… wine dark sea and a coastline the colour of myth… That familiar headland rises from fabled depths and, down every darkening slope, dwellings of ochre, cream, russet and pink tumble in jubilant –
‘Hey – I just got a direct tweet from Raz –’
… greeting. A last flourish from Helios as he dips below the western hills –
‘He says Cancun is awesome –’
… beckons me across the waters, their Stygian black silvered by sister Selene’s –
‘His brother’s been grounded for barfing in the pool –’
The happy little pastiche of Greek myth racketing round in my head collapsed. So much for fabled depths and tumbling dwellings. Jess, my bid for human perfection, was more interested in a 3 x 2 inch screen than in the blue rapture of the Aegean or the stunning panorama of Symi harbour.
The bovine surge to collect belongings started well before the ferry nudged the quayside. We joined the herd at the back of the boat, sweat settling in every crease. Our bags, of course, were under a mammoth turd of luggage; our carefully ironed holiday clothes would look like the scrapings of Jess’s bedroom floor. This was not a propitious start. Even so, shuffling to board the gangway, lungs clogged with body odour and ship’s diesel, I still felt the holiday excitement of a child. Of course, I had to think of Jess being parted from her boyfriend and suffering post AS level stress. I wasn’t the only one with something difficult to face. We could help each other through these two weeks.
As we stepped onto the stone quay, a green sort of fly’s eye on wheels slewed towards us and lurched to a halt, a chunky mermaid and ‘Symi Port Harbour Service’ stencilled on it. An ample Greek, white shirt straining, emerged from the tiny cab and landed solidly on sandalled feet. I nudged Jess matily.
‘Blimey, it’s Captain Pugwash!’
She reacted with one of those ‘you really should take your medication’ looks and continued clicking a response to Raz. To be fair, Pugwash was a generation before her time and didn’t wear a baseball cap or a Bugs Bunny tie. But I had tossed the ball lightly – it wouldn’t have hurt her that much to return it.
Our travel rep, a sociable Scot, hailed Pugwash then turned to us, curving a corporate grin.
‘Clair and Jess Harkin? Kalos eelthate stin Symi. Welcome to Symi.’
At the airport, with all the world-weariness of her seventeen years, Jess had assessed and rejected the rep’s romantic potential in a split second. Peeping humbly through my burkha of desiccating hormones I decided there was no hope for me anyway and so no point in passing comment. He continued, jauntily unaware of our contrasting reactions.
‘Aphrodite Apartments, it’s no distance – if you’d just follow the folks over there, Pickfords have arrived.’
He nodded towards a mule being loaded with cases. Jess glanced up and her eyes bulged with indignation.
‘You mean that donkey’s got to carry all those bags?’
‘It’s a mule – it’s used to it. See you on The Giorgios in the morning?’
He winked at Jess and nodded at Pugwash.
‘I’ll give Mixailis your regards, aye? Unless you’d like his mobile number?’
But Jess barely heard, her thumbs skittering across the screen in a blur of interchanging text and icons. So much for animal rights. So much for her loving Greece at first sight. Equine pathos and Hellenic charm were no match for the iPhone and the WIND mobile network.
Metallic geranium and warm sage seduced me with every breath as we journeyed round the harbour. Jess carried on – texting, tweeting or emailing – as our beast of burden clopped up a cobbled slope.
‘Come on, JJ, take a look around or you won’t know what you’re texting about.’
She remained impervious. When we reached our accommodation, however, she focused a scowl on the mule driver as she snatched her bag. I called out apologetically as man and beast wound on up.
‘Kalinichta – efharisto!’
‘Parakolo!’ resonated back over the clacking hooves.
We hauled our grips up several uneven treads to a small terrace shaded by a large mulberry tree. A plaque over the door read ‘Aphrodite One’. The key was in the lock.
‘Look, JJ, no need for Neighbourhood Watch on Symi!’
Inside, it was – cool – wonderfully cool. I flipped the light switch, illuminating white walls, marble floor, simple furniture. We dropped everything, savouring the chill. Jess, though, was still gripped by iPhone fever. How to buck her out of it? By this time, I was hyper on nicotine withdrawal. The opportunities for a sneaky drag since leaving Guildford had been nil. I didn’t need a scene on the first night. Inspired by desperation, I started a hectic, clumsy strip, heading for the shower.
‘Beat you to it!’
Jess finally abandoned her newborn to struggle out of her jeans, shrieking.
‘Not fair! I need the loo!’
She laugh-howled, pushing past – and won. Or thought she did.
Half an hour later, dried and well sprayed with insect repellent, we sat on plastic chairs under the mulberry tree sipping overpriced whisky, late of Gatwick. Far opposite, a plantation of sapling white masts rose over rippling black water that flickered firefly reflections of taverna lights.
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