Lives of the Gheorghenis - Chapter 5: Music Hath Charms

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Chapter 5: Music Hath Charms

A Eurasian jay swooping down on a cockroach on the windowsill.

The early morning light streamed through the bedroom window. Somewhat reluctantly, Demetrius opened his eyes. And immediately wished he hadn't.

On the windowsill was a bug. It was not an aesthetically pleasing bug, such as a butterfly. It was big. It was ugly. It looked like it was up to no good.

And it was headed right at him. It looked like some species of Blattaria. Knowing its name didn't reassure Demetrius, who didn't want to be on speaking terms with it.

His first impulse was to wave his arms to make himself look bigger and yell 'hey, bear!' as one was taught to do during ursine encounters, but his head was still groggy from sleep and his throat was too dry. Before he could move, however, welcome rescue arrived in the form of another member of the kingdom of Animalia, namely a Garrulus glandarius. And garrulous it was, letting out a triumphant little screech as it swooped, then going quiet as it plucked its breakfast from the windowsill.

For a moment, Demetrius thought the jay might be a relative, but when it kept on flying in the direction of a nearby oak tree, he merely waved his thanks. He decided to get up before anything else happened.

'Ow!' His bare toes encountered something unpleasant on the floor. At first, he assumed it was a dried bean from last night's exercise in exorcism, but this was bigger than a bean (and more uncomfortable to step on). He bent down to pick it up, and studied the offending object.

It was a garlic bulb. Not a real one: this one was made of ceramic, clay painted and fired to a glaze. Demetrius turned it over in his hands. Now, γιατι, why? This being the question he most often asked around Greeks.

It occurred to him that Kiki liked to hang garlic about the place to ward off the evil eye. He remembered that he had expressly prohibited the hanging of garlic in his bedroom because he didn't like the smell and it gave him funny dreams. Apparently, Kiki had found a substitute. He sighed and laid the faux garlic on the windowsill.

Maybe it will ward off cockroaches, he thought.

He splashed water on his face, changed into a fresh tunic, put some sandals on for safety, and headed out to the peristylium to greet the morn. This he did, not by intoning a hymn to Helios but by doing a few minutes of bhangra while singing to himself, 'I danced in the morning when the world begun,' which could have been construed in a variety of different ways, depending on who was listening.

Fortunately, the only audience who showed up – besides the jay, who was probably eyeing the grounds for more cockroaches – was Radu, in humanoid form. He didn't even raise an eyebrow, merely joining in for a round of bhangra.

'Reminds me of the good old days,' Radu commented.

The noise they made alerted someone in the household, who informed Cleo that 'they were up'. Eventually, Ermione came out with a tray. The two wiped away sweat and sat down to a welcome breakfast of yoghurt with honey with fresh-baked bread and fruit.

'So, have you thought about how we're going to get to Dacia?' asked Radu, buttering a roll.

'Not so fast,' replied Demetrius. 'First, I've got to figure out who we can leave behind to mind the villa. I don't want anybody taking advantage of Cleo's people while we're gone. And then there's the question of a travelling party.'

'Are you going to eat that?' Radu didn't wait for an answer as he grabbed the last pear. 'We could just migrate, you know.'

Demetrius shook his head. 'I think we should take baggage. Clothes. Trade goods. Tools, even. Maybe even a musical instrument or two.'

As if in answer to the last suggestion, Cleopas showed up in the peristylium. He was carrying his favourite instrument, the hydraulis. Argyros trotted happily behind.

'Morning, boss!' Cleopas grinned. 'We're here to brighten your morning hours!'

Before Demetrius could protest, the concert started. As the name would suggest, the hydraulis, being water-powered, had a cheery, burbly sound. Soon Cleopas was drowning out all the birds in the area, much to their (and Demetrius') disgust. Argyros pumped enthusiastically.

'Do you think he takes requests?' Radu asked, keeping a straight face with an effort. Demetrius shrugged.

Cleopas ended the song with a flourish. 'Now, THAT's what I like to call a 'power chord',' he informed his listeners. Argyros cheered, Radu rewarded the effort with applause. Demetrius joined in, reluctantly.

'Can you play Song of Seikilos?' Radu was getting into the spirit of this. Cleopas beamed: he could, and did, though not very well.

'I'm still working on that one,' he confessed.

'Keep playing,' encouraged Radu. 'It's the latest hit.'

Demetrius shot his cousin a dirty look, but the song gave him an idea. 'Come with me – not you people, keep practising.' Cleopas glowed with pride and went back to perfecting his 'power chords.'


Demetrius and Radu strolled through the outdoor market, much busier today. Demetrius handed Radu the string bag to carry the things they acquired: fresh onions, asafoetida and cardamom (Cleo said she was getting low), some good-looking apples, raisins. . .

Demetrius selected a bouquet of bright daffodils. 'Come with me,' he said.

Down the street where Demetrius had heard music before. From the open upstairs window came the whirr of a spinning wheel: above that drone, the clear voice of the singer was heard.

While you live, shine! Never grieve,

For a little, life exists, time takes its toll.

As Radu listened appreciatively, Demetrius selected a trio of daffodils. He bound the flowers together with a cord tied to an ostrakon for weight – and handed the bundle to Radu. As the last notes of the air died away, Radu tossed the weighted posy into the window.

They could hear the girl's gasp of surprise as they ran around the corner, chuckling.

'What will she think?' wondered Radu.

'That she has a mysterious admirer,' said Demetrius. 'Or that the gods are favouring her. At least, I hope so.' They continued their way down to the harbour, oblivious to a pair of jealous eyes following them from the window opposite the invisible singer's.

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