THE OLIVE KING

a writing by Mark Wakeham

THE OLIVE KING




Philo stretched.
Another dream filled night.
Dream, wake, dream, wake.
This heat.
This heat was enough and then some more.
Tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable, but all in vain, because of this heat. Not a breath of air.
But then the old man would not even think about that. He had explained to Philo many times, both drunk and sober, but mainly drunk, that this was God’s island, and if God had meant it to be cool he would have put it in the North Pole.
Then he had laughed.
A fat, sweaty drunken laugh, showing Black and broken teeth in a Black and broken face. And turned again to his Metaxa and sang the drunken songs of yesterday and his Island’s glory.
While Philo scratched and watched from his bed.


And Philo understood.
In his own way.


Philo ate his breakfast slowly while the old man snored. He could see through the window that the sun was already in the sky and that it would be another hot, hot day on the island. He yawned and pushed the door open and slowly, lazily made his way down the track to the harbour. The multi coloured fishing boats bobbed languidly in the morning swell, their nights work done, time to snooze by the stone jetty, hundreds of years old and with its own stories to tell.
Philo moved on a little way to the village centre, coming to a stop in the main square, low white buildings to his left and right, a single large cactus in the centre surrounded by beautiful wild roses and Paeonia. To the North the mountain that dominated the isle, to the South the drowsy shoreline, the hypnotic rhythm of the waves lapping gently on the small stretch of sand, a sand that would soon be home to the turtles eggs, laid in the moonlight by hesitant mothers who would retreat to the sea leaving their young to be born some two months later and fend for themselves in a dash to join them in the warm, salty waters. Some said the eggs were delicious, some said the area should be protected from man, some said they couldn’t understand how a mother could desert her unborn children!


Philo understood.
In his own way!


Philo waited.
In the dusty main square, quiet and still, back to the sea, facing the plains and the mountain.
Waiting.
Waiting.
Waiting for his friend to come down the road.
The road from the mountain.
He would wait all day if need be.
To meet his friend.
Who would smile at him and call him by his name.
And play with him, on the shore, by the harbour, in the groves. Sometimes past dark, so they would both be in trouble. And sometimes they would have adventures, like joining forces against the marauders and they would dress up and take arms against the invaders from the sea, or sometimes it would be a race down the beach, Greek Gods against The Rest Of The World,
and Philo didn’t mind being The Rest Of The world as long as his friend didn’t mind losing.
Which he usually did. Because Philo was fast.
Mind you, he was faster when he was younger.
Now he was fat and slow.
But still quicker than his friend.
But his friend was getting slower all the time, due to what he called his “illness”. It meant he had to take it easy these days, a little more gentle, not so full on.
You know.
Because of the “illness”.


And Philo understood.
In his own way.


So Philo waited.
The sun rose higher in the clear Blue, cloudless sky.
It shone above the stucco white tavernas and sleepy trinket shops, opened slowly by yawning locals. The smell of Eucalyptus drifted from alongside the shore to the East as the sun warmed the wild plants. The violets, Saponaria and wild lillies had started to reach towards the warmth and silently pray for rain, though Philo knew it would be late afternoon before a seasonal downpour. Warm and heavy and fast it would come, and be gone in a matter of minutes leaving steaming white terraces and the flowers glistening and replete.
Benni said he loved the rain.
He said it was like dancing in God’s tears, and God never cried because He was sad, only joyful, so when it rained you had to dance. Philo was reluctant at first, he was in no hurry to get soaked right through, but after his first tentative dash into the deluge,
( encouraged in no small part by Benni’s enthusiasm),
he actually grew to like it, and anyway, it was nothing to dry off in the warm late afternoon sunshine while sitting doing nothing in particular.
Or engaged in some game or other with Benni.
Benni said that the rain was good for the island and we had to have it or the island would shrivel up and die, and that it was because of the mountains that it rained for a little while, just about most days, and that the mountains attracted the clouds and the clouds burst and that meant that the rain fell and anyway, the sun shone bright and warm before and bright and warm afterwards and it was a small price to pay to live in Paradise, as Benni’s Grandfather used to say.


And Philo understood.
In his own way.



And Philo waited.
And as he waited he wondered what he and Benni would do today.
Last week they had played by the harbour, pirates and smugglers. They had stole aboard a fishing boat they knew would be alone till sundown, when the fisherman would steel himself against the dark and by the glow of a single torch would cast his nets some way off in the deep, Blue, ageless and ancient sea, hoping to catch enough to sell tomorrow, or if all else fails, enough to feed his family. But the fisherman was asleep at that time in the morning and Benni and Philo knew they could jump in and play for a whole day, so long as they didn’t touch anything. Philo had turned that day while Benni was killing some scoundrels on the bows, and caught the fisherman sat on his creels and nets, smoking a hand rolled cigarette, smiling to himself and watching them play. They had shared a look and when, some minutes later, Philo had turned that way again the fisherman had gone.
And Philo had respect for him.


