Ms Georgiou’s Marvellous Pigeons
Authors of the Week: Cyprus
The light of the late afternoon on the rooftops of Nicosia never betrays its reputation; the sun reflects on broken windows and church stained-glass domes then refracts through forgotten Islamic Ramadan lanterns hanging in mosque backyards.
Ms Georgiou is sitting on the terrace of the late 60s condominium where she has lived since the 1974 invasion, away from her parents’ house, just a mile from there, behind the buffer zone. She is sipping her Turkish coffee, with no cardamom. Scrolling down her tablet screen, watching some bird’s-eye view footage of Nicosia, she is ready to write her ‘ekatolexon’ (a hundred-word text) on what she observes. She has never been eager to sew for her grandchildren or plant geraniums. She is the type of woman who will be ahead of all things contemporary, learn all the state-of-the-art photography techniques and make sure she delivers. She posts photos and ekatolexa on videos on her social media and sometimes meets young people here on the terrace to let them in on the art of pigeon mapping.
“Kyria Georgiou, coming down, are you? To choose what you need me to iron for the week!” It is her maid. Ms Georgiou turns to the direction of the staircase, her voice echoes down to the narrow streets: “Not now, too busy. Do as you did last week. I won’t complain”. Back to the screen, she opens a new blank Word document. She starts writing the title.
The annoying, persistent hum of a flying object nearby distracts her. As much as she is into technology, there is not one thing she despises more and never hides her disgust about — drones. Agitated, ready to shout at the boy controlling from a terrace nearby, she cannot write a single word. In an effort to calm down, she approaches the pile of bird cages, each one fifty centimetres tall, forty centimetres wide. The pigeons inside start walking right and left, their body language reading of joy at her presence. There’s a black pigeon, a white pigeon and a grey one. One cage is empty.
Mr Steers is coming back in no time, I wonder where he is recording right now. I hope he shoots something interesting. His last video was in the park, had to delete it; just trees, and four minutes of perching on branches — nothing to write about.
If one of her young friends visits and asks her how she takes all those amazing photos of the town as though she is jumping from balcony to balcony, she will not lie to them: it is not her. Being the owner of four well-trained homing pigeons, all she does is attach the harness with the camera tightly on the body of the pigeon, and turn it on. To let one fly, she takes it to a place she chooses in the suburbs of Nicosia and releases it. Then she will go back to the terrace and either welcome it there or find it waiting for her. Sometimes she entrusts a pigeon flight to another person.
“Salam is here to see you. He is asking if he can come up!” her maid calls again.
“Let him up, sure! I’m waiting for …ahem… to return”.
“Hi Miss, how are you today?”
“Here already! I’m waiting for Mr Steers, he’s kinda late, today. I sent him more than two hours ago! Perhaps you saw him someplace on your way here?”
Salam looks at her with a hidden apprehension. “It was quite windy today. But I wouldn’t worry, they do find their way home, no matter what, don’t they? Don’t they, Miss Georgiou?”
“Oh, I’m not worried at all. Look at Mr Whites, and Miss Duran, how happy do they look, and Mr Shorty, too. I trust their instinct. Everything will be ok”.
“Everything will be ok”, the young man repeats. “Shall I bring your tablet?”
“Aren’t you a fine young gentleman! Where are you from, did you say?”
“Sudan, Miss, Sudan!”
“Oh, so sorry I forgot, everybody nowadays is from so many different, exotic places, exciting as it may be, it is hard to keep track, don’t you think?” A genuine smile is drawn on her face.
“Sure, no problem! I came from Khartoum, I’m sure I told you before, there’s a reason I follow you on Instagram, I also used to like taking photos from high buildings around the city. There’s a certain kind of magic... like a description in a fairy tale. And your photos are mesmerising!”
“Not me! The pigeons! My little Picassos!”
Salam walks to the cages. Ms Georgiou looks at him in marvel.
He remembered his hometown, my sweetheart, oh, how much he must be missing it, I cannot begin to think, with all these mosques around, and the palm trees, it must feel like home. I bet he would find his way to Khartoum easily, if he took off right now, just like a pigeon.
“You are missing home, with all these minarets aren’t you, Salam?”
“Huh? Pardon?” Salam pulls his finger out abruptly.
“Ah, nothing, I was just thinking that you’ve just missed the Hodja, the echo up here is out of this world, he was calling for prayer”.
“Here’s your tablet. I hardly notice him anymore. You should put a screen password. Now show me”.
“What would you write about this endless row of triangle tarpaulin sunshades on this road, Salam?”
“Oh, it’s Ledras Street! The coloured shades! Looks so different from above! I don’t know, it reminds me of a boa’s spine!”
Ms Georgiou jumps up. “There it is! The boa’s spine! You are one of a kind, Salam! You should come more often! You have a unique way of reading things, I guess, perhaps it’s your modesty…”
I can’t help but wonder how all those Europeans travelling from big cities to stay here see our little town from their balconies. What do they think of us locals, with the small, pretty buildings from so many eras? Do they see the Lusignan and the Ottoman signatures on the aged facades? Such diversity in doorsteps, so many different architectures; they must think we are inconsistent. But we… it’s all our fault, we don’t sit on our balconies anymore…
“Where else did Miss Duran go?” Salam interrupts her thoughts anxiously. Ms Georgiou shows him a view of the D’Avila Moat from over a kilometre above — it looks like a lake with the dark asphalt reflecting the sun, and the hundreds of parked cars shining like fish and wet rocks. Then some older videos — one by Mr Whites has drawn his attention. The pigeon was taken by Maria, another young Instagram follower, very far outside Nicosia, to fly to the centre from the direction of the Geri Village. Having to fly much higher than usual, Mr Whites caught unique views of the Venetian Walls, with that geometry of illusion, as Salam called it. This video provided both her and Salam with a new perspective of where their divided, deeply wounded town was heading, and how the future would turn out to be if they stared at it with the eyes of an innocent, white pigeon.
“You should go now, Salam. It is getting dark”.
“No. The streets are ever so dangerous these days”.
“Can’t I at least feed the pigeons?”
“It’s a no, Salam, just go now, please!”
Mr Steer did not return that day. He never did. Neither did Salam. Ms Georgiou kept hope that the pigeon flew to the Northern part of Nicosia, a mile from there and sat on the balcony of another woman, her age, while she was sipping her coffee, perhaps with cardamom, and that they became friends. As for Salam, she was not sure if she hoped for him to have returned home to Khartoum or to have found a pigeon to train.