The Illegal Gardener – Book 1 of the Greek Village Series
Sara Alexi weaves this entrancing story of the burgeoning relationship that develops between two people from very different backgrounds and cultures; an English woman living in Greece and the Pakistani illegal immigrant who becomes her gardener and house boy.
Each brings their own problems, their own past baggage, and she approaches these with sympathy and understanding as well as exploring the nuances and differences in therir cultures as they become more and more dependent on each other.
This is a book that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading…
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THE ILLEGAL GARDENER
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Aaman forces his hands deeper into his pockets, pinning his arms to his sides for warmth, tucking his chin to his chest, and wonders if he will eat today. His toes curl for some relief from his pinching trainers. Closing his eyes, he allows himself to drift for a moment, the bright moon not dispelling his need for sleep.
He looks up as the grumble of a tractor jerks him awake. The tractor hauls a flatbed of crates, ready for the casual labourers to fill them. As it passes, Aaman’s head sinks to his chest again.
The flick of a light in the pharmacy opposite lays a rug of orange across the road. There are muffled noises within, buried in the depths of tinctures and bandages. Aaman rocks onto his heels and back, snorting warm air down his jumper, the heat giving him a momentary sense of civilisation.
The baker and his wife, next to the pharmacy, begin their work before Aaman arrives in the square, and the strong smell of bread gives him a time check. Each morning the oven door opens at the same hour so the day’s staple can be presented to the trickle of locals for breakfast, although it will be some time before the first of them appears.
A cockerel crows, its raucous call irritating a dog into barking. Their cries echo around the village above the noise of the wind machines that have been switched on to keep the oranges from freezing on the trees. When it falls below zero, it sounds like helicopters surround the village.
There is one such machine mounted on a pylon next to the building where Aaman sleeps, so cold at night, only warm by day at this time of year. Last night was three below zero. Cold and noisy. He wishes the seasons would hasten.
The kiosk’s fluorescents stammer their way to life beside him, but the awning blocks his view. Protective metal shutters clang as they are taken down from the front of the drinks fridges, and glasses chink as crates of empty bottles are stowed away. The kiosk lady never speaks to him. Day after day they share this space, the village square, with its dried-up fountain and a lone palm tree surrounded by a circular bench. Aaman presumes she has seen illegal immigrants like him come and go for years. He is faceless to her.
A bitter aroma drifts from the kiosk: her daily flask of coffee that readies her for her shift. Aaman, unwillingly, recalls morning cups of tea with his father and mother after morning prayers, full of buffalo milk, heavy and rich and warm, chasing the cold away in winter.
The rumble of another tractor draws him back to the present, and he stands tall as it shudders to a halt. There is a chance; he is the only one here so far today. But the farmer has not stopped for workers; instead he greets the kiosk lady by name, chats for a while and leaves with a pack of cigarettes, his other hand helping to bring the conversation to its amusing end. He chuckles as he climbs back onto the tractor’s metal seat, pulling his coat under his bottom to fight the cold.
The smell of bread percolates through the neck of Aaman’s jumper, where he has buried his nose. He didn’t eat yesterday. No work, no food. A deathly cycle. No work, no food, no energy, no work, no food, until… Until what? Shuffling from foot to foot creates warmth and keeps his mind distracted from his stomach. He glimpses a movement behind the palm tree.
“Hi.” It is Mahmout.
“Hello.” Aaman doesn’t sound friendly; it is not his intention. He is not here to make friends even if Mahmout is the only other Pakistani looking for work in this village. Aaman is from the North, the Punjab, from a small village close to Sialkot. Mahmout is from the South, a world apart. Friends are irrelevant to Aaman’s quest. Mahmout is grinning, as always.
Mahmout slumps, yawning, onto the circular bench. The temperature inches above zero and the wind fans in the orchards come to a stop, allowing the waking movements of the village to be heard in the ensuing silence. A woman chastises, a door slams. Dogs dotted across the village bark randomly and another cockerel crows. Soon the sun will be high enough to heat the day, making work a sweaty, mouth-drying job.
