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Europe, Memoir

A Cypriot summer ghost

Sky seared pale in the heat; a tight track flanked by tall yellow grass; driving inland from the west coast, north of Paphos. I’m heading into hills. Time, it feels, is unravelling itself the further I push on. Anticipation wells as I climb old landscapes borne from another age.

Bisecting a clutch of stone houses, in various states of repair, the track scratches itself a slightly broader path. I wonder how close to the sea the ghost towns tread. Do the long-dead villagers hear the sunburnt foreign revellers in resorts strung by the ocean? Do they mourn their achingly quiet hinterland?

A stillness hugs these tiny roads above the Mediterranean Sea and I can’t shift the sense my car is too loud, the notion I’m somehow trespassing and bee-lining into an other-world. But my temptation to label the town empty comes too soon. Ahead is a slightly stooped woman—of indeterminate age—in an old high-viz vest, standing at a school crossing.

The school yard is empty. But she stands as sentinel. I assume the gates are about to disgorge a handful of children who will run into the glary afternoon to play but nothing happens as I slow down. Her orange scarf is as tattered as her jacket and old eyes briefly meet mine. I proceed carefully. There’s no movement in doorways, no cats on paths, no curtains twitching and no one on the dusty lanes. I drive on and shake the place off.

I find an intersection perilously close to the sharp bend I’ve just rounded and there’s another surprise too: a young man in a tight navy blue shirt on a shiny red scooter. The hills are alive and in a particularly pleasing way.

“Do you know the way to Kamares?” I ask.

“For this I have been searching too!” Caught with a cheeky dare, he grins. “You go that way,” he says, pointing left, “And I’ll go this way!”

The volume of his dust plume to the right does not match that of his engine; sharing the urge to smile, I turn left.

Cyprus is desiccating in summer heat. The road ahead broadens and is in far better condition than the one I’ve just driven. I seem to have the knack for finding back roads in far away lands but now I’m sure I’m heading in the right direction. Long grass has given way to stony ground and dusty shrubs.

Satisfaction is short-lived. I’m now facing a deserted quarry. So, the man on the scooter picked correctly—I laugh out loud as I u-turn. I hear him before I see him again; buzzing through the hills like mechanical red blow fly. Am I closer to Kamares than I thought?

Scooter Man and I meet back at the intersection where we’d parted. Both ways were wrong. Amid our puzzlement and map-checking I feel the perspiration run down my back, the sea is in another world and we—I’m delighted to have the company, albeit briefly—are on a quest.

He spies the third road nearby. Apt in life, sometimes. If you’re feeling stuck: look for the third option.

Far from being a dying town, with foundations straddling eras, Kamares is an incongruous collection of swish villas and sparkling swimming pools. A small fantasy land. Scooter Man disappears up a pathway with a wave to me. But it’s the woman at the school crossing who lingers larger in my mind all these years later. I wonder: did the children ever come?

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “A Cypriot summer ghost

  1. Though I bet cute-guy-on-scooter was a pretty sticky memory too 🙂

    Posted by Megan Hills | June 30, 2012, 11:13 am
  2. That’s a good story.
    A little flowery perhaps, but good, I enjoyed that.

    Posted by Mike | July 3, 2012, 11:35 am

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