‘Death Customs’ by Constantia Soteriou (translated from Greek by Lina Protopapa)

Posted on 01/06/2020
By Commonwealth Foundation

– She’s bound to suffer a lot.


– It’s been two hours since it started and it’s still only the beginning.


– Is there anyone she hasn’t forgiven, so we can bring them to her to forgive?


– She must be guilty of many sins.


– Sins, sins.


– Put some water on her tongue with a bit of cotton and be quiet.


– At its exit, the soul goes through great torment.


– Is it easy for the soul to be separated from the body?


– It’s no easy feat.


– No.


– Sit here.


– Let’s hold her hand.


– Next to her.


– Next to her. Next to her.


– And let her be.


– Our Spasoula.


– It’s bound to be a hard night.


– For our Spasoula.


– For all of us.


– Tonight is the night Spasoula dies.



I met Spasoula in one of the gatherings, one of those occasions. September. When we gathered at the railings and held photograph in front of the prisoners coming from Adana. For them to look at and tell us whether they had seen our loved ones. Whether they recognised them. Lies. It was in no gathering. It was at the photo studio. At Takis’s. Sixteenth of November, when we gathered that first time; we had gathered at that hotel, Filoxenia, and I was holding our beloved Giorgakis’s photo and Mrs Loula gave me a sideways glance. A grande dame, she was, a lady of the committee. Old family, Nicosians. The only one who would come to the gatherings with her make-up, her lipstick, her spruced-up jacket. She sure was nothing like us who had left our villages with nothing but the knickers we had on. Nothing like us who went to the gatherings with the black clothes they had given us. Dressed miserably. With her pleated skirt, no less, and her little heels and her rouge. A whole other level, Mrs Loula. It was there at that first gathering that she gave me that glance. A sideways glance. It was before the buses arrived, the buses we were waiting for. She came close and talked to me. It’s too small, she said, the photo is too small and not discernible. You should go to the photo studio and enlarge it. Giorgοs’s photo, that’s what she was talking about.


That’s what she said. Enlarge it so people can see it. And she gave me a card so I could go the next day. Tell Takis I sent you, tell him it’s Loula. Tell him to make the photograph big and clear and to give you copies as well. No need, I replied, he’s coming today. On one of the buses. That’s what we were told, the Red Cross told us so, there’s five buses coming today.Giorgakis, I said with emphasis, is coming today. Today, I believe. She insisted, she put the card in my pocket – an old black cardigan they had given me, how the card never got lost, I still wonder. The pocket was all saggy. The black cardigan’s pocket, I mean. The buses came, 160 people came. Students and old men, and with them priests, sick prisoners. They came down the buses one by one, we looked at them one by one, we waited for hours and hours. We saw the other women hugging their loved ones and envied them. Giorgakis was nowhere to be seen. We stayed there until the very end and waited. Everyone left and we still waited. I may have been the last one to leave, my gaze went searching for Mrs Loula, I wanted to tell her off for jinxing us, for my Giorgos not coming down no bus.


The following day I went to the photo studio, a certain Takis’s, downtown, with the photograph. He made it bigger and much clearer. He even had some colour techniques there, special crayons with colours, he made Giorgakis all handsome. He even put a tie on him, with the colour crayons, you could tell it was fake. We’d look at it and laugh, a tie on him, on Giorgakis, who had never worn a tie. Giorgakis would be horrified when he saw it. That’s what I thought. He made it all nice and big though. He wanted no money either, he said that the cost would be covered by Loula; she sent him customers who had lost their people and she paid. Farewell, I hope you find him, Takis said. A few days later we were queueing again, the big photo was no help either. Giorgakis never came down the bus. At the end of October, there we were again, when the big exchange took place. The Turks gave us a thousand or so captives, we gave them as many and more. There I was again, with the big photo, the one that Takis, the photographer, had made discernible. It was no help at all. Giorgakis didn’t come down any bus at all. The last time we went, the fifth time, I saw Mrs Loula leave after all the others had gone. She made us feel sick to the stomach, we couldn’t get over her telling us that Giorgakis wasn’t discernible in the photo, that the photo was small and dark. I saw her leaving, her little heels limping, her pleated skirt, I ran toward her and almost caught up with her to tell her off for jinxing him, to tell her that her words stopped my Giorgos from getting down the bus. Spasoula held me back as I was running toward her, she lost one of hers too, they say she lost her son, that’s why she always came and stood with us. That’s what Spasoula said. And we let her be. Mrs Loula. Seeing her that way. I took such pity on her. There’s no other way about it: it’s one thing to lose a husband and another thing to lose a son. Yes, that must be it, that must be where I met Spasoula. At that last gathering. When we waited. Not at the photo studio. That’s where I must have met her. There, where we waited together. The last time.



