Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Picnic

“Wow!” said Sophia. “Real water that's not in a bottle or the tap! Or,” as an afterthought. “The sea, of course...”

We had reached the river.

Wondering what to do on a long Sunday morning, I had suggested a pic-nic and we agreed that we should visit the Turkish Cypriot property that we rent in the village of Agios Ioannis. Then Best Beloved developed the theme further by saying that on the way he wanted to visit one of the Ottoman pointed bridges near the deserted monastery of Synti, so we packed an Eskie and some plastic plates, bought some water, ice, and fruit at the kiosk in Mandria, and headed into the hills.

I was in a spiky mood. Since having children my sense of physical adventure has largely deserted me, and while 16 years ago, heading off into the hills for some off-road adventure in a Land Rover would have been grist to my mill – I used to drive diving safaris in the Sinai, for god's sake! – these days I am more inclined to adventure of the armchair variety. Armchairs don't tip over, get flat tyres, run out of water, or crash. “Oh for heaven's sake, calm down and relax!” exclaimed Best Beloved in frustration when I begged that he ask for directions in the kiosk. “We speak the lingo and we're never going to be far from a village!”

I calmed down and relaxed somewhat as we reached Nata and asked about the bridge. “Go down to the river,” a local told us. “You'll find an asphalt road marked Kelokedara...” Where the asphalt road crossed the river we asked a man filling 20 litre jerries how far the bridge was. “Follow the sign to the monastery, then keep going. It's a long way, but there's only one road!”

The asphalt petered out to dirt and stones. The river appeared and disappeared, sometimes flowing underground on its way to the dam, and as we pushed further into the hills, big rocks and trees began appearing along its banks. We reached the restored monastery of Synti, and although it was locked, the children and I wriggled in through a window and explored various nooks and crannies. Then we pushed on to where tall trees and oleander bushes overhung the water, and the coolness and ample shade invited us to stop for lunch. Only one other time have I ever seen a river running during the summer in Cyprus – the same for Sophia, hence her comment.

After lunch we paddled, and where the creek ran shallow and narrow I suggested building a dam from some of the big, smooth rocks that formed the bed and banks.

Sophia was the first to start, laying four or five flat stones as a foundation from the far shore. Whether from bravado, lack of thought, or a random urge to destroy, Alex dropped a boulder on the lot – wiping out her work, and splashing all of us. Furious, Sophia turned on him, and Best Beloved, too, told him off. Construction resumed, with the Littles and me working on one side, and the Big Ones on the other.

Alex picked up another big boulder, sighted it precisely, and let it drop into a hole. The resulting splash wet Sophia again, and she turned on Alex and attacked him, throwing the rock that was in her hand and lunging at him.

Alex holds a Second Dan black belt in Tae Kwan Do; Sophia will take her black belt exams next year. They both have tempers, and are both suffering the hormonal tides of adolescece, so life with them right now can be... exciting; and the occasional physical conflict is like Clash of the Titans. The fight lasted about a minute, with more boulder hurling, a choke hold or two, and some effective kicks and punches before Sophia scrambled to her feet, grabbed her handbag and stormed off, unhurt but angry with Best Beloved's admonishment to not 'go far because we're leaving soon' in her ears.

We chastised Alex for not keeping his temper, and for – yet again – overreacting to provocation, and returned to dam building, imagining Sophia just out of earshot beside a shady pool with her book.

Half an hour later, we decided to pack up. No Sophia. Anywhere. After five minutes of searching on foot along the river, we got in the Land Rover and drove a little way in the direction that she had walked. Calling, sounding the horn, searching, produced nothing. Alex spotted a shepherd a top a steep hill, and climbed up to him to ask if he had seen her. Nope. We sent Alex back to the picnic spot with my phone and told him to wait there – family rules being that if someone is lost or separated they return to the place where we were last all together – while Best Beloved and I drove back along the river with the Little Ones.

Three quarters of the way to the monastery, we decided that she couldn't have come this far: it was midday, the temperature in the mid-thirties, she had no bottled water, and Sophia likes her comforts. After an hour's searching I was worried that she was either snake-bit or hurt. Thank goodness we don't have to worry about abduction here... yet. But “I didn't like the look of that shepherd!” Alex muttered. “And he was a Syrian!”

“Alex, he's hardly going to leave his sheep, dash down the mountain, hurt or abduct Sophia, and dash back up to his sheep again,” I said. “And besides, my experience of Syrian shepherds is that they all look dodgy, but the ones I've met have hearts of gold...” But that still didn't get us Sophia.

“Drive all the way to the monastery,” Best Beloved finally told me. “And if she's not there, call me. I'll go back along the river.” Alex and I got into the Land Rover with the Little Ones knowing that we were one step away from calling in reinforcements. The nearest police station was Kelokedara, and it would take at least an hour to get a search team assembled there, and another hour before they could be out in the bush. We had plenty of light left, but the afternoon had gone from being one of light-hearted adventure to one tinged with menace.

Where Best Beloved and I had turned back before, Alex and I saw Sophia sashaying along the track in the direction of our picnic spot. I pulled up beside her, feeling grim as she gave me a saccharine smile. “I really hope that you've been enjoying yourself!” I said as she climbed into the back.

We called Best Beloved to say that we'd found Sophia, then backtracked to pick him up. “Did you not think that we'd be looking for you?” he asked her “That we'd be worried?”

“Oh, yes. I knew you'd be looking for me!” was her cool reply (“I'm suffering, and I'm going to make all of you suffer, too...”).

We didn't say anything all the way back. When we reached the house, the Big Ones went their separate ways – although I called them back to help wash the picnic debris. Zenon took the dog out for a walk, and Best Beloved and I discussed the afternoon. “I'll talk to her in a bit,” he said. “There's no point in punishment – this is teenage attention-seeking – but she's got to realise that it doesn't work like it's intended.” We agreed that while the roots lie in her age, her best friend's death last month probably contributed, and Alex's breaking of her phone last week was a more recent catalyst.

“How does the poem go?” Best Beloved asked. “'Ours is not to reason why/Ours is but to do and die'? And not give up on them. They will make us suffer – I never got to see my bridge – and we have to be patient and strong and guide them... And everything will turn out all right in the end...”

“If I'm not in the loony-bin first,” I finished for him. Before promising that next weekend, we'll try again – and this time, we'll find his bridge.

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