Epimenidis opened one eye. In the flickering light of the oil lamp, a giant hand holding a needle as long as a sword crossed and recrossed the wall. Diamanda was sewing something into her mattress. The shadow grew smaller and disappeared as he drifted back to sleep.
When Epimenidis next woke up, it was dawn, and across the room the maid was waking his twin. He burrowed under the quilt. His turn came: Diamanda’s cold, chapped hand passed gently over his face. ‘Come, get up’, she whispered. Then she was gone. His ear caught only the creak of the stairs and the click of the door at the bottom as it was unlatched.
Epimenidis struggled into his school clothes, and went out on the landing.
Diamanda had opened the shutters and lit the lantern. Both carnival costumes, their seams tacked, were neatly folded over the back of a chair – his twin’s frilled and flounced blue satin gown and his black and white pantaloons, white tunic, ruff and conical hat. Epimenidis searched among the scraps by the sewing machine till his touch set off a faint jingle. Carefully, he drew out five little bells. In the bedroom, his twin had flopped back to sleep. Epimenidis climbed on the chair and managed, by stretching, to place the bells on top of the wardrobe, which was dusted only at Easter. A bell rolled, tinkling, almost to the edge.
He climbed down, and prodded his twin. ‘Wake up.’
Sophia sat up, blinking. ‘I heard bells.’
‘No, you dreamt them.’
‘Why won’t Mama let me have bells on my gown?’
‘Princesses wear jewels, not bells.’
Sophia let out a sigh.
Epimenidis returned to the landing. He was arranging blue and white scraps into a miniature flag when Diamanda ran up the stairs
‘You leave that alone!’
Her hands were at his ribs, tucking in his shirt, then lower, buttoning his trousers. Epimenidis leaned against her to breathe in her smell of lemon and wood smoke.
‘Stand up straight! I’m not a pillow.’ Diamanda pushed him away, and went into the bedroom. Epimenidis heard her ask his twin why she had such a long face.
‘I want bells on my costume, like Epimenidis.’
‘Want. Want. Sit up… No one helped me to dress at your age.’
‘Just a few bells…’
Epimenidis opened the window, and leant out. The sky was grey and starless. Down the street a rooster crowed, and the cry was echoed by other roosters from street to street, each time fainter. Epimenidis let out little breaths of mist. From his perch, he could see the snow-covered mountains. Round the corner, the first pedlar of the day called out, ‘oil for your lamps, fine oooooil…’
Diamanda’s arms pulled him back. ‘You’ll fall!’
‘It won’t rain, will it?’
‘How would I know? I’m not a newspaper!’ She shut the window.
From the master bedroom came a creaking of bedsprings and floorboards. The door opened. Epimenidis caught a glimpse of his mother pinning up her thick dark braid. His father emerged, patted him on the head, and went downstairs.
A muffled clang. From the bedroom his mother called, ‘Diamanda! The gate!’
Diamanda had another voice for his mother: like a child’s. ‘At once, Kyria!’
Epimenidis ran downstairs after her. His father had lit the lantern over the outhouse door and it cast wavering shadows on the walls. You never knew who might be at the gate – the pots-and-pans peddlar, an Egyptian selling fish, or a relative from Diamanda’s village with mountain greens and fresh cheese.
But it was only the old seamstress, in her faded mourning, come to finish the carnival costumes. She limped in, grumbling about the cold and a Turk from the market whose barrow had almost knocked her down.
‘Soon there won’t be a Turk on the island,’ said Diamanda.
The seamstress crossed herself three times and went into the sitting room.
A pale light, filtered between branches of the lemon tree, entered the tiny kitchen. Epimenidis submitted to having his face scrubbed at the sink, then lingered to warm his chilblained hands.
The outhouse door creaked, and he ran out.
His father went to work early while it was still dark and had his morning coffee brought to him at the shop. Epimenidis often rushed out after him, wailing, ‘Baba, don’t go!’. Then Diamanda would give chase and drag him back and his mother would box his ears. Sometimes Epimenides would cling to the gate shouting whatever he thought might make his father return: ‘Baba, you forgot your watch!’ ‘Baba, you forgot your handkerchief!…’
But the gate shut before he could reach it. Epimenidis went upstairs and worked on his Greek flag: the blue of his twin’s ballgown was just the right colour.