Two tall men walk up and stand next to them. Aaman judges their height and manner and decides they are Russian illegals. Their dialogue confirms this. They do not acknowledge Aaman or Mahmout. Tall and strong, they stand with authority, knowing they will get work first. Their clothes look shop-bought, not passed on as Aaman’s and Mahmout’s do. They look like they have had a good night’s sleep.
Mahmout will also get work before him. Aaman is short, like a child. He was so thrilled, at the age of five, when he was given the job of fetching the jugs of water home. The jugs were heavy and for a long time it was a struggle. He saw it as following his brother, the beginning of manhood. He got up early and relished the chance day after day to prove his worth. It took nearly two years before the jugs were no longer a struggle. He was proud the day he noticed that. His mother was proud of him too, and his father ruffled his hair.
Aaman’s father has two bullocks for ploughing, which he keeps at the back of the house in the village near Sialkot. Like his brother Giaan before him, Aaman would bring them grass and water. It was a peaceful household. The only time anyone raised a voice in his family was once when Giaan argued with their father. He said honour and status come from hard work, not from turbans. His father, who has worn a turban all his life, believed turbans said much more than that. They denoted his position in life, his point of view, his outlook. Soon after that, Giaan went to work at the factory, leaving Aaman and his father to till the soil. Aaman felt very alone.
He worked alongside his father and his grandfather in the fields until, at the age of eight, he tried for a job in the factory where Giaan worked, making footballs. Aaman thought he was a man, and he worked for a week with no pay to show his ability. He spent time in the storage room where roll after roll of cotton was stored, and in the laminating room where the layers of cotton were coated with liquid vinyl, another layer of cotton smoothed on top, layer after layer, to the thickness of leather.
At first, his brother worked in the noisy cutting rooms where the booming rhythm of the stamping machines stipulated the speed at which his die cut the hexagons. Aaman was impressed by how fast the men in this room worked, the floor thick with hexagons. Giaan later progressed to the printing rooms, which were much quieter than the cutting rooms with their echoing presses. They were still – each man to his colour, each hexagon printed individually. Giaan screen printed the colour red.
That fateful factory.
The village cafe opens its doors, and two waiting men enter and sit on the hard wooden chairs, one on each side of the open dimly lit room; each has his own seat, his usual metal table. One lights a cigarette and the owner takes them unordered coffee, the routine of years. No one speaks.
A van pulls up. All the men stand stiffly on the edge of the pavement. Aaman takes his hands out of his pockets, tries to grow, letting his pride fill his chest. Mahmout fixes a grin on his face. The two Russians look assured, hands in pockets, no smiles. Serious.
The driver points to the Russians without hesitation and waves with his thumb for them to get in the back of the van. The Russians smile now. They will eat today.
Aaman didn’t get the job at the factory where his brother worked, and not long afterwards he stopped growing. His body, stunted at ten years old, was never to catch up with his pride or his conscientiousness, both large to compensate for his diminutive stature. Eventually he managed to get a job at a carpet factory where no questions were asked about his age or ability. The hours were very long, and it was hard on his father and grandfather who were left to till unaided by youth.
Some teenagers come and stand at the bus stop opposite the square, backpacks ready for school. They call hellos to the kiosk lady, then settle, nodding their heads to unheard beats. They don’t see Aaman. A younger boy runs to join them; they smile and reach to tickle him, teasing and familiar, gentle.
One evening at the chopal, the evening meeting of the villagers, Aaman was tickled by one of the elders. He was taken for a child even though he had turned sixteen. He snorts and pushes the thought away.
Another man shuffles onto the square, and it is only when he moves that Aaman realises the man has been curled up in the opposite doorway, motionless, until now. He is tall, but his bony frame shows despite his oversized coat and layers of thin jumpers. He is bearded and looks perhaps Middle Eastern. His eyes reflect his surprise and powerlessness at the nearness of his own death. His shoes have no soles, socks worn on his hands. He has no energy to move, to warm himself.
The children opposite chorus a “Good morning” and smile as an old man shuffles by them, dressed in thick cotton trousers, jumper and solid boots, carrying a shepherd’s crook which he raises in answer, and hobbles on towards the cafe.
A woman pulls up in a car. The men ignore her. Aaman watches as she surveys them from the safety of her metal box, and wonders if she might be looking for a labourer, so he takes his hands from his pockets. Mahmout seems to recognise her and smiles and waves in a vaguely hysterical manner. She lowers the window. Her jumper is thick and warm, and she wears a hat that covers her ears. Her cheeks glow and she looks healthy.
