‘Coffee Blood’ was first published in European University’s CADENCES Vol 14 Fall 2018 and then published by Cyprus PEN in IN FOCUS Quarterly Magazine 2019. In 2021, it was translated into Estonian for Tartu University.
I stir his coffee over the stove,
Thick and heavy like blood.
There will be grounds of anger at
the bottom after it is drunk,
staining the cup and the rims of his
Where is the jisveh? I asked
when I first moved in. His coffee
voice congealed. It is brikki, woman.
Always brikki. He has never laid
a hand on me but his eyes and voice
Like the time I remarked Such a
pretty flag, crescent moon and star.
Anger granules scrubbed the air. Fool!
That is a scythe and that star is my
fate, my lands ploughed into, swallowed
up in blood.
I am of English blood, and back then
was grappling with brikki, gliki and
kaimaki; with congealed green lines of
stacked rusty barrels; nothing like
the green lines of ivy back home in
I stir through these streets; St Lazarus
to Mehmet Ali and then Tekke.
I never tell him how much I like
the domes and the soothing sound
of Umm Haram.
Several times a year, he whispers,
Freedom or Death, our Cross of
Protection as, over our balcony, he
erects the white and blue slab of flag,
thick and heavy with the cross he
has to bear.
And sometimes it’s hard
to tell the difference
between Cypriot coffee
and old blood stains.
The coffee on my stove fills
its lungs with air; mahogany
ocean in a pouting bronzed pot.
Upper layer rises, thickens,
velvets watery darkness;
always poised on precipice,
never boiling, never spilling.
Then taken off the stove.
Kaimaki is never rushed; its
pouring, a slow silk route of
secrets slipping from pouting
pot to sipping lip bouquets.
Across the tongue and heart
kaimaiki leaves an echo:
rests a fortune, tells of destinies.
But we don’t want to know.
Unfallinginlovable, was what I
thought you, but you rose, thickened,
velveted, over my watery bitterness.
Covered all my surfaces, carved me
with silken roads in sediments
of darkness; sipping lip bouquets
until you became my, kaimaki.
A brewing mahogany secret.
We sipped in forbidden forests; I sloped
into your branches, filled our lungs
with air; rose, thickened, velveted,
never boiling, never spilling, always
poised on precipice. Across our
tongue and heart, kaimaki left an
echo, layering kaimakisses,
Over our separate darkness.
In time’s mahogany moments, we
are slowly sipped by forest, we are
its kaimaki. We spread across the
forest’s tongue, along its sediment
heart, cover all its surfaces, carve
silken roads and leave a brewing
echo: rest a fortune, tell of destinies.
But the forest doesn’t want to know.
The piece below was long listed for the Fish Short Story Prize in 2019 ( I submitted the story under the title ‘Stock and Stack’). The story was later published in IN FOCUS magazine Vol 17, June 2020.
THE SKY IS BYZANTINE
Mrs Pandora hasn’t used the front door for ten years now.
That is why on this cloudless Nicosia morning, Mrs Pandora is sitting on her couch, still in her threadbare nightgown. The front door knocking will stop, she tells herself. Strangers eventually go away, usually by the third minute.
Her Beloveds help during moments like this. Mrs Pandora picks up her favourite, lying next to her on the dented couch. She fingers its edges, staring at the cover.
There he is, her anchor: Odysseas Elytis, the Greek poet with the sun-drenched name who knew how to tightrope between galaxies. The living room is spilling with other poets like Blake but Elytis is her Beloved. His words, which Mrs Pandora knows off by heart, turn her into a golden fleece that Byzantine eagles cannot reach.
As the knock becomes a summoning, Mrs Pandora clutches Elytis to her chest. It has been five minutes. Eleni, the young bank clerk, who lives a block away and is the only one allowed in, knows to go around the back door and tap softly.
The thin corridor separating living room and kitchen is narrowed by more stacks of anthologies. They even block the mirror on the wall. But it makes no difference because Mrs Pandora wouldn’t have seen the face that gazes back; a late Autumn leaf-face, cracked, red-veined and framed by Arctic hair. Nor would she have seen the breasts that hang like anemones. Mrs Pandora would see what she has always seen; a raven-haired beauty of thirty who likes to leave the first three buttons of her blouse undone.
In the cramped kitchen, the stacked anthologies she sees remind her of the sea before the Turks pulled the waves from under her sandy feet in 1974. Before they took her husband, his resin gaze, his V.S.O.P cognac laugh.
Now, with one hand, Mrs Pandora shifts the books aside, cranes her neck and peers towards the front path with its overgrown dandelions and nettles.
