2/3 stories about Irish identity observed Northern Cyprus 2000 from a Dutch perspective
Seamus was big and strong and very reliable. That is why Aine loved him and had answered yes when he asked her to marry him. Life with Seamus was never easy. He had this special talent to put his head right in the middle of the trouble, if there was any to be found in his surroundings. Seamus wanted to live a quiet life, full of love, laughter and Guinness. He was not after big money. He didn’t pick quarrels. He wasn’t engaged in politics. He never looked at somebody else’s woman. He had his daily work, and his friends in the pub. He would immediately offer his help to the neighbours, if they needed any. He adored Aine and sang lovesongs for her every day. Their bed was a sea full of tenderness and fire. Seamus would be a happy man, if only he was left alone. But he wasn’t. The problems would find him, wherever he went. Seamus was surprised to see how an honest man could always be persecuted by the faults and bother of others. And so was Aine. Nevertheless she thought that the whole world couldn’t contain a man more genuine and pure than her Seamus. Her heart bumped up in her chest with joy when he asked her in marriage and she cried when he promised to protect her forever.
They decided to get married in Northern Cyprus, the Turkish part of one of the most beautiful mediterranean islands. Aine had worked there for a few years, and showed the island to Seamus in several holidays. Seamus was touched by its nature, the gentleness of the Cypriots, the emptiness of its mountains and beaches and the romanticism of its nights. He just thought the weather was too hot there. It was fine in march or april, but the wedding was planned for july so their friends might faint in the humid heat-waves of Cyprus. But Aine insisted. A bit of sweat couldn’t spoil the effect of the silver breakers and the flavours of the Pakistani Night Tree, she said. Seamus would do anything to see his Aine smile, so it was decided as she proposed.
Now everything that seemed so easy had become complicated in the end. They had booked their tickets and hotel, and so had all of their friends. They had made an appointment with the town-hall for five o’clock in the afternoon: when it was still very hot, but not extremely hot any more. Aine had succesfully transported her wedding-gown. There would be enough flowers to make it a real party, hotels and pubs had made extra imports of Guinness and all the Cypriots seemed to enjoy the idea that so many Irish had come to their country especially to celebrate a wedding party. Nothing could go wrong, Seamus thought. If only he could stop thinking and just live, that might make the trouble pass to the person next to him. But he did think and the trouble smelt it and got attracted.
It showed itself first in the shape of an old creditor of Seamus’ father, a friend of his uncle who had helped Seamus’ father out years ago and never showed any hurry to have his money back. ‘How can you afford to go all the way to Cyprus and celebrate your wedding there?’, the man asked, angrily. Seamus was perplexed. He rarely saw this creditor and had almost forgotten about his father’s debt. He didn’t know what to answer, but he was sure that he couldn’t pay back this old debt and have a great party on Cyprus in the meantime. The best he could do was to invite his uncle’s friend together with his uncle to the wedding and pay the trip for both of them. Nevertheless the creditor didn’t show any satisfaction, he continuously had a sullen look on his face. Seamus didn’t understand how some people could spoil the joy of their days for themselves, but he didn’t really have time to give it some more thoughts.
Once arrived in Cyprus, he got a visitor in the bar of his hotel. It was a well dressed Turkish Cypriot with dark Rayban glasses who put his marlboro cigarettes, his mobile phone and his car keys in front of him before speaking. His voice was dark and slow – meant to impress, Seamus thought – and he refused to take his Rayban’s down when looking at Seamus, even though there was no sunshine in the hotelbar. Maybe he misses one eye, Seamus thought and waited patiently for what his visitor would come up with. But as the man’s story went on, his mouth fell open with surprise. Aine, his Aine, had had a very close and longlasting relationship with a cousin of a Minister of the Northern Cypriot government. The Cypriots are not narrow-minded, like some of their middle-eastern neighbours. When this relationship came to an end, most probably on Aine’s initiative, she was free to go wherever she wanted. But she had to respect the honour of the Minister. How could she come back to this very island to celebrate her marriage there with another man? It would be best if they returned to Ireland rightaway and have their wedding-party in their home-country. If they did so, the Minister wasn’t forced to defend his honour. He couldn’t accept this kind of loss of face, Seamus should understand that. Nobody was waiting for trouble. The Cypriot government counted on Seamus’ common sense. The man shook hands politely, said that this visit was unique and the message to be understood at once, there would be no second warning. He was sure that wouldn’t be necessary, too. He left Seamus bewildered at the bar.
