Of the many roadside shrines that once adorned the Corfu landscape, in Pelekas too only a few stood the test of time. Some were erected honouring a saint, others remind of tragic events: a traffic accident, a sudden death in a nearby field. More and more the shrines’ windows will be broken and icons fallen over or faded from the light of the merciless sun and the smoke of the small oil lamps. If the lamps are intact they are now seldom kept alight. One of the miniature chapels however that is honoured to this day can be found right on the route of Corfu’s long-distance footpath ‘The Corfu Trail’.
Coming from Pelekas you will stumble upon it about a hundred meters before the path meets the asphalt road from the village of Sinarades to the – long ago shut down – hotel Yaliscari Beach. From the centre of the shrine a sepia photo portrait in a frame of a melancholic looking boy stares at the passing walkers. The marble plaque at the foot of the monument reads in ruthless katharevousa: ‘Born 2-11-1977, murdered 4-6-1994’. Seventeen years old was Odysseas Grekousis, according to the partly erased lettering. From the dates I gather he was just sixteen, but the intention will be that he was in the seventeenth year of his life.
Wreaths and withered flowers
Every time we pass here we pause for a moment. But on a rainy day in the Spring of 2017 we somehow had to halt a little longer. Perhaps our attention was drawn by the wreaths and withered flowers laid in a rectangle of white stones at the right side of the shrine. Or because the oil lamp in the niche with the icons flickered as if the wind could extinguish it at any moment. It was then it dawned on me yesterday had been the day the young lad met his death. I crossed myself instinctively, only just remembering the orthodox rite: touching the forehead with two fingers, then the right shoulder, the left shoulder and finally the belly. It can’t do any harm and it may do some good.
A few steps behind the small monument a ravine unfolds. For tens of meters on down we see a stream of spring mattresses, rusty fridges and washing machines, wrecks of mopeds and plastic bags with garbage. Sticking out like sore thumbs against the dripping fresh green of the fir trees and pines. Would he have crashed down there, somewhere, young Odysseas? And was he now buried beneath that neglected rectangle besides the monument?
One ominous day
An hour and a half’s walk down the road we gratefully positioned ourselves beneath the roof of the terrace of a taverna. Watching the wind and the rain reigning over beach and sea. Sun beds remained empty, waves were white-crested. Before we ordered our beers I asked our friend, host of the taverna, about the history of Odysseas. He gazed out upon the sea for some time before he got himself to respond.
“Yesterday I could hardly think of anything else,” he started off. “Why? you may ask. Because I am in some way guilty too.”
There was no way we could hide our surprise.
“Odysseas took part in a boys gang, stealing mopeds and motorcycles. One ominous day he decided to quit. May have even threatened to tell his parents. Whatever, the lad that threw him down the ravine was his age. This boy went to my school, a few classes behind me. Never will I be able to forget that one day I passed the open door of a class room and his teacher called me inside. If I wanted to have a look at a drawing the boy had painted. It was a seascape with a black sun. A black sun… I recall it as if it were yesterday. Both the teacher and I had a loss for words. A few years later, after the killing and the trial, the teacher addressed me and spoke in a rather melancholy way: ‘But who is to punish us’?”
“Punish you? How could you have seen this coming?” I reacted, trying to somewhat cheer him up.
“That is not what it is about, both of us still felt guilty. We had looked at that frightful sunset and had done nothing at all.”
“So did the teacher never speak to the parents?”
“The boy was from a poor family. Strange people, who kept to themselves. They lived at some distance from our village, always busy with their chicken, goats and sheep. You wouldn’t see any of his parents near the schoolyard. When we were children we didn’t dare to even approach their house.”
Everybody deserves a second chance
A seagull landed on top of a folded parasol, right before our eyes.
“What happened next?” I inquired. “Surely he was too young for a jail sentence?”
“I never laid eyes on him again. After serving a long term in the underground prison near town he vanished from the island. He’s living on the mainland now, married, children. I am happy for him.”
I hesitated, only too aware that my friend had no wife or children.
“Everybody deserves a second chance,” he went on. “When this lad’s grandmother had died he secretly sneaked back to the island during the night just to sea his beloved dead one more time and bid his farewell to her. Now you tell me: a person paying his respect in such way cannot be thoroughly bad, can he?”
“Will we see at least any sunshine today?” I said, in an attempt to change our moods. He shrugged his shoulders. The seagull had flown off while we were unaware of it. I am sure in that moment we were all thinking of one and the same thing. How a sixteen year old boy briefly hang in between us. Just before he started his gliding flight down to the garbage in the abyss.