Chapter 11 – Petaluda (Butterfly)
“A Beautiful Man is Like a Ripe Apple, You Can’t Wait for It to Fall in Your Hands”
The craziest idea that has ever gone through the “little box” which I’m carrying on my shoulders was to give up my bicycle and buy a scooter…! The only explanation I found later on was my sole desire to achieve something … out of the ordinary, as probably after the divorce, there was a void I needed to fill with adrenaline! And because I had no idea what a scooter meant, I went into a shop and spoke to the salesman, a man around thirty-eight years of age, whom, unfortunately, had an amputated foot replaced with prosthesis after a motorbike accident. However, this painful event could not overthrow his passion for these motorized “jewels”, as he himself would call them, but on the contrary, he opened up a store where you could find almost anything ranging from motorbikes to the most extravagant accessories in the field.
The worst mistake a man could do is to send a woman alone … to buy a car or any other means of transport! With six hundred euro, I most certainly bought a jalopy, but I only realized it later on, when I took my first fall since I bought the scooter, and immediately fell in love with its colour: metallic red! The store owner kindly explained (after I confessed not owning a driver’s license for such a “monster”: fifty cube centimeters!) how to set it in motion, after which he started driving around the yard. In the meantime, he would even give me some advice to drive slowly and carefully until I’d get used to it. I bought a helmet for safety, but unfortunately, I would only use it on rainy days as I couldn’t stand it; it gave me a feeling of suffocation … anyway, I hated it entirely. One night, returning from work, I started pushing the acceleration to make sure I got home faster. I would always wear the helmet wrapped around my arm just like a purse, not a life-saver! At a crossroads, while thinking about God-knows-what, I forgot to take the right and! I suddenly pushed the brake, making me swoop around in the air like an acrobat with the engine still running on the fallen bike. I fell with my face against the sidewalk before being helped up by a couple of Christians who had seen my stunt while having a beer at a petrol station. When I heard that their intention was to call the ambulance and the police, I completely forgot about the cheek and shoulder aches and hurried away for fear that I would get in more trouble once my no-license secret would be out. Dizzy and scared, the first thing I did upon arriving home was to take a look in the mirror. The next minute, tears were flooding my eyes as I could not believe the image I had created for myself: a woman with a red scratched left cheek and a numb left hand. Even so, I still didn’t want to give up the scooter after my second fall; same story as I pulled the break on my front tire, only this time I hit my knee. Salvation came on March, 8, Women’s Day, when on the way to the factory, I was stopped by a “batsos” (policeman) who, probably, had nothing better to do at the time. After getting a fine for not wearing a helmet, although I had it around my arm, he asked about my driver’s license:
I haven’t got one, I replied, telling the truth, as I had no other excuse with me.
After scribbling a few words on a piece of paper, he said almost shouting:
If you can’t get your license in a year, you will be called to court and trialed and sentenced to …
I didn’t even wait for him to finish and replied:
I will enroll this month, officer, you have my word!
I could only imagine it: court, trial, lost documents … maybe even prison, these were not meant for me, so the next day, I went to Corinth by bike and searched for a driving school. I stopped at a school where I found a woman instructor! And that’s how I met Petaluda, a “tsahpina” (mischievous) around 34 years of age, tiny, with a smile so charming and honest, but with iron feet; she looked as she would turn a truck and a bus over with the same ease I would stir in a bowl of soup.
After telling her my countless scooter stories, she asked winking:
Are you going to give it up?
I don’t know, maybe after finishing school, I’ll have more skill and determination.
Petaluda stood up from her desk and taking my arm, she led me to a mirror, asking:
Do you like wearing short skirts?
Definitely, I replied.
Then, forget about motorbikes, cars or bicycles. If something “serious” should happen, the best scenario would imply both feet in a cast, while the worst scenario would mean no feet at all.
Petaluda’s advice drove me thinking, especially knowing that I had been quite lucky on my first fall.
I think you should first get your license for driving a car and then for a scooter, it’s going to be a lot easier for you to learn once what you would have to learn twice in the future.
I realized she was right and I started driver’s training. At the end of the first session, after getting out of the driver’s seat, Petaluda asked me, carefully lighting a cigarette. The smoke caressing her blond-red hair made her look even sexier than she already was.
You are alone, aren’t you?
