More Bones

by Joanna Eleftheriou

There were four of us once, four boys. Andreas was the brother who disappeared. Michalis was killed, Petros was wounded in the leg, and I, too young for war, had slept during the predawn battle. It was a Saturday. July 20, 1974.

After the war, Petros and I lived together in a refugee settlement and waited for Andreas to come home. While we waited, years passed and scientists figured out how to decode the DNA of bones in unmarked graves.

When the forensic anthropologist arrived at our door, Petros said not to answer. But I invited the two foreigners in and the woman who introduced herself as the “translator” sat down next to the foreign anthropologist. His trousers were the same olive color as our sofa, so that it was unclear where his leg ended and the sofa began. Petros lingered in the foyer, his thin frame casting a shadow fringed with the rusty afternoon light. I would have switched on the light, but Petros stood in front of the switch.

“We would like a sample of your DNA,” explained the anthropologist, who spoke English though he was not British. “It is as simple as touching this cotton inside your mouth.” I knew enough English to understand his words, but not to place his accent. I knew that the people who worked to find the Missing Persons came from neutral countries—Argentina, Sweden. They only cared about finding bodies and matching each to a name.

“Leave my house,” Petros replied. “We’ll give you nothing. Andreas will come home.”

The anthropologist said some diplomatic things about hope, and how hope was a very good thing, but sometimes it got in the way of things, in the way, for example, of being brave—having the courage to face a difficult truth. And then he used the word “reality” which the woman hesitated to translate because it is a word used by the Turks to justify their continued occupation of the northern half of Cyprus, the part we lost in the four day war, the war in which Andreas was lost. Petros bristled and he looked around as if for a weapon or a place to spit.

The anthropologist had taken some photographs out of his bag and spread them on the coffee table. Petros came closer to look. They showed bulldozers and men bearing shovels on the land where Petros and our brothers had fought together against the Turks for the last time. The men’s fluorescent uniforms looked garish against the brown and green hills.

Petros took the pictures from the table and sat on a chair near the anthropologist. I knew that I could let the anthropologists swab my cheek without Petros’s consent. We were both Andreas’s brothers. But I felt I could not do it—I could not be the one to let the news in, to let someone say the words your brother is dead. Until Petros yielded, I wouldn’t get an answer. Petros flipped through the photos again.

“You must be thirsty,” I said to the guests, hoping Petros would keep looking. “Please accept a little Cypriot hospitality.” In the kitchen I found the jar of watermelon rinds, pale green, dark-veined, two years old, preserved with a pound of sugar. While I served the sweets, Petros came in, rinsed the ibrik and made two cups of coffee, each with a perfect froth. He brought them to the guests, who were nodding at the taste of the rind. The intruder was made a guest and as a matter of pride my brother had to treat him like family. He talked about our mother, who taught her sons the art of making sweet preserves because she had no daughters.

Then the anthropologist turned the talk from sweets back to our missing brother, and asked if Petros would cooperate. “I will have nothing to do with it,” he said. “But we are all free men. Isn’t that what Andreas and I were fighting for? To be free men?” He looked me in the eye for a moment and before he left the house without his coat he turned to the foreigners and said “Ask this one for his DNA. It seems my brother is eager to put up tombstones.”

He looked at me in a way that filled me with the fear and the knowledge that I would go, after all, go against my oldest brother’s will.

When they found a fragment of Andreas’s toe and put it in a box, and gave it to us so that we had a piece of him to put into the earth, to break a plate over the box that stood for a coffin, to pour oil and throw wheat as we have done for centuries, so that my brother’s soul could go up into the other world, I saw Petros behind the crowd of mourners, hands over his face, and I lost him—I don’t know where he went after that day—and I lost Andreas, two brothers in one day.

Joanna Eleftheriou grew up in New York and Cyprus, and is completing doctoral work at the University of Missouri. She has worked as a teacher of ESL, literature and creative writing, and her essays, poems, and translations have appeared in journals including The Crab Orchard Review, Chautauqua, and The Common. Her first book manuscript is a collection of essays drawing on her experience as a Greek-Cypriot-American.