Well, I was going to post something altogether different today, and then markbialczak threw down the gauntlet to write a piece for Throwback Thursday, and I couldn’t disappoint, now could I? So Mark, this one’s for you!
I don’t know how we ended up with a donkey. As a child, I always wanted a pony, as most little girls do, but a donkey was what we got. She was brown and big for a donkey, a sturdy animal bred for haulage in the hills of Cyprus where we lived, totally unlike the little grey creatures we are used to seeing trailing dispiritedly up and down the pleasure-beaches of Blackpool and Brighton.
We called her Jessica, and cut holes out of the brim of a broad, flower-encrusted straw hat for her ears, much to the endless mirth of the locals, and rode her out on the hills and trails of the dry, parched landscape. It only became apparent later on that our Jessica was in fact a Jesse James, on account of the large um…ah…appendage we found him sporting one morning, much to our surprise. Man, those things are LARGE on a donkey!
We also had a dog called Bindi, two cats, Smokey Joe and Coco, a rolling canary, and cages full of randy, incestuous guinea pigs. We used to give all the babies away to a family in the village, who were only too eager to take them off our hands. I found out later that they were roasting them and eating them! It was a bit of an upsetting discovery for an eight year old girl.
One morning, we went to get Jesse James out of the barn, to find Mr Papadopolous beating something on the ground ferociously with a big stick. It turned out to be a huge snake with a girth as thick as my arm. I clearly remember the yellow diamond markings on its back. Mr Papadopolous said it had been living in the roof, which was a scary thought, but it had probably just been sunning itself up there.
I’m sure Mr Papadopolous thought he still owned our donkey, even though my parents had paid for him. He used him whenever he wanted. Once he took me out into the hills with him to mind his herd of goats. As soon as we arrived at the grazing area, he jumped onto Jesse James’s back and to my alarm, abandoned me there by myself.
I had never shepherded goats before. If you don’t know, let me tell you that they are the most wilful, unruly creatures on God’s earth! They constantly conspired with each other to make a sudden break for it whenever my back was turned. By the time I’d sorted one miscreant out, several others had darted off in search of pastures new… all in different directions. When the old man returned a couple of hours later (although it felt like an eternity), smelling faintly of ouzo, I was close to tears. Never again, I vowed. And I never have. I had three children, though, which is almost as bad.
We lived in a village called Ayios Tikhonas. The nearest town was Limassol, where we went to school. The village had a shop, a church, and a coffee/ouzo shop where all the men sat while the women worked. There was an old woman with no teeth who spent all day every day walking up and down and round and round the few little streets. She was a bit doolally. She would just lift her skirts and pee in the street whenever the need took her, regardless of company.
The houses only had a couple of rooms which whole extended families crowded into. Their bathrooms were a tap in the yard. We lived in a building which had once been a goat barn. At one end, a stone manger had been built into the wall. My dad laid planks and cushions over it, and that became our sofa. My sister and I shared a bedroom upstairs. The window had no glass in it, just a pair of old, dark wooden shutters. I loved living in that house.
Unfortunately, Jesse James was responsible for getting us on the wrong side of the law. You see, Jesse had a secret means of escape from his barn which we never did get to the bottom of. I blamed our ouzo-loving friend, but what could I do? I thought it wise to keep my suspicions to myself.
Jesse often broke free at night and helped himself to the villagers’ private stocks of carobs. He could munch his way through sack-loads of them. Needless to say, there were complaints, which the village sheriff was forced to act upon. And do you know what he did? That man took our pet away from us and locked him up in jail.
My sister and I were outraged. Along with our friends, Anthoula and her little brother Phytos, we planned a major rescue operation and busted our Jesse out of jail.
Shortly after that, we moved to Limassol. I was never sure if my parents chose to leave, or whether we were forced to leave for fear of a lynch-mob of carob-protecting villagers. In any case, our donkey days were over, and ownership of Jesse James sadly reverted back to Mr Papadopolous.