by Anita Anand
The man on the yacht is waving to the boy and me. The name of the yacht is Monachus-Monachus, which translates as the Mediterranean monk seal, an animal seen on the islands of Alonissos and Zakynthos.
The boy and I are dressed almost identically, in dark shorts, sleeveless white tank tops and sandals that you can pick up at a stand by the docks in Piraeus. I am not wearing a bra today, having rinsed it and left it to dry on a clothesline at the youth hostel. He is carrying the same long rough white towel as me, rented from the front desk for 100 drachmas.
We don’t know each other.
The boy stands out here in a way I don’t, with his fair skin, long sunny curls and eyes the colour of restaurant mints. He is very slight for a man, but then he is really a boy, no older than me. I am nineteen. We have both stepped out of the youth hostel at the same time and are walking, for now, in the same direction.
We wave back hesitantly at the man on the yacht and continue to walk past the docks towards the beach. We both look at the seagulls, the sailboats, the other yachts. The tide is coming in. The water matches the boy’s eyes.
He is not my type, too small and feminine. But there is a bond between us, things we already know.
Like this: we are both very hungry, but trying to save our money for a ferry or bus or train to the next place. Our official story is that we are traveling, learning about different places and cultures, but really we are just landing once in awhile, skimming the surface. Looking for something to eat.
He wraps his towel around his tiny waist.
“Ye shuld do this too,” he says.
For scavenging? I think. I say nothing as he takes my towel from my hands and wraps it around me.
“Yer awfy wee,” he says, surprising me.
Just then the man from the Monachus-Monachus calls to us. “Come. Come here. Welcome.”
A local man, middle-aged. Lopsided grin, tired eyes under bushy black eyebrows. Once handsome. Loose blue shirt, longish straight black hair blowing in the breeze.
There is, under the brine, a whiff of onions and rosemary.
“Come, you see boat.”
The boy and I glance at each other, wordlessly board the yacht, and follow the man down a few narrow steps into the cabin.
The cabin is warm, dark and muggy. It has the wood paneling of a suburban basement back home. There are floodlights in the ceiling. There is a fire extinguisher in a narrow corner next to a tiny sink. A pot of simmering liquid, the source of the enticing aroma, sits on something that looks exactly like a toy stove. Above the fire extinguisher, there is a sign featuring the English word WARNING. I can’t read the rest from where our host has motioned us to sit, on a sofa upholstered in leather, with small round cushions featuring cartoon cowboys. I look around for something Greek. Well, there is our host, Christos, black hair poking out of the top of his shirt. A gold chain, a gold watch, gold in his teeth. He crouches down, suddenly disappears behind a curtain in the corner by the sink, and when he reemerges, he hands us each a glass of ouzo.
“You see seals? I take you tomorrow, yes? Very nice.”
Ouzo, I think, is basically black licorice in clear liquid form. The Scottish boy—his name, it turns out, is Tom –- listens politely as Christos talks about naval mechanics. Whenever Tom says anything, though, Christos looks at him blankly and then turns to me with a slight frown.
Christos serves us eggplant soup, olives and bread. We are both ravenous but puzzled. In Scotland, in Canada, people do not randomly invite passersby in for food. Tom keeps protesting, “Naw, Ah cuidnae. Naw, a’ richt, ta, jist a wee bit. That’s awfy guid o’ ye.”
Christos is clearly very rich, at least for a Greek, at least in contrast to us. So far he has not spoken of emigrating to Canada. He beams at us affectionately as he refills our glasses.
“How nice. Nice young love, beautiful boy and beautiful girl. You are so lucky.”
Tom tries to explain that we are not together. That we just happened to leave the youth hostel at the same moment, for a walk on the beach.
“Yes, how nice, two beautiful young people on love honeymoon, yes? You sleep here tonight?”
He pins us down with his sad dark eyes. We don’t say anything for a moment, and then suddenly, out of the corner of my eyes, I spot a small, neat picture frame on the wall. Blue background, as in a school photo. A dark-haired girl, perhaps a high-school student, smiling merrily, showing white teeth and dimples.
“Your daughter?” I ask, not hopefully.
“I have no family,” Christos confirms glumly, but his body shifts a little as he prepares to tell us a story.
“Ech, I have nephew. This is lovely wife of my nephew. They visit before. Then only him, but he keep her picture here. Her name Despina, but I call her Persephone, because she only visit in the spring. But now no.”
He sighs heavily.
“Perrsephone, the goddess o’ sprrring,” says Tom. I glance at him, impressed. He acknowledges this with a humble half-bow. Christos doesn’t seem to have noticed his intervention, for he continues.
