9

THOSE WEEKS OF barbecues in the midst of the fighting were carefree for me. I had not returned to school. Then one day I found my mother and stepfather had disappeared from the hotel. They hadn’t told anyone where they were going, and I didn’t have any idea myself. I was worried. Something told me to go to a hospital. There were several, and I didn’t know which. I started walking down the streets of Nicosia without any idea where I was going. After about a half-hour, I saw the big general hospital in Nicosia.
I hesitated a moment, then went straight through the main door, walked into the elevator, and went up to the fourth floor. No one had told me anything, but I didn’t have any doubt as to where to go and what to do. I walked out of the elevator, turned left, and went straight down the hall to a room with an open door.
In the room I found my stepfather in bed and my mother sitting beside him. My stepfather had had a heart attack and had been rushed to the hospital. On are rival he had seemed in fair condition, but the doctors were taking no chances. After that, he had to take things easy and be careful of what he did.
It was a strange experience. My parents were absolutely stunned to see me. I didn’t know what steered me in the direction of the hospital, or how I could possibly have known exactly what room and floor to go to.
As my thirteenth birthday approached, the question of my bar mitzvah came up. Of course, that was a very important thing for a boy in Israel, but in Cyprus, where there were very few Jews, it presented a loft of difficulties. With the constant fighting there was no place to have the ceremony. When the time came, we held it at the Israeli consulate. I had a friend named Peter who was about my age, and we had our bar mitzvahs together there. I received several books and a leather pencil case, which I loved. The combined ceremony was quiet and simple.
The time finally came when I had to go back to school. My mother told me one day, “Look, we’ve found another boarding school that is not Or away from the house, about a half an hour’s drive. It’s up on the hills near Nicosia, and it’s a Catholic school.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, the teachers are monks, and we’ve heard it’s a very good school.”
“What do you mean, monks?”
She explained to me a little about Catholics and their beliefs, which I knew a little about from Scripture lessons at the American school. Being Jewish, I had been excused from many of the Christian religious activities, so I was pretty ignorant about the New Testament.
The school was on a hill, and the buildings were made of big yellowish blocks of what must have been sandstone. It had a beautiful entrance, and the garden was laid out nicely. (The first thing I noticed was that two sides of the garden were lined with bushes cut in the shape of crosses.)
I liked the way the school looked. It was new and clean, and the floors inside the buildings were made of marble. The dormitory was upstairs, a long room with about fifty beds in it. There were basketball courts, tennis courts, volleyball courts, and soccer fields. Surrounding the school were rocks and caves, with no other houses in sight.
The school, called Terra Santa College, was in some way connected to the Vatican. There were nuns on the staff as well as monks, working as both teachers and administrators. Father Massamino and Father Camillo ran the school. Then there were two other monks, both American – Brother Mark and Brother Bernard. I liked Brother Bernard very much. He was to have a lot of influence on my thinking.
Other, on the teaching staff were, laymen, not directly part of the church. One tough, blustery teacher, Major Jones, who taught us history, had been in the British Army. Mrs. Agrotis was an English-woman married to a Greek. I grew to like her very much.
I began to make good friends among the students there. A favorite of mine was Ardash, a chubby Armenian fellow who was a genius in mechanics. He was a day student who lived near the school. He used to collect all kinds of auto parts and rebuild cars. When I visited him, which was often, he would borrow his father’s car and sometimes let me drive it on one of the dirt roads near his house. That was exciting. I also learned a lot about racing cars from him.
Gunther Konig, a blond, good-looking German boy, was another good friend. He was extremely neat, got good marks, and was very clever in mathematics. I somehow had the feeling that his father had been a Nazi and that he was a little ashamed of this. There was also an American from California named Bob Brooks. Joseph Charles. whose father was Greek and mother was English, was probably my best friend, a very funny guy who was always making jokes and who boarded at the school with me. My other friends were all day students, and I couldn’t see as much of them during the school week.
The rules of the school were strict. The Fathers wouldn’t put up with any nonsense and wouldn’t hesitate to deliver a sharp ruler across the knuckles if you strayed out of line. We ate in a big dining room, and I wasn’t crazy about the food at all.
