Being a foreigner, I’m expected to be a bit odd, weird, eccentric or all three, by Cypriots who don’t know me all that well. Those who do know me could add a few more adjectives to the list. I have had an affinity (What else can I call it?) with non human things for as long as I can remember. My son used to like telling me I had animal magnetism (old joke) – I keep on attracting animals! Cyprus has its share, and how, of animals, birds and the rest of the natural food chain.
I can drag from memory the creepy horror I felt as a newly-arrived wife, when a huge hairy spider the size of a tarantula (and maybe it was, many things arrive on ships apart from listed cargo) crawled out of the plug hole in my mother-in-law’s bathroom just as I was about to shower. My considerate husband, unafraid of such insects, made short work of it with a broom. It was also scream-inducing to see cockroaches that looked big enough to challenge mice, adding in self-defense that I am not normally gutless around insects, which I often find fascinating.
Ahh, in those bygone times lizards clung to ceilings in dozens, some losing their tails deliberately on the ground to distract hunting cats. There were fat chameleons aplenty and praying mantises galore. There were loads of cacophonous cicadas, beauteous butterflies, magnificent moths, and brown rug-like caterpillars marching around like disciplined army recruits in March. And, oh yes, snakes! Not so many of most things on sight now except squashed on roads. I have grown used to the jumbo cockroaches which don’t give me the shudders anymore. The big spiders are scarce too. And the only snake I came up close and personal with, apart from the squashed on the hill road variety, was a teeny weeny baby of a non poisonous kind held by a Sri Lankan neighbour. Then there are the domesticated breeds (among which I cannot be listed).
My neighbours down the road have a dog named Drushog. While still a very young dog, he lived as dogs in Howth used to when I was growing up – allowed to run free, pretty much like the kids who own and love him. I mean that in the best sense, not neglect by any means, more trust on the part of Ma and Da that the kids have enough savvy not to do anything stupid. Drushog, on the other hand, does stupid things. He tries to steal the cat food, ad infinitum, and gets his nose scratched for his effort resulting in the very loud doggie version of fire, ambulance or police.
Drushog’s vocal range, which includes singing with the church bells, is a theatre of operatic talent. As a juvenile, he loved nothing more than to tear down the road at full speed like an Olympic champion in training. Until, that is, he got himself whacked by two cars going in opposite directions that played table tennis with his rear end. I was on my balcony putting some clothes on the drying rack when I saw and heard him. He let out a distressed howl of such intensity that it could have battery charged the brain cells of Frankenstein’s monster. I ran out to see if he had fallen dead or badly injured. No sign anywhere, so I went to tell the couple he had been hit. He, their animal child, loved and cared for like the kids, was at home, tail between his white legs trembling. But – he was merely bruised, shaken but not stirred to the point that he needed a vet. Drushog, prematurely older and (I thought) wiser, appeared to have avoided his dangerous training ground.
The other evening I was leaning on the balcony rail watching a glorious twilight fading over the Kyrenia Mountains when suddenly, there was the boyo taking an irresistible chance on a road that, for once in a royal blue moon, did not have a rally collection of competitive, in a hurry cars on its length. He flew down it with sheer joyous abandon as though the William Tell overture was helping him along. I let out a yell in English (did I mention he’s a tri-lingual dog?)
“Drushog, get off the bloody road!”
Without even looking up at me, he veered off to the path, just in time as a big German car whooshed right over where he should have been if he had kept to his flight plan. A couple of old dears out for their evening health walk paused to look after the receding dog that had so instantly obeyed my sharp command. Then they gazed up at me – a floss string short of crossing themselves in encroaching disgust. Then they went into overdrive and walked on as fast as sensible shoes and creaky knees would take them.
I thought of other times that animals had obeyed me as if they knew what I was saying, when of course all they were doing was responding to the tone of voice. And I thought as I went inside, if I had been born in the time of witch hunts, I would most likely have ended up as toast with two old dears like the low-power walkers, bearing willing witness against me.
PS – Now we are into summer, Drushog and I have something in common, we’ve both been shorn. His lamblike curls shaved tight to help him cope with the heat. My hair, which is straight as wheat stalks, was cut to the scalp out of economical necessity, so it lasts the summer. I wish I had a few curls instead of a cropped wheat field on the head. Speaking of head and an entirely unrelated piece of useless information – the name Kelly in Cyprus produces mirth because ‘Kellis’ in Cypriot Greek means baldy!