For the expat in Salonica, there were more eating places than sexual partners. If you left out the ones that were too noisy, were full of smoke, or stank of retsina, there weren’t so many places, but there weren’t so many partners, either.
When it came to swapping soul mates, Graeme with an e was pretty quick, like the rest of us, though he wasn’t so quick at everything. I said I might go and work in Pakistan. His face brightened. Looking back, he probably just wanted to get rid of me, but at the time I said pleasantly, “You could do it too.”
“No, I couldn’t.”
“Yes, you could.”
“I’m telling you I couldn’t.”
I didn’t know him well enough then. He was certainly edgy. I thought he missed his wife, who was still in Australia. He told me she was coming over soon. I tried another genial comment, one that couldn’t fail.
“That’s good news.”
His wife’s name was Cinzia, pronounced chintzier, with an ee if you’re Italian, although she wasn’t. We had a meal when she arrived. She told me how they met. She was studying.
“He was the coolest tutor at uni.”
Then she giggled knowingly at Graeme.
“You had a ponytail!”
It was a loving giggle, too. I pictured the ponytail. Graeme turned his face away, like an aside in a play, and twisted it. It was the last time I saw them together.
Someone organised a day trip to Litóchoron, the village at the bottom of Mt Olympus. Climbers go there before they set off for the peak. We weren’t doing that today, just having a nice walk on the paths around the village.
I kept sniggering.
“I wish you wouldn’t laugh like that,” someone said.
“I'm laughing at Cinzia.”
“Did you see her earrings?” someone asked.
“They’re not earrings,” I replied. “They’re portable televisions.”
Graeme hadn’t come. For the wife, it was another pointless trip, a mountain that she wasn’t going to climb.
I thought I'd drop in and see him. I didn't quite make it. There was a café between the bus stop and his flat, and I saw him with a girl who wasn’t Cinzia. They were sitting at an outside table, not a good place if you'd rather not be seen. Perhaps he didn’t care, or had nothing to hide. Still, in the half second before he saw me, I felt that something needed to be hidden. I wasn’t sure what. They were earnest, not overly romantic, but his body had more meaning than when Cinzia was around. The moment he noticed me, whatever it was fell away. He wasn’t expecting visitors. Not Graham with an h, anyway. I could tell from his face.
The three of us had a conversation, a sad, disturbing conversation. At times like this, you pick something neutral to talk about, like cats or travel. You can’t go wrong there. I mentioned my trip to Vergina, where they found Philip of Macedon’s tomb, but I pronounced it the wrong way. The woman laughed. “I like that – excavating vagina.”
When no one else laughed, she apologised. Silence. Her face brightened again. She turned to Graeme the way I used to do, with encouragement: “You said you were going to Pakistan.”