The veins in her throat tighten into violin strings. Just as she suspected. Two men, youngish, casually dressed, yet official looking. She has heard of police officers in plain clothes. The shorter, darker-haired man walks towards the street as if waiting for someone else to arrive. The nettles nip at his feet.
Mrs Pandora clasps her Beloved tighter. She won’t let them take away her books again, not after she has spent years re-building her collection.
The first collection was lost in the war. The second time was in this refugee house, over ten years ago when she had made the mistake of answering the front door. Three of them in uniform had marched in, one talking to her as if she were hard of hearing, hard of thinking.
Ma’am, we’ve given you more than enough chances. We’re sorry to have to do this but as of today, you are banned from all the bookshops in Nicosia.
He had waved a paper like a victory flag.
We’ve got the list here. They must be returned to their rightful owners.
What owners? she had cried.
The bookshop owners, Ma’am.
They’re not owners. They’re sellers, she had half sobbed, half howled, and how can it be theft when these books go untouched? I see them. I see what they buy. These books gather dust. Who buys Elytis? Blake? Or Kavvadia? The poor things sit there, untouched. Here they are given a loving home.
But the police man’s words were double-headed eagles darting around her.
Theft is theft.
And what about my home stolen … my husband stolen? Who will give them back to their rightful owner?
She had tried to scream but the eagle claws had already separated the strands of her vocal chords. They had turned her home into an occupied area, taking all the books away as the neighbour with the olive pit eyes had watched from the small window.
After that, the house had been so still, stillborn for months.
But Mrs Pandora had re-built her collection. Slowly this time. Secretly. No hasty movements. Using shopping bags.
It has been ten minutes. Now, there is a soft tapping from the back door. Mrs Pandora creeps there and hears a whisper, one she isn’t supposed to hear. Why do people think she is hard of hearing? Hard of thinking?
I told you, the front door startles her. She never opens it. You ought to have waited for me.
Mrs Pandora stands up, confusion flapping inside her. She peers through a side window. It is indeed Eleni, with her open face, undented by winds or wars. The young men are behind her.
Mrs Pandora clutches Elytis closer to her chest like a bulletproof vest. Eagle-proof.
‘Go away. No one is touching my books again!’
‘Mrs Pandora, please listen. These gentlemen are here to help. Now I know you’re not keen on the Kindle idea, but – ’
‘No!’ Mrs Pandora’s voice is long and hollow, as if emitted from the bottom of a stone well. ‘Stop using that word. Kindle belongs to log fires, to Elytis and Kavvadias, not your lifeless things. Tell them to invent their own terms. Give the word back to its rightful owners!’
‘You can’t carry on like this Mrs Pandora. It’s not healthy. The Kindle will clear your home. It can stock up to one thousand books. Imagine. Even more if we make you a Cloud.’
‘Make me a cloud? Make me a cloud?’
The sky is Byzantine: austere blue, interrogative yellow. Eleni and the men are a triple-headed eagle. But this time, Mrs Pandora won’t be pecked to the core.
She unclasps the Beloved from her chest, holds it out half an arm’s length and stares until Elytis comes back into view, taking her to places where anything can happen: a girl turns into fruit, summer becomes a young boy, Mrs Pandora is a poem.
‘You’ll love the Kindle.’
Eleni’s voice is pleading but Mrs Pandora begins, her voice a sermon rising above the Byzantine sky.
‘Thel is like a faint cloud kindled at the rising sun, she won’t vanish from her pearly throne.’*
‘Please open the door, Mrs Pandora.’
‘The vigour in the beast leading the sun
The plant that warbled so the day rose.’*
‘Just have a look at least.’
‘The land that dives and rears its back.’**
‘Oh Mrs Pandora, they’re not books.’
‘Since even if I were to fall from the window, the sea would be my horse again.’****
On the other side of the back door, the young man holding the new Kindle in its plain cardboard packaging places a gentle hand on Eleni’s shoulders.
‘I know you care about her, but maybe we should let the old lady finish her journey like this. Don’t disturb the disturbed.’
Eleni chews her lower lip, looks up at the cloudless sky and reluctantly departs with the men.
And the neighbour with the olive-pit eyes gives an invisible nod from the small window, satisfied they have not prised away the Cornflakes box Mrs Pandora has long been clinging to her chest like a new born child.
Sometimes boxes of delusion were better than a coffin of truth.
* William Blake, Visions of the Daughter of Albion (Mrs Pandora adapts quotation)
*** Odysseas Elytis, Axion Esti
**** Odysseas Elytis, July Word