Swamped, a novel by Manolis Aligizakis

It’s the winter of 1955, and their mother has finally received news about the whereabouts of her husband from a good friend who has somehow learned that their father is living in Salonica and wants them to join him. The boys are eight and ten now, old enough to get excited at the idea of travelling by ship from Souda, the harbor in Chania, all the way up to Salonika in the north of Hellas, a trip that will take two whole days.
Over the next few February days their mother hurries to do all the necessary preparations and one good Wednesday morning they take the bus from the village to Souda, where a shipcalled Kadio is waiting to take them to Salonica. They boarded and sailed northward to Piraeus, the port of Athens, where the Kadio docks in the evening and stays until midnight, loading and unloading passengers and goods, before sailing again.
All day they have sat on deck as near the ship’s exhaust funnel as they can, to enjoy the heat it exudes on that cold February day. Another passenger jokingly asks Eteocles to sing a Cretan mandinada, a four-liner customary in Crete, which the boy doesn’t shy away from but gives it his best melodic rendition. Even during the long dark hours when the ship spent is docked in Piraeus, they are still warm since the engines keep on humming.
Early the next morning, the Kadio reaches the harbor of Volos, where it unloads some cargo, takes on new cargo and then sails straight for Salonica, which it reaches late in the afternoon. The boys stand at the deck railing with their mom looked at the workers on the busy dock going about their various task. Then their mother’s glance falls on a man Eteocles and Nicolas barely recognize, and she calls out in joy. The man is waving at them. Their father is there waiting for them. The father they haven’t seen in almost two years is there.
He hugs them tightly as soon as they disembark and step onto the strange Macedonian soil. His eyes are full of tears, their mothers’ too, and the boys can hardly contain their joy at reuniting with their father and becoming a whole family again. Minutes go by that feel like eons. Then, after the hugs and exclamations of welcome and relief, their dad invites them to walk to his house, and grabbing the bundle of clothes their mother has put together and their one old suitcase, he guides them to toward Sikies, a suburb on the northern side of the city.
Eteocles and Nicolas each carry a small bag with their own few clothes as the happy family slowly trudges uphill way to their new home, which turns out to be an old barn the owners used as a storage facility before they rented it to their father for living space. The walk has taken half an hour on a steep uphill route and the boys are very tired now. As they sit by the table in the middle of the room, they take in their new house, just one room about four meters by four, on one side a small kitchen with a hearth where mom will cook their food and warm the place by burning the wood which is stored in a pile outside the eastern wall, in the center of the room a table and four chairs,  and on the west side of the room, a bed for their parents and one bed for the two boys, who will sleep together, one with his head to the south and the other to the north.
After they eat a small snack their dad has prepared in advance for them, they go to bed at once, and sleep overtakes their exhausted eyelids until the next morning. As they slip into unconsciousness on their first night under the metal roof of the building, they listen to the strange sounds the rain makes as it falls on the sheet metal and soothe them with dancing songs and arias and melodic hymns for the little time they are kept awake by the noise of the raindrops. Their eyelids close to open only in the morning when they face the Salonica sun for the first time, rising from the top of a huge castle in the east, a castle Eteocles vows to explore as soon as he can.  
           But now the boys have their immediate surroundings to explore. On one side of the rented house is a huge rock six or seven meters high and on the other, the southern side, is a small garden with a fig tree, leafless on this cold winter morning but with a promise to bloom soon, in March, and with luck have ripe sweet fruit by July and August. It’s a windy morning. The overnight rain has stopped but a keen wind blows from the northeast, from behind that big castle Eteocles longs to explore. Clouds race across the sky, sometimes hiding the sun sometimes freeing it to shine on the throngs of people in this city, the second biggest in Hellas, the “city of the poor” as it’s called, the city which is the capital of northern Hellas.

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