Pre-publication of the book by George Pratanos: The Unwanted Dead – The Shocking end of Zorba’s heretical author

Spotlight Post Team




“So? Have you finally found your God?” Helen asked her

husband in the playful manner they loved to talk to one another,

sparking a conversation that would surely help him forget the

pain, even momentarily. But mostly, so that she might assess his



“So you won’t find Him?” she insisted, even more playfully

than before, as if his dry reply – a reply that hopefully could mean

he felt he had ample time ahead to continue his quest – had not

discouraged her.

“Others will,” Nikos replied, exhausted, and went quiet.

Helen fell quiet with him, hoping this silence was only temporary.

Her wish came true, but not in the way she hoped.

“Water!” her husband suddenly cried out. “Water!”

She gave him drink immediately, stroking his hair ever so

gently, as if afraid the slightest human touch might hurt him.

Silence led to stillness. The deathly calm that dominated the pallid

room gave way to an outburst of deep cries and ragged breaths as

she beseeched him to stir. She leaned over him, her forehead

pressed against the edge of the mattress in her last bow to her God.

Her left hand firmly on her tearful eyes, slowly and carefully,

almost ceremoniously, she placed her right hand on his face and

gently shut his eyes. Helen sat on the wooden chair next to the

white iron bed, where the white sheets covered the lifeless body of

her beloved husband. She hadn’t realized how tightly she was

holding his hand, her own hand dripping with sweat, so unlike

his. She lost track of the time, leaning on him, her head laying on

his chest, mirroring his body’s rigidity in tender solidarity.

Everything seemed to freeze in that glacial white, death laden

room at the University Clinic in Freiburg – even Time. Her mind

wandered across the seasons of their every shared moment, joyous

or wretched, small or mundane, blissful or agonizing. In that

modestly furnished ice-box of a room, she saw their life together

flash before her eyes. Just ten days before, in that very room, her

husband had smiled elatedly reading the telegram he had just

received from Peking.

“The Peace Committee of China was apprised of my illness

and sent funds to cover my medical care and hospital fees,” he had

announced to her exuberantly. A feeling of relief had washed over

her then: the same relief she had experienced countless times

throughout their life – as many as the moments they had been

penniless and unable to cover the basic needs. Her joy was short-lived,

however, for Nikos had reserved the sour news for the end,

telling her that they would not take away a single morsel of food

from the Chinese people. He had resolved to return the money,

and had even asked her to take extra care so that not even a penny

should be lost in the banking process. She still remembered that

peculiar feeling of pride she had felt then, walking to the bank to

fulfill his wish; it was the same overwhelming emotion she had felt

just nine days before, when they had found out that the Swedish

Academy was going to give the Nobel Prize to the young French

author, Albert Camus.

“Lenotchka!” he had bellowed, but his cry had not been one

of protest, but oddly, of enthusiasm. In his selflessness he had

called to her for a pen and paper, to dictate to her a congratulatory

telegram for Camus, as though he didn’t feel, deep within him,

that this had been his final chance to win the prestigious prize, for

his contribution to world literature and thought to be recognized

on the global stage.

This had been the last of the few thousand letters he had

penned in his lifetime. For the ninth time, the Nobel Prize would

end up in the hands of another, not because her husband was

undeserving, but because his own countrymen stubbornly refused

to accept that a “godless communist” could bestow upon his

country a distinction of that caliber. With that congratulatory

letter, Nikos had bade a selfless, noble, and gracious farewell to

the heartless world in which he had lived. Then again, was it

coincidental that the last person to have visited him – only two

days before – was his good friend and Nobel Prize Laureate,

Albert Schweitzer?

That was to be the last time Nikos would open his arms wide

to greet someone wholeheartedly, the final, and, joyful at least,

surprise visit of his life. Struggling hard to sit up on his bed, he

had suffered in silence through his pain and frailty, so he could

take in all the stories his euphoric visitor had to share. Nikos had

listened to his friend – the philosopher, doctor and humanist – and

his eyes had glowed with interest at every critical instance, his

spirit rallying against his own body’s infirmity.