Gunther, Joseph, Bob, and I used to sneak out of the school grounds and explore the enormous number of caves that lay just outside the grounds in the hills sure rounding the school. You didn’t dare go into them without a flashlight and chalk to mark the path you took inside the caves. Otherwise, you would be lost and finished for good. There was a story about two boys who had entered one of the caves before the school was built and never did find their way out. Their bodies were found many weeks later.
When you entered from the hot, dry sun, it was like going into a refrigerator. You could go into one cave, find a little opening, squeeze yourself through it, and come out into another huge cave. This in turn would lead to another huge cave, which in turn would lead to another, and so on.
I used to like to enter one big cave alone, then slip myself into another hole. There would be a long tunnel, and I’d have to crawl on my hands and knees until I reached another hole that led into a smaller cave. From that smaller one, I would go through another slit, which turned into a tunnel sloping down, down, down. You could feel it getting colder and could see the wetness on the walls and the water dripping from them. Then, after about a five-minute walk, you would reach a point with four different ways leading away from it. You had to take the right path or you would be lost. I knew which one to take in that cave, ‘because I used to go there many times. It led to a huge opening where the entire bottom of the cave was covered with a pond.
It was like another world. I could hear the water dripping in the pond, and I would turn off the flashlight and listen in absolute pitch darkness. I found peace down there. I wasn’t frightened. It was just peaceful.
We got punished many, many times by the Fathers and Brothers, because it was dangerous and they knew it. They told us the story of the boys who had perished. I guess it must have been true. It could easily have happened.
One day I found another cave that was farther away from the school than any we had explored. I was alone that day and excited by the chance to explore an entirely new cave all by myself. I found that there were many caves inside after I entered. I decided to go into one of them to see where it led. I had my flashlight and my chalk with me. I marked my way carefully with the chalk, ‘because I knew how dangerous it could be without these markings to follow back. As I went farther into the second cave, it seemed to have no end. After several minutes I decided that I’d better not continue alone in this strange cave. I had already come a long distance into it, and I figured I had taken as big a chance as I could for the first time.
I turned around to go back, and to my shock I couldn’t find a single chalk mark anywhere. I pointed my light everywhere, but I couldn’t see a single arrow. I was lost, completely. It is a terrible feeling to ‘be lost underground in the pitch darkness. I was in a panic. I was getting cold. My sense of time had left me. I wondered how long the batteries could last in my flashlight. I started running. I had no idea which direction 1 was running in, and there still wasn’t a sign of a chalk arrow anywhere.
I sat down and waited and prayed to God. I guess I must have prayed for an hour or more. I was terrified. There was nowhere I could go, nowhere I could turn. I had turned my light to every single section of the walls on all sides of me, looking for my arrows. It was absolutely hopeless. And then an incredible thing happened.
In the silence, I heard the unmistakable bark of a dog. I would have known that sound anywhere. I shined my light in the direction of the bark. There was Joker, as big as life. I was so happy. I grabbed him and we played together for several minutes. He licked me and scratched my chest with his paws. Then I held his collar, and he led me directly out of the cave. We walked home together, playing all the way.
My stepfather’s hotel was on 12 Pantheon Street in Nicosia. It was at least forty minutes away by car from the area of the caves, if not more – and much more by walking or running up those hills. I tried to figure how Joker had known I was in trouble, how he knew where I was, how he found the cave, how he appeared there out of the blue. Things were to happen many, many years later that might explain it. At that moment in Cyprus, I could do nothing but wonder.
The troubles in Cyprus had not stopped. The school looked straight down on Nicosia, and we could hear the shooting and see some of the explosions from bombs. I didn’t know quite what to think about it. The Greeks wanted independence, the Turks wanted the island divided in half, the British wanted to stay in Cyprus. I didn’t know who was right.