The barman, silent but with big ears, gave him another Guinness, smiling to encourage him. ‘Did you hear that?’, Seamus asked him. The barman nodded carefully. ‘What do you think, is this guy serious?’, Seamus asked. The barman nodded again, but kept his mouth closed. It was clear he didn’t like to be involved. What could he say? Yes, you better pack immediately and go: it would make his boss very angry. No, just sit there and stay in peace: it would be putting Seamus consciously in danger and could cost him the anger of some powerful men on the island where he lived.
There was no time for reflection for Seamus. John, or better Sean, came in, happy to see his friend Seamus alone at the bar. Sean was a nice guy but he was also one big pain in the ass. He was born as John on the east coast of Ireland and raised by his parents in English. He finished his economic studies brilliantly and was thinking about money like most people, when suddenly he found out that his Irish identity was connected to the Irish language. He jumped into it with an overdosis of enthousiasm and started to learn more Gaelic than any of his ancestors ever spoke. Then, of course, he expected all his friends to do so. To encourage them, he would only speak in Gaelic with them from that day on. He changed his name in Sean, and launched one project for language protection after the other. His latest idea was connected to his economical studies. Since most of the world turned around the axe of money, the best way to save Gaelic was not to have literary reviews or language studies, but an economical and financial magazine in Gaelic. The first step was to edit that magazine, later on all Irish businessmen and the stock exchange were supposed to adopt the Gaelic language. Sean would not have been Sean if he hadn’t found a rich, idealist investor for the magazine already. And right now he was persecuting his good old friend Seamus to have his marriage in Gaelic.
Seamus, always eager to give to his friends the very best, got desperate at his repeated questions. According to Sean, a wedding in English was unacceptable. It would even be more natural if he held his wedding in Turkish, Sean said, since at least that was the local language. Irish and Turks both behaved as if the English still ruled the world, but that wasn’t the situation any more and they were free to express themselves in their own, natural tongue. When Sean spoke, Seamus always felt a lack of arguments – moreover since he had to express them in Gaelic, a language he wasn’t sufficiently master of. But when Sean left, he always wondered why Sean wouldn’t let them live their lives the way they felt easy in it. He was not going to ask the town-hall to do the ceremony in Turkish, since none of them would understand a word of it. It couldn’t be done in Gaelic either, partly for the same reason but mainly because nobody in the town-hall would be able to pronounce it, of course. Seamus sighed. He had a nice character, but in this case disappointing his dear old friend was rude but inevitable.
Seamus decided to start with the problem that seemed to be the most threatening for the peace of their wedding-day: the consequences of Aine’s secrets of the past. Back in the hotel room he tried to speak to her, but she reacted like an hedgehog. ‘Are you jealous?’, she asked full of contempt. ‘It’s a long time ago and completely uninteresting for you’. She turned his back on him to show that the subject was closed. Seamus felt desperate. He didn’t want to hurt her but if he didn’t, she might be hurt by others who could be less careful. He explained the situation more clearly, including the menace he felt from a hidden but powerful arm. At least he made contact because she looked at him again, but she shrugged her shoulders and laughed cynically: ‘risky, that man? T-h-a-t m-a-n? I don’t think so, huh! He is worth nothing, you know, nothing’. ‘His cousin is’, Seamus replied smoothly. ‘His cousin is not going to defend the rights of an empty head’, she protested. ‘You were with that empty head for years’, Seamus couldn’t help saying. It just slipped out of his mouth and he couldn’t take it back. Aine left the room while the wall still trembled of the force with which the door was closed. Seamus sat on the bed and sighed. He remembered he had promised to protect her, but it would help a lot if she cooperated a little bit.
