The Olive Branch

by Jaime Beth Moussa

On the border between Northern Cyprus and Southern Cyprus two houses face each other. One belongs to a Greek and is situated on the South side. The other belongs to a Turkish Cypriot and is situated on the North side. The ends of the two gardens meet at the border. Hasan was a Turkish Cypriot. This meant he could cross over to the Greek side of the island whenever he pleased. This would not have been possible had he been a mainland Turk. Mainland Turks were not allowed to cross over. Pity, Hasan thought to himself as he sipped his medium sweet Turkish coffee. Perhaps if they did let them over, they could ruin the Greek side of the island instead of his own. Things had changed ever since the mainland Turks had started to move to Northern Cyprus. More crime, more religion and less peace and quiet. Hasan’s granddaughter could no longer walk down the street without some eastern Turkish man cat calling, goggling at her legs in shorts and dark exotic hair. It made Hasan glare in disgust at the arrogant Turkish men. It made him proud to be a Turkish Cypriot. It made him even prouder not to be a Greek. Even if he did have one living at the bottom of his garden. Nicolas stood at the bottom of his garden, surveying the dusk. He frowned. That Turk was sitting outside again, blighting his view. He was drinking that mud they called coffee. Hasan saw Nicolas looking at him. He stood up, his brown skin glowing in the evening sun, raised the tiny cup, smiled and shouted, “Would you like some Turkish coffee?” Nicolas stiffened. “No!” he shouted back. “But I would very much like some Greek coffee!” and he trudged back inside.

That evening Hasan’s wife made stuffed vine leaves. Hasan was brooding. “One olive tree,” he muttered. “One olive tree, sitting in that man’s garden. I know God will one day hear my prayer and give me back my olive tree. I just pray it is before that man attacks our home!” “Oh no! Not that stupid olive tree again!” Groaned Hasan’s wife. “Stop complaining and eat your dolma.” “I know what that man is thinking!” cried Nicolas to his wife as they sat down to eat. “He is sitting there and looking at my land and saying to himself ‘I shall have this Greek’s land!’” “Rubbish!” cried Nicolas’ wife. “Why would an old man sit and think such thoughts?” “Because he is a Turk!” shouted Nicolas earnestly. “That is how they think! They never change!” Nicolas’ wife sighed. “Be quiet and eat your dolmades,” she said setting down his plate of stuffed vine leaves. When Hasan’s wife woke up early the next morning Hasan was not in the house. She made the most of the day. It was days like these that made one appreciate the blessings of marriage. At noon Hasan returned nursing four little parcels. Without asking where lunch was he headed straight to the bottom of the garden. He spent most of the afternoon there. Hasan stood up. He smiled. Before him, stood four delicate little olive trees. New and fresh, and full of hope. His pride and joy. Compensation for the one he had lost to the Greeks. Suddenly he heard footsteps and voices. Hasan impulsively hid behind the shed. Nicolas appeared with his five-year-old grandson. They were talking. “Grandpa,” said the little boy. “May I eat an olive?” “Of course! Just run inside and ask your Grandma.” “No! Off the tree!” The little boy pointed to the lone olive tree standing near the house. Nicolas laughed. “You cannot eat olives straight off the tree my son. They are too bitter.” “Did you plant that olive tree Grandpa?” Hasan stiffened. He waited for the answer, his whole body tense.

“No.” Hasan relaxed. You could never trust a Greek but at least this one wasn’t a liar. “My father planted that olive tree,” continued Nicolas “When I was 12 years old.” “You Greeks! You are all the same, all of you!” Hasan was suddenly there, red faced and shaking with uncontrollable anger. “You Turks, you never change!” Nicolas did not know why he shouted this but he knew it to be true and he wasn’t about to let Hasan have the last word. Hasan boiled over.

“That is my olive tree! Mine! It belongs to me! Your father did not plant it! Your father was too lazy to plant a flower!” Nicolas’ grandson began to cry. “At least I did not have a donkey for a father! You Turks, you are never satisfied with anything! It should be I who is claiming my property! That shed is on my land!” Nicolas was too irate to notice his sobbing grandson. Hasan threw his hands up in the air. “Your land?! You Greeks, you are all so greedy! Haven’t you enough that you want my shed and my land! Perhaps I should give you my house and my wife as well?” “I would not take your wife if you paid me!” “I am sure someone paid your wife to take you!” Nicolas’ wife came scuttling out of the house and scooped the wailing child up in her arms. “Stop it!” she cried. “Stop it both of you!” “You shall pay for this!” exclaimed Hasan before storming up the garden to his house. “I shall pay for nothing!” hollered Nicolas after the disappearing form of Hasan. “Not one penny!” Then Nicolas turned on his heels and stomped into the house.