“Persephone, this is the goddess of spring. Hades, this is lord of the underwear. He take Persephone. Then mother of Persephone, Demeter, she want Persephone come back, so she say Zeus, tell Hades, let my daughter come back. But then, Hades make Persephone eat apple.”
“The pomegrrranate,” corrects Tom.
“Not an apple, this is the fruit with the many seed,” Christos says, ignoring Tom.
“A pomegranate?” I ask.
“Yes, yes, I think. In Greek, poido. Po –ee-do.”
“ Po-ee-do,” Tom and I repeat obediently.
“Yes, she eat the poido and this is why she must come back at the underwear for one-three of the year.”
Christos belches, heaves himself up from his chair and excuses himself as he leaves the cabin. We soon hear his heavy footsteps on the deck.
“Whit he’s tryin’ tae say is the underrworrld,” says Tom. “An’ Hades wis a fuckin’ rrapist!”
Tom is playing with one of my hands.
We hear Christos clear his throat and spit.
“Grrreat!” Tom comments dryly.
“My dad does that,” I say, for no reason at all.
“Is that richt? Why, is thir onythin wrang wi’ him?”
“ Probably. A lot.” And I laugh as if I have said something incredibly witty.
“Naw, naw, Whit Ah mean is, is he ill?”
“I just think something is wrong with him.”
Tom nods. He tickles my palm with a forefinger, and my hand closes up around it like an infant’s.
“How come you know about Greek myths?” I ask him. He seems more attractive to me now. Not just a pretty face.
“An’ how come ye dinnae? Dae they no teach ye yanks onythin’ at the schul?”
“I’m not a Yank. I’m Canadian,” I say, and half pull my hand away.
“Is that richt?” His eyes glint with amusement. He seems much more masculine now that he is mocking me. He grabs my hand back and pulls gently on my fingers, one at a time, leaving a cool buzzing sensation in each. “So, dae they no teach ye Canadians onythin’ then?”
“Yes,” I say brightly. I think: I am drunk. And then I say, “They teach us French.”
“Oooo-la-la,” Tom exclaims, and we look up to see Christos standing in front of us again. Tom unlaces his fingers from mine.
“Ah, Tom, you speak French!” he says, as if this has cleared something up that has been puzzling him. He frowns, and then his body shifts into storytelling mode again.
“Maybe then you can explain a story to me now. It is French story, about a man he die, and he write in blood on the wall, ‘Omar m’a tué.’ What mean, Omar m’a tué?”
He stares at Tom but I answer for him, “It means ‘Omar killed me.’”
This story, much briefer, has the ring of truth to it. Who told it to him? A French couple that he invited onto his boat? Why is he telling it to us now?
Now he asks us again if we will spend the night. He insists on a tour of the two cramped bedrooms, his and then the guest’s, with their identical fake oak king-size bed and night tables. The air is hot and stuffy but the bed looks inviting after youth hostel bunks. I try not to think of the blood graffiti story.
“Dae ye want tae bide?” Tom asks me when Christos disappears behind the curtain again to get more drinks. Tom bores into my eyes with his. He has long eyelashes like a contestant in a little girls’ beauty pageant.
“Stay the night?” he says lightly, teasingly, holding my eyes with his, as if it both matters a lot and doesn’t matter at all.
“Do you?” I mumble, for I don’t know. The ouzo is making everything seem at once blurry and sharply scented, like a thick cloud of perfume.
“Yer richt bonnie,” Tom says.
No one has every said anything like that to me before. I want to say, “You’re the one with the goldilocks and the pretty eyes.
“I hae a lassie at hame in Scotland, but she gaes wi’ ither lads,” he says sadly.
His eyes are glistening.
The sky has turned to dark blue ink. I wonder what time it is. Will the youth hostel be closing its doors soon?
Christos comes back with the drinks and asks us if we would like to take a shower.
“Hot water, very nice.“
At the youth hostel, showers are 200 drachmas, and they are cold. Tom begins the “verrry, verry guid o’ ye,” stammering, but Christos unwraps his towel from around his waist, hands him a plusher version and pushes him up the stairs onto the deck, into the shower stall.
Then he turns around and considers me, as I have followed them up the steps, somewhat wobbily. Christos is somewhere around my father’s age. He smells like a father too, a mix of aftershave and tobacco. But the fathers I have known all seem beleaguered by an abundance of human company. Maybe because he is a bachelor, Christos seems completely insane with loneliness.
I think of the photo of Despina. How to avoid ending up like Christos, scaring people with desperation and crazy storytelling? This is why people get married and start families, I think. Because they know that otherwise there is a chance they’ll end up like this.
