The Beggar Who Travelled
Tolis was sitting on a park bench, half drunk, half sober, and half something else. He had enough supplies for the day’s journey. His lame arm, the left one, was permanently bent in a sling-like lock, and he used the space between forearm and ribs as a shelf. He stored there, close to the heart as they say, bottles of retsina wine, takeaway frappes and cigarette packs of different brands, everything smeared with greasy fingerprints.
People were walking by. Tolis told them that Al Capone was cool, had a swig of wine, put the bottle back on the arm-shelf, and scratched his balls.
A passerby called out to him: ‘What was Al Capone?’
‘Al Capone was cool. Cooooool!’
‘Ahahaha,’ the passerby laughed. ‘Ahahaha.’
‘Look…’ said Tolis, and stood up, struggling a bit to find his balance. He could only find his balance on his right foot, his left leg being lame, so lame that he couldn’t put his shoe on properly and the big toe broke through the rotten laces and wiggled in the air. It was a sort of strange dance when he was trying to find his balance.
The passerby waited, smiling. ‘Well, what is it?’
Tolis scratched his beard. ‘Look. If you… Pardon me for asking, but if you ever go to a faraway place, can you bring me back a t-shirt?’
The passerby laughed and left, and Tolis sat down, his green eyes following the passerby, then gazing indifferently at the floor: a bird landed there, pecked at a crumb, flew away.
The sun moved lower, came out from behind a tree, hit him in the face – he moved to another bench. Not far, a motorbike with two lads slammed on its brakes, and the one in front shouted: ‘Oi, Tolis! Do you like it up your arse?’
‘I love it,’ said Tolis.
‘Hah, hah, hah! Did you hear? He loves it! Hah, hah!’ the one in front laughed. Then the other at the back shouted: ‘Tell us now, did they fuck you behind the bush? They fucked you, didn’t they?’
‘They turned my arsehole into a blooming carnation.’
The motorbike lads laughed and shot off, and Tolis drank, following them with his eyes. He lit a cigarette, puff-puff-puffed, saw a bird on the floor, staring up at him. ‘Blooming,’ he said to the bird. ‘Hello, Tolis. You made them laugh.’ ‘Hello, bird. Where is the one who understands?’ ‘He’s near the sea. Find the sea.’ ‘Thaaaank you, little bird. Wait, don’t fly away yet. I want to show you to him.’ ‘I’ll peck around for a while. Tell me, what happened to your arm? To your leg?’ Tolis put his good hand into his shirt-pocket and got out a pen and a little notepad, and steadied it against his thigh. He drew the bird on his notepad: ‘It happened to me when I was little. Something struck me. Nice to meet you, little bird. Say chirp-chirp to your friends,’ and the bird said that it would and flew away.
Now he wanted coffee and now he wanted alcohol and now he wanted smoke and now-now he wanted nothing and now-now-now he wanted everything and so he gulped down coffee and drank retsina and lit a cigarette, and he got up and danced and said to whoever happened to walk nearby that Al Capone was cool. He left his bench, limped down a few streets, glimpsed the blue of the sea, made it to the harbour with the palm trees, sat on a bench and stared up at the palm tree. He stared at it for some time and people were walking up and down the harbour staring at Tolis, and Tolis went on staring at the palm tree for some time more. Having done that, he felt like staring at the palm tree for more-more time and so he lit a cigarette and stared at it from the depths of his soul.
‘Hello, you,’ the palm tree said.
‘Hi…’ Tolis smiled, and went on looking at it.
Tolis, Tolis, Tolis, will you be doing that for a long time, Tolis?
Yes, Tolis-Tolis went on doing that for a long-long time, especially as he had plenty of wine and coffee on his shelf. But then the palm tree said, ‘Well, what do you want?’ and Tolis was lost for words, and the palm tree said, ‘Stop looking at me. Mind your own business.’
So, will you be doing that for much longer, Tolis?
