I have a fear of burning myself.
The year was 2009, and my inner-right calf is burnt from the muffler on Pappou’s motorbike. An irritated bubble had formed, outlined burgundy, as if stained by Mum’s lip-liner. Its liquid bloating like a water balloon, bursting after six-weeks of vigorous traditional dancing and brushing up against salt from the Mediterranean Sea.
Ugh, Gross…have you met any cute Greek boys yet? Lol.
My best friend Jade (a.k.a email@example.com) had MSN’d me from Australia. I sat at the computer store-cum-travel agency with my leg propped up on the seat, listening to the ‘pings’ in tune with Nelly Furtado’s Maneater on my silver iPod Nano.
No, I hadn’t met any cute boys yet. Besides, I was only twelve and with my family on Pappou’s home island of Kythira.
Eight years passed before I returned solo to the island. At eighteen, I wore my fear as a scar on my leg while the Greeks wore their fear as gaping holes in pocket-wallets.
But my apprehension was short-lived when after a few days spent complaining about needing transport, Pappou decided to teach me to ride his wife Victoria’s work scooter.
The yellow Piaggio sat in all her glory, walled by Pappou’s fishing lures and broken washing machines sworn to be fixed three summers ago. We wobbled her out of the garage as though teaching a child how to walk. I popped the red helmet on my head and noticed the neck strap coated with rust, unable to adjust.
Pappou, the helmet kinda doesn’t fit my head…
It does, just don’t use strap.
He still speaks in broken English despite living thirty-something years in Australia. Between his short syllables and my Aussie slang, we mumbled disjointedly for most of the trip.
Then came the four rules:
1. Never go beyond the 5-kilometres town of Livadi because the scooter isn’t roadworthy.
2. Never drive at night because it has no lights and the fuel gage is (of course) broken.
3. Make sure to always have it returned in the garage by 7 a.m. the following morning for Victoria to take to work.
4. Basically, just don’t drive it because it has, like, no fuel—ever.
There were no rules on safety, just island logistics, and I broke all of those given to me within the first week.
That first driving lesson went something like this:
Hold in the front brake, turn keys on, press this button.
Now be very careful with accelerator. Most important part.
He told me to drive roughly ten metres out of the house as a starting point and, like the obedient granddaughter that I was, I did as I was told.
Before reaching the village road he already had his arm outstretched indicating for me to go ahead. Testing his patience, I suddenly found myself very confident, figuring he wouldn’t notice another grey hair atop his head. I jerked my head ninety degrees to say goodbye but didn’t notice my scooter veering left.
Pappou sure did. Instead of a sweet goodbye, he waved wildly for me to stop. Realising what I had done I came to a halt and turned off the scooter. Catching up to me, he gave his now-illustrious lecture on why you should never look back in driving; or in life.
Bravo Elly-Grace, I muttered under my breath.
After his blood pressure had lowered we went for a quick spin around town, him trailing behind like a driver’s instructor. With the dread of my provisional driving test in Australia looming as close as he was, amplified by a failed first attempt, I eased my nerves by waving to the owners of the mini-mart and to the old men resting their pride and their legs outside the Kalamos watering hole. Where else were they to spend their sixty-euro daily withdrawal limit?
I liked this village and I liked the freedom that had been granted with the turn of a mavro key.
The first sentence I learnt to say in Greek was: Simera piga me to skouter mou sti Chora (‘Today I went on the scooter to Chora’). My new friend Fotini had taught me one afternoon as I sipped on a Freddo Espresso at the café where she worked during the summer months. I had become quite good friends with her since my Uncle Vasilis introduced us.
She would later tell me how annoyed she had been about this, expected to babysit another clueless Australian tourist around the island. The roles quickly reversed, though, when she realised she was a year younger than me and when I started working at the small boutique three doors down, courtesy of Pappou. I earnt four euros—one Mythos beer—per hour, which was not money that I particularly needed, but it was good to have during the ever-present crisis. Besides, I was determined to show my new Greek friends that I wasn’t like the other Australians. That I too was repulsed by the bogan-ism that tarnished the island traditions, flaunting their top-tier currency by feasting in large groups and drinking to oblivion.
That summer, Fotini and I would finish work around the same time and spend our daily wages on waffles and hot chocolates in Sirokali café. One evening withour stomachs settling, I asked her if she wanted to come with me on the scooter to eat souvlaki. I only had one helmet but knew how much she would enjoy the adventure.
I ended up wearing the helmet. She wanted the dramatic effect of her long blonde hair caressing the wind. Young and reckless, safety came last, and because of this I knew we would be great friends.
Aware of the muffler’s brutality, we hauled ourselves over the opposite side and began the journey uphill and over to the souvlatzidiko in Livadi. Weaving through streets dispersed with olive trees and ancestors murmuring my family name, we felt the silence of the journey urging us to sing aloud. Some recent songs, some classics, some pop and some by a Greek singer called Pantelis Pantelidis who I grew to adore.