On a visit to Nicosia I saw a horrible scene that still stays with me. A British soldier was walking down the middle of the street with his wife and carrying his daughter on his shoulders. I was idly watching this soldier when I saw a Greek sneak up behind him and shoot him in the back. I stood there petrified. The soldier collapsed, the daughter fell from his shoulders, and his wife screamed in agony. Everybody in the street ran and hid. There was nothing else to do. The shots of snipers could come from anywhere, from roofs, from doorways, from alleys. The British soldiers would walk up and down the streets carrying machine guns, looking to right and left, never knowing whether a bullet was going to come at them or not. Not only were the Greeks killing the English, but the English were killing the Greeks, and the Turks and the Greeks were killing each other.
Women and children were murdered and left in their bathtubs. Bodies were hung on meat hooks and left in the streets. At night you could hear the shots, the screams, and the sirens. It was there all the time, and there was no getting used to it.
In spite of the chance to make good friends at the school, I still felt lonely. From one point on the hill where the school stood I could look down on Nicosia and spot the area where my home was. I couldn’t see my stepfather’s hotel, but I could pick the area out. Loneliness would come over me at those times, and I would have to fight it. I kept wishing I could be a day student, the way many of my friends were, but of course it was too far to go back and forth, especially with the fighting and the troubles going on.
Being at a school with boys and teachers of various nationalities, I found I could pick up languages easily. I was speaking English without any trouble, and I picked up quite a bit of Greek. Of course, I could already speak Hungarian, Hebrew, and some German, because my parents used these languages. In my early years I thought in Hebrew, but now I usually think in English.
The strange energy powers continued to show up from time to time, but I didn’t use them on watches. I still remembered all the teasing I used to take back in Tel Aviv, and I didn’t want that to start up again. But I had some problems. I was not a bad student, but I certainly wasn’t a good one. During some examinations, when I was stuck for an answer, I would wonder what to put down on the exam paper. I would stare at the rest of the class, and most of them seemed to be doing very well. One time, during a math test, I looked at the back of Gunther’s head. He was one of the best in the class. I suddenly saw his answers on the screen of my mind.
It was sort of like a television screen in my head. I was getting Gunther’s answers on that screen, just as I used to get them with my mother when she came home from playing cards. I never feel these things. I see them inside my head. They appear in the front of my mind, my forehead. The screen is greyish. Now on that screen I get things. If someone thinks of a drawing, a number, or words, I see them in writing.
So on this screen I received Gunther’s answers. I passed that exam with flying colors. Then I came to depend on it. I would pick the brightest kid in the subject, concentrate on the back of his head, and come up with his answers. I didn’t think of it as copying then, but, of course, when you come right down to it that’s what it was. The only trouble was that, as I continued doing it, I used to get the same mistakes the others were making,
The teachers began to suspect me of copying. I protested that I wasn’t – which I thought was true. The teachers wouldn’t listen to me. During examinations, they placed me at a desk in a far corner of the room where I couldn’t possibly see the papers of any of the other students, and they guarded me personally to see that there was no chance of my copying.
But that didn’t make any difference. I would just look at the best student in the class from a distance and get his answer. The teachers were baffled, because I was still getting the correct answers as well as the mistakes. They didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t have the nerve to tell them what was going on.
Mrs. Agrotis, who taught English, got very interested in me about then. We all liked her. She was about forty, with a pretty face, and very good-hearted. She never punished or beat the children, as some of the teachers did. One time when she was guarding me during an exam, I began picking up her thoughts, in words, on this crazy screen in my mind. She seemed to be worried about something that had happened at the market the day before, and I forgot myself and asked her about it. She was taken aback. Another time she had just come from her doctor’s office, and I asked her if everything went all right at the doctor’s. She was shocked, because no one knew that she had been there. I got the thought by seeing the word “doctor” on my screen, and then I also saw her in her doctor’s office. This kind of information lasts only for a split second in my mind. But l can tell that I’m not making anything up, because what I see is not the least bit relevant to anything I’m thinking at the time.
Mrs. Agrotis and I used to talk after class. She was sure that this wasn’t something ordinary happening. I finally bent a key and a spoon for her, and she was really amazed. The word soon got around again, although no one teased me the way they had when I was very young. I showed some of what I could do to Gunther, Bob, and Joseph. They were very impressed.
