Newtons law of universal gravitation states that two distinct objects each possessing mass will exert a gravitational force one on other, the closer these two objects become the greater the force of attraction between them.
London, well into September and winter wants to remind me that summer is no more than a memory. A swirling wind heavy with damp blows the first leaves of autumn across the pavement. The wheels of my little suitcase clatter over uneven paving slabs. It’s all numbers,10 minutes walk to the station, 2 minutes wait for the next tube, 25 stops & 45 minutes to Terminal 5. 3hrs 45 minutes flight. I people watch to pass the time, everyday London commuters come and go & then give way to travellers with suitcases as Heathrow grows ever closer. The long-haulers like caravanserais with enough luggage to last a lifetime, the couple with matching carry on cases & trainers, those matching shoes irk me so much, but there’s no value going there. The single voyagers – compact and self reliant, sure in themselves, the ageing hippy happy to be on another adventure, the businessmen heading for a meeting in Zurich or Frankfurt or who the fuck knows where, ready in buffed to a shine brogues & cheap off the peg suit that almost fits him, all of them and me off are off to Heathrow.
At the airport one last snatched cigarette, drawn on like a man about to face a firing squad, then endless bloody queues one after another, the hassle of security checks, the monotony of departure lounge and then finally the gate opens. Google tells me my destination is 2391 kms south (and a little bit east), who am I to argue, Greece here I come.
At Athens airport I hang around for an hour or two, waiting for my companions flight, she is after all the reason I came. This is the third country we’ve met in, or at least I hope we will meet in, we seem to have this way of finding each other time and again but as I stand at the arrivals gate I wonder if she made the flight, if there were last minute complications, if she just decided not to come. As I stand there my mind wanders to another time and another airport, another arrival gate and another woman, I wonder where she is now. Why I should think of her now I wonder, after all this time? My thoughts looking for somewhere to settle turn to the other people at arrivals, lovers meet, families are reunited, businessmen are drawn like magnets towards cardboard signs with their names scrawled on them, all these stories, all these threads running parallel for moments in time, to dissipate far & wide. On it continues, a man and woman meet & embrace, a grandchild greets a grandparent, an aged aunt smothers foundation and kisses onto a pimply teenager who promptly turns a shade of victoria plum, so very many greetings and hugs. It occurs to me that maybe it should be prescribed for depression, or for melancholy, a visit to airport arrivals, to stand there for half an hour or so & to feel the love.
I see a figure back through the doors, is it? Yes! We embrace & head out of the terminal and into the afternoon sun. An idyllic week by the sea & then a few days in Athens, where AirBnB proves to be a splendid thing, it finds us a little nest of a place in the middle of the City that’s going for a song. When we arrive at the apartment we are greeted by a Greek lady with big blonde hair & a bigger smile, she is perhaps sixty or so. At the doorway she shakes my hand & then turns towards my partner who she beams at, then envelops her in a great big hug, as though they are the oldest of friends, the thought enters my head that perhaps she is commiserating with her, having taken one look at me and decided that this young woman needs a hug & sympathy.
I put the idea to the back of my mind as she shows us into the apartment (after pointing to our shoes which are to be removed at the front door) she explains the workings of Greek central heating, the mystery of which unfolds behind a small panel in the hallway where an array of ancient dusty switches lurk. Then quick as a flash she bids us goodbye blowing kisses from lips to hands, dispensing them from semaphore arms as she closes the door and vanishes onto the streets of Athens.
Alone we explore the rooms of our temporary hidey-hole, I have this feeling of something almost illicit in our rendezvous, sharing space together, together as a couple. Here am I with a beautiful woman decades younger than me, educated, intelligent and most remarkably of all with a thing for me, how did that happen?
A large bed takes centre stage in the bedroom, it is covered with slightly hippy throws that look as though they were bought long ago when hippy was hip, they work here, in a comfortable kind of way. Old fashioned louvred doors open onto a little balcony with a wrought iron balustrade, below the verandah a shady garden full of lemon trees. Feeling the need to be both manly & useful I test the bed, slamming my butt onto it with force, I expect my arse to sink into six inches of duvet and mattress but instead am slightly embarrassed to be met robustly with a surprisingly firm response, not quite what I was expecting.
A little bathroom with a shower and loo with strangely comforting seventies ceramics in a once fashionable pastel shade. A little kitchen for little people, complete with tiny pots and pans. The sitting room has a table & chairs and a couple of rattan armchairs, and most significantly a day bed, my woman and I both focus on it at the same time. Her with a visible air of relief, me with resignation. And she says the words that I know before she even speaks them.
‘And there’s where you are sleeping if you snore again’.
