I was 3 when I started living with my dad’s parents at the top of one of the two hills that made up our village in Cyprus. My parents were working in London.
I remember being stood on my grandfather’s belly reaching up for his binoculars hanging from a nail in the white wall. He was the source of a lot of laughter for me, singing my pains away when I fell and grazed my knee or getting me to walk on his back, calling it a massage. These fond memories were later tainted by my mother’s accounts of how controlling he was of her, spying on her house at the top of the other hill to see what visitors she had with his binoculars. He would then ban certain visitors.
I remember the smell of pan-toasted bread in the background as my grandmother washed me and my little sister in a tin in the middle of the huge kitchen with water heated on the fireplace. I wasn’t old enough to realise the simplicity of our lives and I was living moment to moment- something I haven’t been able to do since my early childhood; now I’m too often stuck in circles of memories.
I remember the day my older sister arrived from London a few months after us. My parents had decided that they couldn’t work or save money with any of us still with them in London. We were all now to be under our grandparents’ care.
My older sister’s arrival was an exciting day. I can still see her skipping towards me with a huge smile. I then moved to my other grandparents’ house with her and would daily visit my little sister. My grandmother, who lived in the sandy valley was too old to walk up that hill with me every time and my older sis wasn’t interested in us little ones much. I guess the age gap was too big then. I was 4 by now and she going on 7. I honestly can’t remember a single conversation or game with her in Cyprus after her arrival. Little did I know she was facing troubles no little girl should.
My grandmother – being the pragmatic woman who she was- convinced the village school to take me on a year early. She needed some rest between looking after us and my grandfather who soon became completely bed-bound. She was such a tough woman, but always gave me little speeches to tell me that she believed I could be something.
I only remember disobeying my gran once. I don’t remember the spanking. Just her anger. I had quickly nipped out to accompany the neighbour’s daughter to pick up something from her uncle’s house ten minutes’ walk away. I had gone to a stranger’s house without telling her.
I cried myself to sleep that afternoon and woke up to overhearing her explain herself to the neighbour, telling her how she had gone crazy looking for me in the whole neighbourhood. It wasn’t until I learned of the dark things that happened in that village that I truly appreciated her fear.
And so months turned to years, and we would be parentless until I was 7. Parentless little girls are so vulnerable.