Calabar beans. Ordeal beans. These were given to test witchcraft. They are poisonous. If the imagined witch succumbed to the poison, this was held to be proof of guilt. If the poison was rejected by vomiting, then person was help to be innocent. Rather kinder than the ducking stool, in which survival was held to be a proof of guilt!
I lived in Greece in the 1970s and fell in love with a great-hearted fisherman called Stratos. He was living in Mykonos, working hard to raise money for his sister's dowry, on another island. After a year together, filled with romance and laughter, he left to go back home to oversee arrangements for putting his sister's dowry together. Arcane, I know, but it was the way of the world. He then contacted me and asked me to join him. I flew to his island and then took the only cab towards his village. After some time the cab came to a standstill and I transferred to a donkey. An hour later we tapped up the street to Stratos' family house. Over the coming chilly weeks, I walked with him over the island, hunting, fishing and shooting for the pot. He laughed that I could shoot a rabbit, or heave an octopus from the depths, pick snails when it rained, and add them all to the pot that simmered throughout the long winter months in the kitchen. Occasionally I went into the earth-based, earth-smelling, olive-smelling, ham-smelling store-room which was the ground floor of the house. Standing on a plank with a bucket of water that had been heated in the kitchen, I scooped water of my body with a saucepan.
I loved tramping across the mountains or along a river course with Stratos, and thought life was good. But odd things happened. Things in my room (which I did not share with Stratos while we were there) got moved around in an uncomfortable way. I had a single small red suitcase, and tiny treasures, a shell, a ring, disappeared. The women thought that I had mental problems as, as far as they were concerned, there was no other language than Greek, so my less than fluent attempts must mean that I had problems. They were unkind – enjoying embarrassing me and letting the 'lamb' free while I was in the outhouse, where he would throw himself against the door viciously until one of them recaptured him.
One day Stratos and I staggered in, late and tired, with an assortment of fish. As we walked up the path we could see that the trees around the house where festooned with pale ribbons. As we came closed I began to recognise them as shreds of my clothing – my favourite pink cotton shirt, fabric I had bought from Maroulena and which she had so sweetly made into skirts for me, two t-shirts – all cut into ribbons and draped through the branches. Stratos held me in his arms and said "You have to go. Next time it will be you."
The next day he took me to the 'airport' on his motorbike. I had no luggage. The last time I saw his lovely face I was in the plane speeding along the runway, with Stratos racing along beside us. I am now so fortunate to be married to someone with as big a heart and as much laughter as that man had. But I do sometimes wonder what became of Stratos and if he flew as he should have fled. Or did he do the right thing, which that good good man probably did, and marry a local girl, support his family, stay in that mean little village. Wherever he is, my love to him. Dear man.
This all started because of witches.