And Philo understood.
In his own way.


Then, just the other day, they had played on the shore.
Wild horse ranchers.
This was a great game. Benni would be the rancher and Philo would be the wild horse, descended from the horses of Alexander The Great, strong and alert and wild. Just like the wild horses up the mountain, by the old monastery. Benni’s grandfather had tried to tame one or two of them, back in the day. He said that these horses could smell a man and move into the higher ground of Fir and Cypress trees and hidden gullies and never be found. So Benni’s grandfather had covered himself in their shit and stalked them with a strong rope for two weeks.
Slowly, slowly.
Gaining their trust.
Then they had gathered at the only spring for miles and he struck! He caught a wild horse and after three hours struggling they were both exhausted. Benni’s grandfather led the horse down the mountain and tamed him, gently, quietly.
Then he put him to work on the land, down on the plains between the mountain and the sea, working the soil for the new groves of Lemons and Olives, tilling the land, pulling the cart.
And Benni’s grandfather said that the horse was never happier, and he named him Benediktos, meaning blessed, and Benni’s father was named after the horse and Benni was named after his father. But to avoid confusion he was nicknamed Benni.
And Benni liked to re-enact the moment when his grandfather caught the wild horse, but he could not go up the mountain so they played it out on the shoreline, by the Eucalyptus trees and wild roses and turtle grounds and lazy, lapping waves.


And Philo understood.
In his own way.



And Philo waited.
And then remembered.
Today Benni said that they would play their all time favourite game, up in the Olive groves. The game were Benni would strip down to his underwear and place a crown made of interwoven twigs on his head. Philo would turn away and Benni would run through the groves shouting “ I am the Olive King. Find me and all that is mine shall be yours “. Then Philo would chase after Benni, searching for broken branches or scuffed dirt to show him the way, or sometimes just following his nose, until he caught him and they would wrestle, giggling until they were both breathless and Benni would say “ All that is mine is yours. STOP NOW PHILO! All that you see is my Kingdom, and it will be yours when I am gone “.
And they would lie down and catch their breath.
After what seemed an eternity, Benni would always rise first with the same words, every time.
“ I love it here, it’s cool, it’s beautiful and it’s our secret place “.


And Philo understood.
In his own way.


And Philo waited.
And remembered.
Remembered the last time they had played pirates on the boat that Benni had to leave early, breathless and pale and without energy. As if the very life had been sucked out of him suddenly.
And Benni had blamed the “ illness “.
And Philo remembered the last time they had played wild horses on the beach and Philo had to stop running and look back as he saw Benni crumpled on the sand, back heaving up and down, hands clawing fistfuls of soft, Golden sand.
Benni had taken his time to recover with Philo by his side, comforting him.
Then he had excused himself and gone home, blaming the “ illness “.
And Philo remembered the last time they had played The Olive King and shortly after setting off into the Olive grove Philo had come across Benni lying on the ground, cool between the Olive trees, shaded and quiet. Philo had tried to soothe Benni as he lay quite still, but it had taken a long time until Benni had stirred, looking embarrassed and shameful, head hung low with a mop of Black hair shielding his dark eyes.
He had risen slowly this time and mumbled something about having to “ get back home “ as this was something to do with his “ illness “.


So Philo had sat in this exact spot, facing the plains and the mountain, back to the sea, and watched Benni walk away up the dusty path, past the Olive and Lemon groves and on toward the place before the mountain started to rise.
Benni’s home.


And Philo understood.
In his own way.


And Philo waited.
All day.
A kind old lady in Black brought him a drink of water and some food, nothing much, but enough. The sun became unbearably hot, but moved on through the sky. The rain came, hard, short and cooling but Philo didn’t dance. The sun dried him and warmed him through again.
And still Benni didn’t come.
The sun set behind the Olive groves, velvet Purples and fiery Reds filled the West and then the Dark crept in. Lights came on in the Tavernas. Crickets started up their evening song and the locals shuffled around with warm smiles and a ready chat.

The old dog left his post, returning to his home and bed to listen to Metaxa fuelled songs and stories of deeds long done, knowing his friend had not come today.

Philo understood.
In his own way.



THE END




A short story by
Mark Wakeham

2012

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