The Stranger

They were camping in a remote village in southern Crete, called Lentas As students they were poor in money but rich in their lives spreading out ahead of them, and this was her first venture into the world out there, thanks to Inter-rail.  Begun in 1972, Inter-rail offered young people a 2nd class rail pass for 21 European countries, an egalitarian opening for young adventurers, it was 5 years young, and understandably popular. It was Phil who’d suggested it, Phil her boyfriend who worked for British Rail so knew the ropes and even got his ticket cheaper than the modest £100 she’d paid. Phil who took her virginity in body and travel. Rucksack Phil, a natural traveller, who’d travelled from a Portsmouth murder a week estate via a grammar school to dally with middle class girls like her.

They’d sought a place off the beaten track and travelling as far south as they could, landed by local bus at this small fishing village with a singular taverna. Ever night, they’d order chips, and the old Greek woman, the grandmother, in her uniform black, would waddle out from the back kitchen to their terrace facing the sea, sit in her chair and peel potatoes, lifting them from a metal bucket of dirty water, peeling then returning them to the same bucket. This was her life. They would drink a beer or easy resinous Retsina wine and settle into the evening. It would take time. The chips were good and once they’d ordered a second plate. Out the old woman came again, with a hint of a huff the day being night, bucket in hand, sat down and peeled the single portion.

 

He arrived one day. Long haired, simple cheese cloth shirt hanging loose on supple frame, still blue eyes and a cotton bag over his shoulder. His English was limited, but because he was also a stranger passing through, they easily joined together in the evening, watching the grandmother peeling potatoes. Naturally for travellers they exchanged news, where to go. He knew the island well, told them of coves to swim, ruins to see. Yes, there were plenty of ruins. When they returned each day, he’d be there, at the bar sometimes just sitting looking out to sea. She began to look forward to finding him there.

‘How do you know these places’, she asked him one day, ‘when you never seem to come or go?’

He smiled at her question, drank some beer looking out to the turquoise sea, watching some fishermen haul their boat in from sea to sand, along with the evening catch.

‘I have been before here’, he said. ‘I like it. Simple place. So I return. No need to move more now’.

 

Then one morning, getting out from her tent, she saw his tent was gone. Just the flattened ground where it had been remained. The empty place.

 

She felt angry.

‘He’s left without saying good by’, she exploded. ‘Just left. Where has he gone to? Where did he come from? Why was he here? Who was he?’ her questions tumbled out. ‘We didn’t even know his name!’ she was shocked to realise.

‘Does it matter?’, Phil the seasoned traveller, the existentialist, replied, taken aback at her irritation. On the road she’d learned the ritual, the meeting of fellow souls, exchanging of where to go or not to go, and always at the end the leaving of addresses, (12 Raneleigh Road, Winchester) places in the web of the world, where you knew you’d find a bed, if you should need one in this life, and where you’d be sure to welcome fellow travellers should they pass through your life again.

 

It was her first little death. Just the memory remained of a growing love, his serene blue eyes and a rested contentment that she longed for still.

 

March 2013

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