Gordon G Hall
Writer and Neo-Philhellene

Short Stories about Greece
Only Kindness Endures

The road climbs its way up the hillside and into the lush green of the forest. This is better than my recent encounter with the grim modern highway from Eleftherios Venizelos airport to Chalkidis. Mind you to my relief Lia drove that section after meeting my plane from Manchester.

“I’m going to take you to a very special place,” she says.

“Where’s that?”

“It’s a spot I used to visit quite often when I lived in Athens, I haven’t been there for a simply ages.”

We have crossed to the island and I have taken over the driving. Now the coast road is behind us, and I am enjoying this narrow twisting road in the interior of Evia.

“Where are we going, is it in the mountains?”

“Just this side. It’s a tiny little chapel, built into the rock. It’s so gorgeous, and there’s a great little taverna there where we can get something to eat.”

“Good. I mean about the chapel, I’ve never been to an Orthodox church before. But also good about the taverna, I haven’t eaten anything since Manchester, where at five o’clock this I encountered a floppy pastry thing that might have once aspired to croissant.”

I am more or less managing the switch to driving on the right. It is easy with a left hand drive car and in Greece a little idiosyncrasy in ones driving is not just accepted, but positively welcomed.

“I think I’ve got the hang of it.” I say as we rather recklessly negotiate a road junction that suddenly leaps out at me, “just can’t make out who has priority at cross roads.”

“Is it very different from this in the UK?”

“Hell yes,” I say, placing my left hand on her leg in a familiar manner, “we have a compunction to regulate everything. At a junction like that you would get a warning sign about 100 metres in advance. This would be followed by priority signs, road marking, the works.”

She pats my hand in a friendly way. “Ah well, this is different, this is Greece.”

She speaks excellent English but with the attractive slightly guttural R-rolling accent of most Greeks. I concentrate, as best I can, upon driving. Lia is a competent navigator.

““It’s just down here, be careful, the road is narrow.”

We are heading downhill into a tree-lined gorge. “Oh, I can see it now, what a wonderful place”.

I take my eyes off the road to look at the grotto-like scene and as a result have to swerve the car rather sharply into a parking spot. It is probably just as well that there are only a couple of other cars here.

Out in the fresh, hot air I can breathe in the beauty of this place. In front of us a large river dashes itself down the rocky chasm with a splashing rumble of sound. Trees line both banks and there is a small concrete bridge over the torrent. Lia takes my hand in hers and leads me over this to a small sandy-coloured building on the other side.

“So this is your chapel.” I say, pausing to take in the scene.

“It’s very small and very wonderful. Are you coming in?”

It is dark inside and even though I take off my sunglasses it still takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the dim light provided only by candles. The place is very small, with icons on the walls and at one end a small gated off section with a table and a cross. It is a place of much feeling. Although it is a peaceful and loving sanctuary now I fear that dark things have happened here in the past. I am not sure I want to know about the details. It is all too easy for a blundering Englishman to make false assumptions about the recent history of these mountainous parts of Greece.

Ahead of us there is a small tray of candles. Lia takes several of these, plants them in the soft sand of the tray and lights them.

“What are they for?” I ask

“My friends and relatives who are in trouble or who have passed away.”

I take a candle from the stack over on my left. “Should I light one?”

She places hers with those candles she has already lit. I place mine a small way apart, not wishing to trespass upon her thoughts for her family. She looks searchingly at me, picks her candle up and moves it next to mine. As she does so her hand searches for mine and gives it a squeeze.

“Should I give something for the candles?”

“Just a few cents will do.”

I put a Euro in the box. To my right there is a rock pool that leads under the chapel wall. There are coins in it. I make to throw some money in, but Lia catches my arm before I do so, “You should make a wish.”

“We both will.” I put a 50c coin in her hand. Together we throw our coins into the still, green pool. I turn to her, “What did you wish for?”

“If I tell you it won’t come true. So don’t tell me yours either.”

We emerge into the bright sunlight. I have not said a great deal to her about how pleased I am that she brought me here. Instead I am, rather selfishly, just quietly soaking up the whole of this experience.

“Well,” she says, “I don’t know if you like the place, but I guess we had better do something about feeding you?”

“This is an incredible spot and I love your chapel. Thank you so much for bringing me here, it was a great idea of yours.”

There is no one else sitting at the outside tables of the taverna. We decide on one overlooking the gorge so that we can look down to the rushing waterfalls and over the river to the chapel. The proprietor brings us our water and a menu.

“You choose,” I say.

“I’m not really used to this in a man”, she says, “but I understand.” She knows I cannot read, let alone understand, Greek.

We sit here, the only customers, our arms resting on the table, holding hands. “Happy?” she says.

The owner comes back with a bowl of green salad, full of cucumber and tomatoes and with a rectangular chunk of cheese on the top.

“Greek Salad,” says Lia, “Welcome to my country.”

“I like the way we get served with water, almost before we have sat down. Is that normal here?”

“Doesn’t it happen like that in England?”

We look at each other and laugh. There is so much that we don’t know in practical terms, even if emotionally we are on the same plane.

We order another couple of beers and the proprietor, Georgos, comes over to drink a beer with us. He and Lia get into a long and serious conversation. Occasionally she breaks off from talking so that she can translate the gist of it to me. Τhey are discussing in considerable detail the possibility of some form of armed conflict involving Greece. It is difficult for me to understand where they expect this threat to come from, but I know just about enough of the history of modern Greece to suspect that it is Turkey that they fear the most, although both Albania and Macedonia are in the running.

They seem almost resigned to there being a war. This is the first I have heard about it, certainly I have seen nothing about it in the British press. I wonder how they can be so calm, but then Greece was an occupied country for so much of its long and troubled history that it is no wonder that these modern Greeks seem to accept conflict as almost inevitable.

The meal is satisfying and we linger over it. Eventually Lia goes off to the Ladies and I do my best to understand Georgos’ efforts to tell me how much I owe him. I have a feeling that he has been rather kind to us. I give him a decent tip, but not too generous. I do not want to be thought of as a rich tourist, but I suppose that to him that is just what I am.

As we are about to get into the car Lia speaks to an old lady dressed entirely in the traditional black garb of a Greek widow. “She needs a lift to the village, is that okay with you?”

I nod and clear the back seat. The lady gets in the car and I drive up the gorge out onto the open moorland. We come to a fork and I swing right, knowing that to be the direction we came from. There is a murmuring from the back. Lia turns to me and tells me we have gone the wrong way, so I reverse the car and take the left fork.

We stop at the outskirts of the village and our elderly passenger gets out of the car. It would have been nearly an hour’s walk for her if we had not helped her on her way.

“That was really kind to suggest that,” I say.

“Kindness is repaid with kindness. If we hadn’t given her that lift we would have taken the wrong road. There is a purpose in things you know, sometimes we don’t see it at the time, sometimes it’s just so obvious.”

And thus it was then, when our purpose, our way in life, did indeed seem obvious. But wrong roads are taken and, like those candles that we so lovingly placed together, our brightest dreams have long since guttered into their own darkness.


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