These images receded into the white of the surrounding walls

when the nurses burst frantically into the room, upsetting the

emotional continuum. Helen averted her eyes from the busy

nurses, and transfixed them on the origami boat flimsily standing

on the nightstand, a fragile gift from the political prisoners

condemned to death at Corfu Prison. How many hours had he

spent observing it, and how many seas had he traveled upon it!

She wondered if he knew he would soon meet the ones who had

created it?

She felt the urge to tell the nurses to lock the door, to leave

them there forever in that room, together in the frost, but her

dignity and the thought that her husband might have had different

plans for her, gave her pause. She forced back a gut-wrenching

wail as it tried to tear through her and turned to face the window.

She saw three or four stars staring down at her; unashamedly, she

allowed her tears to course their way down her cheeks.

Air! She needed air; but that would mean leaving him behind.

She abruptly stormed out of the room, making her way towards

the hospital exit in hurried, unsteady steps. This was the first time

she had actually been physically apart from him in years, but she

needed oxygen and that room had none. She tried to slow down,

yet sensed somehow that the exit was farther still and quickened

her step. She pushed open the main door with her entire body and

was out. She breathed in deeply as she crumbled on to the front

steps, letting out a long, repressed scream.

“She is not the first,” a passerby might have thought at the

sight of the woman weeping alone; “she won’t be the last,”

another might have concluded as they crossed paths under the

glow of the hospital lights. The last thing on Helen’s mind at that

moment was what random pedestrians might think of her; her

mind was flooded by a torrent of words, images, and

conversations, so recent and so intense that she had not yet had

time to process them.

Just like that time in Denmark, when she had confided in her

husband, not long after the doctors had mentioned the possibility

they might have to amputate his right arm. A wide gushing wound

caused by the vaccine they had forcibly injected him with so he

could travel to China was not healing, and gangrene had begun to

set in. Yet the gangrene had left as insidiously as it had crept in,

and after, she had felt relieved enough to reveal to him her

innermost thoughts. She had confessed to him her determination

to kill him, and then herself, for the thought of an author unable

to write had simply been inconceivable to her. She had defended

her position to her bemused husband, reminding him that he was

also unable to dictate; still, that talk had ended with the unyielding

Kazantzakis, at age 73, trying to teach himself to write with his

left hand.

A warm touch on her shoulders startled her.

He’s alive! The thought bolted through her mind, but it was

instantly dispelled by the gentle eyes of Tapita Swetzer, the nun-nurse

that had been caring for Nikos and who hardly ever left his

side. Helen hung her head down and pressed her forehead to her

knees. At his side she had experienced so many miracles; why

couldn’t there be just one more, she pleaded. The sole certainty of

life is death, she thought. She had been preparing for this final

parting for so long, even if she had never openly admitted it to

him. They both had been preparing: in silence, protecting one

another from the inevitability of his mortality.

The nurse led her back to speak to the doctor, and Helen felt

herself transform, for by the time she had entered his office, her

body stood erect, her head held up high. She was not just another

woman who had lost her husband… no. She was the widow of a

great man, and now, his earthly representative. Doctor Heilmayer

welcomed her, crestfallen. He had become attached to this patient

more than was allowed. At the sight of her he took her hands in

his and held them tightly. What a role hands play in a moment

like this! It is never quite appreciated, as if souls communicate

through the entwined hands. He stood there, dejected, while she

held strong – such a paradox. He was utterly distressed, speaking

to her first, in English, then breaking into German, but she wasn’t

listening to him. Through his office window she watched the

darkness descend to the ground and realized that after thirty-three

years, this was The Dawn of the First Day without Him.

Was it the dawn of a new life? How could she start anything

new when every time she closed her eyes, she saw him? No;

nothing was starting because nothing was ending. This time the

stairs leading up to the room seemed fewer than before, yet the

muscles in her thighs burned; she tried to steady herself, to stand

tall to the responsibilities galloping towards her. She had stood in

the shadow of the willowy Cretan man for so long, and now she

would have to emerge into the light, alone, and yet, it was to this

very shadow he had cast upon her that she owed every second of

her exhilarating life.

