by Andrew Openshaw
From the port at Gümüşlük, we’d covered over half of the twenty-kilometre journey across the Aegean, heading for the island of Kos. Our wooden craft, a former fishing boat, had so far withstood the Etesian winds. Safety and a new life were well within our grasp until the engine stopped and shattered our hopes. It was the early hours of the morning and the sun wasn’t yet risen.
Deathly silence descended over our vessel. A few isolated cries broke the quiescence, but it was striking how most of the eighty stayed mute. The odds of surviving the next few hours were slim. Those tasked with trying to repair the motor gave up in the end and returned, despondent, back to their families to pray. Within an hour, the winds had picked up. With no velocity to cut through them, unforgiving waves smacked into our sorrowful ship.
Unending horror enveloped those next few hours, as water pummelled our timber frame. An ensemble of screeching wind and crying children, a perpetual volley of screams and shouts, all accompanied by endless bone-shattering cracks. The sea penetrated our hold and left us immersed in icy cold brine. I held on for my life, my eyes tightly shut as the stinging salt-spay peppered my exposed face.
Overcame with selfishness, I felt glad that I was alone with no one to think about or to protect. My family already lost to me; I had two free hands, what did it matter that I clung on for my own sake, not caring for those more vulnerable around me. An old proverb I’d learned as a child kept repeating in my head: ‘If you get up one more time than you fall, you will make it through.’
I remember opening my eyes again when amorphous shapes coloured in the darkness. The sun was up and the water had stilled. It was alarming to see how our numbers had depleted; more than half. I counted nineteen men and twelve women, including myself. One child.
Another boat headed towards us, and the men all jumped up and began waving.
The small yacht approached, and I noticed the name painted on its starboard side: Maximinus Daia. My reading of history meant I immediately recognised its strange significance. A former Roman Emperor and ruler of Syria, Maximinus Daia was a devout pagan. He believed Christianity was an illness and was one of the last to persecute Christians.
The rescuers took us women first. They were all jovial, talking and joking with each other, big smiles on their faces. I didn’t understand Greek but one word, or name, rather, was familiar. Dionysus.
It turned out the boat’s crew were sponge divers from the island of Kalymnos. That morning they’d uncovered a treasure trove of ancient artefacts from the seafloor, including a small bust of the Greek god of wine. I remember smiling at the battered relic lying on the deck, the Mediterranean sun streaming through its empty eye holes, thinking, Eleutherios has risen.