– She’s getting worse.


– She’s in her death throes.


– She’s glimpsing the angels.


– She’s fighting Charon.


– She’s going beyond the veil.


– She’s taking the ferry.


– Be quiet! Her time hasn’t come yet.


– Tell her another story.


– Tell her, tell her!


– Tell her and put her to rest.



Spasoula would leave on Saturdays, she would get up in the morning and leave us. Where do you go on Saturdays, Spasoula? Why do you leave us? I go to clean the graves. There are people who buried their loved ones and then never managed to go see them, never managed to go clean them, and Spasoula would go without compensation on Saturdays to clean the graves. No money, she never was indebted to anyone. She would wake up on her own in the morning, she would get a litre of olive oil, soap, and sponge to wash the soul glasses.[1] So they’re clean when the water and oil go in. Why must the glass be clean when the water and oil go in it, Spasoula? So that the person’s soul can see through it. Leave me alone, already! Questions didn’t go down well with Spasoula on Saturdays. She would go and talk to her son, she said. Where her son was buried she didn’t know. Word has it he was buried in a mass grave. Spasoula?


Spasoula! Just this one thing. Please, tell me. What are mass graves? Eh, they are graves where they buried lots and lots of people. When those horrors happened, many of them couldn’t be buried properly, they had no time to bury them, they just put an excavator there that gathered the bodies helter-skelter, vroom vroom vroom, and put them in a grave. Then a priest came, chanted a requiem, they threw some soil on top, and they were buried. And didn’t they know who was in there? They didn’t know who was in there. They would collect the bodies in a hurry-scurry and bury them. And rumour has it that many of them were buried face down. And what does it matter, Spasoula, if many of them were buried face down? If you bury a dead person face down, bereft as they are of life, they can’t drink any water, and they remain eternally thirsty. The dead always long for water. All the rest of the dead around that person must first quench their own thirst, and only then can they give water to your own dead one. Leave me alone, already, Spasoula would say, and would fill the bucket to water the graves. All Saturday long she would water graves.



– She must be looking for him.


– She’s looking for him, but he sure isn’t coming.


– How is he supposed to come?


– Let’s cut a flower, put it on her pillow and mention his name. So she won’t miss him.


– Bitter orange leaves could work, too.


– Let’s get some water, cross it with our fingers, say his name, and get her to drink it.


– To drink and forget.


– Drink up, Spasoula, drink some water.