It had been late at night, the first time they had met on May

17, 1924. Helen had heard some awful rumors about him,

courtesy of his ex-wife – a well-known author herself – who had

been slandering him in the circles of the Athenian intelligentsia.

How commonplace for an ex-wife, even for an accomplished

author, yet Helen had trekked up Mount Penteli with her circle of

friends nonetheless, to watch the sun rise from the beach in

Rafina. The moon had almost reached mid-sky when she spotted

him, tall and slender, standing among a crowd of people. As much

as Helen tried, she was now unable to recall any of his ex-wife’s

vile words against him. Instead, she could recall ever so vividly the

great impression those two deep lines in his face had left upon her.

They had ridden on the same wagon, and he had stared at her the

entire time. His approach had been almost methodical, easing

toward her, inch by inch, until at last they were sitting side by side

when he smiled at her and in his deep, earnest manner asked her

to tell him her favorite author, color, and greatest joy in life.

When they had arrived at the beach, Helen had sat on the sand,

fully clothed, having forgotten to bring along a swimming suit.

And he, as much as he loved the sea, had turned his back to the

big wondrous blue and had stood before Helen, facing her. He

had asked her about all that she loved, told her stories from the

places he had visited, made her laugh, and all the while he had

stood there, lest she be bothered by the sun and decide to leave

him. That entire day he had only moved just so, following ever so

slightly the sun’s rotation, while she enjoyed the safety of his

shadow. He had assured her he loved the sun, but would take care

to protect her, his fragile Athenian lady, and so he had, for thirty-three years.

That longstanding care had ended tonight. She would now

enter into the harsh light without a defender, without shade.

Everything and everyone would zoom in on her now – eyes,

cameras, and she would be alone in responding to each attack by

his powerful enemies.

But would they continue to persecute a dead man? She glanced

at the empty bed for a second, feeling the same wrenching sob tear

through her once again. She ran to the window, opened it

forcefully and expelled a bitter shriek into the damp chill, tears

rolling down her eyes, crashing furiously on the white hospital

floor. It was by this window that he had stood, waiting for her to

bring him newspapers and books, and each time she returned from

the library, she would see him standing there, seeking her out

anxiously. She would now have to tend to the most tedious

arrangements in her life; she would have to relay the news of his

death to their friends in Crete and in Athens. She took a few more

deep breaths and raised her gaze, but could not discern anything

brighter than gray clouds.

She had never fathomed the possibility of such a somber return

home. She had envisioned it quite differently: him, standing tall

and smiling, with the Nobel Prize tucked proudly in his luggage,

his gift to the Greek people. But that was not their reality; they

had been persecuted relentlessly by the Church, the Palace, and

the para-state organizations of Greece long after they had left,

eleven years before. The attacks had been fierce, even from Nikos’


Would the news soften their hatred somehow? she wondered

as she began to construct a convenient reasoning filled with

rational arguments, as if hatred is mitigated or softened by logic.

He is now dead; he did not incite any form of violence, he never

forced anyone to read his books; this warfare raging against him

will surely begin to wane. Helen’s calming thoughts alleviated her

discomfort, somewhat, and with that, she leaned slightly inward

and shut the window.

A few moments later, Helen walked through the clinic’s front

gate and headed to the Post Office. She dispatched telegrams

announcing her husband’s death to Athens, Herakleion and

Thessaloniki, to family and friends. She thought telegraphing the

news was hard enough; vocalizing the chilling words is harder,

still, Helen thought, as she placed a call to Agnes Roussopoulou,

her trusted friend and lawyer, an ardent feminist and trade


Helen had not even considered which words to use in that

phone call, and the voice of her friend on the other end startled

her. It would be the first time she would acknowledge it, that she

would utter the words.

“Agnes… we lost him…” she burst into tears into the

telephone, as if hearing it herself for the first time. For a few

seconds, neither could speak; when their sobbing subsided, Helen

begged her to get there as soon as she possibly could, to be by her


“Of course, my dear,” Agnes answered. “Please don’t worry.”