‘Epimenidis? Come eat!’
Epimenidis clattered downstairs, two steps down, one step up, and jumped the last two.
‘…to look at the corpse,’ the old seamstress was saying, hunched over her cup and saucer at the table. ‘Nobody knows who he is.’
‘Because he’s dressed up for carnival?’ asked Sophia.
‘Eh? What does the girl mean? Why would anyone dress up to die?’
‘Who? Who?’ asked Epimenidis, his heart beating fast. He sat down.
‘The man who shot himself,’ said the seamstress.
‘Mama, I want bells,’ burst out Sophia. ‘Epimenidis has bells!’
‘That’s enough from you…’ said Mama. ‘In the centre of town, and no one recognises him! Lord, remember me!’ She crossed herself.
‘Someone must know him,’ said Epimenidis.
‘The police told me they made the rounds of the refugee camps,’ said the seamstress. She had only two teeth left, long, yellow and askew. ‘No one is missing.’
‘God must know his name!’ cried Epimenidis. ‘God knows everything!’
‘It’s a sin to kill yourself,’ said Mama in a stern voice.
Diamanda’s eyes were on Epimenidis’ cheese, untouched on his plate.
‘Stop sniffling, Sophia! Princesses don’t wear bells… Why, the boy’s eaten nothing!’ Mama felt Epimenides’ forehead. ‘Are you ill?’
‘I’m not hungry.’
Mama took his piece of cheese and ate it.
God could see everything, even the top of a wardrobe. Epimenidis rose from the table, grabbed his schoolbag and darted outside. The cathedral bell broke into a loud peal as his twin and Diamanda caught up with him.
Sophia was still redeyed.
‘We’ll go my way,’ Epimenidis said. ‘You can choose coming home.’
‘No! Your way takes forever!’ His twin loved shop windows. There were no shops on the artist’s street.
‘I’ll draw you if you let me have your turn.’
‘But you always make me look ugly. You make me look like you!’
‘And if I give you blond hair?’
Sophia dabbed at her eyes. ‘With curls?’
‘Children, we’ll be late.’ Diamanda was impatient.
‘Blond curls – and a blue bow.’ Epimenidis knew how to get round his twin.
The artist’s studio was behind the cathedral of St Minas in a street so narrow the upper stories of the wooden buildings almost touched. On their first day of school, Epimenidis had run ahead and stopped short at an open window where a small, bald man was painting a sunset. Epimenidis, on tiptoes, had followed the paintbrush as it turned the horizon to gold and spilled green and orange over a dark, swirling sea.
That first morning of school had passed in a daze. At lunch, Epimenidis had begged his father to buy him a set of paints….
Today he was in luck. The shutters were unlatched, and the studio was empty. Propped on the easel was a half finished canvas. The sky was dark and wild. A hazy, shrouded moon lit a ship that was sinking in the waves. On the prow one tiny figure was about to be engulfed in a surge of foam; another, on his knees, was embracing the broken mast; a third, his arms flung wide in despair, was staring down into the still unpainted depths.
Sophia tugged at his arm.
‘Those sailors – they’ll drown!’ she whispered.
‘No, a ship will come by and save them.’
‘There’s no room for another ship.’
‘Children, we’re late,’ said Diamanda. But her eyes were on the ship.
‘Of course, there’s room!’ cried Epimenidis.
Overhead, in the sky, a seagull drifted like a scrap of confetti. An artist could lighten or darken his work He could paint a ship sailing to the rescue. Epimenidis did not want to be a goldsmith like his father or a raisin merchant like his uncle. He would be an artist.
Diamanda dragged him away.
When they reached the school yard, the school bell was ringing. Sophia joined the line of girls. Epimenidis hung back, frightened.
‘Let me stay with you, Diamanda,’ he asked in a low voice.
‘What – and miss school?’
‘Please?’ His voice rose.
Diamanda whispered, ‘I’m going to view the corpse. She turned away.
Epimenidis shuffled after the other boys. In his dream, flames had shuttered the schoolroom windows, turning everything orange, while the teacher went on pointing at words on the blackboard that Epimenides could not understand. Then the door had fallen in with a bang, and his classmates were swallowed by the thick smoke. Their voices had grown fainter and fainter…
A classmate joined him. ‘I’m going to dress up as a prince. And you?’
