Authors: Sara Alexi
WATCHING THE WIND BLOW
By Sara Alexi
This story is based on real events experienced by a member of my family in the year 2000. Names and dates and characters have been changed, but the basis of the events described is true. I would like to thank them for their openness in telling me this tale.
Many thanks to Alex, Lori, Susan and Tony for their invaluable help in producing this book.
Published by Oneiro Press 2013
© Sara Alexi 2013
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events are either the product of the autho
s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental
Also by Sara Alexi
There is a delicious cool bite to the air this early in the morning. Pink tinges in the sky promise the dawn but for now, the enclosed stone-flagged courtyard is in shadow, the wisteria gently hissing as the morning breeze scrapes it against the whitewashed wall.
Inside the stone house, where yesterday’s heat lingers on, everyone is sleeping. Even Angelos, his tiny mouth hanging open, twitching into smiles as he sleeps, clutching ‘Bun-bun’.
Within seconds, the pink hues of the sky pale overhead, giving way to the most delicate of blues, and there is just enough light for the urns, cascading with geraniums, to cast their shadows against the courtyard walls. The smell of jasmine drifts with the breeze.
Irini, in the courtyard, stretches, her yawn becomes a gentle growl, and her eyes shut with the intake of breath. Through the open window upstairs, a snort is followed by a creak of springs. Petta sleeps on. A heavy sigh lets Irini know, before the snoring begins, that without her curled up next to him and nudging him, he has turned on his back. A twisted smile softens her face as his sonata begins and, refreshed by the fresh air on her skin, she goes back into the kitchen to make coffee.
The brown walls of the kitchen do little to reflect light. The cream door of the fridge and the white marble top of the old table glow in the gloom. A gecko clicks to its mate in the roof beams. Switching on a lamp set in the wall spreads an orange glow over the immediate surroundings. The table top, and, to the lamp’s left, crude wall shelves, the front edges of which drip with cobwebs of lace, all fall into high relief. By comparison, the rest of the room has grown darker, introducing hidden corners; doorways into darkness. Below the bottom shelf, casting shadowy fingers, hang bundles of rosemary and oregano that have been drying out through the summer for winter use, their aroma leaking into the room as the air is stirred.
One of the doors from the kitchen opens to a corridor that leads to the front door, which is usually left open. The door halfway along to the right is that of the
, a formal sitting room that has the comfort dusted and polished out of it. The other door from the kitchen leads to the room that Marina insisted she take as her bedroom when Petta and Irini moved in, giving over the two upstairs bedrooms to them and the then-unborn Angelos.
‘No steps. Better for my knees,’ Marina insisted, bending to lift a sack of rice to be weighed into smaller bags for the shop.
Lighting the single-burner camping gas stove that sits in a well-stained area of the marble table top, Irini waits for the water to heat in the little copper
, then adds the sugar and stirs to help it dissolve. A basket beneath this table holds a stack of unpaid bills, and is at the point of overflowing. Waiting for the liquid to become clear, Irini uses the time to put back in one or two red-topped letters that have floated out onto the smooth-painted concrete floor. The paint is wearing off in the most well-trodden areas, but really, the whole room needs a fresh coat of paint. It’s not going to happen soon. It will have to wait until the bills are paid first.
Irini reflects, and not for the first time, on the irony of the family’s financial situation. Marina has money, and quite a lot of it. Most of it is tied up in an investment which seemed like a good idea at the time. Since the crisis though she is standing in line with a lot of others trying to get back what she can from the beleaguered investment company.
‘You will get the money back, don’t worry,’ Babis the lawyer assured her, although the furrows on his brow suggested otherwise. ‘But this is Greece,’ he mused, ‘and legal processes take time. We will have to wait for the court process to conclude.’
Some of the money is in the bank, a not inconsiderable sum. ‘You will not touch one drachma of that!’ declared Marina, ‘It is Angelos’ inheritance.’
‘Euros, Mama, not drachmas.’ Petta, unconcerned by their plight, seemed to find the situation infuriatingly funny.