The very few times when Spasoula did talk to us about her son, she said that it was the salt’s fault. She didn’t talk much about him, unless it was summer, unless the heat split the stones, unless there was such terrible heat it made you want to die. It had to be that hot. Only then, in the afternoons, did Spasoula sit in her yard and talk to us about her son. Come in the yard, Spasoula, come sit with us. Tell us the story about the salt, Spasoula. Tell us about when your son was salted. And Spasoula would tell the story about the salt. She would tell us about when her son was salted. In the villages, when a pregnant woman went into labor, when the pain started and the time came for her to give birth, another village woman would go to the village grocer and get some salt to bring home. She had to get unground, coarse, clean, unweighted salt, pay, and not utter a word at her return. Why should the grocer not weigh the salt, Spasoula? Why should the woman not utter a word upon her return? Because the salt had to be ground at home. The women had to grind it with a heavy stone on the threshold of the house, silently, without a word. The heavier the stone, the smarter the baby. They had to grind it to thin dust. The thinner the salt, the kinder the baby. They had to put the salt in water. To make a thick brine. The thicker the brine the better. And they had to give the newborn a bath in the brine? They had to bathe the newborn in the brine. Then they had to dry it up and smear the salt all over it. A kind, silent woman had to get the salt and rub it all over the baby. Had to salt its legs and feet, its arms and hands, its head, its privates. The kinder the woman, the kinder the baby. Oh, woe. And what did you do, Spasoula? Did you not have enough salt for the baby? We did nothing. We didn’t have much salt for the baby. The baby was too eager, he wanted to come to the world too early. No time to go to the grocer, no time to grind unground salt. He was born on his own, in a hurry. No kind woman in the house to salt the baby. I got up all by myself, right after birth, to salt the baby. Can the baby’s mother salt the baby, Spasoula? Does the baby grow well, does the baby become good and kind when the mother salts it? Tell us, Spasoula. Spasoula!


Why did you salt the baby yourself? Oh, woe, Spasoula would say, there was no other woman in sight to rub the baby with salt. I got up myself, right after birth. Not much salt around the house. I used whatever I found in the jar. I put salt on his legs and feet, his arms and hands, his privates. The kinder the woman, the kinder the baby, Spasoula would say and look at me from down below. I didn’t have much salt for the baby. I smeared salt on his legs and feet, his arms and hands, his head, his privates. I forgot the chest. You forgot the chest. I forgot the chest, Spasoula would say, no salt left to smear on the baby’s chest. Here, Spasoula would say, and start beating her own chest with her right hand. I remember clearly, the salt finished when I reached the baby’s chest. You forgot the chest, I would say. Yes, Spasoula would nod, silently. The salt finished at the baby’s chest.



– The woman who put the salt had to be the best.


– The smartest.


– The most kind-hearted.


– So the baby would take after her.


– They would salt the baby so it would be good and kind.


– With unground, unweighted salt.


– Clean salt.


– You had to smear the salt all over.


– The part left unsalted, evil would get hold of.


– Either three or five or seven times, an odd number.


– So many women, so many.


– Only then would the baby grow well.


– With white, unground, unweighted, clean salt.


– And the mother should not put the salt on the baby.


– If the mother puts the salt on the baby, this will turn against her.


– Better to not salt the baby at all rather than salt it badly,



Spasoula wanted nothing to do with the Turks. They came and took our homes, killed us, made us refugees. And she wouldn’t admit all the bad things that we had done to them. What they did to us was much worse, she would say. And there was also the issue with her son, he and his ilk were being accused of having brought the Turks with what they had done, but she wouldn’t admit that either. They would have come anyway, they would have done what they did anyway, they had many reasons, they were just looking for a pretext, she would say, and she wanted nothing to do with them, she couldn’t even stand the sight of them. Until we went to that funeral ceremony. It was when we had found our Giorgakis and buried him; as for Spasoula’s son, they were nowhere close to finding him. The committee had invited us to the event, we had no idea there would be Turks too, no idea there would be such words and such speeches, that’s why we took the kid along with us. They sat us down and told us how the identification process works in general and they said that they needed more testimonies regarding the mass graves and that if we knew anyone who had any information, we should urge them to pass it on. And then a Turkish woman, around my age, got up to say that all of this stuff going on now with those who died in ’74 also helped find their dead ones, those who had been killed in the inter-communal riots in ’63 – that’s the word she used, ‘inter-communal’ – because in the big graves that were now being opened, they found those who had died earlier below. Where did they find the other dead, Spasoula? Down below were the Turks that we killed in ’63 and above them were the other dead, our own, whom they killed in the first and second invasions. Well, couldn’t they find another place to bury them? They found wells and rocks by the sea with holes and recesses, places that in time would fill with water. We threw theirs in our wells, they in turn threw ours in the same place; a higgledy-piggledy of bones: the Turks below, the Greeks above, then the rain would come, the wells would fill, the bones got mixed, that’s why committees were necessary for the identification, nobody knew who was who. And we sat there picturing a well full of Greek and Turkish bones, bones mixed up in wells and recesses, and that got us all upset. We saw the Turkish woman crying – we stiffened. On the way back, Spasoula didn’t utter a word, and even I, who had so many questions to ask, I couldn’t speak either. Georgia, though, had given it some thought and, as she walked, she clenched my hand and said that at least they were together. Yes, they were dead; yes, there was a mess of bones, but at least they kept each other good company, and, Mom, she said, they were all worried: worried that their loved ones wouldn’t find them, worried that nobody knew where they were, so they were good company for each other, they became friends in death. Entirely certain by now, Georgia was declaring that the Turks below, the Greeks on top of them, then the rain came, the wells filled, the bones got mixed up, they became friends, Mom, they became friends, Aunty Spasoula, don’t cry, stop crying already.



