Thursday, 10 September 2015

This short story was published in a little magazine many more years ago than I want to remember. We no longer have visions. Too bad.

James Allan Evans

   I first saw Anastasios' hands as we sat in a cafe in Old
Corinth, drinking gazeuse. It was not easy to see Anastasios'
hands: he so rarely kept them still. Generally they were
punctuating a sentence or emphasizing an apostrophe. But now they
lay still: a restive stillness as if they were ready to leap into
action at any moment, but at least I saw them clearly and felt
vaguely surprised. They were large strong hands, although
Anastasios was not a big man, and they were coarse, with large,
grubby fingernails, as if he had been digging with them. I wondered
if he did dig in the earth with them. He talked of digging. Of
late, he had talked a great deal about digging.

   "I saw a vision last night," he said.

   I raised my eyebrows. "So?"

   "Yes. It was my name saint who appeared to me, and St.
Constantine and his mother St. Eleni. I burned a candle to St.
Eleni last week in honour of my mother, and then one week to the
day later, St. Eleni appeared to me. She said, `Anastasios, you
must dig...'"

   "Where must you dig?"

   Anastasios looked at me craftily, though it was an open,
honest craftiness at that, and he surmised that perhaps I was a
student of archaeology. Yes, I said. I was. Had I often found buried treasure?
No, seldom buried treasure. Simply broken pieces of clay pots, and
the shattered foundations of houses abandoned a long time ago by people
who were Anastasios' ancestors. And sometimes too, a piece of
sculptured marble, still glistening faintly with its archaic

   "St. Eleni said to me, `Anastasios, you are a poor man.' `Pos,
sure,' said I, `you need not be a saint to see that.' `Anastasios,
I remember your mother," St. Eleni said, `and her name was Eleni
too, and she was just like the Eleni whom Paris from Troy of old stole from
the king of Sparta called Menelaus. Your mother was a good woman,
and she went on a pilrimage to Tinos once to ask the holy ikon of
the Virgin to cure her husband of a fever.' `Yes,' said I, `she was
a good woman.' `But the Virgin did not wish to cure her husband,'
said St. Eleni, `and so she gave her another husband who was good
to her.' Now that was not true, my friend, for her second hisband
was not good to her, nor to me, either, her son, but sometimes the
saints see less clearly than we do, for they are further away.
Still, it would be wrong to correct a saint. So I said nothing."

   Anastasios had once taken me down to the little cemetery at
Old Corinth, with its whitewasked wall and its cypress tress which
in summer, rose like dark exclamation marks on the brown landscape,
and I asked him where his mother lay buried. He said she did not
lie there. Or rather, she had lain there, but after three years, he
had dug up her remains and since they were well decomposed, as was
natural for a woman who had gone to heaven, he had disposed of them
and made room for someone else. I, with my North American primness,
was a little shocked, but Anastasios added that if the body had not
been properly decayed, it would have been worse. It would have been
a sign that the devil had taken his own.

   "And then," Anastasios went on, "Eleni said to me,
`Anastasios, you may be a rich man and live in Athens all the time
if you listen to me. You know the Turkish walls on the
Akrocorinth?'" Anastasios' hands became active again, and swept
towards the great hill which towers above the Roman ruins of Old
Corinth, which had once looked down on the Greeks worshipping
Apollo in the temple which is still marked by a few, thick columns
standing on broken foundations above the city. The walls of the fortress were purple, for
the sun was setting in the west. "`Years ago, there was a pasha
lived there, and he was wicked. But when the people rose, and drove
him from his palace, the pasha thought to himself, `I shall not
leave my treasure for these thieves. I shall dig a hole and bury
it. Now, Anastasios," said Eleni, `I shall tell you where it is
buried. When you climb up to the Turkish walls, you must enter the
fortress by three gates. Just inside the second gate the treasure
is buried.'"

   "Others have looked for the treasure of the pasha all over the
Akrocorinth," I said.

   "The others did not have a saint," replied Anastasios.

   "You will need St. Eleni," said I. For, I thought to myself,
St Helena may have found the True Cross, and for all I know, she
may be able to move mountains, but she will not move the
Archaeological Commission of the Kingdom of Greece to give
Anastasios permission to dig in the very middle of one of Greece's
national monuments. For that is what the Akrocorinth is. But I was
wrong. A letter came from the Archaeological Commission and it
said, Yes, if you have had a vision to dig, then you must dig. But
when you have dug your great hole, you just fill it in again. You
just do that whether or not you find a treasure.

   So twelve men went with Anastasios, and they dug a great hole
inside the second gate of the Turkish fortification. The priests
blessed the work, and Anastasios' lit a candle every day to St.
Helena. The two daughters of Anastasios would no longer be burdens
on their parents, for now Anastasios might give them a great dowry,
and they might make good marriages. People walked out from Old
Coreinth to see the wonder. I alone left, and returned to Athens.

   It was March when I came back, and the kapheneion at Old
Corinth had reopened for the season. Anastasios brought me my
coffee, and he looked no more wealthy than before.

   "What happened to the great hole on Akrocorinth?" I asked.

   "We filled it in," said Anastasios.

   "You found nothing?" said I.

   Anastasios sat down, and with the thumb and forefinger of one
hand, he fished in his pocket and brought out something, and laid
it on the table. It was a small oil cruet, made of buff-coloured
clay such as you may still see in the hills along the Gulf of
Corinth, and on it were hatched ornate birds, marching stiffly with
their dark plumage around its surface. It might have sat upon a
lady's dressing-table six centuries before Christ, and here it was,

   "It is beautiful," said I.

   "Do you think it would make me rich?" Anastasios asked?
   "Not rich," said I. "But it is beautiful. Many museums would
    be proud to have it."
   "Well, I shall not sell it," said Anastasios. "I shall keep it
    and look at it."
   "Good," said I. "It is a lovely thing."
   "Who knows?" said Anastasios. "Do you remember how St. Eleni
     had a vision, and she dug and found the very cross where Christ was
     crucified? So I had a vision too, and I dug, and I found this.
     Perhaps it was used by Aphrodite, or St. Paul, many ages ago."
   "Who knows?" said I.
   "And perhaps," said Anastasios sagely, "I shall have another
     vision. After all, that was my first vision, ever, and you cannot
     expect too much from these things until you've had practice."