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Tribute to the Minotaur
I had been sitting in the passengers' room of the 'Eleftherios Venizelos' International Airport of Athens for two hours now. It was crowded. Most of the people in there were doctors, like me, who had come to Greece for the International Medical Convention. This would take place in Crete, an island that has long been distinguished by its splendour and peculiarities. Renowned for the Minoan civilization, it was at that time a powerful state, which included the Aegian islands and mainland Greece. The great king Minos dominated the whole region. The Athenians were obliged to pay an annual tribute to him. They would send seven young men and seven maidens to feed his pet, the Minotaur. A deadly tribute to the bloodthirsty Minotaur! Even mythology links Zeus with Crete. It is said that Kronos, his powerful father, who was the king of the Universe, believing a prophecy, which said that one of his children would overthrow him, killed his children at birth. So Rea, his wife, delivered Zeus in Crete, on mount Dikti and hid him in the caves on mount Idi, giving her husband a stone to eat instead of her child. The prophecy was verified, as Zeus became the father of the twelve Olympic Gods.
The island of Crete is actually situated in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, connecting the three continents of Europe, Africa and Asia. It has always been used as a trade link between those continents. This is the reason why every powerful conqueror through the ages has passed from this island, leaving behind him his traces of civilization and culture, while the islanders' impulsive, liberal and unconditional character can be traced back to the Dorians.
I threw a tired glance around the room and was attracted by some Cretans, who were arguing with an officer, obviously about the delay. Their voices and gestures reminded me of the last time I was in Crete, about five years ago. I was then a member of a scientific group who had visited the island in order to research the reasons for the low incidence of heart diseases among the people of Crete. I was doing my research in Rethymno district, so I was working at the hospital of that city. Every one of my local colleagues, and especially Dr. Manos, had been so helpful and friendly to me that they made me feel at home. We had long chats over a cup of coffee on various subjects, including the tourist flow in the island and the foreigners' present attractions. I had almost concluded my mission and I had not visited any of the local beauties, so on that fateful day, my friend, Dr. Manos, was trying to convince me to join his cousin's tourist group which would go around Crete during the week end. "Becky is one of the best tourist guides in Crete, my friend. I'll call her and tell her to book a ticket for you; I'll drive you to Heraklio myself and introduce you to her..."
He hadn't finished his sentence when the sirens began to pierce our ears. We were alarmed and rushed outside.
"What's the matter? What happened?" Manos asked someone.
"A tragedy Doctor. A terrible accident! A tourist bus has crashed with a lorry. There are many casualties..."
We impulsively ran to the ambulances. Every unit of the hospital was immediately on alert, expecting to receive wounded people.
"Where did it happen?" Manos asked the driver.
"Just outside the city. On the first curve of the highway, on the slope," he answered.
We were there in no time. The fire brigades and the police, as well as volunteers to help the professionals release the victims of the terrible crash, were there too. Both the lorry and the bus appeared as shapeless masses of smashed glass and wrinkled metal. The lorry driver's cab had penetrated the bus, which was pushed into the trench at the side of the road, completely stoved in on one side. A great confusion of voices crying out for help, and hysterical screams and moans could be heard. The rescue team chief's voice could be heard above the others, as he was the first one to reach the disaster. He was giving orders to his team, a squad from the fire brigade, as well as to the medics and paramedics as they began freeing people from the death trap. Some were mutilated, dead or sometimes alive, others gravely or slightly wounded. In the best case, passengers had suffered only a nervous shock. There was blood everywhere, on the road, on the people's clothes... Shoes and bags were scattered about as the people were dragged out. Both drivers were pulled out from the wreckage as shapeless masses. They had been mutilated by the heavy glass that had smashed on them. They, as well as the rest of those who were in a bad shape, unconscious or dead, were placed on the stretchers for immediate transportation to the hospital. Ten stretchers were lying there, with deformed figures upon them. The media that had arrived at the spot, were announcing ten casualties. A police officer was talking on the radio:
"We have ten fatalities here and there are about ten mutilated, gravely wounded people. The drivers of both vehicles as well as the guide are dead. The other seven are French tourists..."
I looked at the road ahead and I spotted a young police officer trying to control the traffic in the area. Then I heard the loud, resonant voice of Dr. Manos just behind me:
"Oh my God. It's Becky! My God; she's bleeding to death, but she's still alive..."
He had bent over her, examined her quickly, and then shouted again:
"She's alive! Hey, come over here, quickly. The guide is alive."
His big hands were waving around, amplifying the commanding note of his voice, as he gave his orders for the stretcher's transportation to the hospital.
"Take that stretcher to the hospital immediately; I'm coming over... She's the guide, she's alive..."
As the order was executed, he turned towards those people from the rescue team who were carrying people from the bus, and shouted:
"Where's her left leg? You bastards: you mutilated her leg. Where did you leave it? Couldn't you do better than that?"
