indecipherable, sun bleached, sign above the door, a pair of battered, rotten, louvred doors that let onto a cramped balcony that fell apart some years back and of which mere remnants cling to stuccoed walls . Beside this little jewel sits the camouflage shop. At least that's what they had always called it. Rack on rack of camouflage trousers and flak jackets, T-shirts and belts, effectively camouflaged the actual intent of the shop. "Sports", the sign read when he finally found it. Simple and terse. And true, he realised as he finally entered. Every week for 4 years they had passed this shop and never had they crossed the threshold.

Very little light seeped into the shop through the hectares of camouflage outside. The aisle between the flanking counters was less than a metre wide - a lot less. The walls were covered, bedecked, with sporting goods: fishing rods, rifles, shotguns, air rifles, crossbows, night sights, pistols, a solitary long bow (fibre glass not ash or better, yew), laser sighting devices and much that Gilbert did not recognise. The glass fronted and topped cabinets were filled to bursting with reels and ammunition, fishing lures and crossbow bolts of aluminium.

A squat, broad, dark man with a mop of unruly hair emerged from the depths - a full 3 metres back. He had on trousers that had once been black and a shirt that had once, long ago, been white. Both were spotlessly clean and happily shabby. He seemed to have no discernible neck - the dark stubble, flecked with grey, that covered his cheeks disappeared into the open neck of his shirt. He walked into and out of a pair of blue and white sandals. Or rather shuffled. In a typically Greek way. "Kali mera, ti thelete?" he growled in a round contra-bass. "Kali mera, milate anglika? " tried Gilbert. "I speak English a little yes only a little but we going to try. What you want?". Gilbert pointed to a case on the left hand wall nearest the front window.

"Do I need a paper to have one of those? A license?". The proprietor waved his arm broadly across the several racks of guns behind him without looking round - "No need paper for these. No need." At this point he turned and gestured to a locked case that clearly contained a few high powered rifles - a Kalashnikov copy amongst them - and several shotguns - mostly side by sides and a solitary over and under - "For these yes papers needed police - pah! Where you live? You live here in Kriti? Where you live?" Gibert explained in broad brush terms and the man nodded - and scratched his stubble, "You live in the country yes? You very lucky man. Not village or town no? Mono olives and farmers yes? You don't need paper for these also." He winked a broad and theatrical wink. "You very lucky. Nobody know you have - no police come there yes? No paper needed." And with that he lifted the pistol that Gilbert had pointed out from the cabinet and handed it over - he put it in Gilberts left hand and Gilbert felt the weight of it, the balance of it - in his left hand. That was when he decided to teach himself to shoot left handed. He took one down for himself, loaded it and aimed at the target pinned up against a shelf of clothing in the diagonally opposite corner of the shop and fired off five shots rapidly. Through a smile that almost split his face and showed two gold teeth amid what seemed to be a shelf of broken Minoan crockery he grinned "this automatic - much better".

Later, sitting in an air conditioned cafe and looking out over the square where the taxis ranked, Gilbert related all of this to Abby. They were watching an old loving couple who sat with a Greek coffee and an orange juice - she dabbed his watery eyes for him now and then, her own hidden behind dark dark thick glasses. "It's OK," said Gilbert "I took a single shot pistol, automatics have a habit of jamming." Abby looked sideways at him, "And we couldn't have that could we? Could we Gilbert?". "Oh Abby, it's just for target work - nobody is going to get hurt, not even those stinking cats next door - promise." She took a tissue from her bag and dabbed at his eyes. "Good," she said "because I want us to end up like those two - old and happy - and in love". He smiled and looked across at them, the sun had moved round and they were lit by the noontime sunshine - they seemed to have haloes now and the sun was lighting up the stained glass doors of the church behind them. "And so do I" he said "and so we shall".

(to be continued ... )

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