‘Euros, whatever. That money is for Angelos to go to university, and you will not spend any of it.’ And she clattered off to the sink, banging the pots.
Irini suspects that the real reason Marina does not want to use any of the money, which was given to her, and not earned, is not so simple.
Marina built up the business that now struggles to sustain the family from nothing, after her husband died.
‘I have never been rich,’ she will declare, ‘but I have always been happy. Well, nearly always… There are many rich people who are not happy.’
Marina’s life, her identity, and her position in the community are based around the corner shop. If she admits to herself that she is wealthy, that she does not really need to work for a living, that would change her standing with the people she has known all her life. Presumably that is too great a sacrifice, a leap too far into the unknown. Meanwhile, the bills demand to be paid.
The gas hisses in the silence; Petta must have turned back onto his side. Once the liquid is clear, she adds two heaped teaspoons of grounds from a foil pack. The powder sits on top, slowly absorbing the water, until, with a plop, the remains of the coffee mound disappear beneath the surface.
The foil pouch is replaced on the shelf.
Irini takes down a postcard propped on the shelf next to the coffee and reads it through again, for perhaps the hundredth time, and shivers slightly. Today! After how long? She cannot even remember how many years; it will be wonderful to see Stathoula, no matter how briefly. There’s no avoiding work this morning, but she has cleared the rest of this day of the usual mundane chores that eat up her time. Even Marina, who always seems to need a lift somewhere - this last week visiting her neighbour who is in hospital for a hip replacement - does not need to go anywhere, and Angelos has no play dates or parties to go to. She is free. Today is for Stathoula. Stathoula and her.
If anything extra comes up at work today, she will be firm with the old captain and will not stay longer than her appointed hours. It is not as if he even pays her for the extra work she does, sneaky old man that he is. Irini sighs. At least she does have work. That’s something to be grateful for, with things as they are and so many unemployed.
Compared to the norm, today will seem leisurely. An unexpected chuckle escapes her.
The snoring upstairs begins again. The rafters, thick beams of wood overlaid with bamboo and then floorboards on top, seem to shake.
Thoughts of Petta have such power that her chest feels tight and her stomach twists. It is a different feeling than she has towards Angelos. What she feels for Angelos makes her catch her breath. She never dreamed of such a luxury as the love she has for him. He is an indescribable part of her that fills her with unashamed pride. Even at this young age, she knows her time of being the centre of his world is brief and, before she has caught back her breath, he will be spreading his wings and creating a family of his own and, no matter how strong her love is, she will let go, not because she wants to, but because it is what he will need. But Petta, he is her rock, immovable. From him, she is inseparable.
A gentler snoring comes from behind the door off the kitchen. How lucky is she to get on with Marina as well? She is pretty sensitive for a
, and God knows she has heard some terrible stories about her friends’ mothers-in-law. But their history is short. Even her history with Petta, rich as it is, only spans a few years, and there are some things which she has left unsaid, bits of her history that have remained unspoken. When they first met, sometimes it felt as if Petta did not want to know everything about her and sometimes, she has not wanted to dirty their relationship with the things she has seen, emotions she has felt. Maybe a part of her did not believe that he would understand, not having lived the life she has.
That time seemed to pass so quickly; the beginning of their relationship when they shared their histories and got to know each other seemed to speed by and still, certain things were left unshared. Perhaps she worried too much that she would damage the image of herself that Petta seemed to have in his mind. In the end, rather than bring up details of her past again, it became easier just to let things slide. Besides, there just never seemed to be the right moment…
Now, just going about their day-to-day lives, these unsaid things become even more difficult to say. Now they weigh her down, a gulf Petta doesn’t even know exists. A chasm which separates her from not just him but everyone else in the world.
If she reaches out to Petta, maybe the gap could be closed. But what if their fingertips could not touch? What if she is unreachable? There’s the fear.