Early next morning the sparrows started to sing. Perched on the coveted olive tree outside Nicolas’ bedroom window they performed their choir piece while the cicadas tweeted and chirped. A lizard balanced on the windowsill, soaking up the sun. Nicolas woke. His anger had been dulled by sleep but he was still grumpy. The lizard fled the sill as Nicolas opened the window to get his daily breath of morning air. He surveyed the dawn. His eye fell on his garden. “What is this outrage?” Nicolas’ voice bellowed through the house. It echoed down the stairs and rattled through the windows. It shook the sparrows out of the tree and sent the lizard scurrying into a crack in the wall. Nicolas’ wife jumped out of bed in a fright. “Nicolas! What is wrong? Is it an earthquake?” But Nicolas was downstairs and outside before she could get her slippers on. She rushed after him. When she arrived in the garden he was standing, rigid and fuming. It was then she saw what it was that had caused such an outburst. It was much worse than an earthquake. Across the bottom of the garden ran a rickety, crooked little fence. Hasan appeared. He looked rather pleased with himself. “Ah!” he sighed when he saw Nicolas. “Admiring my work I see.” Nicolas looked up, his brown eyes burning like petrol fed fire. “You have stolen half a metre of my land!” “Nonsense. I have simply marked out where my land ends and yours begins.” Hasan sauntered towards his new baby olive trees. “I did not want your grandson to confuse any more of my olive trees with yours.” “It is not even straight!” cried Nicolas. “You Turks can’t do anything right! You split the island and gave us a crooked border as well! You shall not hear the end of this!”

And so it began. A week later Hasan brought a very large watermelon home. He had carefully sliced a square piece out of the melon to check it was a good one and declared it quite delicious. Plugging the square piece back into the watermelon, Hasan placed it in a fishing net and lowered it into the well in their garden to keep it cool. A few days later they had company. Hasan’s wife hauled the melon out of the well, took hold of her great carving knife and sliced it open. “Hasan!” The watermelon was empty. Nothing but the skin. “SOMEBODY has dug all of the melon out of this watermelon,” declared Hasan. “I can see that Hasan,” sighed his wife. Their gaze floated to the bottom of their garden. Across the fence they could see Nicolas’ grandson running around. He was waving what looked suspiciously like a piece of watermelon.

Three days later Nicolas’ wife discovered her washing strewn all over the garden. As she ran around gathering up skirts, shirts and underwear, she eyed Hasan sitting on the sun, stroking his newly bought kitten. “Such playful creatures,” he chuckled. The weeks turned into months the months into years. Hatred settled in like a veruca. Unwanted, but immovable. The little plays of revenge continued. Hasan’s granddaughter came home with a boy. He was a mainland Turk. She wanted to marry him. Hasan was not happy. “You can’t marry, you’re only fifteen!” he objected. “Actually, I’m nineteen,” retorted the girl, flicking back her long exotic hair. Hasan turned to his wife. “She is,” shrugged his wife. “Nobody bothers to tell me anything,” muttered Hasan. Some jewellery went missing from Hasan’s house one night.

“Those Greeks have gone too far this time!” shouted Hasan. “God help my olive tree!” The next night Nicolas’ silver watch disappeared. “No more!” exclaimed Nicolas. “Those Turks have stolen enough!” The night after that Nicolas kept watch outside. At half past three in the morning he saw a figure creep out from Hasan’s garden. He waited his wooden spade at the ready. The figure reached the fence. “I have you now!” Nicolas jumped out of the shadows, wielding his spade and yelling. At the same time another figure jumped out from behind the shed brandishing a pitchfork. “My olive tree shall see freedom!” it cried and whacked the unfortunate burglar over the head. The burglar reeled from the blow, got up and Nicolas landed another smack on his shoulder. The burglar howled and fled. There was a silence. Nicolas turned to Hasan. “It was not you!” Nicolas shook his head. “No. It was not me. I thought it was you.” The two old men stood in silence for a few moments. “I would never have guessed you would have such an arm on you,” said Hasan. Nicolas nodded. “I was a fighter once.” “Old age changes things.” “I stopped fighting long before old age. I stopped when I saw my best friend shot for being hotheaded. He was just a boy. An emotional boy, with a gun he didn’t know how to use.” Nicolas looked out over the musty, scented landscape. The sun was beginning to rise. Hasan could smell the dust trapped under the morning dew. He too had seen a friend shot. He too knew it had been over nothing but pride. Hasan coughed. “We should find a way to stop them,” he said. “Yes,” agreed Nicolas. “Keep the dirty thieves out. They have no honour.” “I am sure he was a mainland Turk,” grunted Hasan. “I could feel his arrogance.” “You never know,” mused Nicolas. “He may have been British. I never thought they were all innocent tea and biscuits.” “We must get started.” Hasan leant the pitchfork against the shed. “I will make us some Turkish coffee.” “And I will drink Greek coffee with you,” nodded Nicolas.

Over the next few days Hasan was seen buying wood and nails. Nicolas was spotted carrying string and wire. Hasan’s wife made lamb kebab and listened to the sound of hammering. Nicolas’ wife watched from the window as she made pork kebab. Life crawled on in its laid-back fashion. Two houses face each other. Each has a garden separated by a rickety, crooked fence. A Turk has a Greek living at the bottom of his garden. A Greek has a Turk living at the bottom of his. Around both houses runs a rickety, crooked little fence.

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