Maybe I should marry Tom. I don’t know him, but we would have pretty children. I see a pair with golden ringlets, holding hands. We would be safe, I think. There is safety in numbers. I listen to the waves outside, hitting the shore, and for a moment it is as if the noise is the sound of alcohol rocking around in my head. The inside of my brain, I think, is ouzo, rocks, fog, deepening darkness.
Now Christos turns to me and says, smiling a little questioningly, “You wan me to tell you something about your young man, beautiful Cassandra?”
I am baffled and speechless. My name is not Cassandra.
“No? O.K., go to him. Go to your young man.”
I suddenly fear that if I decline, he will claim the right to have me. Drunk and dizzy, I let him push me into the stall with Tom. Tom is naked; his wet hair seems very long. I let the shower drench my clothes as we stare at each other.
“Tom, who is Cassandra?”
“Christos called me Cassandra.”
“Is that so? Whit dae ye ken?”
“What do I what?”
“What do you know?” he says, in a soft American drawl.
“Is that a question?”
He just looks at me. Finally, he puts his arms around me and draws me to him. I kiss him tentatively, and then he kisses me back and then we stay entangled within the warm, wet sensation like suckling children.
And then he shocks me; he pushes me away.
I step out of the stall, confused and cold now in my wet clothes, and wait for him. Christos hasn’t left me a towel. I had thought he was hovering outside the shower, but now I hear the bouzouki music from below deck. He must be waiting for us in the cabin with more drinks. Will he expect us to dance with him?
Tom comes out of the shower, avoiding my eyes. I miserably pat myself dry with the damp towel he hands me on his way out of the stall.
He pushes past me and in a moment I hear him in the cabin.
“Naw, thanks a’ the same. Verry guid o’ ye. We hae tae go. Naw, we cannae bide. Naw, the lass has tae gang back tae the hostel fur her stuff, ye ken, or we’d surely bide wi’ ye.” His voice is light, sing-songy. I can imagine Christos’ expression of disappointment and bafflement. I don’t want to go back but Tom returns to where I am standing, shivering. Fierce again, he grabs my hand and marches me back down the steps, muttering, “Say ‘Thanks’ tae the guidman, wull ye no?”
A few minutes later we leave the boat, still holding hands, smile and wave cheerily at the Greek as he watches us with a drunken, hurt pout. As Tom drops my hand I feel my face relax into a similar pose.
“Whit did ye dae that fur, eh?” Tom barks at me.
“What did I do what for?” I ask, glumly. Suddenly we are bickering as if we have known each other two thousand years.
“Whit did ye egg me on fur? Whit did ye egg me on fur when Ah telt ye?”
“Telt ye what?” I ask, dimly aware that I am mimicking his accent. If we were a long married couple rather than two drunken strangers, would I be doing the same? Probably, I answer myself dully.
“Ah telt ye Ah hid a lassie at hame in Scotland, Ah did. Ah did tell ya. An’ aye ye hud tae keep on eggin’ me on. Yer brazen, urn’t ye? Whit did ye think ye wir playin’ at back there? Whit wis on yer min’?”
And on and on. I clam up. I worry that he does in fact know what I was thinking.
“Naw, yer no’ a Cassandra. Yer one o’ the’ Sirens fro’ Sirenus Scopuli.”
I think of a friend back home, who had a lot more experience with men than me, but always complained, “They make no sense. They’re not like us, you know. The things they come out with. They might as well always be speaking Greek.” I will myself not to listen to Tom. Still, I keep tuning in. At one point he is saying, “And anither thing, ah never kent a lassie who hud sae little respec’ fur her faither.”
What I had no idea of course, back then, is just how many affable strangers would turn out to be complete madmen, some even uttering threats. How many guys would find me bonnie and charming and sexy and delightful—and never call. Run into them in the street and they would look away, muttering to themselves, as if offended, as if I had somehow polluted them by virtue of my existence. And how sometimes it would be me, being the hot and cold psycho. The fact I was never slashed to death, my blood coagulating into gruesome sentences on a wall, fills me with amazement, when I think about it.
I’ve been wondering lately what must have happened to Christos. Is he even still alive?
And Tom. He must have changed a lot by now. I wonder if he still has his hair.
I dreamt that our footprints, Tom’s and mine, had hardened in the sand as if in cement, and we stood looking at them, I puzzled, he unsurprised. He turned and looked at me with a trace of a smile and gave a wry shrug.
He didn’t look like himself; he kept morphing between my ex-husband and a man who advertises gunk remover on T.V.
My father, who died ten years ago of lung cancer, smiled sadly at us from the yacht, waving two white towels, before disappearing inside.