No, because a group of barefoot Gypsy kids came up to him and called him names and threw unripe plums at him. Tolis hunched over his arm-shelf, and squealed: ‘Aeeeeeee! Bad kids!’ The kids ran out of light ammunition and threw at him two rotten pomegranates: plaf! plaf! They missed the target.
The Gypsy kids pissed off.
Still hunched over, Tolis watched them from the corner of his eyes pissing off, walking under the first palm tree, the second, the third, the fourth and fifth, hardly seen under the sixth, tiny-tinier-tiniest, and as they walked on, the seventh palm began quivering… Startled, Tolis sat back: a beaky, beaky head popped up from the middle of its long leaves, and the palm tree craned its trunk, bent over the Gypsy kids and, one by one, it pecked at them with its beak and ate them. Once it had swallowed the last kid, it flapped its leaves against its trunk and took off for the blue of the sky. Flap-flap, it flew with its leaf-wings, flap-flap-flap, and looked down at Tolis: ‘Tolis, Tolis, I ate them! Go now, you’re near the one who hates his people but loves you, the way is free.’ Tolis took his notepad out and quickly drew the flying palm tree bird. ‘I’ll give this to him, he’ll understand that you helped me.’
He put the notepad back in his shirt pocket. He lit another cigarette and smoked it to the end and he liked it so much that he smoked another one. Lovely. Now: which one is his place, Tolis?
People were walking by, people people people, a woman with her whining boy kid. Tolis shoved his blackened nails into his beard and found the flesh of his chin and scratched it, eyes shut in pleasure: a woman with her kid. He stood up and danced his little dance of balance. A woman with her bad kid… hand in hand… coming towards him… ‘BAD KID!’ He limped towards the road, away from the harbour and the woman and the bad kid. One, two, three, four cars passed by, five cars. Blue, black, yellow, yellow, green. He let them pass by and stepped into the road.
‘Aeeeeeee!’ he squealed, crossing the road, ‘The bad kid fucks his mum!’ and away he limped, away away from the woman with the kid. He stopped, trembling, pulled out his notepad, and drew a kid fucking his mum, missionary position.
He ran-limped off, sensed that this was an unknown street, a street without benches. Away from the one who understands him he ran. Away? No! He spun around, saw the bad kid. He spun around: yes, he had to, the boy kid was a genie who wanted to fuck him. He spun around: no, he wouldn’t give in, he couldn’t see any benches. Yes yes, he would, he didn’t like genie-boys. No no, he wouldn’t, he liked benches. Ah yes, he would. Oh no, he wouldn’t. He spun around and around himself, until he felt sick. He raised his green eyes and saw how passersby had two heads, looking in both directions, and they had so many shopping bags that they needed four arms to carry them: they needed four, six, ten, twelve arms, they were standing up insects, and the cars drove through other cars, black through blue, and Tolis stumbled passed colours and insects, half petrified, half amazed, and half something else, crying and laughing at the stupid, scary town.
He vomited. He decided to walk through unknown parts of town, he advanced on hostile, benchless territories, carrying his beggarly stench with him, seeing things and things with his green eyes: his glassy-green and pickled-green and bombed-green eyes. Things and things he saw that made his something-else eyes wide-open in wonder, and squint in suspicion, and this in surprise, and that in boredom, and this in that, and that in this, and this and that and that and this, and – bam! – he crashed into a signpost… Oh…What’s that, Tolis? That’s a lovely, lovely bench, Tolis. By a taxi stand. Many, many orange taxis were queued there. He sat down, pulled out a cigarette, stuck it between his cracked lips, got the lighter, stroked the flint: puff… puff puff.
