On the airplane, I sat next to a sixty-two-year-old Greek American woman named Kiki who got married at thirty-seven. She told me so within five minutes of my sitting down, before adding that it’s not too late for me either. By the time I got up ten hours later, I knew all there was to know about the struggles of Kiki’s son in AP Physics, his engineering degree from Cooper Union, the car accident four years ago that rendered Kiki unable to wear stilettos, how Kiki met her husband at church, how he scuba dives like her, about her father’s shipping company where she worked before marrying, and recent renovations Kiki oversaw to her house in Astoria. I told her my name when she asked upon landing. I said, “It was nice talking to
The drive from Athens airport to the bus station took an hour. I took a taxi and the young driver helped me with my bags. Tired from the last ten hours of talking, I pretended I couldn’t speak Greek, hoping this might exempt me from polite conversation. “Is okay. I speak English very good.” He told me the islands were very nice, have I been? That if I wasn’t married, I shouldn’t worry; this summer, here in Greece, I might meet the love of my life. “You are a kind girl, I can tell,” he said. “My business is peoples; I know.” After being riddled as to why Greece is better than America ?— ?“I love the quiet,” I answered ?— ?we arrived at the station, where he proceeded to overcharge me ten euro. And because I didn’t want to talk anymore, I gave it to him.
My parents picked me up five hours later from a connecting bus station in Volos. Eager to make conversation, they said, “How was your trip?” I told them about the bathroom attendant at the bus stop, a little old lady with a tip jar on a folding chair outside the door, dispensing wads of single-ply toilet paper from a lone roll. “No cologne.” I told them about the porcelain footprints inside the stall, the elegant hole in the ground over which I squatted. “It got me thinking; I should have my toilet removed back home. Go minimal, modern, make a statement.”
“How long will you stay?” some friends of my parents asked over the roar of the boat’s engine the next day. A small party of us was motoring to the island of Skopelos.
“I’m here for the month of August,” I yelled back.
Tired from my trip, I was at first excited by the roar of the engine, anticipating a few hours’ lull in conversation.
“She doesn’t talk much, your daughter!” our host yelled to my father.
“She doesn’t talk much, your daughter?”
“What?” my dad yelled back.
Then they put the radio on, turning the volume high enough for it to be heard over the engine. Then they raised their voices so they could be heard over the radio. They talked about the view, about the sea and the sky. “It’s so relaxing,” they yelled in agreement.
Back at the house, every room is filled with guests, aunts and uncles and cousins and friends. In the afternoon, after lunch, I slip off to my room for a nap. Drowsy from the midday heat, I shut my eyes and listen. Eventually the voices drift away. I dream of a long conversation, but when I wake, remember none of what was said.
In the early evening, I step onto the front patio and find Dimitra, my cousin’s four-year-old daughter, dancing before an audience of our family. They clap and laugh as she wiggles from side to side. They call her “i micrí,” which means “the little one.” It’s what they used to call me. My mother stops clapping and says she doesn’t like my dress. “What’s wrong with it?” I ask, looking down.
“It looks old.”
With Dimitra, conversation is easy. When she stops dancing, she sits next to me and I ask, “What color is the sky?” She says, “Blue.” I ask, “What does the rooster say?” “Koo-koorikoo,” she sings. “And the dog?” “Ghav, ghav,” because Greek dogs bark in Greek. Then she, Mamoù (her stuffed monkey), and I sit for coffee. Mamoù drinks too much too fast and becomes sick. I tell him I understand; sometimes I drink too much coffee, too. The micrí reprimands him, and I jump to his defense. I say, “Give the monkey a break, i micrí! He’s had a
In the kitchen my aunt flips on the radio, and the voices of a Greek talk show waft out. Dimitra jumps up and begins dancing to an argument about the Greek economy ?— ?Dimitra can dance to anything. Eager for some silence, I head down to the beach and stare out to sea. The wind is loud. The trees, too. The leaves rustle furiously as if urgently relating an opinion; everyone’s got something to say.
I take my bike into town after and am stopped by a flock of sheep blocking the narrow path that leads to the village. I stand and wait for them to pass. When they see me, all the sheep behh; they disapprove of my outfit ?— ?I should have worn the green dress. “Sometimes, Iris, it’s like you don’t even want to get married,” the sheep say. Then the sheepdog emerges from the crowd, a big shot barking orders.
An old mustachioed shepherd watches silently in the distance. Single? Eventually they pass and the road is clear again. The sheep clink off with their ears marked for slaughter.
“You don’t have forever,” the last sheep tells me before he turns away.
I shrug. “Neither do you. You’re gonna die, you know,” I say. “And your jacket’s old-fashioned.”
I spin through the olive groves and the wind fills my hair. How old am I?
I pull my bike across the gravel path an hour later and find my parents on the porch with their feet up. I join them. Dimitra sits beside me and asks why my feet are so large. “To match my nose,” I tell her.
My mother complains that I’m antisocial, that I should make more of an effort to see my friends here in town, to talk with them, or else “they might stop talking to you, too. You don’t want to become a hermit,” she warns. She says, “Why don’t you go out tonight?” the same way she used to say, “Must you go out every night?”
The road to and from our house is less a road than a narrow dirt trail cut out from some trees that leads to a clearing by the beach where our house rests. The “road” passes olive groves, orchards of plum, pear, and quince, and farms with chickens and roosters and their guards ?— ?more asshole dogs. After an evening at a café in town talking with friends, the sky is black and littered with stars like empty soda cans and the embers of discarded cigarettes.
I drive back in a gold 1982 diesel Mercedes we call “the Tank,” which my parents shipped here ten years ago. It is the car with which I learned to drive, the car I took to