I couldn’t see Mt Olympus from my window, not even when the air was clean enough. A medieval wall was in the way. I could see the tiny house where Olga lived, just a roof and sides made of tin and wood, stuck like a barnacle to the giant masonry. The old lady lived by herself. Olga was her real name. She must have died a long time ago.
Her house always looked the same. It was perfect, the sort of thing that tourists photograph. There were a lot of Germans strolling around up there.
Our hovels eyed each other from across a road. There was only space for one car to go by at a time. People mainly walked. Olga looked down on me, literally, and when I went to see her, she’d repeat what I’d been doing in my room a few hours earlier. Like a real-time biographer. Ela! She just called across when she had something to say.
Inside her house was perfect too. You can do that to the place you live in. I enjoyed those visits. It felt like she was looking after me. She had her little ceremonies. When she began the one which ended in a cup of Greek coffee and a piece of syrupy fruit from a jar, I couldn’t think of a place I’d rather be. It was always the same. The fruit would change, that was all.
We even said the same sort of thing each time. I didn’t know much Greek, and Olga only mentioned certain types of news. The details would be different, like the fruit she gave me.
She told me when a girl put her fingers on my head. A Greek girl who said she was seventeen. I don’t remember why she touched me. There must have been a very ordinary reason – who makes love in front of an open window? – but it looked romantic from across the road where Olga was sitting. The old lady told me what had happened. It wasn’t much. She even showed me, as far as her hip allowed, as if she was a girl again, although she didn’t touch me. She placed her fingers in the air, where my temples would have been. I remember that as clearly as the girl.
I visited Salonica two years ago. I went up to see if the hovels were still there, but just stood at the end of the road.