They came on a Saturday, the sun baked stones giving as much heat as the low sun. There were five of them, their car old white and large, more a van than a car, as it clunked its way up the hill. They drove through the new town first, carefully, avoiding stray pedestrians and independent dogs, winding their way through narrow streets of flashing lights and the colourful tat that waited for inebriated tourists to buy.
The young man held the map. More of a boy than a man, only his willowy height and deep voice giving clues to his age. He swore loudly as they met yet another unmarked one way street, another road they couldn’t drive along. Finding the old town was difficult, more elusive than even the spelling, which changed from Paphos to Pafos on nearly every signpost. He directed them through ever narrow streets, almost touching the tiny painted houses on either side, heading first towards the sea, then doubling back, playing an elusive game of hide and seek, determined to win.
The other man bent towards the map, offering advice, pitching his own wits against the traitor roads and the misleading map. This man was older, though not significantly so. He was thicker set, with tanned skin and eyes that gave witness to Japanese ancestry. Together they solved problem after problem, directing the driver around taverns and shops and historic monuments, until at last the road, in defeat, allowed them to climb the hill, to leave the modern sea front, to approach the old town.
They climbed steadily higher, the buildings became less well loved, in need of paint and repair. The man-boy announced they had arrived, the driver, his father, began to search for somewhere to park. There was a sign, a large arrow, announcing the entrance to the municipal carpark. The father swung the car-van round, ready to angle through the narrow gap, realised in time that beyond the side of the building, in the dark shade, the sign pointed not to a slip road but to steps, steep and sheer. Steps that plummeted to who knows where. They laughed, the family, laughed. The wife praised her husband for stopping in time, looking into his face, noticing he had caught the sun and his eyes were very green. The girl leant into her tanned lover, she looked younger then her years, of fragile build, with a waterfall of brown hair. They thought it a joke, an oddity of a foreign town. They drove on, unperturbed.
The carpark lay below the town, curved roads leading to tree shaded spaces. Theirs was the only vehicle, which they considered to be lucky. The husband selected his space, the man-boy searched the map for where to walk, the mother pulled on her hat, the girl flicked her hair. They left the car, followed the winding path that led into town. They were alone.
It was still hot, the air muggy despite the low sun. An old car passed them, its engine loud in the silent street. A bald man was driving, a tiny headscarfed woman beside him. The family stepped onto narrow paths to allow them to pass, the father checking the map before leading them on. There were no signs, but they found the church easily enough. Before they reached it, they could hear singing, deep, male, chanting. The church sounded full, must contain the whole town they reasoned, wondering if today was special, a festival they didn’t know about, not one listed in their guide book. The road to the church was in need of repair, great pot holes caused them to watch their feet, to tread carefully. Which is why they didn’t see the eyes watching. And is how they saw the gun.
It was lying in the road, right in front of the church, dust covered, old. The man-boy bent as though to retrieve it, cautioned by his father to not touch it, it was obviously a toy, probably germ-ridden, better left in the dust. The tanned man recognised the model, gave it a name, thought no more about it. They walked on. The gun lay, photographed but useless.
The father checked his map. Bored, the young couple and the boy wandered around the church. There was a wall lined street, covered in graffiti, the pictures clever, artistic, enticing. The girl posed in front of them. Became part of them.
The father, following the map, had wandered down another street. His wife hastened to follow, warning him that the younger party had gone in the other direction, suggesting he should stop, let her go back for them. She was cross, irritated at his marching off, worried by their wandering, fearing the air was too hot for unnecessary walking. He stopped while she went back to the church, stood still, wondering which path to choose. She couldn’t shout, the worshippers in church would hear her. Instead she whistled, long and shrill, hoping the boy would recognise the sound from frequent dog walks. There was silence. Then, at last, a series of answering whistles, short and responsive, coming nearer.
The two young men rounded the corner. They were laughing, whistling, making too much noise for people outside an occupied church. She frowned at them, waved towards her husband, hurried back. They followed. It wasn’t until they had all arrived back, were peering at the map over the father’s shoulder, that she noticed the girl wasn’t with them, asked where she was. The boy shrugged, muttered about her not keeping up, being too interested by the graffiti, she knew where the car was, would find them later. The mother refused to move, said they should go back, her daughter would be cross, had wanted to see the market. She insisted they retrace their steps.
Back they walked, over the broken road, past the gun. They still left it lying there, didn’t even notice it now. The singing inside the church continued, the sky heated the stones still hotter, they walked back down the painting lined street. The girl was gone.
A man cycled past, whistling between his teeth, a black cap pulled low over his face, the bike wheels rattling over the uneven street. The family paused. The boy was all for going on, repeating that his sister knew where the car was, she had probably found the market, it was too hot to keep walking. He checked his phone, tried to send a text, but there was no signal. The boyfriend offered to continue looking, checking the map, choosing a route that would join with the market place. He would find her, join the family there. If he failed, they would all meet at the car, drive around until they found her. A motorbike zoomed past. When it was quiet again, the father agreed. He took his son and wife, headed towards the market. The boyfriend rounded the corner behind them, was quickly out of sight.
The boy followed his parents. They were arguing, his mother unhappy at going ahead without her daughter, the father cross and hot. It was terribly hot. The road had deteriorated, was barely a road now. There were fences set up at odd angles to stop the cars. A great digger must have come in the night and removed all the tarmac. Drains stood up, waiting to trip them, stray bricks lay in the dust. The shops they passed were all shut, some with shutters closed, others with goods piled against the doors. As they moved further from the church the air became silent, only their footsteps could be heard as they picked their way along the dusty road.
