A Greek Tragedy
The sun beat down through the dust-covered window of the old rambling bus as it chugged across the central plain towards the capital. I was visiting the Greek island of Paros, located in the middle of the Cyclades, in the heart of the Aegean Sea, nearing the end of my annual three week get-away-from-it-all vacation. Each year, I plucked a destination out of the air, did a little research, and then jetted off to see if I’d made an inspired choice. On this occasion I’d cheated a little; some time ago, a good friend of mine had suggested I might find the Cyclades an interesting place to explore. Without doubt it’d been a good call.
I’d arrived on the island of Mykonos at the beginning of August, some two and a half weeks earlier, leaving behind a very damp and miserable London. Despite another depressing start to the month in the UK, there were reports I’d be returning to an Indian summer, but for all its merit, the prospect of fine weather back home couldn’t compare to the intense heat I was experiencing right now. With temperatures soaring high into the forties, bright blue skies and seas, my soul was invigorated by everything around me. I felt free, uninhibited and simply happy to be alive.
I enjoyed two days on Mykonos, exploring the small towns and villages, taking in the night life and sampling the local fare. I met up with fellow back-packers from all over the world and drank cheap ouzo by beach party campfires, while listening to an eclectic mix of music. I then took a ferry to the island of Tinos, where I did much of the same, before heading over to Syros. I hopped from island to island, taking in the sights of Kithnos, Serifos and finally Sifnos. Here I took up residency in one of the old monastery dwellings in the bay of Vathy, where I spent my days lying on the beach, listening to music and exploring the coral reef with borrowed face mask and snorkel. I survived on a diet of freshly grilled calamari, served from beach-side barbeques, washed down with ice cold Mythos beer. I came in search of paradise and believed I’d found it.
I stayed on Sifnos far longer than anticipated. My batteries recharged, it was with reluctance I caught the ferry from Kamares, bound for Paros, the Clapham Junction of the Cyclades. It was to be my last port of call before returning to Mykonos, to catch my flight home to Blighty in two days’ time. The crossing to Paros was an eventful one. The rusty old vessel was packed to the rafters with tourists, and the sea was unusually rough for the time of year. Upon our arrival at the port of Parikia, the island’s capital, I was feeling worse for wear and very relieved to get my feet back on terra firma.
I managed to find a cheap bed and breakfast for a couple of nights, and was content to spend a quiet evening at a nearby family-run restaurant. The patron did his best to send me off to my bed completely hammered, insisting I join him in countless one-more-for-the-road shots of ouzo. Despite a raging hangover the following morning, I took an early breakfast, before setting off to explore the island. Travelling with a small rucksack, I jumped on a bus to Pounda and hiked my way along the coastal path to the villages of Vaigia, Voutakou and Alyki. Stopping for a small bite to eat and a beer, I continued my trek along the uneven track, taking another bus to Glyfa and Drios, before heading inland to Kostos. Having had my fill of exploring for the day, I decided to make my way back to Parikia, where I intended to revisit the patron of the family-run restaurant, with the sole intention of ordering a repeat performance of the night before.
I first set eyes on her as the dilapidated old rust bucket began to meander down a steep and narrow pass on the outskirts of the old town. The driver had unexpectedly slammed on the brakes to avoid an old man walking his mule, which in turn caused one of my earphones to drop from my lobe and bring me to my senses. I turned away from the dirty window, reinserted the earpiece and looked up into the rows of passengers, squashed in their seats like sardines, baking within the stuffy confines of the bus. And there she was, sitting diagonally opposite me across the aisle, wedged between a middle-aged woman clutching a wicker basket laden with vegetables, and an old man sporting a cloth cap, leaning on a walking stick, which he held upright between his legs. She was an olive-skinned vision of beauty, with dark brown eyes and a freckled face. Her long curly brown hair cascaded over her shoulders like a lion’s mane and she wore a knee-length black cotton dress, paired with white pumps. Her demeanour radiated warmth and effervescence; she seemed totally out of place on public transport, or at least that was my immediate impression.
I smiled to myself. How long had she been sitting there, I wondered? Had I been so preoccupied with the scenery outside, so lost in my thoughts while listening to my favourite playlist, I hadn’t notice her get on? As if reading my mind, she grinned, and I couldn’t help but return the gesture.
We spent the next ten minutes or so stealing glances at each other. She clutched a mobile phone in her hand, and at regular intervals she’d look down, frantically tap away at the screen, and then peer up at me and smile. Periodically, she leaned forward and extracted a large bottle of mineral water from the bulky linen beach bag that sat squat between her legs. On each occasion, she seductively unscrewed the cap and drank freely from the glass vessel, while staring across at me, before replacing the top and depositing the bottle back in her bag. With each sip, I watched on, my lips craving refreshment; her tanned neck flexed with each gulp, which did nothing to dispel my feeling of longing.
I chose to combat this torture by closing my eyes, pretending to be lost in the music on my iPod. I’d contrive to open them at the first opportunity, such as when the bus plundered into a pothole in the road, causing the very fabric of the ancient vehicle to shudder. Each time I peered across at her, I was met by the radiance of her friendly face. There was an incessant hive of activity all about us as passengers conversed, boarded and descended the bus along its route, but we were oblivious to it all. Although strangers, we seemed to transmit a mutual understanding, reading each other’s minds. It was as if we were long lost friends, initially unaware of the fact; and with each passing second, it was slowly dawning on us.
Or so it appeared.
The bus lurched to a halt outside a small village hall, and she suddenly rose to her feet, squeezed past several standing passengers who obstructed the narrow aisle, and headed for the exit. As if abruptly awoken by a bad dream, my unruffled expression changed to one of alarm. She stared back at me and stifled a laugh. Snapping out of my trance, I smiled, conscious of how serious I must’ve appeared. As she stepped down from the bus, she made one final gesture over her shoulder towards me, and before I knew what I was doing, I found myself standing by the roadside as the ageing wreck pulled away, leaving behind a plume of thick black smoke.