People again, people everywhere, people-people, a woman-people in a long, thin dress, a dress with flowers, a woman waiting, a dress waiting, not for a taxi, for something else, the woman and the dress waiting. The dress wasn’t supposed to be that tight – puff. She must have put on weight and the flesh of her bum and breasts and thighs, all the nice, juicy bits, blasted about: she was sexy against her will – puff puff. While eyeing her, Tolis began fidgeting on the bench and felt some hairs around his arsehole cracking away from the rest of the arse-hairs that had been matted together with shit and sweat. He liked the sensation. He rubbed his bum on the bench to get more pleasure out of it. And as he eyed her breasts, something stretched beneath his balls, his cock grew longer, fatter, not hard yet, challenging him to go over and tell her: tell her and tell her. He made to stand up, when a bang shook his chest, and he felt his heart throbbing victoriously, a big, kind heart, beating all other senses into submission, making it clear who was the boss of that stinky carcass. So, instead, Tolis remained seated and whispered: ‘I love you. I fuck you.’ Longer his cock grew and his heart kept beating fast, working together now, heart and cock, heating up the wine in his arm-shelf, tainting the taste that burnt his tongue. Eyes shut, he swallowed the sweet pain, and stared at the woman: she stood, waiting, without the dress, the dress had been bored waiting, it probably went to meet with other dresses in shop windows. He took his notepad, drew her, shut his eyes, kept them shut. Opened them: so she hasn’t moved yet… She’s still waiting, Tolis… Take action, Tolis, while she’s still here.
He crossed the good leg over the lame one and put his hand over his cock and rubbed it gently, and the woman stood waiting, and Tolis kept on rubbing, and when she saw him playing with himself, she looked him in the eyes, she looked him the way dogs looks at him, without judgment, and the dress came back flying and wrapped itself around her flesh and the woman and the dress walked away. She was a good woman, an angel woman of the dogs.
Away she walked, oh no!, but Tolis’s eyes followed her, good little eyes… They narrowed and focused on her wobbling bum, oh my, when… when the fifth-in-the-row taxi-driver rolled down his window and shouted with his ugly voice: ‘Al Capone get the hell out of here! You fucking pong, enough with you. Beat it! You listen to me? Beat it oh you better beat it right away!’ and he rolled up his window.
It’s one thing to be told off, but a completely different thing to be told off when you are horny. So Tolis became a bit stubborn and kept on smoking, puff he smoked, puff! puff! he smoked, blowing thick lines of smoke through his nostrils, PUFF! PUFF! PUFF! he smoked and the smoke burned as it rushed out from his nose’s chimneys, and the green of his maddened eyes took over and he saw his hands green, his clothes, his shoes and skin, green, everything green, scaly-green, dragon-green, and flap flap flap he beat his right wing, the left one being sort of lame, flap flap flap now both his wings worked, and he flew, up into the sky he flew, the dragon-beggar, scanning the crowds for the angel woman of the dogs, searching for her, planning to steal her away from the one she loved, ha!, when… when the sixth-in-the-row taxi-driver rolled down his window and stuck out his slimy tongue: ‘To hell with you! Oh you bloody skunk I’ve had enough oh to hell with you!’ and he rolled up his window.
Tolis looked at the row of taxi-drivers and saw them all staring at him, violence in their small eyes.
Let’s go away, Tolis. Why not? Yes, slowly-slowly… That’s it, slowly-slowly…
He left. Kind-hearted buildings guided him back to familiar ground, he spread the word about Al Capone, making the townsfolk laugh, and some of them topped-up his shelf with new bottles and coffees and cigarettes and little snacks which he put in his pockets. The truth is that, while he was on the move, it was only some who told him to fuck off and fewer who told him that he took it up his arse. He drank and smoked and sat on many benches and walked many roads until he finally reached the terrace of Café Papaya, where he spotted a spoon on the floor. He picked it up with his long, bony fingers, and examined it against the setting sun: ‘Hello, spoon. You are his.’
Pavlo had spotted the spoon on the floor, too, but he couldn’t be bothered to stand up from his stool behind the bar. There were four or five customers outside on the terrace, pensioners, all served. It was a bit chilly now and they had draped their jackets over their shoulders. Pavlo scanned the customers to see how they reacted to Tolis’s appearance. Not much reaction, they only fiddled with their noses. Good.