Soon I became aware that the teachers were having arguments about me. I would sometimes be asked to go to the stationery supply room, which was next to a room where the teachers gathered, and I could hear them are Suing. One would say I had supernatural powers. Another would say that whatever had happened was nothing but pure coincidence. Another would say it was all tricks. Then each would tell the others what had happened in his class. I have to admit that I got a kick out of listening to them. They kept asking things like: What is he? What is he doing? What is he up to? Since I hardly knew myself, I couldn’t have answered them.
After I had started two or three broken watches, one of the women teachers one day brought four broken watches, very old ones, into class. I passed my hands over each of them, and they all started working. This raised my stock with many of the teachers, which I didn’t mind at all. The whole faculty was now really amazed and shocked, including the Fathers and the Brothers.
I am still in touch with some of them today. One of the Brothers is now in Chicago, and I had a nice talk with him about those days. Mrs. Agrotis read about me in the British newspaper News of the World in December 1973, when so many objects had bent all over England after my television appearance there. She was still living in Nicosia. Not knowing my address, she wrote the newspaper:
Dear Sir:
Uri Geller was a pupil of mine for five years in Cyprus. Even while so young he astonished his friends at the College with his amazing feats, i.e., bent forks, etc. The stories he told them of the wonderful scientific things that could, and would, be done by him, seem to be coming true. I for one do believe in him, he was outstanding in every way, with a brilliant mind, certainly one does not meet a pupil like him very often.
Please convey my best wishes to him when next you meet. I only hope I will be in the U.K. next time he appears on TV. I would like to meet him again and remind him of the happy years spent in Cyprus.
Yours sincerely,
(Mrs. ) Julie Agrotis
It was interesting to get a copy of that letter, so many years after those school days. It reminded me of how long the strange energy forces have been with me, and how they aroused controversy and disbelief even back in the 1950s, back in school. I also still hear from some of my friends there, especially Bob Brooks, who is in California now working with TV Guide. Joseph Charles also came to visit me in New York one time. Each had read about me and remembered all the strange things that happened back at the school in Cyprus.
There were others who remain in my mind. There was an old, very learned Turkish man who was the keeper of the large mosque in Nicosia. We all liked him, I think because he had a mystical quality about him, He would let us into the mosque during off hours and take us to look at the big pillars and the strange interior, with its spiral staircases and mysterious atmosphere. He used to tell us stories about the Turkish wars, and how brave the Turks were. But in the meantime I would be hearing elsewhere about how brave the Greeks were, and each side would be telling how important it was for its people to be independent. I would sometimes talk to the Turk about my belief in God, and he would point out that the Jews, the Muslims, and the Christians all had the same God; he believed that all men should not only love God but also love each other.
I wondered how we might really put ideas like that into practice. We really had to do it if the world was to survive. With all the terror and the horror in the streets of Cyprus, and with the Arabs and the Israelis at each other’s throats, this seemed a long way off. Even then, back in Cyprus in the late 1950s, I was thinking that I would try to work for peace and love in the world, even though it seemed impossible. Each group was praising its own God, and yet that God was really the same for all of them. However, few of them were living up to their own faiths, which called for love and forgiveness. It seemed we were all lost in the dark caves, and there was no dog like Joker to come and lead us out.
One bright winter morning I was sitting in a classroom when Brother Bernard came into the room and told the teacher he would like to speak to me. This hardly ever happened. He took me out to the hall and told me that someone had come to the school to take me home. When I asked him why, he said that something had happened to my stepfather. And my first question was: Is my mother all right? I was very concerned. He reassured me, and I went down the corridor where I met a friend of my mother’s. She told me that my stepfather was very sick, that he had another heart attack. Somehow I knew right away that he was going to die.
As the car started down the hill toward Nicosia, I burst out crying. While I felt badly about my stepfather, I never had such a deep personal feeling for him. My immediate concern was my mother, and what was going to happen to her. All kinds of emotions broke loose. I hated living at the school, and yet now that I knew I would be leaving it I felt bad about it, but glad at the same time.
