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20

AS SOON as we arrived, we went to bed. Zorba rubbed his hands together in satisfaction.

"This has been a good day, boss. I suppose you'll ask me what I mean by 'good'? I mean full. Just think: this morning we were miles away at the monastery, settling the abbot's hash-he must have cursed us! Afterwards we came down here to our hut, found Dame Bouboulina and I got engaged. By the way, look at the ring. Mint gold She said she still had two English sovereigns the English admiral gave her towards the end of last century. She was keeping them, she said, for her funeral; and now-may the hour be kind to her-she goes and gives them to the goldsmith to have rings made of them. What a damned mystery mankind is!"

"Go to sleep, Zorba!" I said. "Calm down! That's enough for one day. Tomorrow we have a solemn ceremony to perform: the setting up of the first pylon for our cable. I've asked Pappa Stephanos to come."

"You did well, boss; that's not a bad idea. Let him come, that old goat-bearded priest, and let all the village notables come as well; we'll even give out little candles and they can light them. That's the sort of thing to make an impression; it'll be good for our business. Don't take any notice of what I do; I've got my own God and my own devil. But other people"

He began to laugh. He could not sleep; his brain was in a turmoil.

"Ah, Grandad, may God sanctify your bones!" he said after a time. "He was a rake, too; just like me. And yet the old rascal went to the Holy Sepulcher and became a hadji [25] God knows why! When he got back to the village, one of his cronies, a goat thief, who had never done a decent thing in his life, said: 'Well, my friend, didn't you bring me back a piece of the Holy Cross from the Holy Sepulcher?' 'What do you mean, didn't I bring you any back?' said my cunning old grandad, 'Do you think I'd forget you? Come to my house tonight and bring the priest with you to give his blessing and I'll hand it over to you. Bring a roast sucking pig, too, and some wine, to bring us luck!'

"That evening grandad went home and cut out of the doorpost, which was all worm-eaten, a small piece of wood, no bigger than a grain of rice; he wrapped it in some wadding, poured a drop or two of oil over it and waited. After a time, up comes the fellow in question with the priest, the sucking pig and the wine. The priest brings out his stole and gives the blessing. Grandad performs the ceremony of handing over the precious piece of wood, and then they start devouring the sucking pig. Well, believe me, boss, the fellow bowed and prostrated himself before that little piece of wood, hung it round his neck, and from that day forth was another man altogether. He changed completely. He went up into the mountains, joined the Armatoles and Klephts, and helped to burn Turkish villages. He'd run fearlessly through showers of bullets. Why should he be afraid? He was carrying a piece of the Holy Cross from the Holy Sepulcher-the bullets couldn't hit him."

Zorba burst out laughing.

"The idea's everything," he said. "Have you faith? Then a splinter from an old door becomes a sacred relic. Have you no faith? Then the whole Holy Cross itself becomes an old doorpost to you."

I admired this man whose brain functioned with so much confidence and daring and whose soul, wherever you touched it, struck out fire.

"Have you ever been to war, Zorba?"

"How do I know?" he asked with a frown. "I can't remember. What war?"

"I mean, have you ever fought for your country?"

"Couldn't you talk about something else? All that nonsense is over and done with and best forgotten."

"Do you call that nonsense, Zorba? Aren't you ashamed? Is that how you speak of your country?"

Zorba raised his head and looked at me. I was lying on my bed, too, and the oil lamp was burning above my head. He looked at me severely for a time, then, taking a firm hold of his moustache, said:

"That's a half-baked thing to say; it's what I expect from a schoolmaster. I might as well be singing, boss, for all the good it is my talking to you, if you'll pardon my saying so."

"What?" I protested. "I understand things, Zorba, don't forget."

"Yes, you understand with your brain. You say: 'This is right, and that's wrong; this is true, and that isn't; he's right, the other one's wrong' But where does that lead us? While you are talking I watch your arms and chest. Well, what are they doing? They're silent. They don't say a word. As though they hadn't a drop of blood between them. Well, what do you think you understand with? With your head? Bah!"

"Come, give me an answer, Zorba; don't try to dodge the question!" I said, to excite him. "I'm pretty sure you don't bother yourself overmuch about your country, do you?"

He was angry and banged his fist on the wall of petrol cans.

