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"Lessons in Greek," by Amanda Mininger

 

 

          In Greece, on the boat, I met Giorgos.  This is how: 

 

 

          Our tour group had formed over the last four days in Istanbul, where we then boarded a 

 

white ship wondering if we’d get sick, and went to sleep that night with the sea rolling gently 

 

under us, first the Sea of Marmara and then the Aegean, our intrepid captain piloting us over the 

 

same waters a hundred mythical figures had crossed, whose names we could no longer remember.

 

         

          Before dinner we had been summoned with a typed note placed in each of our cabins 

 

telling us where to meet the following morning.  Come learn about the culture and sign up for 

 

various excursions.  Signed, simply, Giorgos.  I did not care about excursions.  I did not even 

 

care about the culture—just that I was there in the first place:  coming down the other side of a 

 

mountain of crisis, my heart stitched tenuously together.  When Dad said months ago, “I’m 

 

celebrating my sixtieth birthday in the ancient world,” I did not even hesitate.  

 

 

          The next morning I rushed into the conference room two minutes late, as thirty middle-

 

aged faces followed me to the seat my parents were saving.  I sat down, and it was only then that 

 

I noticed a man standing in front, paused by the interruption.  

 

 

          “Are you supposed to be here?” he said with accusation. 

 

 

          “Yes,” I said, and blushed. 

 

 

 

          “Well…,” in an accent I couldn’t place, stroking his chin, eyes lighting up, “things just 

 

got interesting.”

 

 

          There were snickers of laughter and heads twisted to observe me again.  The reason was 

 

obvious:  I was the youngest in the room by more than a decade, wearing something flimsy over 

 

a bikini because it was far more important to me to be up on the deck in the sun than sitting 

 

there, the only single woman among a lot of gray-haired, bad-jointed couples who had saved for 

 

a year to go on this vacation, and wanted to know if it was better to take the gondola or the 

 

donkeys down the steep side of Santorini.  

 

 

          And this, I guessed, was Giorgos.

 

 

          He was an inch shorter than me, with a shiny shaved head, white teeth, and deep brown 

 

eyes.  That morning he wore black jeans and a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up over 

 

caramel forearms, looking effortless in that certain way European men do.  Later, I would find 

 

out more:  that Giorgos was actually Greek, but had been born and raised in South Africa (so that 

 

was the accent) to his immigrant parents who had left behind the chaos of post-World War II 

 

Europe; that he had been successful in the family business, something to do with hotels or 

 

hospitality, but then developed a drug and gambling problem.  Eventually he cleaned up his life 

 

and set off for Greece to seek out his roots, fell in love with the country, and stayed.  He became 

 

a tour guide, which meant living in the bowels of a cruise ship six months out of the year, sailing 

 

from the same port to the same port to the same port, and every five days leading a new group of 

 

complaining tourists around crowded ancient sites.  The other six months of the year he spent 

 

back in South Africa, in tropical Durban on the east coast.  He followed the sun, he told me; he 

 

was deliberately always in summer.  

 

 

 

          It was this that first stirred me and my sun-loving heart.  Or maybe it was when we fell 

 

into step on Mykonos, walking fast, trying to—without saying so—leave the others behind.  Or 

 

the second day when I saw him outside the conference room and surprised myself by kissing his 

 

cheek, and he grinned like a school boy.  Or when he sat next to me on the bus as we came back 

 

from the Acropolis on Rhodes.  He asked me questions while twisting a black leather cord 

 

around his right wrist, and I, conscious of my unshaven legs, tried to hold them away from him 

 

because I did not want his hand to make first contact with that.

 

 

Because by then I wanted his hand to make contact, and other parts.

 

 

          By then, the lessons upon lessons that were stacked around me had somehow parted to 

 

make a window, through which I could see only the water and the sun glancing off it and a man 

 

in my radius who was free, foreign, untarnished by emotional rust, not bound by a marriage to 

 

someone else or other modern-day pitfalls.  

 

 

          Ours was an innocent courtship across a handful of days.  On Crete, he asked me to have 

 

coffee with him while everyone else went in search of olive oil and old churches.  We found an 

 

outdoor café and sat across from each other, our knees centimeters apart but still not touching.  

 

He asked about current affairs, searching for dry topics we might both be able to speak about, 

 

and I answered with as much enthusiasm as I could, wondering how I must sound, an American 

 

on vacation dependent on a tour guide, trying not to divulge too much about myself, hoping he’d 

 

reach in and find the rest.  And before our coffee date was over, he knew that I was alone, that 

 

I’d never been married and didn’t want a traditional life, but that I’d suffered in love in the recent 

 

past.

 

 

         

          “Never been married or engaged?”  He was incredulous.  And then he told me there was 

 

something very sensuous about me, about the way I stood and walked, my gestures, my aura.  It 

 

only works if he notices, and he had noticed as I’d walked ahead of him earlier, slowly pulling 

 

the bottom of my top up to show an inch of skin above the swishing skirt around my hips.

 

 

 

          On the way back to the ship, he draped an arm over my shoulders.  The weight of his arm 

 

held everything and my heart began to race.  As we walked, I kept an eye out for an empty alley 

 

into which he could lead me, back me into a wall, have his Greek way with me.  On the boat as 

 

we separated, I was still looking for alleys and walls, still looking as I opened my cabin door, 

 

still looking as I tore off my clothes to feel the air on my skin.