Yes, I’ve divorced a couple of months ago. But how did you know? I blushed …
You’re too harsh on the shifter, like you’d want to get a revenge on someone!
I looked at her and we both started to laugh heavily, after which I said:
I’m glad you are not a man, who knows how you’d have reacted to my words!!!
I, myself, got divorced two years ago, she confessed, everything I would earn he would gamble in the casino until one day, I took the kids and returned to my parents’ house. Life is like a thread ball: when it breaks, you tie it up and go on in order to rejoice for the years you still got.
The divorce left me on the road, homeless, in a ditch, that’s why I need to get up first in order to go on …, I replied, knowing that at the same time, two people going through the same experience were left with different life expectancies: me – sunset, her – sunrise … her, a shining star, me, still burning ash.
What I loved about Petaluda, among others, was that she would wear the same makeup every day: black eyelashes, pale green eyelids to highlight her brownish eyes, ripe peach cheeks and pale orange lips. And as I needed sports shoes to push car pedals, she would wear the finest high-heels, never lacking the “height”. One day, when we were learning together, a friend of hers entered the room and after a big hug, she told her:
I saw you last night in the “N” beach club; you were with a good looking man … who was that?
Ah! Mano? He’s a “freshman”, you don’t know him. He’s studying IT in Patra … Why do you ask?
You two were dancing with passion! I came by with some friends, had a drink and left, replied the friend who came along to find out the latest news. Talk to you later, I need to get to the hairdresser.
After closing the door behind her friend, Petaluda gritted:
“Ziliara!” (Jealous!) A lady can’t have a good time because of such people. And while smiling, her face would lit up as she took the time to remember the night before: it was a perfect night and Mano made me feel the most wanted woman on the planet …
I think someone is in love, I whispered – not to ruin her precious memories; at the same time, Petaluda started laughing, head leaned behind and her hands sailing through the curly hair.
Not even at sixteen did I believe in love … only in passion and sex … love is for poets, musicians and painters, not for ordinary people. To me, men are like off-road cars: some are beautiful, elegant and respectful, but without a shifter; others are only equipped with strong engines! Mano is a collection car: you buy it, use it once and forget it in the garage, until you discover another.
To be honest, I haven’t met any other woman with such ideas and maybe that’s why Petaluda remained a living memory to me. A few days before the exam, I confessed to her something that had bothered me for a while:
I want to ask you something, I told her almost terrified, this is a hard exam and I’m still struggling with Greek; if I don’t pass at first, don’t be upset, I’ll try several times until I do.
Petaluda took my hand:
Little girl, what did I teach you? Every question has a correct answer; you practice behind the wheel; theory is a piece of cake. You think all Greeks know how to read and write? Do you have any idea how many foreigners I’ve taught? And they all passed on the first attempt! I know you can do it, you are a smart girl!
After coming out of the exam, Petaluda drove me to have a coffee with her on the beach:
Just relax; we’ll know the results in two hours.
After sitting down at a table, a man came smiling towards us, probably the owner of the coffee shop:
How is our little“gorgona” (mermaid)?
Hi, Hristo, we came by to see you. And turning to me, she continued: he’s the godfather of my little girl and son. “Gorgona” is the way my son pampers me whenever he wants something. This morning, before leaving for school, I caught him going through my jewelry box. Do you know what he said? – “I want to give my girlfriend a present.” He’s only eight; imagine what it’s going to be like when he grows up!
He wanted to be a gentlemen, why did you get upset?, I laughed.
Had he given her the earrings he had taken from my jewelry box, he would have been in big trouble, but luckily I got to him on time!
Because of the nerves, coffee had no taste. I didn’t want to let Petaluda down. When we returned, results were already displayed. The ones who took the written exam were struggling to reach the front panels, seeing as several days before that, they had taken the driving test. Petaluda squeezed in the crowd and after a few minutes, she returned to find I was a wreck of nerves:
It’s your turn to buy the drinks, driver!
Really, did I pass the exam? I can’t believe it, I said hugging her.
Only after physically getting my hand on the scooter driving license did I manage to calm down. What I realized the moment I had both diplomas in my hand was that I actually hated driving, that speed was something strange that would remind me of death, of the shortest voyage: life on this planet. Consequently, I sold my scooter and returned to my first love: the bicycle.