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A Shout From The Attic: The Little Fisherman

...He expressed himself in remarkably good English with charming and poetic fluidity, rescuing me from the necessity of having to speak in my version of Greek. His talk and manner revealed that here was a man strangely wise and profoundly serious...

Ronnie Bray dedicates this episode of his autobiography to his friend Andréas, The Little Fisherman of Larnaca.

During military service, I served a year on Cyprus, the Jewel of the Mediterranean, where I was impressed by the friendliness and generosity of the Cypriots. Yet I was to meet a man whose friendliness and generosity impressed me more than any other man I had met before or since.

His name was Andréas, though he was seldom called that. He was small; no more than four feet six inches tall, and his head was disproportionately large. Therefore, his friends called him Fezzaz, meaning big head. Remarkably, he did not seem to mind, perhaps because he knew who and what he was and was completely at ease with himself.

We met in a café overlooking the beach in the poorer part of Larnaca. Andréas was sitting with some friends who were giving him a hard time, making him the butt of their jokes while he played the part of a fool, responding to their jests and cruel taunts without rancour or anger.

Eventually, his companions tired of their game and left. He then moved to my table and, uninvited, sat down and began to talk to me. His doing so was not motivated by a desire to convince me that he was not the buffoon he had given the impression of being for the sport of his friends.

He told me that he was a psari – a fisherman. With his small boat and a net, he wrested an uncomfortable and uncertain living out of the waters off Larnaca, a small town on the south coast of the historic island. He expressed himself in remarkably good English with charming and poetic fluidity, rescuing me from the necessity of having to speak in my version of Greek. His talk and manner revealed that here was a man strangely wise and profoundly serious, markedly different from the Fezzaz who had, but moments ago, played court jester to lesser men.

He led the conversation with gentle ease and demonstrated an exceptional grasp of human nature and world affairs. During our tête-à-tête, he reminded me that it was Easter Saturday and that midnight would bring the anniversary of the Resurrection of the Christos, the Saviour Jesus Christ.

“Will you be going to church tonight?” he asked gently intoning the words.

I replied that I had not thought of going.

“You will come with me.” It was not a question, nor yet a command, but it was irresistible.

He rose to leave and I followed him.

Shortly before midnight, we joined with the hundreds in the procession in the dark streets of Larnaca. Each carrying the symbols of Easter: a lighted candle, a hard-boiled egg, and a piece of bread. The candle represented Jesus Christ as the Light of the World, the egg the symbol of new life in his Resurrection, and the lump of bread was the symbol of Him as the Bread of Life.

We moved along with the crowds over rain bright cobblestones into the candlelit church from the narrow street. In silence we stood as the Pappas intoned the devotional, our thoughts directed backward to events that transpired not too far west of where we stood and which had transformed human history. Although my Greek was less than perfect, I understood some of the bearded, dark-robed priest’s word, and what I could not grasp I felt. It was good to be in that place at that time and to share the Easter message with my friend.

The devotions over, he led, and again I followed, to his dwelling. His home consisted of one room ten feet by ten feet that served as dining room, living room, and bedroom. An adjoining passageway with a door to the outside served as a kitchen and washing place. There were two beds, in one of which Andréas’ wife slept, waking as we entered. He spoke to her in his soft voice. Leaving her bed, she crossed to the small bed and woke their two sleeping children, who immediately arose and went into the big bed, falling back to asleep almost instantly.

The candle was extinguished leaving us in the dark to undress and go to bed. I climbed into the children’s still warm bed, falling almost at once to sleep as I mused on the events that had led me to this peculiar setting. I understood that I had entered a different world, and that I was now in the company of angels.

Morning broke with bright sunshine pouring in through the small high window, warming us awake late on Easter morning. We rose, dressed, took turns to wash at the cold-water sink, and then sat at the rickety table to share breakfast of goat’s milk cheese, black bread, and restful, undemanding camaraderie.

Breakfast done, his family lined up outside the street door. We shook hands, embraced, said brief but heartfelt goodbyes in Greek and English, and then I walked away from a friend who had penetrated deep into my heart. I never saw or heard from him again.

I did not learn his last name, and I could never find my way back to his welcoming door in the warren of small streets that filled the spaces between the buildings near the shoreline of that ancient town. Yet, I shall always hold his memory dear and remember the valuable lessons that he taught me.

He taught me that it is possible to reach out to strangers and make friends of them. He taught me that you do not have to be rich to have enough to share. He taught me that no man need be ashamed of his poverty or lowly circumstances if he enjoys the richness of a soul that is trusting and generous. He taught me that the greatest gift is love and validated that truth by his life.

Andréas, whether he is called by his name, meaning leader of men, or by the uncomplimentary Fezzaz, is truly a child of God. Though small among men and lacking in physical beauty, he is possessed of a grace that exalts him. He was apparently without fault, seemingly perfect, though he would be quick to deny it. Here is a man who uncomplainingly accepts the derision of others, and exhibits the characteristics of Him whose Resurrection Morning celebration he bid me attend. It is said that Christ walks among men in disguise. Having met and walked with Andréas, I believe that may be so.

**

To read earlier episodes of Ronnie's autobiography click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

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