– The other day Ayshe died, too!


– Oh, woe, there goes Ayshe, too.


– This very time of day, two days ago, there were women crying around her, too.


– Desolate cries; cries, cries, women’s cries.


– Soon as she realised that she was dying for real, she called for the muezzin.


– Call the muezzin! The muezzin!


– She asked all the women to leave the room, for she had something to tell him.


– Go all away, all of you, everyone, I have something to tell him.


– And she got up and told him the secrets she knew about the dead.


– Muezzin, I have secrets to tell you about those buried. As soon as I die, you go tell them.


– So he would tell them to those who needed to know, so the people would be found, so they would finally rest, them and their loved ones, too.


– Muezzin, I have secrets to tell you about the buried people.


– All that time, she says, she was afraid to speak up.


– I know where they buried the dead, muezzin.


– But now that the time has come, she is more afraid of dying.


– Muezzin, I don’t want to carry such a secret with me.


– She told the muezzin about some wells where they had put those killed.


– I know where they put the dead, muezzin.


– She said she saw them at night, throwing them in, one by one.


– I saw them, muezzin, I saw them as they were throwing the dead in.


– They saw her looking, they put a knife to her throat!


– They said that I would go find the dead myself, muezzin.


– Not a word, aunty, konuşma![2]


– Konuşmam!


– When your time comes to die, aunty, o zaman konuşacaksın.[3]


– Konuşmadım Hocam o zamandır konuşmadım.[4]


– Konuş, the muezzin told her.[5] Şimdi konuş zaman geldi, speak now and put the people to rest, the dead and their loved ones too.[6]


– And Ayshe spoke.


– I know where they put the dead, muezzin.


– She turned 95 before she spoke.


– I know where they put the dead. Go there, where there are many of them, and see.


– Konuş, Ayshe, even if it’s only now, konuş.


– I know where they buried the dead, muezzin. I know, muezzin, if only I didn’t know!

– Ayshe died the day before yesterday.


– And the women gathered round her there, as we are doing here.


– Ah, woe, Ayshe waited for her last breath before she told us.


– I know where they buried the dead, muezzin.


– Ayshe knew, she knew where they had buried the dead.



And now that we buried whatever we buried, now that we found whatever we found, we don’t go to the gatherings much, we don’t have much to say with the other women; there were some people giving us strange glances, the people who were told their own loved ones may never be found. And we read in the newspapers that it was possible that the funding would be cut, that they could stop giving money for identifications; good thing that Spasoula explained it to us: it was the Europeans from the Union that gave us the money, and now that there were fewer missing persons, fewer each year, they were thinking about cutting down the funding. The committee’s work had to end someday, after all. There are people, it seems, who are lost forever, there are those who were never found, there are those who will never be found anymore, never at all. This means that all that happened, happened; this search will end one day, what’s found is found, those found are found, those buried are buried, and the rest – nothing, silence. This is what I gathered, Spasoula; is this how things are, Spasoula? Tell us what you think. Tell me, Spasoula, are there people who are forever lost? People nobody will ever find? And how are they going to call the lost that are lost? Are there words to describe the lost who will not be found? Can people get lost twice, Spasoula? Do we have words to name those who are lost twice? Speak, Spasoula, tell me



– When a child was born, you had to put a quarter of a bread loaf next to it.


