Down by the highway I pulled over for a leak and a look around. The wall of eucalyptus trees must have had some fire in recent years, their trunks alight with fresh regrowth. Behind them were some cows doing much the same as I. They looked healthy too, probably from the all the rain down that way in recent months. Good grass and lots of paddock for roaming.
The street is a tranquil place to be most of the time. Life moves fast in the city because no one wants to get left behind, and that’s fair enough. But nothing’s been around longer than a short Saturday walk, except perhaps the stars.
There is a small town inland where the cats are ubiquitous and the people are old. Earthquakes have shattered the church but the sunsets will still blow your mind. I stood on the corner as an elderly woman and her daughter walked by, both dressed in black and with a disregard for time. The elderly woman stopped to talk, at first about my family and the story I had brought with me. But then she cried. Her husband had died and maybe it was nice to see young blood in a town of old bones. She was strong though, and found resolve in her ability to look forward. And I was grateful for the bouquet of fresh basil that she placed in my hand. And I admired her generosity when there was nothing but generosity left to give.
I narrowly escaped the low doorway, stumbling from the bedroom to find a desperate bottle of water. Paint flakes from the window ledge felt like they had blown over our sunlit faces for hours, while the curtain made our dreams erratic. A strange yellow light was diffused by the window. And an unusual burning smell found its way into our lungs. Outside, I found myself beneath the engulfing haze that had covered a vast stretch of the morning sky. Minuscule parts of ash were falling onto the clothesline, and the dead grass seemed more vibrant than usual. Fires had erupted all over mainland Greece while we slept off our summer hangover.
George the baker told me there wasn’t much for him at work this year. He’s a friendly and round man in his early forties, and proprietor of the island’s best olive oil rusks. They call them paximadia and they are legit remarkable. Instead, I often saw George riding around the town village on an old mountain bike. His thongs were about to fall off every time he threw his arm up at someone he recognised in the street. I got the feeling that George was the only man who owned a bike and he didn’t mind that.
Athens was battling a war of desperation when I arrived this year. Although, when I made it to Kythira, that great afternoon cloud still blew in from the west. The fennel plants still went to seed on time, and the cats slept in the shade of olive trees. I unpacked my bag that would last me seven weeks, and checked the fig trees for the first signs of fruit.
The radar was showing red and not much coastline. So we waited it out for one night, before me and my girl took off down the coast, arriving in the dark black night. I introduced myself to the man beside by the fire, but there wasn’t much in common, besides the fire. Casey was saying something about the tent and I forgot to bring the wine. But the stars were satisfying. And the last ones to bed, we poured a bucket of water over the performing embers, as we watched them fall offstage.
There was unusual excitement on the morning of Jazz and Olly’s wedding day. It was the first real wedding for some of us, but there was also a feeling, somehow reminiscent to the first day of school holidays. We couldn’t wait to go outside and do everything together right now and not go home until we had to.
As we arrived with tents and bottles and clothes spilling from our arms, I noticed Olly standing by the entrance with all the composure in the world, chest inflated and shoes perfectly white. I began to breathe as I congratulated the groom and looked up to the welcoming gumtrees and late afternoon sunlight. This was the beginning of Jazz and Olly’s day.