"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
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
“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
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.