– Bread, bread.


– Bread, so it would be blessed forever.


– Forever, forever!


– Bread until the baby grows up.


– Bread so the Kales Yenejes wouldn’t take it.[7]


– The Kales Yenejes would take the baby and switch it.


– Put a koulouri on the baby’s hand.[8]


– Put a pair of scissors under its pillow, iron to keep it safe.


– Put unground salt on it, get a smart woman to salt it.


– Of all these, what didn’t you do to the baby, Spasoula?


– Oh, woe, looks like the Kales Yenejes came.



Whenever Spasoula remembers her son, she fries bread. She puts peanut oil in the frying pan until it burns, she cuts stale bread in tiny strips, she fries it until it absorbs the oil and softens, and then she sprinkles it with fine sugar. Sometimes she fries it in the evening, just for the two of us to eat, other times she fries it on her own, she sits in her yard alone and eats it. Why do you fry bread when you remember your son, Spasoula? Why do you eat the bread all alone in your yard? Because I used to fry bread for my son when he was little. When my son was little, I would heat the oil and cut tiny strips. I would fry the bread and sprinkle it with lots of sugar. That’s what I did for my son when he was little. That’s what Spasoula did for her son when he was little. But she doesn’t want to talk to me about it, she just sits alone in her yard and sprinkles sugar over the bread and cries. I think it’s because she likes to remember her son as a little boy. Spasoula won’t talk, no matter how many times I ask her, but she sometimes wants to remember her son as a little boy. That’s why she fries the bread. That’s why she sprinkles sugar on it. Brown sugar. It’s because she wants to be reminded of her son as a little boy.



– Give birth to it.


– Breastfeed it.


– Caress it.


– Kiss it.


– Swaddle it.


– Sing lullabies to it


– And hope.


– You be kind.


– You be rightful.


– You be a man.


– Give birth.


– Breastfeed.


– Caress.


– Kiss.


– Hope.


– That he be kind.


– That he be rightful.


– That he be a man.


– Now that you still can.


– Now, when it’s still possible.


– Don’t be late, Spasoula, make your wishes now that the fates are listening.


– Make your wishes now that he is little, now that he’s a baby.


– Make your wishes now, far away from the Kales Yenejes.



Only once did I fight with Spasoula, one time only, the one time when I shouldn’t have, when she came back from church, after she had gone to bury her son. May God be my witness, that morning I woke up with a stomachache, may God be my witness, I couldn’t go with her, I fell in bed and screamed with pain, I couldn’t go with her at the funeral, may God be my witness, He who made me sick, I couldn’t go to the funeral with her, we’ve flattened everything out, as if everything were equal and the same, that’s what it means for the committee to voluntarily have carried out the identification for them, too.[9]