‘As a pierrot,’ said Epimenidis in a sad voice.
From the door of the classroom, Sophia called, just like a teacher: ‘Boys! You’re late!’
Gusts of salt wind from the harbour swept round the yard. Sophia, wrapped in an old shawl, sat on a stool under the lemon tree, instructing her pupils, which were three flowerpots and a faded cushion that had lost most of its stuffing. The cushion was her best pupil because you could smack it. She had a slate, a piece of chalk and a long rod. Indoors there was nowhere to play. Diamanda had driven her out of the sitting room where the table was laid for lunch, and upstairs her mother and the seamstress were busy with the costumes.
Sophia prodded the cushion. ‘Now you do that sum again!’
Diamanda said it wasn’t Sophia’s fault – that when the three Fates knocked at the door on the day the twins were born in February, 1916, they must have heard only one baby crying. And that was why they had showered all their blessings on Epimenidis. Except for looks. Diamanda said the Fates had forgotten both twins when it came to looks.
Sophia was sure she would look much prettier if she wore spectacles, like her teacher. She prayed for spectacles.
Epimenidis ran into the yard, brandishing a stick. ‘Sophia! Come be the enemy – just till lunch!’
‘No,’ said Sophia. She was not going to play an ancient Persian again. She always got her dress dirty when she died on the cobbles.
‘She won’t play?’ That was Andonis’ voice.
‘Who cares! We’ll fight the wind!’ cried Epimenidis, and ran off.
Sophia went to the gate. How could you fight what you couldn’t see? Epimenidis was slashing the air right and left, while the other boys cheered him on. And it wasn’t windy.
She looked down the street and shrank back. ‘Titos, your uncle!’
Epimenidis lowered his stick. The other boys fell silent.
Titos’ uncle had arrived the week before on a hospital ship full of wounded soldiers from Smyrna. He had a bad limp, and the war had done something to his throat. ‘That’s right, play!’ he got out in a rattling whisper.
No one moved till he turned the corner.
‘My father says that was a lie your uncle told us – that our soldiers set fire to a Turkish school and all the children were burnt!’ Epimenidis burst out.
‘It was not a lie! My uncle was there,’ said Titos.
‘They were only Turkish children,’ said Andonis quickly.
‘But they couldn’t get out! They died!’ shouted Epimenidis.
‘Then how could my uncle have saved them?’ cried Titos.
‘Epimenides’ father makes his money buying gold rings cheap from the refugees!’ Andonis said.
‘That’s because he wants to help them!’ Sophia called out.
‘Help them?’ Andonis bellowed. ‘Help them?’
Epimenidis threw down his stick and charged Andonis, who fell backwards with a soft thud like a pillow. Sophia clasped her hands in despair. Although her twin was small and thin for his age, he was a fury when he lost his temper. Nikos and Titos each grabbed a leg and tried to pull him off.
Sophia ran to the kitchen door. ‘Epimenidis – fighting!’
Diamanda, her hands dripping suds, rushed out.
Sophia sat down, picked up her rod, and stared at the cobbles. She heard a couple of loud slaps as her twin, screaming that Greeks would never burn little children, was dragged into the house. When she looked up, the gate was still open and the street deserted. She went rigid with fear. What good was her rod if a stray dog entered? Sophia thought of the man who had shot himself during the night, and crossed herself three times. Baba said the Turks would never again rule Crete, but how could he be sure? In Smyrna the Turks had entered a cemetery where little Greek girls were hiding and pulled them out of the tombs and cut them into tiny pieces, that’s what the teacher had told them at school, and teachers always told the truth. Sophia saw herself waiting in the tomb… She heard the sound of her own breathing….
Diamanda crossed the yard and shut the gate. ‘The princess was too lazy to shut it?’
‘That’s your job,’ murmured Sophia. She wrote busily on her slate.
‘At your age I was herding goats.’ Diamanda sat down hard on Sophia’s favourite pupil.
Sophia tried to pull the cushion away.
But Diamanda would not budge. ‘If you teach me how to write, I’ll give you a present.’
Some months back, a street vendor had passed the house, pushing a cart that glittered with spectacles of all shapes and sizes. Diamanda was poor and had to save money for her dowry, or no one would marry her. Diamanda could never afford to buy her spectacles.
‘Get Epimenidis to teach you,’ said Sophia.