"The man you see here in front of you," he cried, "once embroidered the Church of Saint Sophia in hairs from his own head, and carried it round with him, hanging on his chest like a charm. Yes, boss, that's what I did, and I embroidered it with these great paws of mine, and with these hairs, too, which were as black as jet at the time. I used to wander about the mountains of Macedonia with Pavlos Melas [26]-I was a strapping fellow then, taller than this hut, with my kilt, red fez, silver charms, amulets, yataghan, cartridge cases and pistols. I was covered with steel, silver and studs. When I marched, there was a clatter and clank as if a regiment were passing down the street! Look here! Here! And look there!"

He opened his shirt and lowered his trousers.

"Bring the light over!" he ordered.

I held the lamp close to the thin, tanned body. What with deep scars, bullet and sword marks, his body was like a collander.

"Now look at the other side!"

He turned round and showed me his back.

"Not a scratch on the back, you see. Do you understand? Now take the lamp back."

"Nonsense!" he cried in a rage. "It's disgusting! When will men really be men, d'you think? We put trousers on, and shirts and collars and hats, and yet we're still a lot of mules, foxes, wolves and pigs. We say we're made in the image of God! Who, us? I spit on our idiotic mugs!"

Terrifying memories seemed to be coming to his mind and he was getting more and more exasperated. Incomprehensible words issued from between his shaking, hollow teeth.

He rose, picked up the water jug, took a long drink and seemed refreshed and calmer.

"No matter where you touch me, I yell," he said. "I'm all wounds and scars and lumps. What d'you mean by all that rot about women? When I discovered I was really a man, I didn't even turn round to look at them. I touched them for a minute, like that, in passing, like a cock, then went on. 'The dirty ferrets,' I said to myself. 'They'd like to suck me dry of all my strength. Bah! To hell with women!'

"Then I picked up my rifle and off I went! I went into the mountains as a comitadji. One day, at dusk, I came into a Bulgarian village and hid in a stable. It was the very house of a priest, a ferocious, pitiless Bulgarian comitadji. At night he'd take off his cassock, put on shepherd's clothes, pick up his rifle and go over into the neighboring Greek villages. He came back before dawn, trickling with mud and blood, and hurried to church to conduct mass for the faithful. A few days before this, he had killed a Greek schoolmaster asleep in his bed. So I went into this priest's stable and waited. Towards nightfall the priest came into the stable to feed the animals. I threw myself on him and cut his throat like a sheep. I lopped off his ears and stuck them in my pocket. I was making a collection of Bulgar ears, you see; so I took the priest's ears and made off.

"A few days later, there I was in the village again. It was midday. I was peddling. I'd left my arms in the mountains and had come down to buy bread, salt and boots for the others. Then I met five little kids in front of one of the houses-they were all dressed in black, barefoot, holding one another by the hand and begging. Three girls and two boys. The eldest couldn't have been more than ten, the youngest was still a baby. The eldest girl was carrying the youngster in her arms, kissing him and caressing him so that he shouldn't cry. I don't know why, divine inspiration I suppose, but I went up to them.

"'Whose children are you?' I asked them in Bulgarian.

"The eldest boy raised his little head.

"'The priest's. Father's throat was cut the other day in the stable,' he answered.

"The tears came to my eyes and the earth began turning round like a millstone. I leaned against the wall, and it stopped.

"'Come here, children,' I said, 'come near to me.'

"I took out my purse; it was full of Turkish pounds and mejidies, I knelt down and poured them all out on the floor.

"'There, take them!' I cried. 'Take them! Take them!'

"The children threw themselves on the ground and gathered up the money.

"'It's for you! It's for you!' I cried. 'Take it all!'

"Then I left them my basket with all I had bought.

"'All that's for you, too; take it all!'

"And I cleared out. I left the village, opened my shirt, seized the Saint Sophia I had embroidered and tore it to shreds, threw it away and ran for all I was worth.

"And I'm still running"

Zorba leaned against the wall, and turned towards me.

"That was how I was rescued," he said.

"Rescued from your country?"

"Yes, from my country," he said in a firm, calm voice.

Then after a moment:

"Rescued from my country, from priests, and from money. I began sifting things, sifting more and more things out. I lighten my burden that way. I-how shall I put it?-I find my own deliverance, I become a man."

Zorba's eyes glowed, his large mouth laughed contentedly.

After staying silent a moment or two he started off again. His heart was overflowing, he couldn't control it.