They called Spasoula in the evening to tell her that they had found her son. Wasn’t it in the evening they called you to tell you about your son, Spasoula? He was found in a mass grave, they said, buried face down next to three others. They’ve now picked them all up, almost all those of that day were found, they decided to bury them, too, in the end; they were innocent, they said, they had a mandate; the minister gave a speech during the funeral, too.[10] They were innocent, they were merely carrying out orders, they were innocent, they were only doing what they were told, they were innocent and they, too, need to be buried already, the wounds need to heal, the chapters need conclusions, shame to our government for keeping them in disgrace all these years. A few people wanted to strike Makarios out, they got on some tanks, vroom vroom vroom, they were planning to enter the presidential palace, then the others – the guards – shot them, they died. The one killed the other, they were all killed. They were all just following orders, just orders, they were all innocent, said the minister, they didn’t really want to kill anyone, they were following orders from high up. Who was high up giving them orders, Spasoula? They were innocent, they did what they were ordered, they were innocent, they couldn’t stand up to their superiors, they were innocent, they didn’t know what was really going on. They were eighteen-year-old children. They made them wear the khaki uniform and they put guns in their hands and told them to go kill Makarios, they were young, they couldn’t say no, put yourself in their shoes for a moment, said Spasoula, he couldn’t say no, whether innocent or guilty, he got killed there, I know you fell sick so you wouldn’t come bury him at the funeral, he was eighteen years old and didn’t know how to say no, innocent or guilty, he was my son and he died, we searched for him for forty years, now we found him buried face down, thirsty, my baby was face down, thirsty and dead for forty years. And Spasoula started crying for her son who was left waterless and thirsty for so many years, and I went out in the yard and accompanied her crying.


And we were just in time to see Georgia come with her books to tell us off for fighting, she wanted to tell us something about some Polynices, we’d never met anyone by that name in person, he must have been another woman’s son, they found him dead too. We cried that night, Spasoula and I, for all the dead, the unknown and the known too. We only fought once, Spasoula and I, that one time when we shouldn’t have, the time I fell ill and didn’t go to her son’s burial with her. And it weighs on my heart terribly to know that though she had always stood by me, I couldn’t stand by her that day, we never managed to bury her son together. I couldn’t stand by her, I was angry and bitter and resentful because I believed that it was her son who, with his ways and his deeds, had killed Giorgakis in the end. After that day, after she buried him, Spasoula fell ill, she fell ill in bed, and now we’ve all gathered around her to keep vigil, to tell stories so she won’t feel lonely ever again. Because there’s one thing I have gathered after this whole thing I’ve been through, after all the years lived in service to the lost ones, there’s one thing I’ve felt in my bones: if there’s anyone who is innocent in the world, it’s us, me, Spasoula, the others who waited, me and Spasoula and all the others, we who waited, me and Spasoula, and the other women. Innocent. Only us.



– There were once two brothers, the tale goes.


– Proper brothers, real ones.


– Brothers, but the brothers fought.


– They pulled out knives and they fought, fought for real.


– They had a kingdom to divide among them.


– Their land, which is sweet and bitter.


– The sweet land! Tales!


– They fell, they fought, they got killed.


– They fell, they fought, their blood was scattered, they were lost.


– Nobody knows where they were buried.


– Tales of the sweet land!


– Tales, tales, tales!


– They fell down dead, they were buried, they went missing.


– The buried dead were lost.


– But nobody told their loved ones that they had died.


– And the women looked for them for a long, long time.


– Their mothers.


– Their daughters.


– Their wives.


– Tales, tales.


– That’s what the tale says.


– They would go out at night and scream.


– They went out at night and cried in fits.


– Where are you? Come back!


– Where are you? Come back to us.


– Where are you? Why won’t you come?


– And not a single person to tell them?


– Not a single person to tell them.


– Not Aretousa.


– Nor Kastanomallousa.


– Nor Lieri.


– Not even Melouzini?[11]


– Did none of them know?


– Nobody knew.


– Lies.


– They left them on their own, crying in fits.


– They left them crying on their own.


– That’s how our tales are here.


– That’s how tales are.


– The tales of the sweet land!


– They have no happy ending.


– They have no ending.





[1] Translator’s Note: Soul glasses are glasses that contain water and olive oil, and a lit, floating wick. They are placed in an airlock cabinet by the tombs of loved ones. Orthodox Christians in Cyprus believe that the wick must be lit at all times so that the dead person’s soul can rest in peace, while the perpetual fire also serves as a symbol for the inextinguishable light of Jesus Christ. It also serves as a small sacrifice, an offering of gratitude to God for his own sacrifice.