‘He’s too impatient. Start with my name.’
‘No, you must learn the alphabet,’ said Sophia. She wrote an ‘A’ on her slate and frowned. Her letters were not as good as her twin’s.
Diamanda painstakingly copied the letter. Sophia studied it at arm’s length. ‘It’s crooked. Rub it out and try again,’ she ordered, and passed it back.
‘Diamanda!’ Mama had opened the landing window. ‘Up here! Now!’
The slate fell out of Diamanda’s hand and broke in two. With a frightened glance, she ran inside.
Sophia picked up the fragments, hid them behind a flower pot, and crept to the foot of the stairs to listen. At the far end of the sitting room, Epimenidis was drawing.
‘…you lie to me!’ her mother was saying.
‘Kyria, why would I want bells?’ Diamanda broke into sobs.
‘One word to your father, and it’s back to the village with you. If you think I don’t have eyes to see how the cheese vanishes between the moment I unlock the cupboard and…’
‘Sophia took the bells!’ cried Diamanda.
Sophia could not think where to hide herself.
‘Sophia, come here!’
Sophia climbed the stairs slowly, one step at a time. She was grabbed and shaken. The landing was a blur of light through her tears.
‘A thief, are you?’
Sophia felt she would choke in her mother’s smell of milk and wool. ‘I only took a… a… one or two…. Two.’
‘Where are they?’ Her mother shook her again.
‘In my… my… schoolbag down… stairs.’
‘Your father will be very angry!’
‘But, Mama, Epimenidis… Epimenidis took more than….’
‘Epimenidis!’ Her mother clattered downstairs.
‘Truth and a cough will out,’ mumbled the seamstress bent over the machine
Sophia wanted to run after her mother, but Diamanda held her back.
The seamstress glanced up. ‘I never had a costume.’ She twirled the wheel. ‘We were too poor even to buy confetti. Bean husks… that’s what we tossed at masqueraders.’
‘Well, their father didn’t want them to dress up this year,’ said Diamanda. ‘He said they should think of the poor refugees without a rag to their backs, but their mother…’
‘It’s not the children’s fault that we lost the war,’ said the seamstress.
Sophia heard what sounded like a hard slap and a scream. Her eyes swam with tears. It was all her fault that Epimenidis was being punished.
‘Diamanda! The baker’s lad has brought the roast!’
Diamanda ran downstairs. Sophia stole over to the basket where her baby brother lay asleep, and touched the blue glass charm pinned to his swaddling.
A moment later Epimenidis appeared and grinned at her. He shook his fists with a jingle, then opened them.
‘The bells the two of you pinched, eh?’ said the old seamstress, peering at him. ‘Well, children are children. Put them with the others.’ She bent over the ruff again.
Epimenidis added them to the pile on the table, then spun round, took a step forward and opened his fists again. Sophia stared, bewildered. He still had four bells.
The gate clanged.
‘Your father,’ murmured the seamstress. ‘Lunch!’ She rolled the stray threads into a ball, folded a scrap to make a tiny pouch, emptied the bells into it without counting them and tied it with a length of trimming.
Epimenidis, his hands in his pockets, darted into their bedroom.
Sophia started downstairs.
Epimenidis caught up with her on the third step. ‘I hid them,’ he whispered.
‘She won’t count them again.’
‘Children, it’s lunchtime. Do you want me to trip over you?’ cried the seamstress.
‘You’ll get into trouble,’ whispered Sophia.
‘Why did you take them then?’
‘I was going to put them back. But you?’
‘Children, just let me by.’
Sophia flattened herself against the wall so the seamstress could pass.
‘You said you wanted bells,’ hissed Epimenidis.
‘You took them… for me?’ Sophia was touched. She loved him more than anyone, but he had always treated her like an ordinary sister, never like a twin.
At last they shared a secret, as twins should.
It was Carnival Thursday. The war in Asia Minor was over, and soon all the Greeks stranded in Turkey would return to their homeland and all the Turks in Greece would return to theirs. Late that afternoon, after she and Epimenidis had shown off their costumes at her father’s shop and visited their aunt and uncle, they would be served little pastries soaked in syrup. And then she would go up to bed, knowing that somewhere in the dark, cold room there were four gold bells, waiting for her.
Her father muttered grace and her mother began serving up the holiday roast.