"There was a time when I used to say: that man's a Turk, or a Bulgar, or a Greek. I've done things for my country that would make your hair stand on end, boss. I've cut people's throats, burned villages, robbed and raped women, wiped out entire families. Why? Because they were Bulgars, or Turks. 'Bah! To hell with you, you swine!' I say to myself sometimes. 'To hell with you right away, you ass.' Nowadays I say this man is a good fellow, that one's a bastard. They can be Greeks or Bulgars or Turks, it doesn't matter. Is he good? Or is he bad? That's the only thing I ask nowadays. And as I grow older-I'd swear this on the last crust I eat-I feel I shan't even go on asking that! Whether a man's good or bad, I'm sorry for him, for all of 'em. The sight of a man just rends my insides, even if I act as though I don't care a damn! There he is, poor devil, I think; he also eats and drinks and makes love and is frightened, whoever he is: he has his God and his devil just the same, and he'll peg out and lie as stiff as a board beneath the ground and be food for worms, just the same. Poor devil! We're all brothers! All worm meat!

"And if it's a woman Ah! then I just want to cry my eyes out! Your honored self, boss, keeps teasing me and saying I'm too fond of the women. Why shouldn't I be fond of 'em, when they're all weak creatures who don't know what they're doing and surrender on the spot if you just catch hold of their breasts

"Once I went into another Bulgarian village. And one old brute who'd spotted me-he was a village elder-told the others and they surrounded the house I was lodging in. I slipped out onto the balcony and crept from one roof to the next; the moon was up and I jumped from balcony to balcony like a cat. But they saw my shadow, climbed up on to the roofs and started shooting. So what do I do? I dropped down into the yard, and there I found a Bulgarian woman in bed. She stood up in her nightdress, saw me and opened her mouth to shout, but I held out my arms and whispered: 'Mercy! Mercy! Don't shout!' and seized her breasts. She went pale and half swooned.

"'Come inside,' she said in a low voice. 'Come in so that we can't be seen'

"I went inside, she gripped my hand: 'Are you a Greek?' she said. 'Yes, Greek. Don't betray me.' I took her by the waist. She said not a word. I went to bed with her, and my heart trembled with pleasure. 'There, Zorba, you dog,' I said to myself, 'there's a woman for you; that's what humanity means! What is she? Bulgar? Greek? Papuan? That's the last thing that matters! She's human, and a human being with a mouth, and breasts, and she can love. Aren't you ashamed of killing? Bah! Swine!'

"That's the way I thought while I was with her, sharing her warmth. But did that mad bitch, my country, leave me in peace for that, do you think? I disappeared next morning in the clothes the Bulgar woman gave me. She was a widow. She took her late husband's clothes out of a chest, gave them to me, and she hugged my knees and begged me to come back to her.

"Yes, yes, I did go back the following night. I was a patriot then, of course-a wild beast; I went back with a can of paraffin and set fire to the village. She must have been burnt along with the others, poor wretch. Her name was Ludmilla."

Zorba sighed. He lit a cigarette, took one or two puffs and then threw it away.

"My country, you say? You believe all the rubbish your books tell you? Well, I'm the one you should believe. So long as there are countries, man will stay like an animal, a ferocious animal But I am delivered from all that, God be praised! It's finished for me! What about you?"

I didn't answer. I was envious of the man. He had lived with his flesh and blood-fighting, killing, kissing-all that I had tried to learn through pen and ink alone. All the problems I was trying to solve point by point in my solitude and glued to my chair, this man had solved up in the pure air of the mountains with his sword.

I closed my eyes, inconsolable.

"Are you asleep, boss?" said Zorba, vexed. "Here I am, like a fool, talking to you!"

He lay down grumbling, and very soon I heard him snoring.

I was not able to sleep all night. A nightingale we heard for the first time that night filled our solitude with an unbearable sadness and suddenly I felt the tears on my cheeks.

I was choking. I rose at dawn and gazed at the earth and the sea from the doorway of our hut. It seemed to me that the world had been transformed overnight. Opposite me on the sand, a small clump of thorny bushes, which had been a miserable dull color the day before, was now covered with tiny white blossoms. In the air hung a sweet, haunting perfume of lemon and orange trees in flower. I walked out a few steps. I could never see too much of this ever-recurring miracle.

Suddenly I heard a happy cry behind me. Zorba had risen and rushed to the door, half-naked. He, too, was thrilled by this sight of spring.

"What is that?" he asked stupefied. "That miracle over there, boss, that moving blue, what do they call it"? Sea? Sea? And what's that wearing a flowered green apron? Earth? Who was the artist who did it? It's the first time I've seen that, boss, I swear!"

His eyes were brimming over.

"Zorba!" I cried. "Have you gone off your head?"

"What are you laughing at? Don't you see? There's magic behind all that, boss."