[2]Konuşma: ‘Don’t speak!’ (Turkish)

[3]O zaman konuşacaksın: ‘Only then, speak.’ (Turkish)

[4]Konuşmadım Hocam o zamandır konuşmadım: ‘I never spoke, my dear muezzin, since then, I never spoke.’ (Turkish)

[5]Konuş: ‘Speak.’ (Turkish)

[6] Şimdi konuş zaman geldi: ‘Speak now, the time has come.’ (Turkish).

[7] Translator’s note: ‘Kales Yenejes’ literally means ‘Good Women’. According to Greek and Cypriot folklore (and according to popular belief in older times), these are the female versions of ‘kallikantzaroi,’ malicious and mischievous demons similar to goblins, who wreak havoc among humans. Kallikantzaroi usually live in Hades, the land of the dead, but leave the underworld and rise to the surface of the earth every year during the ‘Dodecameron’ – the twelve days between Christmas Day and the Epiphany (January 6) – to taunt, scare, and tease humans. ‘Kales Yenejes,’ however, operated throughout the year. In Cyprus, in older times, women who had recently given birth were particularly terrified of the ‘Good Women,’ who, they believed, could come at night and ‘switch’ newborns, that is, they would switch them with a baby that looked just like their own but was sick or moribund. Thus, many apotropaic rituals were practiced by women in order to keep the ‘Good Women’ away. ‘Good Women,’ in fact, is a euphemistic name used in order to appease these female demons and to placate their ire.

[8]Translator’s note: ‘Koulouri’: a bread in the form of a circle, usually with sesame and black cumin on top. Bread, salt, scissors, metals, and circles were all apotropaic devices against the demons.

[9]Translator’s note: ‘them’ here refers to those who plotted and carried out the coup d’état against the elected president of the Republic of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, on July 15, 1974.

[10] Translator’s note: ‘that day’ refers to the coup d’état, carried out by the Greek military junta (in collaboration with the Cypriot National Guard) on July 15, 1974. The coup d’état removed president Makarios and established a dictatorship presided by Nikos Sampson. The ultimate goal of Sampson and his accomplices was ‘Enosis,’ that is, unification with Greece. Five days after the coup d’état, and while the country and military were still in disarray, the Turkish army invaded Cyprus.

[11] Translator’s Note: Aretousa, Kastanomallousa, Lieri, and Melouzini are all female figures that appear in Cypriot folklore.

Translator’s Afterword


The original text, conceived as an alternation between what seems to be a chorus of voices of women and the stream of consciousness of the narrator, presents many peculiarities at a syntactical level. The narrator’s stream of consciousness features very long sentences with very little punctuation. These unpunctuated sentences often contain many different clauses and jump from one idea to the next without any grammatical signals. Sometimes, a thought will be left unfinished and a new thought will begin within the same sentence. Similarly peculiar are some very short sentences, often comprising just one or two words. Wherever possible, I tried to preserve some of these characteristics, allowing the reader to read the text as an unruly, ungovernable train of thought. In many cases, however, I added punctuation where I felt was necessary (mostly commas, colons, and semicolons), since I believe it would be impossible for the text to make sense otherwise. Moreover, as quotation marks are omitted entirely in the original text, I have omitted them in the translation as well. Lastly, in addition to the author’s notes, I have added a few notes regarding some of the customs and rituals the text refers to, as well as some historical references, which, I believe, make the text more accessible to non-Cypriot readers. These are always marked ‘translator’s notes’.

‘Death Customs’ was first published in June 2019 by Granta.


Author: Constantia Soteriou

Constantia Soteriou was born in Nicosia in 1975. Her first novel Aishe goes on vacation (Patakis, 2015) received the Athens Prize for Literature. Her second book Voices made of soil (Patakis, 2017) was included in the short list for the Cyprus Literature Awards. She has written plays for independent stages and the Cyprus Theatre Organization.






Translator: Lina Protopapa

Lina Protopapa lives in Nicosia, Cyprus, where she works as a translator and cultural critic.

Read More Prizewinning Stories