‘Well, Kyra Philitsa, what’s the news?’ asked her father.
‘The American Red Cross is going to distribute beans and lard to the refugees tomorrow,’ said the old seamstress.
Sophia wondered who would get the dead man’s ration. ‘Was he a refugee?’ she asked her father.
‘Who?’ asked her father.
‘The man who killed himself last night.’
‘What put that in your head? No one knows.’
‘But why does no one know?’
‘Child, he might have lost his whole family.’
Sophia couldn’t imagine losing her family. She would try to be good so God would keep them safe. Mama was always saying that twins should look after each other.
Epimenidis wrote his name and the date in a corner of his blank piece of paper: E. Matthioudakis, January, 1923. Across from him, Sophia struggled with her sums. The afternoon was chilly, but braziers were banned in the house because the fumes had made her faint as a baby. At the other end of the table, Diamanda was ironing the carnival costumes over a folded blanket. From the flatiron came a little waft of wood-smoke.
‘You’ll be the envy of the other boys,’ murmured Diamanda.
Epimenidis looked up. ‘Next year I’ll dress as a soldier.’
‘A soldier? Soldiers don’t cry.’
Epimenidis scowled. ‘I’m strong. I’m brave.’
‘Are you! Remember that porter your father asked to teach you a lesson?’
Epimenidis drew a schoolhouse in the foreground.
‘No? You’d been teasing your poor twin and getting underfoot all day.’ Diamanda sprinkled water on the blue bodice. ‘There was a thunder of a knock at the door…’
Epimenidis’ pencil scribbled flames round the schoolhouse.
‘… and there stood that cross-eyed giant from the market, roaring…’ Diamanda raised her voice… ‘”I’ve come for the bad boy!” And you… ‘ she giggled… ‘leapt into your mother’s arms like a monkey, screeching, “I’ll be good, Mama, I’ll be good!” Oh, how we laughed!’
‘They’ll send that porter back to Turkey next month,’ said Epimenidis. His pencil covered the schoolhouse windows with ivy. He hated Diamanda.
‘I didn’t laugh,’ Sophia whispered.
Epimenidis pencilled the fire out. But when he turned the piece of paper over, the outline of the flames showed through…
Diamanda had only managed to peek at the old man who had killed himself, she said, the queue was so long. It was awful, his skin had gone grey, almost yellow. Thank the Lord he was no one she knew which meant she wouldn’t have to mourn him. People had left her village and never returned. But after viewing the body, she had felt lighter. That was life. Everyone died. Everyone….
Epimenidis turned the paper round. ‘Sophia! I’ll draw you!’
Sophia sat up straight.
Epimenidis held his pencil at arm’s length and closed one eye as he had seen the artist do, but this made Sophia look like the little owl that tumbled out of the lemon tree one night. He drew a long nose and round eyes, then rubbed them out with a bit of bread and started again. This time he gave his twin an oval face, a nose so tiny that it was just two dots and a small, full mouth like the one on the biscuit tin in the cupboard. Sophia had straight, dark, fine hair like a baby’s, Epimenidis scribbled a mass of pencilled curls that hid the flames.
Sophia peered across. ‘You said you’d give me blond hair!’
‘No painting while I iron,’ snapped Diamanda.
Epimenidis shut his box of box of colours.
‘That’s the gate!’ Diamanda set the iron down, and ran out.
Epimenidis looked out the window. ‘It’s the priest from Diamanda’s village. And her widowed aunt, oh! and the little girl, the one who can’t talk.’
Mama’s voice floated down through the floorboards. ‘I’ll be right down.’
Epimenidis watched Diamanda kneel to kiss the priest’s hand, then hug her aunt and the little girl with the wide nose who moaned and dribbled. Epimenidis had once accompanied Diamanda to her aunt’s shack on the city walls. Diamanda had bought boiled sweets for the little girl because it was her name day, and the little girl had laughed and clapped her hands and Diamanda had laughed, and the floor was packed dirt, like the ones in village houses, and the tin mug he had drunk water from had not been very clean.
‘You know why the girl can’t talk?’ whispered Sophia. ‘The Three Fates cast a spell over her. Diamanda says some day a word could untie the knot.’
Their mother came bustling downstairs with the baby and led the visitors into the best room. Though it had been aired, it always smelled damp. Epimenidis never felt comfortable in the best room.
