You know, the idea has crossed my mind lots of times. I could’ve liked you, even loved you, if things were different. If everything was different. I wasn’t impressed a bit when I first met you two years ago. My mana had advised me to be polite and decent. I was to answer only when asked and in short. I should keep my eyes lowered and my legs tight together when sat; never crossed. Pateras said you were one of the richest gabrous in Crete. Acres and acres of vineyards; tons and tons of wine every year, enough to inebriate the lot of the Greeks he said.
‘You’ll live a life in riches’ mana had boasted. ‘You’ll have everything your heart desires.’
You weren’t ugly really. A bit bow-legged and plump maybe, but not too fat. I liked your smile and found your lopsided mouth kind of funny. Your eyes looked OK at first glance but… when you sat across from me in the living room that first night, the oil-lamp light between us, I knew that was as close as we could ever get. You measured me with your hazy brown eyes but your mind was miles away. I couldn’t see into you. Never have really. Even weeks later on our wedding night, when you were on top of me, when you came, I wanted to see. I’ll catch that glint sooner or later, I told myself. But your dull eyes just stared at the bedroom wall ahead while you puffed and panted like an old horse. Until you flopped down onto your side of the bed with a short, sudden gasp and snored the night away.
I married you because I had no choice. Pateras had already got anxious about my settling into a wealthy, suitable marriage. After Panayota had got married it was my turn and you seemed to be the best gabros he could ever dream of. Manna from heaven. Mana told me they could hear no nos from me. They knew better she said.
You might not like this, but, whenever I heard the bedroom door handle squeak and smelt your oily skin and wine-sour breath over my nape, I took off. My mind, I mean. Gone for good. Every single night I was a sea bird that crammed its wings into the louvres of the wood shutters and fluttered down to the port. The touch of your girly-soft fingers over my breasts and down my belly was the wind that rustled my feathers. The pain between my legs was my body scraping against the masts of the boats; the pushing and thrashing the waves that lapped against the kaiki; thrusting me into the deep paths of the rough sea.
And then I noticed him. Eyes that glinted like thyme honey in the sun, the more I looked at the more I got mesmerized. I started melting into their sweet depths like a drunken honey-bee, deeper and deeper every day. Do you remember when you asked me why I’d lost my appetite; lost weight? My heart desired nothing else, nothing more.
I’d never meant this to happen. I tried to muffle my hot sighs in my pillow but… Last Easter, when your mana started yelling in the middle of the night - remember it? - calling for you and Manoli to smash those rats’ heads in her bedroom… You fumbled around for the candle and headed to the door, oily hair astray, eyeballs round and veined like peeled peaches. Then you stomped upstairs to her room and battered at the floor with the straw broom, she shrieking, you trying to calm her down. She called for Manolis several times but he never came. He was about to but I didn’t let him. I left the bedroom door open and when he passed by I dared to show him. The trapped bird in me; my aching feathers, the start of the down underneath, the warmth of it. He already knew. And then I thought I would die. I wanted so much to vanish then, there, in his strong arms, be soaked up by his hungry lips… It was our first time. There, behind our bedroom door, quivering, palpitating in his manly clasp, I knew there was no end. Only a beginning.
You shouldn’t blame Manolis. He’s suffered a lot. Even more so now. Three weeks ago he told me there had to be an end to it. He had betrayed his only brother, he said. It didn’t have to do with us. It was lots of things; you, your mana, our families, koinonia, the people of the village… He would be kataramenos, cursed forever he said.
‘Let’s leave!’ I told him, ‘far away, strangers amongst strangers.’
‘Would never work,’ he said. ‘Won’t do. The katara will still be heavy on me’.
My heart stopped. His words became poisonous needles that sent benumbing waves all over my body. Everything blackened… He’s never looked me in the eye since then.
When you started vomiting and had those creepy headaches, your mana got delirious. She brought so many doctors in the house they drove me crazy. They badgered, pinched, prodded you, took your temperature and stuck their huge needles into your wan skin but… In the end they stammered their diagnoses, all looking flummoxed and defeated like sick hens picking at the plucked out corn cobs the other chicks had left. They never came back.
Then she brought kyra Lenio the xematiastra to cast off the evil eye. You should have seen her face when she left the room.
‘Seen nothing of the kind!’ she crossed herself and spitted in her bosom several times. Never returned either.
And then it was papa Nikolas with his censer. Poor man! He tried so hard to hide his disgust at the greenish, stinky stain on his black cassock. He left the room in a flash, mouth-breathing and off colour.
It took me a whole day to get rid of all those cloves of garlic, crosses, phylahta, pictures of Christ, Madonna and all those saints and dozens of bottles of syrups they’d all littered your room with.
You never got any better; only worse; until you got nailed to bed for good. Couldn’t even blink, move arms or legs, swallow your food. Manolis could barely watch you. He peeked at you from the door and left, head bent down to the floor. Probably thought his betrayal was the root of your problem. Brought the katara in the house. Poor darling!
I did everything that was in my power to comfort you. I nursed you well, gave you small sips of water with the tea spoon, wiped your sweat off your forehead and arms, pacified you when you yowled at night, picked at the hairs that darkened your pillow every day.
Those rats are still crunching your mana’s wood chest and bed upstairs. I hear them every night. She had ordered some rat poison from Hania but still can’t figure out how the anathematismeni, damned bag disappeared. She’ll have to wait till tomorrow when Manolis goes to Hania to fetch your coffin. You know, she hasn’t been feeling very well of late either. I heard her throw up this morning. Must be from her sorrow; for you. You shouldn’t worry though. I’m going to look after her from now on. I’ve been making her tea now; putting up with her complains she’d made it better; lighter. Funny eh? You used to go on at me about the wine tasting better before you fell ill. Before the rats started crunching their way into the house. Before it all began.