Without taking his eyes off the spoon, Tolis limped quickly inside the café.
‘Hello, Tolis,’ said Pavlo, and began breathing through his mouth. He had a handful of tricks to avoid Tolis’s ruthless musty stench. Putting his nose out of action was discreet and usually worked for the short periods that Tolis’s visits lasted.
‘Look,’ said Tolis. He offered the spoon to Pavlo. ‘I didn’t steal it. Stealing is not good.’
Pavlo thought that if anyone saw him taking a spoon from Tolis, Café Papaya would gain a very bad reputation. He took it.
Tolis screamed with laughter. ‘I brought the spoon to you. Look: the spoon is silver but the sun is orange.’ He tangled his fingers in his brown, dirty, beautiful, his beautiful dirty-brown hair. He then rested his good elbow on the bar, chin on palm, and looked at Pavlo. He didn’t do anything else, he just looked at him.
‘Café frappé, takeaway?’ Pavlo asked, and lit a cigarette to mask the smell. He gave three cigarettes to Tolis who put them inside one of the packs on his shelf and continued looking at Pavlo. Pavlo gave him another cigarette, and offered a light, and Tolis – puff puff puff – said:
‘Yes, a coffee, please, my good child.’ When he spoke like that, he didn’t look crazy at all, his eyes were full of calm understanding.
Pavlo tried to look at Tolis with understanding, too, but he felt like an idiot, so he went back to looking at him in the normal way, and started making the frappé.
Tolis’s eyes sparkled and turned crazy again: ‘Look, Al Capone was cooooool. Aeeeeeee!’
Pavlo half-smiled. ‘Would you like ice in your frappé?’
‘Look. My brother is…’
‘What is he?’
‘Look. Maybe… Maybe you…’
Pavlo gave him a coin.
‘My good child… Can you give me something to eat?’
‘Yes, but on your next round. Now it’s coffee time.’
‘Look. This is for you.’ He gave the full-of-drawings notepad to Pavlo, who took his time looking at each drawing, trying to ignore the foul smell. He put the notepad it in his pocket, and handed him a new one. Tolis drew a naked woman with large breasts.
Pavlo said, ‘I love your drawings.’
‘What does it mean “I love”?’ Tolis said.
‘Right. Here’s your frappé.’
‘Pardon me for asking, my good child, please, paaardon me, but “I love,” what does it mean “I love”?’
‘I don’t know what “I love” means, Tolis.’
‘What does it mean “I love”?’
Pavlo got on his knees, opened the cupboard in front of him, put his head into the dark, cool interior, took three deep breaths, got out, stood up: ‘I don’t know what it means.’
Tolis drew a naked woman and a massive cock going inside her, a cock so big that it touched her heart: ‘This means “I love,”’ and he danced, laughing a hysterical laughter mixed with screams.
While Tolis was screaming, Pavlo thought of sneaking another breath from the cupboard below, but he rejected this idea as in his panic he had forgotten to close the cupboard and the air inside had probably been infected. Instead, he breathed from the next cupboard, now having run out of cupboards. He stood up and said, ‘You never sign your drawings. This is your best one. Can you sign it, Tolis?’
‘What does it mean “sign it”?’
‘It means write your name under your drawing.’
‘I can’t write,’ said Tolis. He stood there, and didn’t look like he was going to leave unless Pavlo showed him how to write his name.
Pavlo bent over the coffee powder and sniffed in, hard. With eyes bulging, he wrote Τόλης on a piece of paper, and showed it to him: ‘Here. Now draw your name under your drawing.’
Tolis signed his drawing, tore off the sheet, put it in his mouth, and ate it.
Thunder was heard.
The beggar spun around and walked out of Café Papaya. Pavlo ran out onto the terrace to pick up the pillows from the chairs.
A great storm broke over the town of Kavala. A beautiful, September storm.