The visitors sat down stiffly. Epimenidis sat opposite, so he could gaze past them at the treasures in the glass-fronted cabinet, at the gold-embroidered cloth, the tiny silver icon from St Catherine of Sinai, the dish with Prince George’s image, the silver tray…. The priest gave off wafts of goat cheese and sweat, and his eyes seemed to go right through you.
Diamanda served coffee in the little gold-rimmed cups kept for company and brought a platter of fresh cheese pastries swimming in syrup. Epimenidis’ mother served two to the priest, two to the little girl’s mother, and two to Diamanda, whose mouth fell open as if she couldn’t believe her luck. The twins had half a pastry each, served on the same plate.
Sophia’s eyes pleaded with his.
‘Mama, Sophia and I want a whole pastry,’ whispered Epimenidis.
‘You’ll be eating sweets at your aunt’s later.’ From his mother’s voice, Epimenidis knew there was no point arguing. He ate his portion in tiny mouthfuls, to make it last.
The grown-ups talked about the war. The priest said the few Turkish families in his village were desolate at being forced to leave their homes, but the law was the law. The priest wondered whether the Kyria’s husband might consider buying some of the land owned by the Turks. The miller might lease it. Perhaps the Kyria would speak to her husband. Diamanda’s aunt said Greek refugees were already constructing makeshift shelters on the city walls, she could hardly see Mt Ida anymore, so who knew what they would get up to in the village.
The little girl played with the buttons on her dress while Diamanda fed her.
Epimenidis ran to the ironing board, and brought back his tunic, shaking it to make the bells ring.
‘What are you doing? Your hands are sticky!’ cried Mama.
‘Bells to chase away evil spirits, eh?’ said the priest.
Epimenidis tossed the tunic in the air. The little girl gasped, and reached out.
‘Did you hear me?’ Mama rose.
Epimenidis twirled, jangling the bells, and stopped short.
‘B-b-b… B-b-b..’ Holding on to the table, the little girl took a few steps.
‘She’s trying to talk!’ Diamanda whispered, and crossed herself. ‘Say “bells”, Maria!’
‘B-b-bell… B-b-bell…’ The little girl stretched out her hand.
‘Oh, Virgin Mary, a miracle!’ cried Diamanda’s aunt. ‘The child’s talking! She said “bells”!’ The aunt bent down, kissed the girl and rocked her back and forth.
The priest made the sign of the cross and began to pray. He said it was an omen, that perhaps the church bell of the village would finally come to light.
Epimenidis had heard the story, how over a hundred years earlier the villagers had buried the church bell to keep it from being melted down by the Janissaries, and now no one knew where it was hidden. Epimenidis dug around for it every time he was taken to the village, but the soil was hard and he never picked the right spot.
Mama told Diamanda to dress the twins for carnival, it was late. They must wear woollen vests under their costumes. Epimenidis kissed the priest’s hand, submitted to being kissed by the aunt, then followed Diamanda. He liked to jump up one step to the next, it made the staircase shake. His father said an earthquake could topple a whole city in a few seconds, but how could their house suddenly fall down when the walls were so thick? He thought of the hundreds of refugees camping out in tents. He thought of the man who had shot himself, and tried to jump two steps.
‘Stop that!’ said Diamanda, but her voice was calm.
If he kept his pocketknife, paints and pad in his satchel near the door, he could grab it and run out at the first tremor.
The wind from the harbour tugged at Diamanda’s shawl, whipped Sophia’s flounces and jingled the bells on his tunic. Epimenidis danced round them.
‘The wind is a shepherd!’ he cried, butting at Diamanda.
‘Well, I’m not a sheep!’ Diamanda pushed him away.
‘That’s my foot you’re stepping on,’ wailed Sophia. The holes in the mask were further apart than her eyes so she could hardly what was in front of her. When she looked back at the harbour, all she saw were lines of white froth in the dark.
Along the way they stopped to buy two packets of confetti off a pedlar. Sophia chose pink, blue and yellow. Epimenidis bought red confetti and tossed some over Diamanda.
‘Don’t complain when you’ve none left,’ said Diamanda, brushing herself off.