Her painful duty done, Helen set out aimlessly, walking about

without a destination like a queen deposed through the medieval

cobblestone alleys of Freiburg – the most sunlit town of Germany

– with its austere geometrical colorful homes, the large windows

and the impressive rooftops. Here and there, small water canals

intersected her aimless stroll; the legend in those parts said that

one would marry a local if one touched the waters, but Helen

walked on indifferently, crossing the picturesque bridges,

unmoved by the water’s monotonously harmonious rhythm. She

couldn’t enjoy anything during this perfunctory Sunday walk. She

tried to organize her thoughts and priorities, to foresee any

troubles or issues that might arise, a process she had mastered by

being constantly at his side.

To him she had been everything: lover, wife, his right and his

left hand, manager, secretary, typist and nurse. It was she who had

typed his Odyssey, the titanic opus of 33,333 verses – of which

her husband had been so proud – seven times, on a small ribbon

typewriter. It was she who had taken care of the tedious

procedural matters: exchanged letters with publishers, arranged

all legal issues, cooked, washed, cleaned house, and ensured that

Nikos got his medicine when he was sick. It was she who would

read all that he’d write and encourage him or dissuade him

respectively, and she who had urged him to turn the stories he

would tell her each night, so she could go to sleep, into written

novels – those incredible stories about his old community, his

town, the Crete he had known and was nostalgic for.

He would always tell others how he felt for her in countless

variations of the same theme: “I am the factory and she is the

electrical current. Should the power be cut, even for a moment, I

would be lost,” he would write to his friends about their


Yet now she stood before the unknown, unable to fathom how

the Church and State – those institutions responsible for Nikos’

self-exile and his longstanding enemies – might react to the news

of his death. Still, it was Nikos’ wish to be buried in the blessed

soil of his homeland, Crete, so she would have to make

arrangements with Agnes, who had helped him with his last will

and testament.

She thought of Nikos with his natural innocence and child-like

kindness, who had been hurt many times by people he had cared

for and had loved, people who had indulged, over the years, in the

guilty pleasure of the character assassination campaign mounted

against him. Those people, often seduced by a disingenuous

friendship with pseudo-intellectuals and “world-educated” critics,

loved to spread rumors about him, yet each time the discussion

turned to this topic, Nikos would only smile; he would rationalize

their bitter envy against him, even justify it. From his perspective,

he had felt it was all too reasonable: their own works were not

read, not even by Greek readers, who might have not even known

they existed, and the very thought of international recognition was

out of the question for them. They were only famous in their own

backyards, and all that remained for them was to gossip and

ridicule the works and choices of others. Among those in these

“intelligentsia” cliques, sadly, was Galatea, his ex-wife and one of

the main sources of those rumors.

Would she be at the funeral? Helen wondered, but just the

thought caused her distress. Helen was not jealous of Galatea –

perhaps, in those first years when Nikos and Helen’s relationship

was still young, but, as time passed, whatever jealousy she might

have felt for her in the beginning had long subsided, despite the

fact that Galatea had continued to use Nikos’ surname. She had

even received full credit for the grammar school textbooks that

Nikos had authored, and had become rather famous, not just in

Greece, but throughout the Greek diaspora as well, and all of it

with his permission, his approval, his suggestion, even. While

Helen, still unmarried, had struggled to save him from starvation

and impoverishment, Galatea had been using his name as her own,

all the while leading a faction of intellectuals at Dexameni district

in spreading rumors about him.

Perhaps Galatea had been reflecting about all that she could

have experienced at his side but was never able to, Helen thought,

mirroring her husband’s compromising and forgiving spirit.

Perhaps his rejection of her as a wife and a lover had hurt her so

profoundly, so entirely, that it had given birth to an overpowering


Suddenly, Helen felt awfully weak. She couldn’t remember

how many hours before – or was it days – she had last eaten. The

mere thought of eating repulsed her, but self-preservation

prevailed. She tried to orient herself, spying a sign about fifty

meters away; guided by a black arrow, she reached a massive

wooden door with over-sized hinges, and pushed it with her last

remaining strength. Inside, the heavy baroque design, with brown

and verdant green dominating the space, evoked a feeling of

stability and safety inside her. Only a young couple were there,

cooing under the mezzanine, looking as though they were in a cave

all by themselves in the entire world.