Aaman pulls himself to full height next to Mahmout. The woman looks him up and down. Mahmout grins widely and jabbers.
“Hello, you remember me? I help with water.” Mahmout interrupts her silence; his accent makes his English difficult to understand.
The woman seems to quickly tire of his chatter. She remembers him from yesterday when he offered to carry a six-pack of water bottles from the kiosk to her car, a distance of about five metres. Aaman closes his mouth firmly as he hears the exchange. He will get a job based on his merits, not from ingratiating himself with petty tasks. He is a man who needs work, not a handout.
The woman seems inclined to talk to him even though she has met Mahmout before. Aaman is surprised. He was presuming her choice had been made for her. He draws himself up as she scans his face.
“Do you speak English?”
He nods, a little taken aback. She hesitates; Aaman tries to think of something to say in English.
“Yes,” he flounders, in a state of panic. But he is too late, he can see it in her face, her look of eager anticipation exchanged for closed decision.
“You are too small,” she says and signals to Mahmout to get into the car.
Mahmout grins as he leaves, but Aaman knows that domestic labourers don’t always get food, which is only assured on the larger building sites, and not even on those sometimes. The sun is up now and it’s warm enough to remove his gloves and hat, which he places carefully on the bench; then he sits and leans back against the palm tree. It is unlikely that anyone will come for workers this late.
Aaman falls into a half-sleep, hope keeping one eye alert. The bakery’s doors are open for business and there is an intermittent stream of customers. The kiosk and the corner shop both do a steady trade in cigarettes and the pharmacy unbolts its doors, the orange rug now dissolved by the sun.
The man with the soleless shoes has wedged himself between a wall and a tree and remains motionless, soaking up the warmth.
With the prospect of finding work fading, Aaman considers whether or not to walk all the way back to his home, if the place where he sleeps can be thought of as “home”. It is a small storage barn made of mud bricks in the middle of an orange orchard. The farmer has put shelves all the way around from floor to ceiling, each just wide enough for a man to lie on. Most of the sixteen men who sleep there have had steady work picking oranges for a few weeks and have formed themselves into teams. Romanians, Albanians, Bulgarians working together.
It costs thirty cents a night to sleep on the shelves. No covers, only boards. The farmer makes 120 euros a month and keeps his oranges safe from gypsies who come in the night with trucks to steal his crop. Some of the illegals who have been there longer have found themselves blankets from somewhere. Some stay for a while, others pass through, and nothing is safe to leave there. What you have, you keep on you. Consequently no one has much more than a packet of cigarettes and each, down his trousers at night, a mobile phone, a tool for finding work.
Aaman drifts off in the warmth of the sun. The helicopter fan for the oranges abutting the sleeping barn was switched on at two in the morning last night and it was hard to sleep after that. A motorbike backfires by the kiosk and Aaman jolts awake again.
The cafe is now full of men smoking and sipping morning coffee. Snippets of subdued conversation quietly ricochet around the room. At the bakery there is a queue of four people. The bus has come and gone, taking the schoolchildren off for the day. Shutters are being opened all around the village, glints of sun reflecting on gleaming glass.
Aaman recognises the red car. The woman who hired Mahmout earlier has taken her hat off to reveal dyed-blonde hair. The world of the West. She glances over and makes fleeting eye contact but drives on. She also sees the bearded man who has wedged himself between the wall and the tree. She looks twice at him.
The woman stops outside the bakery. Aaman watches her go inside, where she talks and points. He looks away as she comes out and across the road towards him. She smiles and walks past him a few more steps to the man with the beard, who wakes with a start. She hands what she has bought from the bakery to the man and walks away without a word, climbs in her car and is gone.
Aaman stares at the bearded man in disgust, and at the sandwich he has been given. His gaze follows the route her car took, this Westerner with so much wealth she can just give it away. He waits to see if the bearded man will eat the sandwich or if his pride will dampen his hunger.