He was still thinking about a solution when his mobile phone rang. ‘Hi dad’, he said. ‘Conas ta tu?’ That at least was one of Sean’s achievements. It was years ago any one among their friends pronounced the English version of that words. His father was angry, very angry. ‘Why the hell do you invite one of my creditors to the wedding?’ he asked. O dear, Seamus thought. He tried to explain as clearly as possible how the creditor approached him, threatening to ask his money back directly. ‘Seamus’, his father said, and his tune had a warning emphasis, ‘is that my business, or yours?’ Seamus didn’t know what to answer. If he’d say mine, he’d made clear that he didn’t trust his father to solve his own problems – which was a little bit true, indeed, but not the kind of thing a son would say to his father in Seamus’ eyes. If he would say yours, his father might get more angry with him. So he did the best thing a man can do when he doesn’t know what to say, he said nothing en kept silent. ‘It is not your responsibility, Seamus’, his father added. Seamus felt his face colour and protested against this apparent accusation of meddlesomeness: ‘I just wanted to support you’, he said. His father’s voice got soft: ‘I know that, Seamus, and I love you for it’. Seamus felt a shock. He suddenly realized that his father had never used the word love to him before. It needed a marriage to have him tell that! Seamus was jumping in his room with joy while his father went on explaining how the deal with the creditor was made. He didn’t hear a word of it, but he got wide awake when his father finished by telling him that he absolutely didn’t want to see the guy at the wedding. ‘You solve it’, his father said, and cut the connection. Shit, Seamus thought, because he invited the man already, so how could he take that back? But then he heard his father’s words again ‘I love you for it’, and he laughed and laughed and laughed. When Aine came in, he took her in his arms and laid her on the bed. ‘I’m sorry, okay?’, she said, ‘it was a painful period so I overreacted. I’m sorry’. ‘I don’t care’, Seamus said full of love, ‘I just worry about what will happen’. He started to kiss her and she put her arms around him and whispered: ‘nothing, my dear, nothing will happen. They are just playing the big macho-guy, that’s the local identity here, so don’t you worry, my dear, just let go’. ‘I love you so much’, Seamus said, for now he had more love in himself than ever, and he proved it to her.
When the wedding-day was there, Aine left early in the morning. She was going to be dressed up in the hotel of her girlfriends. ‘How long do you need, not the whole day I guess?’, Seamus teased her. He would never really understand the phenomenon woman, but maybe that was exactly why he felt so attracted by them. ‘Don’t be late for the wedding, okay?’, she asked him. ‘Honey, it’s only nine o’clock’, Seamus replied in surprise. ‘I know you’, she said, ‘please be in time, just for once, alright?’ Seamus promised to be very, very early. ‘When you arrive, I will have been waiting for hours already’, he said, and when she took the door-latch in her hand, he stood at her side and whispered in her ear: ‘and it will have been worth every minute of it’. ‘O Seamus’, Aine sighed, and they kissed as if this was a goodbye for weeks.
Seamus took no risk and passed his day merely in and around the hotel. He was happy, and he worried just a little bit, for he hadn’t felt the courage to tell his father’s creditor to stay away from the wedding-party. It will be solved all by itself, he told to his brooding brains, and then forgot about it. This was a day for the heart, not for the head. He had bought himself a perfect suit, that showed well his large shoulders and the elegance of his carriage. It was very warm to wear, of course, but how often does a man marry in a lifetime? He decided to take no risk at all, and planned to be in Girne at three o’clock. He could pass some time in Shenanigans, the Irish pub close to the townhall. There would certainly be other friends, waiting for the party to begin. He looked in the mirror and was satisfied with what he saw. This was an image, worth a groom. He went to the reception and asked for a taxi to bring him to Girne.
The taxidriver appeared to be familiar. It was Kadir, who had already driven him around several times. Was that guy the only taxi in the island? Seamus worried that the guy might work too much, but he was also glad to meet this gentle man again. ‘This is the big day, isn’t it?’ Kadir smiled. He spoke perfectly English, but no tourist was ever surprised about it. He opened the door for Seamus, and admired his suit. Seamus told him to go to Shenanigans, and Kadir turned the taxi on the tarmac road to Girne. Then he reacted as if someone gave him an electric shock. Seamus looked at him in surprise. ‘What is happening?’, he asked. ‘Look in the mirror’, Kadir answered, and pushed his foot heavily on the accelerator pedal. Seamus turned to see who was behind. Black Rayban-glasses looked back. He started to sweat, and that was not just because of the heat. The BMW easily stayed on their bumper. Kadir would never make it on the eight miles to Girne. It was one big long coastal road with only the village of Karaoglanoglu in between.
‘Shit’, Seamus said, ‘I didn’t see him for days. I didn’t take it serious any more’. ‘You better do now’, Kadir said. He sighed. He didn’t like it. He always tried to stay out of the intrigues of the island, because they would be a nuisance to his business. But now Seamus was already in his taxi. He was Kadir’s customer so Kadir was expected to help him out. He was not afraid for the future. The enemy in pursuit would understand and respect Kadir’s position, and never even speak to him about what happened today. But he was afraid for this very moment, since the enemy was strong and most probably very, very upset. His tires were yelling over the tarmac, and he was praying not to hit anybody. The coastal road was never empty and absolutely unfit for a crazy pursuit-race. ‘You know who they are?’, Seamus asked with curiosity. He had never spoken with Kadir about this problem. It was a stupid question, for nothing ever remains a secret on an island, especially not on a small island like Cyprus. If the proverb is true, that in Ireland a secret between three men can only be kept silent if two of the men are dead, it is more true in Cyprus where even the death of three men could never prevent the breeze of the Besparmak mountains and the whispering of the sea to spread the news all over the island.
