Oksana dropped me off at the bus stop from which I was supposed to go to Rafina Harbour. So I was going to Andros… When one is brought up reading Halik and Fidler, one is susceptible to catching the travel bug. A thrill of adventure run down my spine… I looked around - Greeks… Like all Southerners, they were loud and bubbly people and yet, drawing on my favourite pieces of Homer’s work, I couldn’t help but see Hectors, Odysseus’ and Achilles’ all around me. Their pronounced foreheads, thick, velvety eyebrows and perfectly sculpted jawlines resembled those of their divine counterparts from the classical era. Another people… another breed. What gorgeous human beings they were! It was then that I also learnt what ‘the Greek profile’ was and, contrary to the common misconception, it didn’t involve a large nose! Their noses simply lacked the bridge curvature, forming a straight line from tip to base instead. One can encounter these features in various examples of classical prints, sculptures and ceramic paintings. I sat there staring at the gorgeous bunch… Were Greeks really that stunning or was the beer I was drinking going down a little too smoothly? In any case, it felt like I’d made my first aesthetic discovery which for an expat writer is an important milestone.
I came out onto the stern. The afternoon sun was drowning in the sea illuminating it red. The propeller span endlessly leaving a foamy braid in its wake. We had left an archipelago of surrounding islands and were now speeding through an open sea. The endless blue blinded me. What would I find in this foreign land? Would it captivate me the same way Greek mythology did? Would I be able to communicate with the locals well enough to understand what’s in between the lines? Would I fulfil my artistic pledge? Suddenly, I remembered my agent’s Vasili’s first words and the coward in me went silent. I had to start learning Greek! After all nothing brings people closer together than language (and ouzo, as I later found out).
We arrived in Andros at sunset. I disembarked the ferry and got on the bus which was supposed to take me to… and that’s how I realised I wasn’t sure where I was actually going. I looked around hoping to ask a question but the co-passangers were preoccupied with their own conversations, eating, or sleeping. I looked ahead - there was nothing but endless tarmac stretching ahead. The non-sleeping folk crossed themselves around every corner - what the heck was going on? Were they afraid of something? Was there something I didn’t know? I watched on as a chain of mountain tops painted against a navy blue sky. The rest was darkness.
Suddenly I heard a phone ringing behind me. The conversation was in English ‘Thank God!’ - I thought relieved. A few minutes later the call ended and I proceeded to ask the question.
- Excuse me. - I turned to the man behind me. - I’m trying to get to Mesaria. Would you please tell me where to get off?
- Sure, I’ll let you know. - said the man quietly.
* * *
I got off the bus and I looked around - it was pitch-black outside. A moment later I heard car brakes being slammed. The car came to an abrupt stop and out came a tall man in a golf cap. It was too dark to see his facial features, the only thing that pierced through the darkness was his huge nose.
- I’ve been following you since Gavrio. - said the man calmly, his voice was deep and easy on the ear. So was his English. - I waited in the harbour.
- Sorry, I wasn’t told you’d be there. - I apologised quietly. - How did you know it was me?
The man chuckled stroking his big nose. - My name is Panayotis. - he introduced himself politely and we shook hands. - I’m your landlord. Let’s have dinner, you’re probably hungry. Afterwards, we’ll go food shopping - milk, bread, coffee, and so on. Do you smoke? - I nodded. - That’s not good - he shook his head in disapproval.
The taverna lights unveiled his wholesome face - apart from his Greek nose (yes, to my disappointment, it turned out some Greeks do have large noses after all!), he had wide lips, thick moustache, calm eyes, and a grey, receding hairline. We ordered our food but, since the conversation lagged, we scoffed it quickly and went food shopping afterwards.
Eventually, we arrived at the house. I couldn’t wait to be alone; I longed for a hot bath and a moment to myself after such an intense day.
'This is your flat.' he said as he opened the door of a dark room. I put my hands on the light switch and let out a sigh of relief... Surely at this point not much more could go badly, right? Wrong! As I flipped the switch I saw what could only be described as a half garage, half laundry room with no signs of a bed. There was a table in one corner and some tools hanging on the wall in a pedantic order. In the opposite corner there was an old industrial washing machine and a bath. Next to them was a basin with a filthy sponge on top of it. Panayotis looked at me amused - Don’t worry, this isn’t all of it. - He unlocked the neighbouring door and inside there was a corridor with a small, flowery sofa, a coffee table and a TV. Further inside was a small room with a catafalque (yup, you read that correctly!) but other than that it did actually resemble a human living space - Hallelujah(?)
- What do you think? - he asked with a proud smile.
- It’s great! I just can’t wait to jump in that catafalque! - he didn’t get the sarcasm. The truth was that at that point I didn’t care if I slept in a bath, a catafalque or a coffin, as long as I slept! But more than anything I wanted Panayotis and his big ol’ nose to get out of my sight. He opened the wardrobe and took out the bedsheets. They were snow white and funky smelling.
- If you want, I could show you the town tomorrow morning? Be ready at 8am.
- Sounds good. - I replied trying to hide my growing tiredness.
Now that my landlord had finally left, I calmed down and felt immense exhaustion engulfing me. I wanted to sleep so badly but needed to have a shower first. I put on the boiler and waited patiently for the water to heat up. I looked around the room - there was a table with two wooden chairs, a large fridge, and sink with a window next to it. In the bathroom there was a shower area with a plastic curtain and a pink loo. Twenty minutes later I whipped off my clothes and happily marched in the shower. ‘A little bit of heaven at last!’ - I thought excited. I soaped up my body and hair, my tense, tired muscles finally relaxing… Suddenly, an ice-cold stream of water exploded out of the shower head shocking me out of my Nirvana moment. - What the hell?! - I cried out. I stood there whimpering as I twisted and turned the nobs in every possible direction - to no avail. I jumped out of the shower reaching out for a towel. Furious, I wobbled into the hallway, slipping left, right and centre. I punched the boiler cupboard door which flung open unveiling the darn thing. - I’m gonna kill that Panayotis guy… - I thought, my mouth foaming up in fury. ‘What are you playing at!?’ - I yelled at the dead object. - ‘And why are you so small?!’ - I continued. Suddenly, the phone rang.
- Who on earth are you screaming at? - It was Panayotis.
- The boiler… - I mumbled.
- Are you nuts? Do you know what time it is? And… Erm… Why are you talking to the boiler? - Panayotis’ voice softened. I had no answer to that one. - Go to bed. You obviously need it. - He put the phone down. I opened my suitcase and fished out my warmest PJ’s which I promptly slipped on, wrapped my soapy hair in a towel, climbed up my catafalque, and fell asleep.