The man inspects the sandwich. A cat appears from nowhere, hopeful for discarded ham. The man tears off a piece of sandwich, turns his face towards the wall and puts it in his mouth, repeating this process in quick succession until it is gone. Aaman stares blankly, watching him eat, until the bearded man looks up and makes eye contact, embarrassed. Aaman turns away.
The bearded man unwedges himself from between the wall and the tree trunk and scuttles away. His day is done. He has eaten.
Aaman shifts his position. This woman can afford to give her food away and he can’t even make enough to feed himself. She has money for a car and the irrelevant, unnecessary vanity of hair dye, and he doesn’t even have the thirty cents for tonight’s sleep out of the frost. With little hope of work at this late hour, and his enthusiasm dampened, Aaman considers that he may as well start the long walk back to the barn, conserve his energy. Try again tomorrow.
The car pulls up, the door is flung open and, before Aaman has shifted his thoughts from his internal dialogue, she is standing in front of him.
“Who speaks English?”
Aaman quickly looks around to see another Russian-looking man has joined him, and, although disoriented, he embraces the opportunity and tries to smile.
“I speak English, madam.” Aaman waits for the Russian man to speak, for the battle, for the defeat.
The Russian is tall and strong but he shrugs, mute: he has no English. He admits defeat.
She smiles at Aaman and pulls the passenger door open and motions him in.
Aaman doesn’t hesitate. He climbs into the car feeling like a king. She puts the car in gear and they move.
“What is your name?”
“I am Juliet.”
They drive in silence just around the corner and up a narrow private lane that needs weeding – an opportunity. The lane ends at a whitewashed stone farmhouse with faded blue shutters. The gates stand open onto a weed-filled gravel courtyard. Mahmout heaves a sack full of rubble around from the back of the house.
The car comes to a stop, Juliet springs out, and Aaman quickens his speed. He takes off his jacket, puts it on the ground and rolls up his sleeves. A good worker does not delay.
With a sweeping gesture she indicates the garden to the rear of the house. She hands him a rubble sack from a pile.
“Please clear this. Put the full sacks by the gate.”
Aaman sees enough work to last weeks. He also sees Mahmout grinning at the lady. Aaman pulls a pair of seam-split leather working gloves from his back pocket. He will work harder than Mahmout.
The lady leaves them to go inside the house, her hair shining like gold in the sun. She turns, and Aaman realises he has been staring after her and quickly averts his gaze. She seems to be about to say something but changes her mind and goes inside. There has been no agreement about wages and Aaman does not feel it is his place to raise the subject. On a good day he has been paid twenty euros and been fed, on a bad day five euros and no food.
He still wonders if he will eat today.
A phone rings in the house.
“Juliet? Where are you?”
“Yes. You OK?”
“Yes, of course, I feel great!”
“Where are you?”
“In a village.”
“In a village in Greece?’’
“Thomas said Greece, but I thought I must have misunderstood. What are you doing there?”
“I live here.”
“You live there?”
“I bought a house! It took ten days to complete. It needs work and the garden is unbelievable.”
“Juliet, are you serious?”
“Apparently Albanian refugees had been renting it for ten years and, by the looks of the garden, they never threw anything away.”
“I’ve counted three mattresses out there so far and that’s just what’s visible!”
“Juliet? What on earth are you talking about? I had to call Thomas to find out where you were. He gave me this number and said you’d left the country. He said Terrance knew and that you had to ‘get away’. I thought it was some elaborate joke. What’s going on?”
Juliet laughs, briefly. “I’m in Greece and I am fine actually. Now that I’m here, I feel great. It is so beautiful.” Her tongue drawls on the word beautiful as she looks around the undulating plastered stone walls and tiled floor. A small, green, shiny-backed beetle runs from under the faded sofa.
The uncared-for look of the cottage intoxicated Juliet – the traditional fireplaces whispering secrets of years gone by, the crude wooden cupboards in the kitchen telling of men with basic tools, old ways, their chambers full of mismatched crockery, wooden bowls and tins, even though human presence has been absent for some years. Piles of abandoned domestic artifacts and heaps of past lives crawl from corners. Outside, greenery climbs over unnatural shapes, hiding the debris of a disrespectful generation around a solitary old olive tree.
Juliet looks out of the little window in the back door to what will be the garden, to the two men, hunched in the bright sunlight, beginning the care.