At midnight, Pavlo’s shift finished, and he sat at the middle of the terrace for a last smoke. Angie, who had taken over for the night, brought him some ouzo. The storm had lasted for a long while, and the rain had come down hard, biblical. It had cleared the harbour of the townsfolk and the sea smelled more like sea. It was beautiful to sip ouzo under lemon trees and stars, taking your sweet little time on the peaceful terrace of Café Papaya, looking at the deserted harbour.
A war-cry was heard from faraway: ‘Aeeeeeee!’ and soon Tolis’s lanky figure appeared in the darkness of the harbour, waving at Pavlo with his good arm: ‘Al Capone was cool!’ He limped his way to the terrace. ‘May I ask you something, my good child? Maybe… Would you mind if…’
Pavlo gave him a coin and his eyes fell on the beggar’s left foot. It always bothered him a little that Tolis’s big toe wiggled in the air, but now it got on his nerves. ‘Stand still, Tolis.’ He bent and took the beggar’s sockless ankle in his hand, but Tolis began kicking and neighing.
‘Did I hurt you, Tolis?’
‘Look. My brother is…’ he stopped.
Pavlo looked down at the wiggling toe. It looked like a happy toe, happy but lonely. He thought of his townsfolk and, staring at the toe, he said, ‘Come over to my table, Tolis. Let’s have some ouzo. Would you like that?’
And so, probably for the first time in his life, Tolis sat in a café, in the centre of the café, in its heart, with the man who understood.
He signalled Angie who brought ouzo for Tolis. While she was helping Tolis to remove the stuff from his arm-shelf, Tolis moved his eyes away from her breasts, and said, ‘My brother is…’
‘What is your brother?’ asked Angie.
‘My brother is…’
‘That’s where he stops, Angie,’ said Pavlo. ‘I’ve asked him a hundred times what his brother is and he never continues. Look,’ he turned to Tolis: ‘Tolis, what is your brother?’
‘My brother is…’
‘Leave it to me,’ said Angie. She took a seat, turned to Tolis: ‘WHAT is your brother? WHAT is he?’
‘My brother is bad.’
‘WHY is he bad?’
‘My brother hits me. He’s a bad lad. He smashed my telly. He takes my coins and beats me up every night.’ He turned to Pavlo: ‘Look, can you buy me a telly?’
‘I don’t see why not.’
‘Thank you, my good child. Thaaaaank you.’ And to Angie: ‘Look, if you ever go to a faraway place, can you bring me back a t-shirt?’
‘What? Like the ones that say I Love New York?’
‘Yes, please, my good child,’ he said, and sneaked a glance at her cleavage.
The beggar didn’t smell that bad in the open air, it was bearable, and a fresh, soft breeze was coming from somewhere. No customers came and Angie brought some ouzo for herself and a large meze-platter for everyone. Tolis grabbed the pincers, picked up a big ice-cube, raised it high and let it drop into his glass, splashing ouzo all over the meze: ‘My mother was kind. She loved me.’ He gulped down as much ouzo as was left in his glass, filled it up, picked at a slice of ham and some fried onion: ‘My children, you should love your mother.’ He ate a salty anchovy fillet and his eyes turned crazy again: ‘Al Capone was the best gaaaaa-ngster.’
With his fork, Pavlo pulled some chopped lettuce over the four pieces of red-wined octopus, burying them underneath the greenery. Angie replied to the men’s advances on the meze by picking at cubes of feta cheese, to which Tolis responded immediately by going nuclear on the vine-leaf sharmadakia.
‘He was cool, but, you see…’ Pavlo munched cabbage pickles.
‘But, but? But what?’ Tolis munch-munched.
Pavlo swallowed and half-smiled: ‘But he killed people.’
‘Kiiiiill!’ Tolis rocked on his seat, stood up, danced, sat down, scooped at a variety of pickles, dropped them into the aubergine-cream, ate the whole lot.