Whereas Stathoula and her sister Glykeria knew her when her parents were still alive, knew Yiayia before and after that day that changed her. They were at her yiayia’s funeral together and they were just as dry-eyed as she was. They all knew, knew what Yiayia became, understood who she was before. Yes, maybe she could talk over all that again, maybe even open up about a little more about being left on her own and all that happened. They had wanted to know back then, when they took her in, but Stathoula was also sensitive and she did not ask questions; instead, she just let Irini take her time. And Irini had wanted to look forward, not back, and so has never really spoken about how things were for her. Besides, her throat had tightened every time she tried to speak out. But now the time seems right, and it would feel so good to have someone listen who can really understand. Maybe Stathoula would be as keen to hear now? That would be good. More than good! So much of what she keeps hidden is becoming increasingly heavy. It’s time to exorcise that piece of her life. Stathoula will understand.
The bubbles in the
break away from the edges, the foam gathering to form a reef in the middle. As the aerated coffee begins to rise to the top, Irini lifts it gently from the heat and pours the contents into her waiting cup. Some spills onto the ageing marble-topped table and she mops it up with a cloth from the sink. She throws the cloth back and almost misses. It hangs from the edge.
She listens for the sound of anyone stirring. Is that a faint murmur from Angelos? With the luxury of time in hand, she leaves her coffee to settle and creeps up the stairs and into the first room on the left to stroke Angelos’ hair, his dark curls raven on the pillow. His whimpering subsides in a gentle rhythmic breathing at the feel of her touch. Irini kisses him lightly but lingeringly on the forehead, and it is only with effort that she can break this contact, tearing herself away from his smell, his warmth. To compensate for her absence, she pulls the light blanket around his shoulders, tucking him in, and closes the crack in the curtain to keep out the morning light, allowing him to sleep for longer. Blowing him another kiss, she returns downstairs. Petta is still snoring.
Outside, the sun has lightened the whole sky. Although the orange globe is not yet visible in the courtyard, the west wall is topped with its yellow rays. Birds begin to cheep and chirrup in the trees throughout the village and the chill has gone from the air. The cicadas are warming up for their day-long hoarse chorus, and their volume increases as the minutes pass and the day’s heat takes hold.
The dividing line between day and night creeps down the wall towards the ground as the sun rises in the sky, lighting up both the flowers and weeds that grow out of the cracks between stones and crevices in the whitewash.
There is the slightest settling of dew on the table that stands in the courtyard beneath the lemon tree. Wooden legs scrape across the flagged floor as Irini pulls a chair out to sit. Not having to think about a million tedious jobs that keep the home going and the corner shop running for a day is a rare luxury. The coffee tastes good, its sweetness lifting her energy. The sun peeps over the east wall and filters through the lemon tree, mottling her t-shirt. Maybe she should be going? Would it be pushing it to take the time for a second cup? The sooner she starts, the sooner she will get back.
‘Rini?’ The grunt of a sound comes through the upstairs window.
If she had left earlier, she would have missed Petta’s waking. Maybe if she is quiet, he will think she has gone.
‘Rini?’ The grunt becomes more formed. The sound of his voice is enough for her to yearn to run back upstairs and slide under the blankets to curl up in the safety of his embrace. But if she does that, the day will never begin and today of all days, she must set out and get home early. Irini finishes her coffee noiselessly and puts the cup down carefully on the saucer.
If she goes back through the house, he is bound to hear her and call again. He will want a coffee, then Marina will wake and she will want coffee. Their noise will wake Angelos and then there will be crying as Irini tries to leave, Yiayia Marina holding him back, tempting him to play with something. No, it is better if she goes through the other door, through the shop and from there into the street. Also, she can grab a pre-packaged chocolate croissant from the rack by the counter on her way through. Her stomach grumbles.
She steals across the courtyard and pushes open the back door to the shop and closes it carefully behind her. The front window and doorway to the emporium are so crammed with wares for sale and colourful promotional stickers that Marina loves to paste on every surface that little light gets into the shop, even at midday. Now in the half-light of dawn, the shop is dark. Clusters of candles hanging from the rafters click against her forehead. Stepping to one side to avoid them, her foot catches a bundle of shepherds’ crooks that are stacked by the back door, and as she puts her hand out to steady them, she knocks what sounds like packets of mothballs off a hook in the wall and they land on the floor, crunching underfoot as she moves.