Well the Army found Alex on Friday.
Most lads get their papers at age sixteen, and since he had made it to seventeen and a half without their being served, we were wondering if somehow he had slipped through the cracks. Perhaps the host of irregularities attending his birth (mixed parentage, unwed parents, no number on his birth certificate, no baptism (previously only Orthodox boys served), parents moved district in early childhood) had led to his somehow evading the system – and since it is the obligation of the State to serve the papers than for the boys to volunteer, we thought that he might just be blessed with the choice of whether or not to don a uniform and pick up a rifle (there is no chance of non-combattant status in the Cyprus National Guard) when he finished school.
I had rather mixed feelings about this choice, and knew that should he face it, he would have to make it alone. On the one hand, I am a pacifist and hate the thought of my sons serving as conscripts in an army – as well as resenting the fact that the two years that the Army takes (and in many cases wastes with endless guard duty rather than taking the opportunity for serious training and creativity within either a military or a community service sphere) are two that would otherwise be spent in the enthusiasm of youth's creativity, curiosity, passion. On the other, I recognise the Army as almost a rite of passage for Cypriot men. If someone doesn't do it, everyone thinks 'Lucky Sod!', but they also realise that that individual has missed out on an experience that nearly everyone else endures – a bonding, for better or for worse... So I had resolved to stand well back and let him make his own choices within the embrace of parental support.
But a phone call from the police on Friday changed all that. The Army had been looking for Alex for weeks in Nicosia and had finally found him through a relative in the police with the same surname; he had to report to the 'Army Office' to sign his papers and provide reason for any possible deferrment within the next fifteen days, or he would be conscripted in January.
We went this morning to the government building, found the Army Office, and spoke to a corporal behind the desk. “Where do you go to school?” she enquired when he said that he had spoken to the police. When he told her, she sighed: “You pay all that money for a private school, and they don't get the papers right with us, ever!” He filled out his form, signed it, and she explained that we had to have a letter from the school by December saying that he was enrolled for this year – which corresponds to the Third year of Lyceum. Next year, when he will be finishing his A-Levels and school is not mandatory, he will need another letter and proof of fees paid.
“Typical!” Alex snorted when we got into the car. “You remember N, the kid who was like the unofficial student council, the liason last year when there was all the trouble (our school has undergone a series of upheavals in the last few years culminating in total shake-ups, take-downs, and seismic changes)? He was in a similar situation. Told the Army he was at my school, the Army called for verification, and the school said he wasn't a student. He couldn't finish his A-levels and he's doing his two years now...” I don't know what N's story was – except that he is indeed a gun-bunny these days rather than the A student that he was – but I suspect that his parents (like many at our school) had not paid this year's deposit because they wanted to see what all the changes would bring before committing to another year – and thus the school, with no reason to protect N, simply said that he was not enrolled.
We went to the school, and requested the verification of Alex's being a student, and the Director explained that he never filled out the Army forms. “I can't,” he said. “It's a violation of the state's privacy laws to give details of my students to anyone, even the government!”
That may be true, but at least he could have let parents know that the papers had been served so that they had the choice of whether or not to fill them out, avoiding a last-minute scramble! All of Alex's other friends from school have already either gone into the Army – being a year ahead, are foreigners who are exempt, or are girls.