He rushed outside, began dancing and rolling in the grass like a foal in spring.

The sun appeared and I held out my palms to the warmth. Rising sap the swelling breast and the soul also blossoming like a tree; you could feel that body and soul were kneaded from the same material.

Zorba had stood up again, his hair full of dew and earth.

"Quick, boss!" he shouted. "We'll dress and make ourselves smart! Today we are to be blessed. It won't be long before the priest and the village notables are here. If they find us grovelling in the grass like this it will be a disgrace to the firm! So on with the collars and ties! Out with the serious faces! It doesn't matter a damn if you have no head, you must wear the right sort of hat! It's a crazy world!"

We dressed, the workmen arrived, and soon after them the notables.

"Make your mind up, boss, no fooling today! We mustn't make ourselves look ridiculous."

Pappa Stephanos walked in front in his dirty cassock with its deep pockets. At consecration ceremonies, funerals, marr'iages, baptisms, he would throw into these abysmal pockets anything he was offered: raisins, rolls, cheese pies, cucumbers, bits of meat, sugared sweets, everything and at night, his wife, old Pappadia, would put on her spectacles and sort it all out, nibbling all the time.

Behind Pappa Stephanos came the elders: Kondomanolio, the caf'e proprietor, who fancied he knew the world because he had been as far as Canea and had seen Prince George himself; uncle Anagnosti, calm and smiling, wearing a wide-sleeved, dazzling white shirt; the schoolmaster, grave and solemn with his stick, and, last of all, Mavrandoni, with his slow, heavy tread. He wore a black kerchief on his head, a black shirt and black shoes; he acknowledged us with a forced air. He was bitter and aloof. He stood a little apart, his back to the sea.

"In the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ!" said Zorba in a solemn voice. He went to the head of the process'ion and all followed h'im in pious self-communion.

Century-old memories of magic ceremonies were awakened in those peasant breasts. They all had their eyes riveted on the priest as though they expected him to confront and exorcise invisible forces. Thousands of years ago the sorcerer raised his arms, sprinkled the air with his holy water, muttered mysterious and allpowerful words, and the evil demons fled while the good spirits came from water, earth and air, to the aid of mankind.

We arrived at the pit we had dug by the sea to take the first pylon of the line. The men raised a huge pine trunk and set it up erect in the hole. Pappa Stephanos put on his stole, took his censer and, gazing at the trunk all the time, began intoning the exorcism: "May it be founded on solid rock, that neither wind nor water may shake it. Amen."

"Amen!" thundered Zorba, crossing himself.

"Amen!" murmured the elders.

"Amen!" said the workmen, last.

"May God bless your work and give you the wealth of Abraham and Isaac!" the village priest continued, and Zorba pushed a hundred drachma note into his hand.

"My blessing on you!" said the priest, well content.

We returned to the hut, where Zorba offered them all wine and lenten hors d'oeuvres-grilled octopus, fried squid, soaked beans and olives. When they had devoured the lot, the officials went off home. The magic ceremony was over.

"We managed to get through that all right!" said Zorba, rubbing his hands.

He undressed, put on his work clothes and took a pick.

"Come on!" he shouted to the men. "Cross yourselves and get on with the work!"

Zorba didn't raise his head again for the rest of the day.

Every fifty yards the workmen dug a hole, put in a post, and went on, making a beeline for the summit of the hill. Zorba measured, calculated and gave orders; he did not eat, smoke, or take a rest the whole day long. He was completely absorbed in the job.

"It's all because of doing things by halves," he would often say to me, and "saying things by halves, being good by halves, that the world is in the mess it's in today. Do things properly by God! One good knock for each nail and you'll win through! God hates a balfdevil ten times more than an archdevil!"

That evening, when he came in from work, he lay down on the sand, exhausted.

"I'm going to sleep here," he said. 'I'll wait for dawn, then we'll begin work again. I'm going to start night shifts."

"Why all the hurry, Zorba?"

He hesitated a moment.

"Why? Well, I want to see whether I've found the right slope or not. If I haven't, we're done for. Don't you see, boss? The sooner I see if we're dished, the better it'll be for us."

He ate quickly, gluttonously, and soon afterwards the beach echoed to his snores. I, for my part, stayed awake a long time, watching the stars travel across the sky. I saw the whole sky change its position-and the shell of my skull, like an observatory dome, changed position, too, together with the constellations. "Watch the movement of the stars as if you were turning with them" This sentence of Marcus Aurelius filled my heart with harmony.


| Zorba The Greek | c