Tell A Tale in 500 Words
Lemons from the Sky By Lena Cavanagh
‘Lemons from the Sky’
‘Papou,’ says his elder grandson coming with his brother to sit on either side of him on the sofa. ‘Yaya says it’s the 17th November today and you must tell us about the Uprising.’
‘Well,’ he begins, ‘we were there you know, right in the middle of it. Your Yaya and I. It was the early hours of 17 November 1973. All day the students had been broadcasting on the radio: “Come and join us at the Polytechnic! Athenians, Greeks, help us end six years of brutal dictatorship.” We heard it at a friend’s house. This Greek girl with long dark hair …’
Giggles from the boys. He exchanges glances with his wife.
‘… stood up and said “What are we waiting for?” Nobody stirred except me. We went downtown together and joined the crowds waving flags from the gates, shouting “Bread! Education! Freedom!”
‘Bread, Education, Freedom!’ Little fists fly in the air.
‘Suddenly black vans arrived and policemen streamed out. I grabbed hold of her hand and we ran with everyone else. When the tear gas came we crouched together inside a doorstep. From the windows people threw down pieces of lemon.’
‘Lemons?’ They laugh at the image conjured up.
‘Lemon neutralises tear gas. So does fire, and there were bonfires everywhere. We returned to the gates and continued shouting slogans.’
‘Bread, Education ….’
‘Then the killing began.’
Their raised arms drop down and their mouths open.
‘People fell all around us. Snipers on rooftops were picking out the most prominent protestors. A hotel opposite opened its doors to the wounded and we went inside. We saw a girl bleeding on the floor.’
Their huge eyes are seeing it, hearing it all.
‘But Papou, you were risking your life, and you’re not Greek.’
He continues as if he didn’t hear.
‘They told us to make sure the ambulances were coming. But a rumour had started that their drivers were under-cover policemen and the crowd was blocking their way. “Let them through!” we shouted. Then the army arrived and we scattered. We found ourselves on the street where friends lived and rang the bell.’
‘Weren’t they asleep?’
‘No one in Athens slept that night. We watched from the balcony as the tanks came rumbling down the boulevard. A parked car was in their way and they kept going, flattening it like a tin of sardines. We realised people at the gates of the Polytechnic were being crushed the same way at that moment.’
The boys have gone quite still. He senses his wife holding her breath and he knows she is struggling to contain her tears.
The younger boy’s hand reaches out and touches his softly.
‘What happened after that?’
‘Many people died that day. But the dictators eventually fell. The student uprising was the beginning of their end.’
A pause. The elder boy turns to his grandmother.
‘Greece isn’t doing so well these days, is it, Yaya?’
‘No,’ she replies. ‘But it’s free.’
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