 

 

 

          And how could he have known the extent to which I tossed at night, more awake than the 

 

glass-smooth sea, in a fever of my own thoughts.  Or maybe he did, and the coffee and the 

 

pointed comments, the piercing looks from across the conference room—everyone saw them 

 

now, everyone knew who Giorgos was performing for—were the measured responses he could 

 

give to the Sirens’ song. 

 

 

 

          At the end of the trip, our group left the ship and boarded the bus that would take us to 

 

Athens.  He stood by the bus to say good-bye to each of us.  My throat was strangled as we 

 

hugged for a long time, pressing against each other head to foot—finally full contact, but now of 

 

farewell.  He promised to contact me.  He told my parents:  “Take care of your beautiful daughter."

 

 

 

          During those five days, he never kissed me, but one afternoon he led me to a secluded 

 

deck, and as I stripped down to my bikini in front of him and lay back on a deck chair, he put a 

 

hand out and pinched my forearm.  His fingers holding my skin said, “I want you, but I can’t 

 

have you right now because I am the consummate professional, in charge of people, on a boat 

 

with prying eyes, and so I am going to brand you in this way for now as we wait.”

 

 

 

For years afterward, I thought about this: 

 

 

         

          Walking behind him on a dark and cobbled street in Athens, past open doors to smoky, 

 

thumping interiors, past endless outdoor tables and chairs with couples eating ice cream and 

 

drinking from bottles and nuzzling each other, waiting for the already late night to begin.  He 

 

wore all black and trailed a cigarette.  I had on a red dress with no bra and hardly any underwear.  

 

The night was warm, smelling of salt, herbs, melting honey.  He told me the place we were going 

 

was one of his favorites, and I traipsed behind him over the stony street, my hand in his steady 

 

one, moisture beading on my chest.  I was a blonde in a crowd of dark hair and everywhere eyes 

 

followed me.  

 

 

 

          He led me to a doorway.  We went in and sat at a tiny table, on a cushioned bench with 

 

more cushions piled behind us.  His arm was around the back of me.  A waiter took our order.  

 

The inside was filled with other people like us, in various stages of seduction, smoking cigarettes 

 

and sipping cocktails.  The music here was slower, moodier.  Bartenders passed each other in 

 

shadow behind a long bar with blue lights under rows of clear bottles.  

 

 

 

          I was already on fire as he closed one hand around the back of my neck and dropped his 

 

mouth to my collarbone.  I uncrossed my legs.  He pulled my head backward while his other 

 

hand gathered the fabric of my dress.  A sound came out of me as his lips skimmed over the 

 

veins in my neck, and I could feel my own pulse against them.   

 

 

 

          I pulled away so I could breathe.  The waiter came with our drinks.  We sat back, went 

 

through polite motions of drinking and stirring our straws among the ice cubes.  I wiped my lips 

 

and smiled, fanning myself in the thick indoor air. 

 

 

 

          “You’re not easy,” he said with half-closed eyes.

 

 

 

          “I have never been easy.”

 

 

 

          “That’s not the kind of easy I’m talking about.”

 

 

 

          I leaned forward.  “Then what are you talking about?”

 

 

 

          “You know the librarians at Ephesus, yes?”

 

 

 

          The famous library stood across from a brothel, in which the women were paid to give 

 

men pleasure, the kind of pleasure the women would have taken for themselves, I imagined, if 

 

they could have, there in the shadow of contained knowledge, the parchment resting places of all 

 

the journeys of men and what they had brought back with them.

 

 

          I was still, eyes on him.  

 

 

 

          “You’re not like them.  You do things for yourself.”  He took the glass from my hand, set 

 

it down.  “So what is it that you’re seeking?”

 

 

 

          I leaned back, just an inch.

 

 

 

          His hands came up, grabbed both sides of my face, thumbs digging into the bones of my 

 

jaw, while I waited, watching him.  

 

 

 

          Then his mouth, his mouth, his mouth.  It was not that he was good; it was that he was 

 

the best.  It was that he was so good that I would forever be ruined and this moment would 

 

forever be imprinted in my mind and upon my skin and no one, no one, could possibly know 

 

how to do this any better.  It was so good that no one would ever know—because I would never 

 

tell—that the stitches holding me together burst open that night as my heart swelled, pulsing in 

 

blessed, sanguine torment.

 

 

 

          And what came after was heady, hazy—just the feeling of weight and skin and friction 

 

and his mouth, again.  And my red dress tossed on the floor, and the dawn spilling orange light 

 

into his room the next morning, and me standing at the window peering through the buildings 

 

looking for glimpses of the water, feeling the man in my radius behind me.  Yes, we both 

 

followed the sun, I knew with sharp realization, but mine was in a different hemisphere.

 

Of course, none of that night in Athens actually happened because he never contacted me.  

 

 

 

          After the trip, I never heard from him again.  All I have are these visions and these memories that 

 

flow in and out, restless and unceasing as the tides.  

 

 

 

          And the accumulation of more lessons.  But not the ones you’d expect.

Amanda Mininger's first novel Touch was published in January 2011 under Good Place Publishing, an imprint of Wyatt-Mackenzie. Mininger is a digital copywriter in Denver, Colorado, with a B.A. in Journalism. Her articles have appeared in SPARK, a quarterly publication of Anythink Libraries in Colorado. She also maintains a blog at amandamininger.com, of which notable posts have been selected for WordPress's Freshly Pressed.