‘How about Al Pacino?’ Angie asked. She went for the feta cheese again. She was keen on feta cheese. She must have had strong bones.
‘Erm, look… Al Pacino was cool,’ said Tolis. He ate a calamari ring, some fried onion, more ham, and half the potato salad: ‘Al Pacino snorted coke. He had a big gun.’
Angie and Pavlo sipped their ouzo, Tolis downed it in gulps and he liked to fill his ouzo-glass to the brim, more than to the brim rather, he liked his glass to overflow. And when he got hold of it, you could tell from the way he held his glass that he was feeling something between glad and sorry.
‘My mother… I loved my mother. She used to make me… Erm… She used to make me that food.’ A wedge of Dutch cheese disappeared into his mouth. He picked at a black olive and swallowed it with the stone. Then he swallowed two more.
‘What food?’ Angie asked.
‘My…’ (he pecked at sundried tomato and feta cheese) ‘favourite…’ (devoured three slices of fried courgette) ‘food!’ (gulped down the smoked mackerel.)
Angie withdrew her fork towards taramosalata, scooped some: ‘That was nice of her. But WHAT was it?’
Tolis swallowed two more olives, the way he liked it, with the stone.
‘Listen, Tolis,’ said Pavlo, ‘these aren’t Maltesers.’ He sat back, examined the four pieces of octopus under the lettuce. They had been safe so far. He unearthed one octopus piece, ate it, had some tzatziki, sipped ouzo; repeated his ritual. The two remaining pieces were well-hidden under the greenery. He sat back, pleased.
‘Now I want to know,’ said Angie. ‘What food was it, Tolis?’
‘My favourite food…’
Angie ate a slice of salami with feta cheese, and screamed: ‘WHAT food was it? WHAT?’
‘It was food. Fooooood.’ He picked at a half a hard-boiled egg. As he brought it with force towards his mouth, the yolk came loose, flew in the air, hit him in the eye and, unbelievably, bounced back and fell inside his ouzo glass. He ate the egg’s white, and downed the ouzo with the yolk. Then he picked at some bacon, over-filled his glass with ouzo, tossed in an ice-cube.
‘Why does no-one eat the cucumber?’ asked Pavlo. ‘It’s so healthy…’
Angie filled her mouth with chilli cheese-cream: ‘But what food, Tolis?’
‘Come on, Tolis, give us a clue.’
‘It was like that,’ said Tolis.
You’d expect him to make some sort of gesture describing the food, but Tolis just looked at Angie and said again: ‘It was like that.’
‘All right…’ said Angie. ‘What were its ingredients?’
‘It was round.’
She lit a cigarette and looked at Tolis through the smoke: ‘Meatballs? Was it meatballs?’
Tolis stopped eating and stared at Angie.
‘What?’ Angie asked.
Tolis stared at her.
‘Was it meatballs then? Did I guess it?’
‘It was green.’
Pavlo chipped in: ‘Perhaps it was peas?’
‘Green…’ Angie murmured.
Tolis forked a stuffed potato and put it in his shirt pocket, with the fork. ‘And red.’
Pavlo brought over another fork.
‘My child,’ he said to Pavlo, ‘why do you hate your own people?’
‘I don’t hate them all, Tolis. I just feel very uncomfortable in their presence. Don’t you?’
‘Green and red…’ murmured Angie. ‘And what was it made of?’
‘Inside it had… it had… Its ingreeeeedients were… Erm…’
Angie jumped: ‘Yes, yes? What where its ingreeeeedients?’
Tolis said that Al Capone was cool.
‘Hang on,’ said Angie. ‘Was is pep-’
‘Was it peppers, Tolis?’
‘Peeeeeeppers!’ He limped around the table screaming ‘peppers’ and sat back down.
‘Stuffed peppers and tomatoes with rice? Yemista?’
‘Well done, Angie.’
‘We serve yemista here. Shall I get you some later to take away?’
Tolis stared at her. His eyes became misty.