“I’m so glad to be here. I had just had enough. Mick, solicitors, Mother – enough of people and their ways. So I decided to take a break from people. Take myself to a place just for me.”
“Hide away, more like…”
“What?” Juliet looks at the receiver and curls her upper lip, surprising herself as she slams the phone down. She grabs last night’s wine bottle and pours a drink. The bottle clonks, echoes, as it slams back on the concrete work surface. Juliet swallows in one and throws the glass in the stone sink. Curses and the glass breaking shatter the interior’s silence, both dismissed in the wake of her stomping into action.
Opening from the still of the greying whitewashed sitting room, with its overfilled sofa and painted chairs, is a room that brims with the passing of time. A wooden dough pan is crammed with garden implements that have escaped a museum. Brass bed ends lean against a wall cupboard, which lies on its side on the floor, one door missing, the insides spilling, promising finds and treasures. A hook on the wall supports a donkey’s bridle and a ring of several dozen large, old, rusted keys. The light streams though a cobwebbed window, picking up dust flecked in its rays that dance with Juliet’s approach.
Her oversized washing-up gloves impede her anger as Juliet yanks the door to this room wide open. Wanting to see some immediate progress, Juliet pulls at the largest item in the room. The mouse-eaten, disintegrating mattress mounts its defence: lung-threatening fluff and hand-gashing, rusted spring ends. Her self-righteousness gives her the power of twenty and she pulls and manoeuvres, twists and bends until the remains of the bedding sit wrapped in twine, like a foot-bound animal awaiting its fate, by the gate.
Juliet flounders backwards as the mattress comes to rest, her energy exhausted. At the sun’s insistence, she slumps against the wall of the old stone house. She becomes vaguely aware of the forgotten men working around the back. Tinkering sounds, hushed voices.
She sits, her focus on the patch of ground in front of her. Batteries, an odd shoe, half a plate and blunted knives fight for space with plastic bags, empty unlabelled tins, and unidentifiable electrical circuit board pieces. The enormity of the mess begins to overwhelm her.
Contemplating her foolishness, she finds herself thankfully distracted by a pitiful sound. A small-framed cat meows its plight and, half afraid but desperate through curiosity, it sidles from under the shade of the old olive tree towards her.
The cat grows bolder at the gentle sound of Juliet’s voice.
“Come on, then.” Juliet is now as much in need of the touch of soft, comforting fur as the cat is in need of a friend.
The cat fights the battle of fear until it succumbs to the pleasure of the ruffling and stroking of Juliet’s hand.
“Hello, you cute little thing. Where have you come from?” The cat’s presence gives Juliet a new energy, a slight sense of power. The cat winds its way through Juliet’s legs, its black-and-white fur leaving traces on her grey, faded jeans.
The phone rings again inside. Juliet reluctantly shuffles to her feet, marches inside and pours herself some water before picking it up.
“Yes, sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it. But you can see, can’t you? It does seem a little bit – well, come on, Juliet – moving out there on your own is a bit crazy for most people.”
“But I am not most people. You know, better than anyone, that I have been stifled, suffocated – smothered, for goodness’ sake, all but strangled by that man for so long. So now I’m doing it my way. Besides, what did you expect I would do? I have a job I can do anywhere. Was I expected to stay in that poky flat and just hang around waiting for a man to replace Mick?”
“I was never for Mick, as well you know. Those that were just thought he might settle down, calm down your wild ways. You were pretty wild, you know. And it seems you still are. I mean, you’ve just left the country, bought a place abroad…”
“And it’s fantastic,” Juliet says. She picks at some fluff hanging from the edge of the sofa, then stuffs it back into the hole it came out of.
“Are you expecting to get more translation work out there, or do you think because you speak the language you will just fit in and get a job? I mean, we had a great time when we went. It was hilarious, but it was only two weeks and it was – well, ages ago.”
“Nothing’s changed, Michelle. I still feel the same about this country as I did back then.” She looks out at the sunshine.
“I know it really caught you, else you wouldn’t have spent all these years learning Greek, but there’s more than language that separates cultures. Who are you going to spend your time with? How will you get by? What about the boys, at least?”
