Sunday, November 25, 2012


Ben came down from the hills brown and peeling, his last few drachmas spent and his spirit exhausted by a month of too many stars and resin wine and the odour of sheep dung never distant. His hair, usually the colour of wet sand, was now bright blonde, standing out on his arms as filaments of gold. His jeans were stiff with dust. He walked slowly into the village. A sweat-stained shirt loose about him, and another in his bag, both appropriated from his father's wardrobe back home. A wallet empty of all but a donor card and two tickets for the Paris Metro. His passport. House keys.

He spoke very little Greek, but his thirst was obvious. An old man waved him over with his stick. A pensioner, all in white, white hat, large white moustache, an angel, Ben thought. He sat in the shade outside a bar. 'Kátse káto,' said the old man, gesturing. Ben sat opposite him. The old man shouted for water and beer. 'No drachmas,' said Ben. The old man waved away an imaginary fly. 'No drachmas, no próvlima.'

The old man watched him drink, nodding when he had finished the beer. 'Efcharisties,' said the young man, rising. The old man lifted his hat. His hair was thick and perfectly white.

Further into the village there were tourist shops and a post office, with a sea-rusted Western Union sign sticking out above the door at an uncertain angle. Ben went in. There was only one counter; behind it a small, nervous clerk on the telephone. 'Yes,' he said. And looking up at Ben, 'yes,' again. Then he smiled and handed over the receiver. 'It's for you.'

His father's voice, richly amused. 'Will a hundred quid get you back to Athens?' Shame draining slowly into relief. The clerk counting out the notes with short, slender fingers, like a girl's.

He bought a ferry ticket at a creosoted hut in the small harbour. The next crossing was at five. He walked back to the bar at the edge of the village. The old man was gone. It was too hot to be outside now, even in the shade.  

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Padlock

The padlock was heavy, a lump of polished stainless steel the size and shape of a cigarette packet. His uncle, who ran the hardware store near the cathedral, had engraved it for him. ANNA I XIMO with the date underneath, today's date. Ximo had done some extra hours in exchange, stocktaking in poor light. He felt the padlock bump against his ribs, its shape shrouded by the red lining of his jacket. Like another heart, he thought, but cool to touch, dead. He straightened on the seat of the moped.

He picked her up just after eight. Everything about her sad and dark. Her eyes made him want to cry, even as she was smiling. He had had girlfriends before, several. He had a job and wheels, after all. But Anna's sadness was irresistible, all-conquering. She dressed badly, he suspected, to avoid unwelcome attention from boys like him. She didn't speak much, preferring instead to communicate her inner pain with a broad repertoire of glances, from her large, dark, sad eyes. This suited Ximo, who himself was not much of a talker. Sometimes a gesture was easier. If you didn't know how to say what you felt, or even what it was that you felt, a gesture or an action could make feelings comprehensible or concrete.

Her father watched her put on her helmet. Silhouetted by light from inside, a dark shape, yellow all around. A big avenging angel sort of a man, in a short-sleeved shirt. He saw them pull away, heading out of the city. By the door was a large plant pot. Two gallons of dry earth and a dead aloe. He spat into it, meditatively, and went inside.

The city sat in a bay surrounded by mountains and from the lookout seemed like a gorgeous necklace around the throat of the sea. Ximo took the padlock from his pocket and showed it to Anna. He explained its purpose to her. Here, in front of God or whoever, the padlock represented their unbreakable love. That it could not be sundered. She looked at him and nodded gently, indicating comprehension, if not necessarily approval. There were other padlocks attached to the railings of the lookout, all smaller and tattier than theirs, some with initials written on in permanent marker. Ximo, for the first time, began to feel self-conscious. Perhaps he had said too much. In silence he secured the lock to the railing. Then he threw the keys over it, into the night, the drop too deep to hear them land.

The bad news came about a month later. Anna had grown increasingly evasive, but the text which ended it was shattering nevertheless. I don't want to see you anymore. Ximo put a pair of bolt-croppers, three feet long into a rucksack and swung it across his back. The handles sticking out above his shoulders like the blackened stumps of wings. He got on his moped and rode up the mountain.