The spectre of my bedroom antics rear their ugly head, guilt follows swiftly behind. Yep, she cannot sleep at night, of course I’d like to think that its because I’m a tiger in the bedroom department, but nope, it’s that I have this tendency to snore like a pig and keep her sleepless through the night. Now there are remedies for this, but as she has discovered not even a near overdose level of sleeping pills can drown out my nocturnal vocals.
Though for now I’m counting on another remedy, provided by a Greek chemist, these plaster things that you place over your nose, the reason being they keep your nasal passages open, and thus prevent the snoring. I have a practice run, plaster my nose, check how it looks in the mirror compared to the packets instructions to make sure I’ve done it correctly, then I and try to deliberately to snore, whilst awake. Unfortunately I succeed, this is concerning.
We step out onto the streets of Athens in the late afternoon, walk along the boulevards & walkways. Theres a quiet time when the stores & shops have closed, the streets become empty, everyone vanishes, for a while at least and the whole city feels like a ghost town. And then as night falls the streets come to life again, like a tide coming in and then once again the streets are thronged, there is music everywhere, every second cafe has a band or a singer or a guitarist and I begin to marvel at how one city can have so many musicians. We pause at a little square with an old church at its centre, folks are turning up from all corners of the square and jamming together, Balkan jazz and I think of a Kusturica movie, we stay for a while and watch & listen, I scan the audience looking for gypsy types with gold teeth, though outside of a couple of likely candidates none open up their gobs. ( I’m sure if we had stayed longer I would have found my gold toothed gypsies) & then on we wander.
On we walk past glitzy shops, gift shops, junk shops, cafes & bars, we end up close to the Agora, the ruins of the ancient market place of Athens, beyond rises the Acropolis bathed in floodlights.
I like the enduring idea of this place, everything always changes and yet here I am in the present day market next to the ruins of another two thousand years older. Same same, but different.
The thought of a cold beer becomes increasingly appealing the longer we walk, my feet are killing me and I begin to whinge & whine. But on we go, me in a kind of daydream and I think of an old B&W British movie, Ice cold in Alex. I imagine my lips dry and cracked, my thirst , and the only possible cure, ice cold beer. My drama queen moves soon bring results, within minutes we are seated at a table, sooner still my second beer arrives whilst she has only taken a few sips from her glass of wine. There I sit, in body, but with only half my mind present, the first part peruses the menu and we decide on food, whilst the other half wanders, I wish I felt younger, possessed more energy, I wish my feet worked properly. I ask myself if I deserve my companion and the answer I find is not encouraging. The two of us have this ongoing joke in which both she & I describe me as a difficult man. That’s exactly what I am.
To be honest I don’t recollect too much more of that evening, no details stand out as remarkable or noteworthy beyond a pleasant dinner & I remember next to nothing of the journey back to the nest. The next thing I know it is morning and I wake up on the day bed.
The foggy recollections of the night before seep back gradually as I come round and remember how I got here. Through the mist I recollect being woken at intervals during the night, of a woman each time more desperate asking for the chance to sleep, so much for the plasters on my nose.
After sinking a coffee I creep to the bedroom, peep from behind the door to see her fast asleep. My instinct is to crawl in beside her and cuddle up, but I’m torn by how peaceful she looks there on her own. I close the door as gently as possible and leave her there in peace.
We go on to explore the city together those next few days.
I like Athens very much, the way life is lived on the streets, the beautiful and the ugly, often hand in hand. There’s a pathos here that’s rather special. Athens is a harsh place for sure, but it is full of beauty & I’ve been lucky enough to see some of it. In Exarchia a little outpost of anarchy I feel perfectly at home, if I were to live in Athens I would live there. Neo Classical tumble down houses waiting to be loved, graffiti covered walls and sedition in the air. Misfits and wasters and rebels & riff raff, how at home I would feel.
But in no time at all it’s time to head back to our respective countries.
She leaves on an early morning flight, we set three alarms just to be sure for five a.m. My flight is not til late evening, she insists I make the most of the day and leave her to go to the airport alone. I remain in the apartment for a few hours, I tidy it so that nobody would know we’ve been there, and as I leave I’m aware of the change, the nest is now just an empty apartment and a place of echoes.
I head to the metro, passing junkies cooking up fixes on a street corner, to Sygmata Square where just a few days before we stood and listened to a left wing concert, I pause at the parliament building with goose stepping soldiers, then walk on until I find a cafe in a quiet street in the sunshine with a view of the acropolis.
And there I sit me and my thoughts and my coffee, thinking of the desires that brought me here, of what I left behind in London, of the people I’ve met elsewhere these last few years, of all I’ve learnt along the way. And of course what remains behind them all, a yearning for something that I’ve still not found.
I finish my coffee and head to the metro and then the airport & another plane, as I walk all I can hear is sound of the wheels of my suitcase clattering along the pavements of Athens.