At the hotel I found my mother sitting beside my stepfather’s bed. His eyes were closed, and he seemed to be sleeping. He died that night. At the funeral, as my mother cried, I knew that she was both grieving and worrying about what we were going to do now that Ladislas was gone.
We were alone now, my mother and I, and I knew I would have to take on many responsibilities and try to help run the inn. I would say this was my real bar mitzvah, because, I suddenly became a man that day.
I started going to school as a day student, which made me feel better. The hotel passed down to my mother, and we set about to keep it going. The property was only rented, my stepfather hadn’t owned it, so we had to continue to pay the rent and try to make ends meet. My stepfather had also had a music shop in partnership with another man, and his interest there had to be sold while my mother and I tried to carry on the work at the hotel. The warfare was making things tough. Many of the cabarets were closing, and performers had always been our best customers. Everybody loved my mother, as well as her Hungarian cooking. All the guests who had stayed there before came back or planned to come back. Our problems stemmed from the times and the troubles.
Everyone at school was kind to me after the funeral. Father Massamino called me into his office, which was a very rare thing for him to do with anyone. He was a tall, powerful man with glasses and always wore a little cap. He called me over to his desk and told me he had been sorry to hear about my stepfather’s death. Then he told me he wanted to give me a little present.
From under his shirt he drew out a chain with a cross on it, and near the cross on the same chain was a mezuzah, a Jewish symbol that I had never seen him wear. He said, “I want you to have this.” And he took it off the chain and placed it in my hand, then closed my hand over the mezuzah. He told me that he believed in my religion very much. I had never talked to him personally before, and I was moved by his gesture.
With my stepfather’s interest in the music shop sold out, my mother felt we were able to rent a newer and maybe larger inn. I was feeling the sense of responsibility very much now, so I got on my bicycle and rode all over Nicosia to look at every building I could find with a “For Rent” sign on it. I guess people must have thought it was funny for a fifteen-year-old boy to come to the door and ask what the rent would be. But I was determined to find the best possible place for my mother. I came upon a nice, fairly modern villa with eleven rooms. It was on a quiet street and at one time had been a club. It was quite beautiful.
I went home and told my mother about it. After she had looked at it, she decided that it would be a good move. The rent was not too high, and we got ready to move in. The new responsibilities I was taking on gave me a sense of independence, of growing up. I made all the arrangements for the trucks and drivers to come and take the furniture from the old inn and did all the planning, down to tipping the movers.
After we got settled, I continued on in school, bicycling up the long hill from the town of Nicosia every day. Going up was terribly difficult, and I was practically exhausted when I arrived. But coming back I never even had to touch the pedals – that wonderful sense of freedom again. It was a strange time, this halfway period between boyhood and manhood.
I always had a good imagination, and I would have all kinds of future dreams and future realities planned. I wasn’t afraid to talk about them to Mrs. Agrotis, who had a sympathetic ear. I used to tell her the most far-out stories of what I believed in. I believed that there was definitely life outside of our planet, for example, and my instincts told me such a thing was not a myth or a science-fiction story. She listened and was fascinated. She would ask me to tell these fantasies to some of the younger classes she taught. I would tell them that I’m in a rocket, and I’m traveling at great speeds, and I’m arriving at very strange places with strange colors.
Mrs. Agrotis wanted to know more about the telepathy that kept occurring during exams or other times, about how I could read teachers’ minds. She sometimes used to give us a half-hour in class to write a fast composition. Joseph Charles sat at least five rows behind me. I never moved from my chair, and he didn’t from his. Yet several times my composition was the same as his, almost word for word. She would ask him: “Joseph, did you copy from Uri?” He would of course deny it. And I would then look at his paper and say: “My God, it’s nearly exactly the same thing!” She kept asking: How did I do these things? And the only thing I could tell her was: “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
And I didn’t. All I knew was that I sometimes knew what other people were thinking. It really didn’t make life any easier. In fact, with all the doubts on the part of the teachers who thought I was deliberately cheating, it made life harder. It was something of a strain.

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