Helen sat at a table by the window, anxiously avoiding the

dark corners of the room. Convincing herself she would get

something to eat a little later, she ordered tea. She let her eyes drift

around the room and soon found herself unconsciously staring at

the young couple; they were leaning toward one another,

exchanging whispers, swift touches and smiles. She wasn’t jealous,

not at all; she felt happy for them. She had lived it all, wholly and

completely with a man she admired, a man she was passionately

and unreservedly in love with, who had gifted her with more than

one lifetime, who had cared for her, elevated her and loved her.

Her mind gradually calmed, simmering down from its racing

thoughts after the third sip of tea. She felt her eyelids becoming

heavier, shutting themselves, and for a few moments she gave in

to the temptation of keeping them closed, when a thought shook

her awake.

I have to speak to Agnes again, as well as with Nikos’

publisher in Greece, John Goudelis…I need his help with all the

necessary procedures. How will we transport his body to Greece?

What will it cost? Will I even have enough time to return to

Antibes, to get some clothes?

There was a whole tedious process that had to be completed,

and she realized she had to move quickly, she needed to have all

the information by that afternoon, to organize her hectic schedule

for the days ahead. The only thing she felt with certainty in that

moment was that she needed to sleep as soon as possible.

She left in a hurry without finishing her tea, leaving behind

some coins on the table. From the corner of her eye, she stole a

glance at the couple once more; they were seated just as she had

spotted them about twenty minutes earlier – huddled over one

another, still exchanging smiles and caresses.

They have all the time in the world ahead of them, she thought

with a sad smile, as she let the enormous wooden door with the

large hinges close behind her. Her step had regained its usual

determined rhythm. She would return to the hospital to await

Agnes’s phone call, and would see to it that all the procedures in

this – the toughest week of her life – were underway.

After a fifteen minute walk, she returned to the Clinic. Passing

through the hospital gate, Helen was met by a blond nurse with a

closely shorn hair and a noticeably masculine body and manner to

match, who informed her that a relative of Nikos’ was going to

call again, apparently to learn the details of his passing and

matters relating to his funeral. Helen ascended the stairs to the

room. The sterilized environment made her want to flee, but this

feeling subsided when she opened the window and let her gaze

trail through the Black Forest. She leaned her elbows on the

window ledge, recalling all the lighthearted strolls she had shared

with her Nikos, all the teasing and laughter.

For long periods of their life, their world was never larger than

the dimensions of the bench they shared, and it had been the

dreamiest world she could have ever lived in. He would be reading

his ever favorite Inferno by Dante Alighieri, and she would just

gaze at him, devoid of concerns, wants, fears or guilt.

The same nurse came to inform her that she had a phone call,

and by the time Helen descended the stairs and reached the ground

floor, she was once again the iron lady, the dynamic woman

behind the eminent man. On the phone with Nikos’ nephew,

Helen answered all of his questions: his uncle would be interred

in Herakleion – it had been his final wish, after all; she did not

know in how many days that would be, though she estimated that

the funeral would take place by the middle of the following week.

It was fortunate that only a few seconds after she lowered the

receiver, another call came through for her, one where she could

speak more freely. It was Agnes.

“Helen, I don’t have a passport. Today is Sunday and, since

tomorrow is October 28, a national holiday, I would have to wait

until Tuesday, when the public services will be open…”

Helen was almost overcome with despair, until she heard the

“but” which quickly followed. “…But, finally, I located a friend

who works at the Ministry of Interior. I am on my way there now

to be issued an identity certification so I can travel.”

Helen felt warm tears rolling down her face.

“Thank you so much my friend,” she said, trying her best, for

the third time that day, to smother the swelling gratitude she felt

for her friend’s immeasurable generosity.