“The boys are fine. Thomas is talking of coming over next spring with Cheri. Terrance sees it all as a big adventure. Anyway, Terrance is so wrapped up in his mission to save the world through his study of ‘waste management’ that what anyone else does doesn’t really matter to him. I need time out for me. If you’re not going to support me in that then perhaps this isn’t a good time for us to be in contact.” Juliet looks up to the faded paint of the wooden ceiling.
“Stop it, Juliet. Of course I know what you need. But did you think I wouldn’t be surprised at this sudden move? Come on, you knew I would be, and you know everyone else will be. But isn’t that what you wanted though – to shock people, push them away?”
“I wasn’t thinking about anyone else, for a change,” Juliet says.
“Look, Mick was bad news and you stayed for the twins, so you have done what you thought was right. But Mick just put off the inevitable. You’ve got to dig a bit deeper if you’re looking for any amount of contentment.”
Juliet, whilst listening with the phone tucked against her shoulder, runs a finger along her arm. Her mood plummets down a familiar black spiral. The thin, translucent skin puckers like a plastic sheet, gathered where the scarring gives way to healthy skin. When her fingers reach her thumb, with force of will, she pulls herself out of the void, takes hold of the phone and bounds off the sofa.
“I am digging deeper. I have hired help, who are digging the garden as we speak. So you should be pleased that I won’t be alone.” The cat has wandered indoors; Juliet wafts her hand at it and makes hissing noises.
“What are you doing?” Michelle asks.
“There’s a cat – got to go. Bye.” Grabbing the opportunity, she replaces the phone. Michelle dismissed, Juliet shushes the cat through the light-filled door into the garden, The Mess.
The cat, surprised and apparently deeply offended that he is not given a hero’s welcome to the cool sanctuary of the house, hesitates before he disappears over the wall. Juliet expected the cat to only go out as far as the garden. She tuts her indignity after the fickle creature.
Juliet can see over the wall into next door’s garden. It is large, more like a small field, and is filled with neat rows of tended vegetables in heaped rich soil. A one-storey house with a crumbling tiled roof is beyond the last row and, behind that, an olive tree-covered hill fades into the pale blue sky. Not a cloud, not a breath of air. Calm, sleepy.
On impulse, and completely forgetting her two workers in the back garden, Juliet leaves the rusted gate creaking on dry hinges as she marches down the weed-edged lane towards the village centre.
The lane gives way to the road, which is a short distance from the square. A dog crosses her path, collarless and dirty, cowering at her approach. She feels power and empathy. A cockerel crows in the distance, out of sync with the hour. The day’s heat demands submission of all.
The kafenios, full of retired farmers, masculine domains that fringe the square, hum with murmurs that drift with the aroma of strong coffee. The conversations ebb and flow as Juliet passes. Nothing changes quickly here and Juliet’s face, a relatively new one, is worthy of comment.
As she nears the door of the corner shop, and with the necessity to speak approaching, Juliet notices the insecurities rising within her – the demons of not being heard, the goblins of not being understood, the imps of not being considered important. The fight between them confuses her thinking into a shade of panic.
The cool cavern of the village shop is a cornucopia of practicality. Goat bells hang next to hairnets. Bottles of bleach jostle with jars of fresh honey; local eggs sit in a brown-paper-bag nest on the countertop. The shop owner rises from amongst cartons of cigarettes and bundled shepherd’s crooks and wishes Juliet “Good welcome.”
Juliet swims in delight at hearing her Greek spoken by a native.
“Thank you.” She feels rusty. Her hard-fought-for business translating documents has increased her love of the language over the last two years, although speaking out loud still feels unfamiliar, if exciting. Juliet shuffles her feet and structures her sentence before breathing it to life.
“I would like some box of match and a stamps please.” She can hear her mistakes but it is too late to retract them. She knows what she should be saying but her tongue is unpractised. It’s like being back in night class all those years ago after that spontaneous holiday with Michelle. That moment of warmth, sea, and friendly people who made eye contact and then slowed down time to make room for her. It was the visit that shifted her soul from its plinth, never to feel settled again. It was the beginning of the end for her and Mick.
The shopkeeper frowns briefly. Matches appear with a strip of stamps torn from a large sheet. The exchange goes well. Juliet gains strength. She envisages her next sentence written on paper and then gives it life. The shopkeeper holds her breath, anticipating an unintelligible request.