‘What is it?’
Tolis’s eyes became mistier.
Pavlo put two cigarettes into his mouth, lit them, and offered one to Tolis. ‘Don’t you see, Angie? It’s not yemista he wants. It’s his mother’s yemista he wants. You’ve upset him now…’
Angie insisted: ‘Do you want some yemista for later?’
‘Yes, please, my good girl,’ he forked an octopus piece and nodded to Angie to pick the remaining one. With their mouths full, they smiled at each other.
And so they drank and talked and nibbled under stars and lemon trees and that fresh soft breeze still kept coming from somewhere, from a faraway, magic place that creates soft breezes, when someone unexpected appeared: a taxi-driver, who walked through the terrace and shouted to Pavlo: ‘Why do you let him sit in the café? He stinks! He’s got a blotch of shit on the back of his trousers. He goes from bench to bench and leaves a stamp of his shit on the seats and no-one uses the benches after him. How do you expect people to come to the café when he is here?’
‘There are people whose arses stink of shit and there are people whose mouths stink of shit.’
‘What did you just say?’
But Pavlo had already said what he had to say, and the taxi-driver got the message and buggered off, shouting: ‘You’re as disgusting as him.’
Tolis got his notepad out and scratched his head.
‘Do you think he’ll draw the taxi-driver, Pavlo?’ Angie asked.
Tolis scratched his chin.
‘That’s what I think,’ said Pavlo.
Tolis drew a man walking, hand in pockets, who seemed to be whistling.
Pavlo asked, ‘Who’s this man?’
‘Al Capone,’ Tolis said.
‘Can you do me a favour, Tolis?’ Angie asked. ‘Can you draw the sea? The Aegean Sea? I’m curious to see what you will come up with.’
‘He doesn’t draw like that. He needs inspiration.’
‘Please, Tolis. Draw the Aegean Sea.’
Tolis drew a naked woman with long, wavy hair that reached down past her bottom. Her face was in profile, her eyes were squinting, as if she was trying to see something in the far distance, as if she was expecting someone, and she had four legs, one pair was closed, the other open. Then he drew St Nikolas, watching her from behind . He scooped taramosalata and put it in his mouth.
‘Tell me, Tolis,’ Angie said, ‘do you like the sea?’
Tolis shoved a piece of bread into his mouth and, whilst chewing, he said, ‘I like taramosalata. Aeeeeeee!’ he squealed, ‘Aeeeeeee!’
‘What is it this time, Tolis?’
Tolis resumed drinking.
And now, the three of them, sitting under the trees of Café Papaya and the night sky of the Aegean, were bored of talking. So they didn’t talk. They listened:
‘Chirp chirp chirp,’ chirped a little night-bird from a lemon tree.
‘Chirp. Chirp-chirp?’ another little bird chirped.
‘Chiiiiirp!’ a third little bird chirped in.
Having listened to this delightful conversation, they decided to finish off their ouzo and call it a day. And so they did: Pavlo downed it; Angie downed it; Tolis downed it – and said:
‘I understand,’ he said, ‘what does it mean, I understand?’
Pavlo and Angie smiled at each other. They wondered how to explain to him what ‘I understand’ means. They both thought of answering the way a dictionary would answer: I realise, I comprehend. They turned to Tolis, ready to give their answer, when Tolis said:
‘I understand means I travel.’
About the Writer
Alexandros Plasatis is an immigrant ethnographer who writes fiction in English, his second language. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in American, UK, and Indian magazines and anthologies, such as Main Street Rag, Whistling Shade, Meat For Tea, Meridian, Aji, Adelaide, Bull, Unthology, Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud, Short Fiction in Theory and Practice, Know Your Place: Essays on the Working Class, Crystal Voices, blÆkk, and Phenomenal Literature. He is a volunteer at Leicester City of Sanctuary, where he helps find and develop new creative talent within the refugee and asylum seeker community. He lives in Leicester, UK.