They rounded a corner and the father lifted his hand, wanting to point to the restaurant he had selected for their dinner. Trip Advisor rating five stars. Hundreds of reviews. The restaurant was there. Empty chairs stacked on tables. Sunshades as closed as the door and windows. An old woman passed them, hurrying in the other direction, tiny, her headscarf pulled tight, face to the ground. They paused. No one would be eating in that restaurant. Not today. They walked on.
The lack of people was beginning to bother them, but not badly. Not until they reached the market. The closed, shuttered, signs hanging limply, market. No people. No bustle. No local crafts spilling onto walkways. Empty. That was when they started to wonder. When irritation turned to unease. Not fear, it was too soon for that. But the weirdness could no longer be denied.
They waited for the girl and her boyfriend to meet them. Long minutes while the sun sent long rays into their eyes and their heads began to ache. The mother crossed the road, peered into a dark shop. Mannequins stared back. Their clothes were ancient, of the kind her own mother might have worn, their painted faces stared back at her. She turned, called to her son, told him to come and see. He arrived reluctantly, laughed when he saw where she was pointing. Lifted his phone for a photograph, turned to call his father. His father was gone.
They walked together, mother and son. A taxi passed them, the driver an old man with his cap pulled low over his face, but they didn’t notice. They were scanning the streets, calling for the man, for the girl, for the boyfriend. An old woman in an orange dress appeared on a balcony, screamed back at them in an unknown language, was ushered back inside by a man, probably her son. Then nothing. No answering calls, no whistles, no footsteps.
They had no map but they decided they could find the car park, because that is where they all must be waiting. The mother tried to feel angry, to be cross that her husband had again wandered away, that her daughter hadn’t bothered to find them, that the boyfriend hadn’t kept to the plan. But some part of her stopped the anger, whispered that this wasn’t what had happened, gave her heart a faster beat, made something flutter within her.
They headed towards the cliff edge, looked down over the new town below them, the bay, the coast. They knew they needed to turn left, past the grounded boat way out at sea, past the map on the large wooden board, down the slope to the carpark. They passed a family, sitting in the evening heat. An old woman with her headscarf pulled low, sat on a wooden chair, a bald man sat next to her, his cap on his knee. They walked on, eyes watched their backs as they reached the end of the lane, turned left, towards the car park.
The car sat in its space. The carpark was still empty. No other cars. No other people. There was a low stone building, public toilets. The mother said she needed to use them, would just be a minute, the boy could wait outside, then they would decide what to do. He watched his mother disappear into the gloom, pulled out his phone. Still no signal. He waited. He was patient for longer than necessary, then began to call, to ask if she was alright, if she would be much longer. She never answered. Panic began to rise and he pushed open the door, peered into the gloom. No cubicle doors met his gaze, no sinks, no smell of human waste. Just a room. An empty room. No mother.
He gave a cry, leapt back. His mind was a flurry of snowflakes, a blizzard of ideas whirling round, uncatchable. No phone signal, no car keys, no weapon. The gun. They had seen a gun, dismissed it as a toy. Perhaps it wasn’t, perhaps it would save him.
Back up the winding pathway, back along the narrow street, back towards the chanting church, watching his footing, careful over the uneven surface. The gun was gone. Of course it was. Only the imprint of it remained, scarring the dust. All was still, all was silent except for the singing, those chanting voices within the stone church walls. Voices meant people. People who could help, who could explain, who would tell him it was alright, he was imagining things, his family was in a cafe somewhere, sipping cocktails and laughing at his lateness.
He climbed the steps, passed the iron bench, stood for a moment outside the great wooden doors. He didn’t see the mannequins that had walked, stiff legged after him, their old fashioned clothes fluttering in the breeze. He did not see their painted eyes watching him. Their silly painted mouths curve into smiles.
He pressed into the door, leant his weight against it. The door creaked open. Cold air seeped out. The pews were empty. The sound of many voices singing swelled towards him from speakers hung from chains on the ancient beams. The church was empty. Another sound came to him, a noise from behind. He slowly turned…….
It was a Wednesday when the family came. Two young children with their barely old enough parents, taking a break from the beach, searching for the market in the old town. The children, a girl and a boy, skipped beside their mother, oblivious to the heat. They found a space in the crowded carpark and followed the narrow path that wound up to the town. The pavement was old, patterned pebbles worn smooth by many feet over time. They strolled past the old church, as it gave silent shade to the pretty street. Passed shops beckoning them inside with air conditioning and cold drinks. Jostling with other tourists as they entered the market. Lace and leather goods hung from racks and were stacked on shelves. Bright cotton clothing swayed in the breeze of fans, cheerful shopkeepers smiled as they passed. There was turkish delight and jars of olives and purses studded with beads. They wandered around, telling the children not to touch, the mother buying trinkets, the father checking his watch, suggesting they found a cafe before they drove back to the new town.
They left the market and the crowds, found a narrow street, saw the awning of a cafe, people sitting in the shade. They walked towards it, passing shops that the man ignored but the woman peered in. She was surprised by the mannequins. Some were very old fashioned, wore the sort of clothes her granny might have worn. Others were more modern. There was a couple of female models, one painted to look older than the other,which was very slim with long brown hair. There were also three men. They modelled casual summer clothing and were different sizes. She noticed that one had been painted to look vaguely foreign, a slightly Asian slant to his eyes. Another seemed almost to watch her with his green painted eyes. Then her husband called, and her daughter tugged at her to hurry, and she walked on to the cafe. Her drink was wonderfully cold.