The market, Salonica

The market, Salonica
The market, Salonica

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Where are you?

If I rang Bryan, his wife always answered the phone, always in Greek, in a loud, public voice. “Eμπϼos!” (Embros!) She was Greek, in Greece, but I thought: No one rings Bryan. When she knew it was me, she'd ask in English, more privately, with intent, “Where are you?”  

The warm tone seemed odd. I wasn’t important to her. On one occasion, when I arrived at the apartment, she said, “You never come!” 

It was odder still – a reprimand. She was right, of course; I could have gone more often. We lived in the same city. But why would she care? Then I understood. Bryan must have talked about me. The reprimand was her way of saying he missed me. She was caring for him. I liked her a bit more. They were fond of each other, but they married old. They had little in common. She wanted company. He needed a place to live. She had friends; he didn’t. I kept away because she annoyed me. At the start, Bryan did too, annoy me, I mean. He went on about old trains and old cameras, like a young boy, one who loved what was old. He was a man of tradition.

“I don’t like those programs that make fun of priests.”

He didn’t seem religious. Some transgressions he approved of; for example, the ‘moonlight flit.’ He liked that term. It evoked his Bohemian days, the adventures of youth. He related his best stories again and again, like the Spanish landlady who crossed herself before she lit the boiler. They used to explode, the boilers and the landladies if you didn’t pay the rent. In Salonica, Bryan did nothing unwise, or if he did, I didn’t find out. He didn’t travel much and he wasn’t renting. The moonlight flits had ceased. There was no need for them. 0n the other hand, he followed my own transgressions with a smile.

When I left Greece, I thought about keeping the house, renting from afar. Romantic but expensive if I wasn’t living there, and the landlady annoyed me. (I get annoyed easily.) I decided to move out once and for all. I told Bryan one evening at his dining room table.

“I’m letting the house go.” 

He glanced across in his pregnant way. For both of us, it was quite a step; a deeper farewell. The old ladies didn’t hear. They continued knitting as if I wasn’t there, as if I’d gone already.

I gave Bryan my short-wave radio so he could listen to the BBC. He offered to pay, but I refused. He put me on the coach to Italy, with my ‘Turkish’ carpet, as he called it. He wore a silk scarf on his neck, elegantly, like a gentleman abroad. He offered me money again, reaching for his wallet, though he never drew it out. I refused again. It was a wet day. He looked at the beating rain and said what he always said at such times.

“It’ll wash away a lot of sins.”

We weren’t saying goodbye, not yet. I was coming back for the rest of my ‘Turkish’ possessions. It was sad enough. A strong wind was blowing, the Vardar, from the mountains of Yugoslavia (another old thing). He’d been there and the Balkans in general. It was a wild place, I think, in his mind, the barbarian north, if you live in Greece. He didn’t say a lot, but when a north-westerly blew, he referred to it.

“The Vardaris.”

The name meant something, especially the way Bryan said it. He was feeling the past, not just a wind. The Vardar. It’s the reason we were cold.