Solitude in Athens

On a Saturday evening, while I was getting out from the shower, all covered in towels, I heard the phone ringing. It was my friend, Mi.:

– Hello, how are you, where are you?, she asked quickly, without waiting for my answer.

It meant she wanted to say something urgent and quite important to her.

– You’re like a policeman! I’m home, I’ve just had a shower…I said, sitting by the stove to warm up.

– Perfect, she said, put on something sexy, some make-up, a little perfume and come by my house for a coffee!

– First, tell me: are you drunk and you called me because you need a ride home?

– No, I wanted to invite you to a buzukia (a club with live traditional Greek music) tonight!, she laughed.

– Ok, you’re in the mood for jokes, but please let me tell you that I don’t have the money to pay for this so called „fun”! What has got into you?

– Listen, I mean it now, it’s my boss’ birthday and he invited all the girls who work here, to a buzukia, where he reserved two tables. If I tell you who’s singing, I bet you will be ready in five minutes: Iannis P. So, are you already on your way out?

– You don’t know how much I love you!, I said, delighted.

This singer, besides the fact that he was one of my favourites, was also my Greek „teacher”, because, many years ago, when I came to Greece, listening to his songs and his warm voice (without understanding the words), I decided to study the language. So, how could I refuse this opportunity to listen to him live, especially for free?

– Be careful: I told my husband I was going out with you, otherwise he wouldn’t have wanted to hear about it. You understand what I mean…!

I knew that Mi. was having trouble with her husband’s jealousy ever since she got the job at the cafe. She worked in a supermarket before, but because it went bankrupt, she found herself without a job. She couldn’t find any other job, so she had to accept working as waitress in night shifts at a coffee house. Since then, she and her husband started quarrelling.

It’s hard to give advice to my friends because I don’t have the right to judge, only understand; and because I care for her as if we were sisters, I prefer to listen to her suffering. In the end, everyone knows what’s best for them.

– Ok, take a taxi and come on!, she said and hung up.

It was warm inside the house and my bed was „ready” to welcome me between its sheets, but I had to go outside, where it was cold (it was February) and … dark!

– Oh, I hate these „unexpected” situations!, I grumbled.

I put on a dress-like sweater to keep me warm, I fixed my hair and I went out. It was chilly outside and the cold air cheered me up in a second.

– Brrr! Back in the house!, my soul said.

But I couldn’t refuse Mi, she was my best friend, and we talked about every crazy thing; if I had told her that I was in love with the Statue of Liberty, she wouldn’t have found it absurd.

When I got to her place, I found out she had already gone to the coffee house; I followed here there, where a few customers were playing cards at one table, meaning that the manager was planning to close down earlier than usual. When she saw me coming in, she made a face…as if she wanted to hit me and, pushing me into the kitchen, she started picking on me in front of the other waitresses:

– What is this? Are you dressed like an old woman again? I said sexy; this means cleavage, show some legs and so on…

– Really? Well then, let me undress!, and, changing my tone, I started yelling at her:

– Are you crazy? Do you see me wearing a short skirt on this weather? What is wrong with my clothes?

Shaking her head, she opened my cleavage more and raised my dress a little by arranging the belt differently.

– Well, this is the reason why no „sucker” hits on you, because he has nothing to see! Don’t you understand that men like sexy women?

– I don’t understand! For me sexy meant vulgar, but Mi. couldn’t understand that.

– How I wish I had your age and … your freedom!, Mi. laughed because we had the same age, but she was married.

At twelve o’clock, the manager closed the cafe and along with his wife and all of Mi’s colleagues, we left for the buzuchi.

– Mi., I said to my friend, how long are we going to stay, because you know that after three o’clock, I get sleepy!

– When you listen to Iannis P., you won’t have any sleep left; come on, I know he’s your favourite singer! I accepted the invitation mostly for you…and me, too, why lie? I felt the need to „escape” from home!

The place where the show was taking place was huge, like a stadium, maybe because it had two floors, but especially because it was full, we could barely go through the crowd to our tables. Elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen (of the high class) wearing furs and fine jewellery were swallowing us.

They ordered champagne and brandy, while I decided on still water with lemon because alcohol and sleep would turn this night into a total fiasco! After a couple of hours, the heat inside and the drinks ordered made the atmosphere hotter than usual; women started dancing on tables as the Greek custom goes (me and my friend were Romanians who emigrated in Greece because of post-communist poverty!). A gentleman from a neighbouring table was staring at me, glass in his hand, raising it in my honour. His wife, or whoever she was, was dancing on the table. My friend, a little dizzy herself, also climbed on the table. I couldn’t see anything, neither the stage, nor Iannis P.; I only saw women (their bodies), some moving with lust, others with noise on the music. I fell asleep. I was awakened by the noise of a glass that my drunk friend broke:

– Damn this life!, she was screaming in Romanian.

Suddenly awake, I didn’t have the time to speak in my native language and I answered like a robot, in Greek:

– Break it, girl!

The next minute, my spirits rose, I must have probably dreamt something nice, even if I couldn’t remember anything! I got up and started clapping my hands on the tone of the music. Seeing me, or better said, hearing me, my friend shouted:

– Come on up on the table!

– I can’t! I am afraid of heights!