Just before the main square, they ran into their father’s friend, the notary public, who said he could not imagine who they were and recited a lot of silly names that weren’t theirs. He said something under his breath to Diamanda that made her blush. As soon as they walked up the street, Diamanda got the giggles.
‘Why are you laughing?’ asked Sophia.
‘You’re the one that goes to school. You should know all the answers.’
A hurdy-gurdy was churning out snatches of song in the square. Children in masquerade drifted by. Sophia saw a boy dressed like a Pierrot and counted his bells. ‘Only ten,’ she said.
‘No one, no one, no one has… as many… bells… as me!’ cried Epimenidis.
All round the Morosini fountain people were celebrating. Diamanda held on to Epimenidis, so he wouldn’t get lost in the crowd. Across the square was the coffee house where the town criers waited to be hired. Sophia felt reassured. If she was separated from her twin, her father would hire a man to shout: ‘We’ve lost a princess in a pale-blue gown with flounces! Has anyone seen a princess in a pale-blue gown with flounces!’
‘Did you ever dress up?’ she asked Diamanda.
‘In our village, it’s the men who dress up. The wind blows and we roast chestnuts and potatoes on the stove, and suddenly bang! the door bursts open, oh… you’d wet yourself laughing if you saw my brother-in-law with bosoms squeezed into my sister’s dress.’ Diamanda’s voice sank.
‘You don’t wish you were there,’ said Sophia with firmness. ‘You don’t want to work in the fields all day.’
‘Why not? My prince will find me even in a barley field.’
But Sophia knew a prince would never find Diamanda’s village. Only shepherds and sheep rustlers knew where it was. Every summer Mama sent them off with Diamanda for almost a month, to fill them out, she said. It was a tiny village on a ledge, so dry and rocky and sunbaked that you didn’t see it until you were there. The wind blew and blew. It howled over the windmill and round the church tower and into Diamanda’s home near the edge of the cliff. Epimenidis filled his pockets with stones, so he wouldn’t be blown across the sea to Turkey. Sophia did not want to live in a village. She would marry a schoolteacher, and they would both teach in a big city like Heraklion or Athens and sleep on lace-edged sheets.
In the mirror outside her father’s shop, Sophia caught sight of a girl in a flounced blue satin ballgown whose hair was powdered and and piled high. She could not believe she was that girl. It was as if she had stepped out of a book.
Her father was perched on his high stool behind the counter, stringing pearls. Sophia could sit beside him quietly for hours. She loved the cabinets, the high counter of dark polished wood full of shallow drawers, the charms, earrings, chains and bracelets.
‘Look! I’m a princess!’ she cried.
Her father raised his eyes. ‘You’ll catch cold, child.’
‘She’s wearing a woollen vest and I have the mistress’s shawl,’ said Diamanda.
Behind the counter was another mirror. If Sophia looked into it from the door, she could see outside and yet not seem to be looking. In the mirror the world was the wrong way round, like a dream. Relatives, family friends, schoolmates became strangers. Diamanda’s dark eyes stared past her in the mirror, and beyond Diamanda were stalls heaped with winter greens, cabbages, oranges that glowed in the dusk. Butchers waited under huge hanging carcasses. A light hail of coloured confetti pelted the window and floated above the street lamp.
The door was pushed open and their father’s brother entered. He paused to stare at Sophia. ‘Ah, a princess. Just arrived from Paris to have her diamonds re-set?’
Sophia could not help giggling.
‘She’s your niece!’ cried Epimenidis. He spun to make the bells ring.
His father looked up. ‘Diamanda, take the children to my sister-in-law.’
‘What a beautiful dress! It’ll cheer your poor aunt up to see you,’ said their uncle.
Diamanda turned, and her black braids, which she had tied with red thread and wound round her head, caught the light in the mirror.
‘Any news?’ Sophia heard her father ask their uncle as they left.
The door shut behind them, and Sophia, inside the world of the mirror, was once more swept up in the din and cold. Here and there she saw a red fez among the crowds. A group of sailors with red pompoms on their caps strolled by, and one of them winked at Diamanda. Sophia scowled at him, but he took no notice.
Epimenidis asked Diamanda if she thought their aunt’s brother was alive.
‘There’s always hope.’
‘Mama said they would have had some news of him by now if he was.’
‘Our fate is written,’ said Diamanda.