It took us a while to reach the town with the scooter, heavier than usual with the two of us plus the extra kilos of waffles drenched in vanilla syrup, whipped cream and cookies ice-cream. The cars, impatient like the sea at Fox Anglais in Kapsali Bay, lapping our ankles but unable to overtake the two crazy girls. Fox was probably where we would end up after dinnertime and probably where the scooter would be left that night, its driver too drunk to take it home.
That summer, I’d be caught leaving the scooter all over the island. Occasionally, a few days would pass before I picked it up from wherever I had left it.
One of my preferred parking spots was outside the Fox bartender’s house. I’d been crushing on him ever since he noticed my cheeky tactics. If being desirable was the aim, I was winning the game. His cocktails were shit, but it was more about the way he danced with the Frangelico bottle, and lit his cigarette inside (which both terrified and enticed me) while his hips swayed to the rhythm of salsa music.
It wasn’t long before the rumours began to spread like island wildfire.
That yellow scooter is always parked here.
With the red helmet?
Yeah, I heard it’s the engoní of Emmanuel in Kalamos’ scooter.
Oh really? Well, I heard she was with two French guys at Sparagorio Beach last Thursday afternoon.
I heard she is sleeping with both of them!
The townsfolk sleuthed via a grapevine en-route to Pappou in Kalamos.
As you can imagine, living with Pappou for three months came with some challenges to our relationship. In my solo endeavours, I was hanging out with a fruit salad of people and under Pappou’s firm conditions, French hitchhikers were forbidden from the mix. After dinner, my disobedience made him rage like I’d never seen before.
He sliced a fresh watermelon with his knife, stabbed a piece and pointed it directly at me with such force that I thought my life depended on the answer to his next question.
Elly-Grace—you are not to see those French boys again. Do you understand?
I responded without an ounce of hesitation, the absurdity of it all flaring in my veins like the burn on my leg once did.
Pappou, that is so unfair!
Well, I don’t know them. The island doesn’t know them. You could be like that tourist girl who was pushed off Kastro. She goes there one summer with a French guy or German guy. I think he was Russian or Swedish. I’m not sure, but she go up there and he pushes her off, or she fell from the wind. Anyways, she was drunk and stupid and…
…But I’m not stu…
Ela re Elly-Grace, I’m not saying you’re stupid. But I don’t know their families, I don’t know what they want and everyone is talking about you and…
…Ah-ha, so that’s the reason! You want to preserve me, your granddaughter, the rare gem. Who does everything you tell her? Pappou, I’m eighteen, I’m not a child. I can do what I want!
Mum always said if you ever have an argument, then you should fix it before the night is through. But Pappou is stubborn, so a night’s rest and morning fishing sesh did him a whole lot good.
He returned around midday with an apology wrapped in a common Greek way: I’m sorry, and, can you do me a favour?
The errand was to deliver one of his fish to Giannis in Kapsali. It wasn’t a real apology, but I accepted it out of obligation and for the adventure that it would be. I hooked the fish carefully under the scooter’s handlebars and made my way down to the bay, thinking about two things: whether or not the precious cargo could survive the fierce wind as it swung sideways around the mountains, and how in the name of Virgin Mary was I going to find the correct Giannis, when it is the most common name in Kapsali.
I arrived at a house I thought it could be and sang out to the lady hanging her washing on the front balcony.
I have a fish here from Kalamos, where is Giannis?
Den xero. Leave at the supermarket.
I did just that, left the fish at the supermarket and got back on my scooter, ready for the home stretch. I had become suspicious when the scooter made the same sound as an old man trying to get out of bed in the morning. I had let the fuel run below zero, again.
I punched in Pappou’s number on the purple Nokia and on the second ring, he picked up. He knew instantly what I had done. Did almost two months in each other’s company make him a mind reader or did we have this mutual understanding of my laziness?
I can’t come and get you, I took the other fish to Avlemonas. You’ll have to wait.
I dragged the scooter to the Fox bartender’s house, aggressively kicked out the stand, and secured the helmet before heaving my hungover body to the renowned hitch-hiking crossroad. I didn’t want to wait hours for Pappou.
The Kalamos dance was later that night, hosted by the School Committee. I knew Pappou would save the last dance for me, our special tradition.
The sky bathed in souvlaki smoke and lightbulbs strung over crowds drinking local wine by the litre as they rested raw, blistery feet on each other’s laps.
I dragged Pappou onto the makeshift basketball court/dance floor, as one of my uncles plucked the metal strings of his bouzouki. We hopped the Pendazalis, exposing my legs in the red spaghetti-strapped dress I had worn.
My burn a burgundy souvenir; a tattooed reminder of summer and my permanent connection to Pappou and my island home.
Elly-Grace Rinaldis is currently in her second year at QUT as a Fine Arts student majoring in Creative Writing. She adores writing about her Greek heritage on Kythira and the many summers she has spent there. When she isn’t gallivanting around the globe, Elly-Grace is found in Brisbane watching the sunset with a glass of pinot noir. She has been published in The Creative Issue, Ibis Zine, Pastel the Magazine, Convo Radio, The Ladies Network and Uni Junkee.