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The birds are chirping and the wind is blowing softly through leaves and branches, which dance under the wind’s gentle touch. It is truly a beautiful morning. I stretch, the cool morning breeze enveloping my body. I sit down and take a sip from my coffee. Coming back to my village for holidays is turning out to be a magnificent idea. I haven’t been here for more than a year but it is nice being back to the place I used to spend my childhood’s summers, playing my days away with my brother. Just thinking about those times makes me nostalgic.
The house itself feels like a vault of memories. Originally it was a simple shed-like building, with only two rooms to accommodate my grandfather and his six brothers. But during his first years of marriage, my grandpa worked hard to renovate the place. The old building was turned into a store room and a large two story house was built for my grandparents and their two children.
A little garden was built too. A series of all sorts of flowers and plants adorned either sides of the stone pavement that circled around the house. From blood-red roses to lush green bushes, the garden had it all. But in my eyes, the crowned jewel was the giant oak tree that stood in front of the house door, like a silent guardian. With its broad trunk and thick branches it hugged the side of the house, casting its vast shadow upon its surrounding.
All that is now gone. For the past years the garden has been abandoned. The flowers haven’t been watered in years, the pavement is dirty and cracked and the once lively garden is now withered and dead. But the saddest part of the garden is the oak. Once it stood proud and tall, but now it is weak and moldered, bare of its leaves and deprived of its beauty. But even in its derelict state, the garden still inspires calmness and warmth in my heart.
I finish my coffee and I get up, taking a deep breath. I start going down the stairs, when I hear a rattling sound coming from inside the house. It is probably the wind and nothing more. I continue descending the staircase.
I set foot on the street passing in front of the house. I used to play football with my brother on this street, back when it was still a soil-filled, narrow horse road. Now asphalt has been laid on top of all the dirt and rocks, and instead of horses and donkeys, cars and old trucks occasionally pass the road.
I walk further up the street. An old man sitting on his balcony notices me and frowns. I am sure he doesn’t know who I am. Nobody does. I have been coming to this small village ever since I can remember, but only a handful of people recognize me. I am, and always have been, an outsider. And for as much as I would like, it is too late to change that.
My little promenade takes me through streets and places I used to walk as a little boy. A feeling of melancholy overcomes me. Those carefree days are long gone. The village seems empty. There is nothing here for me. I am not welcome anymore.
In front of my eyes now stands one of the few friendly houses I have entered in this village. A girl, two years younger than me, spends her vacations here. We used to hang out when we were little. I fondly remember the times we would sit in front of the TV and watch our favourite show, about a girl in the mountains of Holland. I never liked the show. I just wanted to spend time with her. But like all relationships in my life, we lost touch and now we are complete strangers.
There she is now, gracefully coming down the stairs. Her chestnut hair falls gently on her slender shoulders and a rosy red hue covers her cheeks. She turns towards me. For an instant, our eyes meet. Her big brown eyes stare deep into mine. I open my mouth to greet her. But before I can utter a word, she turns away from me. She doesn’t recognize me anymore. I cannot blame her. It has been years since we last spoke to each other.
Lowering my head, I continue onwards. I have this nagging feeling that something is not right. Something is oddly off. Pushing these thoughts away, I up my pace. I am now walking down the main road of the village. On the side of the street, in a run-down brick house, a sun tanned woman is looking casually at me. Two little girls are playing beside her, oblivious to my presence.
The church’s large iron gate now comes in view. With hinges that rusted, it is a wonder that the gate still stands. I approach. The faint red tiles of the church yard are covered in a thick layer of dust and dead leaves and the few benches scattered across the yard are broken. But despite that, the place doesn’t feel abandoned. The old maple and birch wood trees on the perimeter of the church and their thick shading gift the churchyard with a rare tranquility.
The church has been standing here for hundreds of years and it is slowly beginning to show. The beige paint on the outside is starting to peel, revealing the brownish bricks beneath. Cracks are also appearing near the base of the church and a window on the upper floors is broken. Some of the rooftiles have also fallen off, with little bird nests built inside the now hollow parts of the roof.
I walk across the front yard, going around the church. The century-old cemetery greets me morbidly. The stone fence around its perimeter is filled with cracks and mold and the iron bars are corroded and rusty. There is no gate on the fence; it has fallen years ago. I step inside. The dump soil sinks under the weight of my boots. The foul smell of decay hits my nostrils. The atmosphere feels heavier here. It presses on my chest, invoking a feeling of unease deep inside my heart.
Taking a deep breath, I continue forward. I have come here for a reason. I head towards the middle of the cemetery. I can’t help but admire the intricate artwork of the graves. Most are made from white stainless marble, with delicately carved patterns on the sides. The gravestones are cut from white smooth stone, with markings giving information about the deceased. Flowers and candles -many melted- decorate the graves.