They turned into the street of bellmakers and blacksmiths. Here there were no masqueraders: the only sounds were the ring of hammers and the hiss of red-hot metal dipped in water. One of the soot-covered apprentices called to Diamanda through the sparks: ‘And how are you, my lemon tree?’
Diamanda ignored him.
‘Would you marry a blacksmith?’ Epimenidis whispered.
‘What? Sleep between sooty sheets? Not I.’ But Diamanda was smiling.
Epimenidis danced ahead.
‘What’s the surprise you’ll give me if I teach you?’ Sophia asked Diamanda.
Diamanda was silent for a moment. ‘My little mirror,’ she said.
The mirror, with its cracked frame, was among Diamanda’s prized possessions. Sophia could not believe her luck. A mirror, just to teach someone to read and write!
The square beyond the market smelled of smoke, fries and roast chestnuts. Tents raised from worn blankets and sheets had been erected around the half-ruined Church of the Saviour and washing hung from the upper windows. Her father said it was unsafe to house so many families inside a tumbledown building but there was nowhere else to lodge them. Many Asia Minor refugees were camping in caves outside the city walls. Sophia was not sure how she felt about crossing the square in the dark. Though she could hardly see the refugees for the smoke that rose from their wood burners, she felt their eyes on her.
‘I’m shivering,’ she whispered.
‘What, our princess is cold? Here you are.’ Diamanda wrapped her up in the shawl.
At the fountain a line of women and girls were waiting to fill their pitchers and basins. Baba said many of them had escaped the flames of Smyrna with only the clothes on their backs. Water from an overflowing pitcher splashed on Sophia’s gown, and she backed off to shake her flounces dry. When she next looked up, Diamanda and Epimenidis had vanished. Sophia peered round the fountain and spotted Diamanda talking to a young man.
Sophia ran to her. Diamanda looked startled. Sophia felt a sharp pinch that made her eyes swim, but her mask was so tight that her tears had nowhere to go. She stared at the paving stones, which rippled as if they were underwater. She tried to remove the mask and wipe her cheeks, then remembered they were rouged, Mama would be furious if she got rouge on her sleeves. Diamanda was still talking, but very low.
Sophia could not see her twin anywhere. ‘Where’s Epimenidis?’ she whispered.
Diamanda turned on her. ‘Why didn’t you keep an eye on him? Epimenidis!’ She stood on tiptoe, searching the crowd.
Sophia burst into noisy sobs.
‘Don’t scold the child,’ said the apprentice.
‘Epimenidis!’ screeched Diamanda. ‘Where is the boy? Blessed Virgin!’
‘He’ll turn up… Oh, there’s my master, I’m off.’ The apprentice strode off.
Diamanda did not seem to hear him. ‘Epimenidis!’
Sophia clutched at Diamanda’s skirt so she would not get lost like her twin. But Diamanda shrieked, and broke into a run, and Sophia lost her hold.
‘Wait, wait!’ she wailed. She tore off her mask, gathered up her flounces and ran after Diamanda. Everyone was bigger and taller, and Sophia was shoved one way and another, till she found herself on the edge of the crowd.
Epimenidis stood alone on the cobbles. His mask dangled from one ear. His tunic was split open, exposing his woollen vest and pale skin. His pointed cap lay at his feet, and his thin, fine hair stuck straight up. He was shivering and looked tiny.
Diamanda flung herself at him. ‘What have they done to you?’ she shrieked.
Epimenidis opened his mouth but Sophia could not hear a word.
‘And you let them!’ yelled Diamanda. ‘You just stood there and let these Turks steal your bells!’ Her voice was piercing.
‘But they’re not Turks, Diamanda, they’re Greeks, like us!’ cried Sophia, afraid the refugees might turn on her too.
‘Turks!’ screamed Diamanda wildly. She tried to pull Epimenidis away but he kicked at her and twisted out of her grasp. All round her, Sophia heard the Greek refugees asking one another what was going on, what had the boy done, who was he, what was happening. Fluttering strips of Epimenidis’ costume trailed after him as he tried to escape Diamanda.
‘Wait, wait!’ cried Sophia. She could hardly see for tears. She remembered the mirror Diamanda had promised her. She would give it to Epimenidis. And she would let him choose the way to school every day. She prayed to the Virgin to protect her.
As she ran, Sophia spotted one of the glittering bells. But she did not dare stop.