“I need a box of bleach, something for wood to wash, to be good, and that which is metal and you use it to wash pans that have been baked in the oven.” Juliet is thoroughly aware that, although she is a competent academic translator, her conversational skills lack fluency.
After another brief frown, the woman behind the counter reacts as if she has been given a jump-start. She is either relieved that there will be no English to struggle with, impressed by Juliet’s moderate abilities, or flattered by the importance of her mother tongue. Whichever it is, she is roused to be as helpful as possible, pulling one item out after another until it is ascertained that “that which is metal” is a pan scrub, and that it is polish that will “wash wood and make it good.”
The very language transports Juliet to the world she has imagined is Greece – lazy days and soft-spoken people, quick tempers and forgiving natures, friendly faces and open houses, welcoming families, and always one extra place for the latecomer – a place she has sought after and studied for all these years.
She quickly learns the new words for polish and pan scrub and stores them away.
After the items are gathered, Juliet adds a goat bell she likes the sound of for the front door and a carved wooden stamp, which the lady says is for impressing a mark on the dough for the traditional Easter bread.
The shopkeeper is curious. Surely Juliet is not alone? She busies herself displaying candles to sell for Easter. Where is her family, her parents? Her father is dead? – oh she is sorry, and so young. Sometimes we grow strong from these things. Not close to her mother! Oh dear, well, it happens. Where are her children? Where is her husband? Ah, she is sorry; she too has a daughter who is divorced. When was that? Oh, so recently. Is she OK? Was it her choice? Oh good, it is better if the women decide these things. What will she do now? How can she work through the Internet? No please don’t explain it, it doesn’t really matter. Does she have friends here in the village? No! Well, now she has one. Marina. She pats her house-coated bosom and smiles.
Juliet skips out of the shop having dealt Goliath a mighty blow. The language is real, her ability to speak fluently is returning quickly. She has the power to be understood, to survive. She dances three steps before quickly returning for her stamps and matches and another enthusiastic departure.
On the lane to her house she meets the cat, who winds between her legs and trots to keep up.
“OK, I cannot stop you walking with me or hanging around, but let’s be clear, cat, you do not come in the house.”
Halfway up the lane, she remembers she has the workmen at her house and she has left all the doors open. Hurrying the rest of the way, she has visions of her laptop, her work, gone, and her passport along with it.
The cat chases her.
The Greek Village Series
A Wander Through the Village
Greek Village Series # 18
Grigoris sits under his olive tree, reluctant to go home and face the wrath of his wife, Lena…
He’s not been able to sell the oranges this year, and she’s going to furious!!! Just then, a little green fly lands on his shirt, and it gives him an idea – something he can use to explain why the crop failed, and deflect the blame.
It’s a bold lie, but it might just work…
Greek Village Series # 17
Rallou wakes up one day to find that her dreams have escaped her. The children are grown and gone, and her husband is no longer the man she married.
Their house is not their own, and Rallou has not achieved the things she thought she would with her life.
Has she really made the choices that have determined her life, or is it a case of ‘once a village girl always a village girl’? Either way, it is not enough…
Saving Septic Cyril
Greek Village Series # 16
In a dim terraced house on a cobbled street in West Yorkshire, Cyril gives refuge to all the stray dogs, abandoned furniture and broken toys he finds.
The ghosts of his past find their way in anyway – and now one of his neighbours wants him evicted.
When Saabira moves in next door with her husband Aaman and their young daughter, she hopes the family has left all its troubles behind in Pakistan.
But memories can be stubborn things, and Saabira has a few that even the wild winds from the moors can’t shake.
The Rush Cutter’s Legacy
Greek Village Series # 15
Born and bred in a small agricultural village, Vasso spends her days in the yellow wooden kiosk at its heart, keeping the locals supplied with cigarettes, sweets, ice creams and more.
By now, Vasso knows the stories of most of her fellow villagers, and can often be found sharing them over a frappé with her friend Juliet. But Juliet has noticed that Vasso rarely talks about herself.
Why is Vasso so reluctant to share her own story? Why did she leave the village for Orino Island one summer, many years ago – and what was it that finally drove her back?