I now stand on top of my family’s resting place. My recently deceased grandparents were buried here a few months ago. And before them, my grandpa’s father and mother. My ancestor’s portraits are nailed on the gravestone. Two miniature marble angels are set on the top corners of the grave. A layer of pebbles is covering the soil on top of the coffins. An old cross in the middle has a writing in Greek which translates to: “Rest in Peace”.
Looking at my grandpa’s portrait, I again feel unsettled. The illogical fear that something ominous is awaiting grows on me. But as soon as these thoughts came to me, they quickly fly away. The otherworldly serenity of the graveyard is soothing my senses and calming my nerves. The silence and the stillness of my surroundings inspire a bizarre sense of freedom and calmness within me.
Unfortunately, I can’t linger for much longer. I still have a place to visit before it gets dark. My grandparents’ old farm, located at the northwest outskirts of the village. Back in the day hundreds of sheep and cattle roamed the green pastures while my grandparents labored tirelessly at the crop fields. But after my grandpa retired, the place was neglected. Despite that, it holds many good memories and I would love to see it before I depart again.
I stop for a second and check to see if the church is open. The main door is locked. I wish I could light a candle and marvel at the sophisticated indoors architecture of the little church once more. With a sigh I turn around, entering the main road again.
On my left I see the old, traditional coffee shop of the village. My grandpa used to come here a lot, as were most of the elderly of the village. Now only two old men are sitting on the porch, drinking their coffee and playing cards. I move on, turning left and continuing on a downhill sidestreet.
As I stand on top of the slope, I am taken aback by the beauty laying before my eyes. Green fields stretch for as far as the eye can see. Only a streak of blue -the river that waters this whole area- breaks the vastness of green. I stand still for a few seconds, awestruck, taking in as much of the scenery as I can. Uplifted, I continue down the muddy trek.
I remember how I used to run with my brother down this path, racing towards my grandpa, who would sit on a chair in the middle of the farm. The first who got there was the winner. These times feel like ages ago.
On my left there is an olive tree field with a wired fence keeping away unwanted visitors and on my right a farm with a vegetable garden and an empty pigpen. My grandparents’ farm is just around the corner. I can see the front entrance. Unfortunately, thorny grass has grown thick in front of the old wooden door, making it impossible to pass without scraping my legs.
So I continue, going for the second entrance to the farm. This time I am luckier. Even though the gate has fallen down, I can still pretty easily pass through. I step over the gate and set foot on the dried soil. I walk towards the middle of the field, where a large almond tree stands. Its short and thick trunk is almost split in half and its branches are completely naked. A wooden plank that used to serve as a swing is hanging from two ropes tied on the highest branches.
Next to the old tree is a small brickstone barn. It has two rooms, one for storing wheat and one for sheltering the cattle. The building used to be white, but the paint has been eroded by rain and wind. Opposite the barn there is a vegetable garden. It used to have a wide variety of vegetable, from potatoes to aubergines. My grandma used to take care of every plant in there.
Feeling nostalgic again, I turn around, looking at the wheat field on the far end of the farm. I have never been there. The wheat would always scratch at my shins and knees. So I stayed away from the place. I look up at the sky. The sun will be setting in a few minutes. I better get going. As I am about to leave, I notice -just for a split second- a human figure standing at the other side of the wheat field, near a small forest, staring at me. I freeze. Nobody should be there this time of the day.
I look closer. In the spot I saw the figure, there is a small tree standing. It’s just the dim light and my imagination playing tricks on me. But I still feel uneasy, like I am forgetting something important. I try not to overthink it. I am just a bit agitated, that’s all. I turn around and walk out of the field.
On my way home, I didn’t notice a single soul outside. This is weird because the sun hasn’t set yet, so there should be someone going about their business. I now enter the road that leads to my house. I am being watched, I am now sure of it. A window just closed on my left. My eyes are darting here and there, but I see nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe I am just being paranoid.
Finally I am going up the stairs of my house. I pick up the key under the door mat and insert it in the keyhole. As I am turning the key, I hear a clanking noise coming from the house. I stop. Someone is inside. I slowly open the door. I sneak inside, as silently as I can. But the old floor creaks loudly under my weight. I again hear a clanking sound. I look to my left, at the living room. Nothing. I check the kitchen. Nothing. I dart towards the restroom. Nothing. I notice that the door to my grandparents’ bedroom is closed.
I approach carefully. I push the door open, the old hinges squeaking. And there he is. My brother. My sweet, sweet brother. Everything becomes crystal clear. He wasn’t behaving appropriately so I had to chain him to the wall. But now he learned his lesson. Oh, we will have so much fun. We will play our days away again. Just like old times.
Written by MrDupin