They tore through a large curve when Seamus realized that the strange flush he felt close to his head was a bullet. He lost self-control. What kind of a place was this? In his whole life in Ireland he had never seen a gun. ‘They are shooting at me’, he shouted, ‘they are shooting, really, are they crazy? What is this, Miami Vice?’ He couldn’t help trembling. ‘I will try something’, Kadir said. ‘Try what?, Seamus asked, ‘do you happen to have a machine-gun in your trunk?’ By now he expected anything from the Cypriots. ‘Shut up’, Kadir said, ‘and keep your head down’. At least that was a good advice, Seamus thought, and bowed down in the car. By now, he was sweating all-over. The taxi whooshed through Karaoglanoglu, while people, dogs and even a chicken ran for their lives. In the middle of the village he put his foot full on the breaks, slipped over the tarmac while the world seemed to burst out in screaming and took the road to the right, heading for Edremit and Karmi halfway on the slopes of the Besparmak mountains. The BMW was lost for a few moments, but soon showed up in the mirror again. Kadir knew he could win some more distance, if he could make it untill Edremit. Edremit was a village of just a few houses scattered in the hills, leaving hardly any space for one car at a time, but the road would pass in between them. Kadir’s best customers lived in the completely western village of Karmi further on the hills, so he passed this road several times a day. But Cypriots themselves rarely went there. So Kadir knew this was his best, and maybe only chance. He raced up the hill passing a church, a hotel and a restaurant, and risked his own life and that of his passenger by sneaking into the narrow passages of Edremit without paying any attention to oncoming traffic. Someone lifted up a shaking fist, before continuing his way down, to find his road blocked by a BMW whose behaviour was not less rude than the taxi’s.
‘Ouf’, Kadir said and smiled cautiously. He gave a good compliment to himself, and estimated his chances to win now at ninety percent. Seamus lifted up his head and looked around him. He saw they had arrived already quite high in the hills, with the coastal region down at their feet. In the middle of a curve, Kadir suddenly left the tarmac road and drove into an unpaved path. ‘Where do you go?’, Seamus asked, full of uncertainty, ‘fuck man, this is my wedding day! They were shooting at me! On my wedding day! Man o man, I got to go to Girne. How do we get there, where are they, anyway?’ He looked around but saw just a few houses and empty hills. Further on, the tarmac road ended up in Karmi. It had lovely, coloured houses and was filled with green trees, bushes and flowers. ‘What a nice place’, he said, but he lost sight of it when Kadir turned the car around the houses and parked beside a wall.
‘Where are we’, Seamus wanted to asked, but Kadir ordered him to get out of the car and when he didn’t react, Kadir dragged him out. His sleeve tore but Kadir made him run to a little house that was built in the middle of some deep holes in the earth. ‘Go inside’, Kadir whispered. ‘What is this?’, Seamus couldn’t help asking but Kadir pushed him so that he fell into one of the big holes under the little shed. It was all earth and dust. ‘Listen’, Kadir said, ‘these are some prehistorical graves of the Bronze Age that your enemies certainly never heard of, they are not interested in things like this. They will be going up to Karmi now. I will be going down with an empty taxi. You got your mobile, don’t you?’ Seamus nodded, looking around him in fear to find himself alone with very old, very dead bodies. ‘Call your friends to pick you up here. You are in the prehistorical graves halfway the road of Edremit and Karmi, there is a yellow sign on the road in the middle of a curve, can you remember that?’ Seamus nodded again. ‘Okay, good luck then and I’ll see you later’.
Kadir wanted to leave but Seamus stopped him. ‘I have another problem’, he said. Kadir looked at him, terrified. He didn’t want to let this man down but he really had enough for today. ‘Let me explain’, Seamus said. Kadir, supposing Seamus wanted to start a long story said: ‘short and practical, two minutes’. ‘There’s a guy down here in Edremit, in that hotel, the Hide-away. He is there with my uncle, and he is coming to the wedding, but he cannot go there. It will create problems if he appears’. ‘You invited him?’, Kadir asked. ‘Yes I did’, Seamus sighed. How could he explain this to Kadir? Not, he thought. He could only be short and practical. ‘He is not supposed to be at the wedding. Do me a favour, pick him up as if you are the cap to bring him to the wedding, and drop him in a place where he can hardly find another taxi for a few hours, all right?’