"We only managed to save one leg of that person, Doctor. The other one is mincemeat in a pile of smashed glass..." someone answered indifferently, in a rough voice.
Dr. Manos touched me on the shoulder saying:
"Let's go; let's go my friend. It's Becky; she's alive..."
I had not moved even so much as a pace yet when I heard from behind me the squeaking sound of breaks on the street. This was followed by a crash, a prolonged scream, and confusion. I turned, and faced another tragedy: The young policeman, who was trying to control the traffic had been run over by a car, whose driver had not stopped at his signal. The car had crashed into the back of the bus. The policeman was lying dead on the already blood-covered road. While his colleagues and doctors ran near him in alarm, his helmet rolled crackling down and stopped on my feet. I was petrified. Dr. Manos was talking on his mobile phone:
"Hello? Becky is alive! Tell them that she's still alive..."
One of the two paramedics who were carrying Becky's stretcher shouted to the police officer who was still talking on the radio:
"This one is alive. Nine fatalities..."
At the same time the reporter was asking him:
"Do we now have eleven casualties. I mean, with the policeman?"
"No, it's ten. The guide is alive," Dr. Manos pushed me slightly to make me move.
I realised that I was standing in the middle of the passengers' room. I had unconsciously stood up while I was being carried off by my memories. I felt that
I also had shivery feeling I had when the helmet had rolled down my feet. As I was looking down on my feet, I was startled by the well known thundering and cheerful voice of Dr. Manos:
"Robert, my dear friend. You have come to pay your tribute to the Minotaur too? You're on your way to Crete, aren't you? "
I shuddered. I remained speechless and motionless. His great arms embraced me and shook my shoulders.
"I thought I would see you in that convention. How are you my friend? I hope that this time your stay in Crete will end up pleasantly, not like last time..." he said, in his usual bright tone, hugging me.
I returned his hug mechanically and tried to smile. I had not yet recovered completely from my shock, and my voice echoed strangely in my ears.
"Oh, hello Dr. Manos. How are you? "
He was so impulsive and talkative. Such a cheerful and happy person! I had some difficulty in following what he was saying. I was still thinking of the accident five years ago. I remembered Becky lying on that stretcher, unconscious, bleeding, a big piece of glass piercing her cheek... The great bloody tribute that those visitors had paid to the Minotaur... So he wanted ten people this time? Nine would not enough be to quench his thirst for blood.
"He took ten that time..." I said, absently expressing my thoughts.
"No, my friend. King Aegias from Athens had to send him seven maidens and seven young men every year, remember? He took fourteen all right!" Dr. Manos replied seriously.
As much as I feared his answer I wanted to know, so I dared to ask the question.
"Oh, Becky is very well, my friend. In fact she is here today. He only swallowed her left leg, but still she managed to defeat him. It was not easy for her to get back on her feet, of course. She struggled hard to save her right leg, and then get used to the artificial left one. But now she's well and back in action. She's the best guide of Crete. She challenges the Minotaur again. She introduces the greatness of the island through the ages to the foreigners, to the tourists."
The announcement for the departure of the flight for Crete was made. It was repeated in all the European languages.
"All passengers, whose destination is Heraklio please proceed to gate three..."
I was preparing to make my move, when Dr. Manos said:
"There she is. Look at her. That's Becky over there. She's talking to those French colleagues. Obviously she's introducing our island to them."
I looked in the direction he'd indicated and I saw her. She was standing upright, supporting herself on a crutch, but talking nicely and smiling to the people. She was quite pretty, despite the scar on her cheek... Then I saw her bending down to pick up her bag. It was obvious that this movement was a very difficult one for her, but she politely refused the help of someone who offered to pick it up for her. She held her bag and walked towards the gate. The great effort that she made to move was perceptible, but she didn't give up.
"You know, her right leg is still in great danger. It is so fragile, and once it breaks again she'll have lost that too. But she doesn't give up, you see..." My friend was trying to explain to me how difficult life was for Becky.
I stood there, watching her move with difficulty and caution. I admired her courage and her struggle to get on with life. She was a great lady, strong willed and persistent. She had faced Death himself! She'd managed to fight with the Minotaur and get out of his cave alive! Only her leg had remained in his jaws. I wanted to approach her and pay her my respects. I felt the obligation to stand in front of her and salute her Cretan nobility.
Dr. Manos interrupted my thoughts again:
"We're left behind, my friend. Are you reluctant to set your feet on the island of great King Minos? Let's get going."
I kept watching Becky as she was making tremendous efforts to walk, trying to keep her stance upright. As she disappeared down the corridor, Dr. Manos continued talking:
"We'll see Becky on board. We'll go together to pay our tribute to the majestic palaces of Knossos. This time my friend, I don't intend to let you leave the island before you get well acquainted with it. We'll go everywhere; there'll be time after the meetings."
"Yes," I said moving towards the corridor. And I thought: "As long as the Minotaur doesn't wake up and ask for his tribute again..."