She immediately grabbed my arm and pulled me up:

– It’s better up here, you can see everything!

– You’re right, I shouted, but my friend couldn’t hear me anymore, she was singing the chorus, along with the real singer.

– Oh, the woman!, she was singing; or could it have been the unhappiness in her soul?

At first, I thought she was talking about someone, but then, I saw her eyes were closed while she was swinging, her arms opened like a flying gull, and I realised she was actually talking about us.

I felt thirsty and so, I asked my friend:

– Where can I find some water?

– In the sea… here, we only have champagne or brandy.

– I’ll have some champagne, I don’t want headaches tomorrow.

Suddenly, I felt someone touching my behind and I turned around ready to tell him off, but I saw my „admirer” from the next table, with a bottle of champagne in his hand, nudging me and looking at my glass so he can pour me a drink. His wife, a lady wearing many jewels, was sleeping with her head on the table.

– What’s your name, sweetie?, he said, pulling a smoke out of a cigarette.

– You are at the wrong table, sir, I said, sitting up and pointing towards his wife.

– No…, he shook his head. No, she got the wrong man. I am innocent, he said smiling.

– Give me your glass, he shouted so I could hear him.

I gave him the glass so that I could get away from him. In a few minutes, the singer finished the show, so I told my friend:

– Let’s go, it’s late and I have a „customer” behind me.

– And why don’t you give him a chance?, she joked.

– Because his wife didn’t dump him, I laughed.

Then, my friend got down off the table and bravely pushed him:

– Come on, go to your wife, come on!

We went outside and the chill woke us up in a second. We stopped a taxi and got into it in a hurry, seeking some warmth. But, when we were about to tell the driver our destination, my friend couldn’t remember the name of the street; as for me…not a chance.

– Let me call my husband, she said, reaching for her cell phone in the purse.

– Are you crazy, it’s four in the morning; do you want to wake up the man? Do you want him to wait for you with a bat behind the door?

– What do you want me to do if I can’t remember? Why don’t you know the address?, she enquired.

– First of all, because I don’t live there and second of all, I never come to you with a taxi, I take the subway.

I told the driver, who was looking at us astonished, thinking that we were making fun of him:

– Leave us at X subway station.

– How smart you are and how lucky I am to be your friend!, she said and put an arm round my neck trying to kiss me on the cheek, but she couldn’t because the car started moving, and so, she kissed me in the corner of my mouth.

Looking at us in his mirror, the taxi driver smiled. I told Mi.:

– What has got into you? Maybe he thinks we are “sisters”.

– Damn all men!, she laughed.

Now I was sure about what he was thinking!

After we got off, I remembered the name and the number of the street where my friend lived. It was ten minutes of walking from where the taxi had left us! Mi. suddenly stopped in the middle of the street and started laughing:\

– What a face he put on when I pushed him!

– Mi., let me take you home, cause if you tumble on the street until dawn, all the cats will come and “rape” you and you won’t even know it !, I laughed grabbing her arm.

After I left her in front of the door, I stepped out in the street again looking for a taxi, because I lived in another district on the other side of Athens. A taxi stopped, I got in on the back seat and told the driver the address, smiling at the thought of my friend. On our way, the car stopped to get another customer, who got in on the back seat, as well, next to me. He was a little strange, coughed from five to five minutes, he was probably sick. At a corner, near the district where I lived, he pulled out a gun from his coat and held it on the driver’s neck, telling him in a strange Greek – meaning he was a foreigner:

– Pull over!

Suddenly, my blood froze in my veins and I was out of breath. This was what I deserved for leaving home at night!, I thought to myself.

– The money!, yelled the thief to the driver.

He fumbled through his pockets and threw at him some bills over the shoulder, in the back.

– That’s all?, he asked.

– That’s all, I’ve just started the shift!, the driver “apologized”.

The thief gave me a dark look and grabbed my purse, without putting the gun down. I didn’t say a word, because I was scared. What if he really used the gun? While opening the car door, I heard him curse in Romanian:

– Damn you poor bastards, why do you even leave home if you don’t have any money?

I was awakened to reality, just as if someone had slapped me hard. I will never understand how I got so brave all of a sudden to run after him, while the taxi took off.

– Give me back my purse, I shouted at him as he was searching for my wallet.

Turning towards me, I let down my voice at the sight of the gun:

– Just take the wallet, although I don’t have anything significant inside!

He looked at me wondering, as if he was a little sorry.

– Are you Romanian?, he asked me.

– Yes!, I answered somewhat scared as he was still holding the gun.

– It’s a toy, he assured me, noticing that I was as white as the cold outside. I don’t know if you can understand me, but I can’t let my children starve to death!

I ran towards him and grabbed my purse from his hand. At the same time, two different feelings were trapped inside me: pity and anger. I don’t like to be anybody’s victim, so I shouted as if I was admonishing him:

– And if you go to jail, what do you think will happen to them? Run off now, I don’t want to share the same cell with you!

I went back home afoot, while dawn was starting to show its flapped wings. At the door, a black kitten which I used to feed when he was chased away by his „partner”, welcomed me. As he was rubbing my feet, I teased him in a cat-like manner so that I could forget about what had happened earlier:

– Michael, I am tired and I am not in the mood for anything, so go to your wife!

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