Kadir looked at Seamus thoughtfully. ‘That is a very unusual question’, he said, ‘and it is against all the rules of our country’. ‘You will really help me out if you do this’, Seamus said. He noticed there was a little begging tune in his voice. Why could things never go the normal way in his life? This was supposed to be a brilliant wedding day! ‘I will pay you any price you ask’, he finished his plea. Kadir shook his head to chase away the pessimist thoughts about mankind that suddenly appeared. He shouldn’t have himself infected by this kind of ideas, it was no use. Cypriots had seen every people come and go: Hittites, Ugaritans and Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Persians and Romans, Jews, Byzantines and Arabs, English, Italians, French, Seljuks and Mamelukes. They had seen them all, suffered from their strange behaviour and on-going restlessness, and recovered when they left. They would survive the Irish, too. There would always be a moment that they would leave again, taking with them their problems, their quarrels, their genuine surprise of the world they created themselves. Kadir looked at Seamus and saw an unhappy man in a dusty suit with a torn sleeve, standing in a prehistorical grave, pretending that he was on his way to his bride. He shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
‘All right, I’ll do it’, he said, ‘but you will pay me a fine price, a very fine price, and even then you owe me man. You owe me and that is not just easily paid back’. ‘No problem’, Seamus agreed, and started to smile too. He didn’t mind to owe. He owed continuously to most of his friends, and his friends owed to him, and that is how they confirmed their friendship all the time and made the Irish world go round. It was a perfect way to feel that a person is not alone on earth. So Kadir left for the Hide-away, wishing him again good luck.
Seamus looked around him with an uneasy feeling. As far as he could see, these graves were completely empty. They’d certainly be searched. There would be little risk that archeologists would have overlooked something. Seamus didn’t like graves, not even in daytime. People had carved names in the earth, but he also saw a strange sign on the wall. It looked like a very old sketch, and suddenly he realized what it was: a fertility symbol as a message to him from very ancient times. He laughed. In spite of all the trouble this was another lucky day. What else could it mean than a marriage blessed with children? He would love to have a bunch of little Aines around him. His heart lept with joy, but then he realized that he was not married yet.
He took his mobile phone and thought for a moment who would both want to help him out and have a mobile that worked on Cyprus. He knew immediately: his very old friend Sean. If only he could explain his problem to him in Gaelic! He didn’t know the word grave, or prehistorical, or yellow sign. He knew the word problem though, since it was not the first time he had to use it. And, moreover, this was his wedding day, he knew Sean would never disappoint him in such a moment.
‘Ey’, Sean said full of warmth, ‘bhi me ag smaoineamh ort. Car fhan tu?’ Sean listened to the strange story his friend told him. From one side, he was amazed, from the other he wasn’t. Seamus had always been one big pain in the ass, but Sean loved him because he had a good heart, maybe even the best of all their friends. He didn’t hesitate to help his friend out. ‘Deanfaidh me e sin duit, beidh me ann laighreach’, he said. Seamus sighed in big relief. ‘Ta bron orm’, he said with a sigh, and then, remembering that Aine might be waiting already: ‘dean delfir’. He stayed inside the grave, waiting for his friend to show up. There was no noise around him, except from some cars going up and down the hills. He tried to clean his suit, but sweat, earth and dust had mixed into a new combination that could not easily be removed. He gave up, considering that Aine would marry him for his character and not for his suit. Still, he felt a little bit guilty, because he knew she would appear splendid as a bride.
It was already after five o’clock when Sean arrived in another taxi. He laughed when he saw his friend, and put him lying on the back couch with a blanket over him. They stopped right in front of the door of the townhall. Everybody around applauded when Seamus, more sweat then ever, came out from under the blanket and hurried inside. He stopped when he saw Aine in the wedding-room, radiant and beautiful, the woman he loved so much that he would die for her. ‘Where were you?’, she asked in the sudden silence of the room when all the guests studied Seamus’ appearance. ‘ Honey’, he said in his most tender tune, ‘a man who wants to marry a woman like you will have to overcome a world full of concurrents first. So I just did, with a most happy heart. I lost my suit in the battle, but that is nothing compared to the price I have won now’. He smiled and Aine sighed: ‘O Seamus’, and they kissed each other, forgetting about the world around them untill the registration officer remarked: ‘Well, what about doing the official ceremony now?’
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