Photo: Nick Allen Me
Photo: Andrea Thornton Living Space
Photo: Roger Pfingston Wings of Water
by Graham Joyce
He went to the island to get as far away as he could from the rowdy parties of Ios and the commercialism of Mykonos. He'd had enough. The tourist season was smoked out and the recommended cure for heartbreak hadn't worked. The word was that this particular island had turned its back on tourists, that it neither needed nor wanted them, and that if you were not lying to yourself and you really did want to get away from it all, this was the place to go.
Sunlight lancing off the brilliant white paint of the hull had him squinting as he stepped off the inter-island ferry. Even in the dazzle the tiny port exhibited a post- industrial, neglected character. The place wasn't designed to take tourists and backpackers, and he had to step smartly around
coils of rope and tarred capstans. Disinclined to practise his Greek on one of the grizzled old mariners languishing on the quayside, he dithered and scratched his head. Other passengers hurried away or were collected in rattletrap trucks. Only two minutes on the island and the long tooth of loneliness was beginning to bite.
Centuries of spice trading hung in the air of the old port. Dank warehouses of biscuit-coloured brick were crumbling into the water. Empty, cobwebby bars of fretwork shadows dotted the small waterfront, and the harbour slumbered under pearly, inspirational light.
He had a battered old Giffords, found on a Mykonos beach. As a tour guide its yellowing pages were hopelessly out of date, but he savoured the elegant Edwardian prose and its sniffy English reserve. About the island the book had very little to say, except to recommend that one should "quit the port at the earliest opportunity" and make for the west coast, where there were mastic villages and deserted, thrilling beaches. The island was the richest in Greece for mastic: the resin on the bushes crystallises, harvested by the women, to be sold on for its aromatic properties. And on one of the beaches, the guidebook indicated, lay strewn the rubble of a marble temple to Aphrodite. The author claimed to have spent a sleepless night there under the stars.
At mid-day he climbed aboard a sweltering bus, sharing a seat with a crone in widow's black. Partially hooded by a dark cotton headscarf, her tooled-leather face could have been a thousand years old. On her lap rested a cardboard box, in which there was something live, black and feathery. The old woman dipped in a bag for seed, which she sucked in her toothless mouth, occasionally letting some of the seed fall into the box. At some point along the journey she offered him a seed, which he accepted and tried to nibble with good grace.
'Pou pas?' she asked energetically. 'Where are you going?'
'Here.' He pointed on his map.
She clucked at him. 'Why? There are no bars. No tavernas. Nothing.' She repeated the word for nothing with heavy emphasis. 'Why go there?'
He wanted to explain a need for seclusion, but it was obvious she'd already decided he was a lunatic. The Greeks seemed to regard any solitary act, like hiking in the hills, as an expression of mental illness or depression; even in his own experience, a casual stroll would be quite likely to attract the desperate sympathy of an entire family who must then insist on keeping one company. Far better, he'd discovered, to lie about the purpose of your expedition and pretend to be going to see a man about a goat.
'Married?' she wanted know. This familiarity was also normal for Greeks.
'Yes.' He had no intention of going into detail about Alison.
'Yes,' he lied, not wanting to evoke the universal sympathy accorded to the childless.
She spent the next few moments engaging every other passenger on the bus in his business. His Greek let him down as the pitch of her voice grew animated, even agitated. Everyone else was leaning forward and regarding him with rather too much interest. He still had the book open at the map. She tapped it vigorously and spat. Then she smacked her gums together conclusively. He was relieved when, along with most of the other passengers, his new acquaintance disembarked at one of the mastic villages.
When he came to get off the bus, the driver shook his head before driving off, leaving him standing in a cloud of diesel-exhaust on a parched, volcanic hillside.
Below the blue Aegean darted with sodium light. Hoisting backpack and tent, he descended the baked-earth path. It was some hike. Huge, boulders ticked with heat. The hum of millions of insects among the stick-looking mountain vegetation was like the idling of a vast and invisible engine.
The climb down was almost two hours under a merciless sun. He thought about Alison. 'There's only one solution to a woman who doesn't want you, and that's another woman.' Peter had poured his advice like an after-dinner liqueur. 'Go to Greece. Have some experiences. You'll get over her. Exhaust yourself on a romantic island with some beautiful French woman. Fall in love with a German goddess. Cry your eyes out over a Danish siren. Go to Greece. Visit the Gods.'
He had swallowed Peter's prescription, hoping even that his classical studies in ancient Greek would help him get by. It didn't, but after making a fool of himself a few times he worked hard at the demotic. Four months had been spent island-hopping, camping, visiting the sights, the antiquities. Some days were lonely; some days were spent partying with people he didn't really want to be with. There was a dalliance with a beautiful Frenchwoman, and a night of shockingly rough passion with a Norwegian girl. Then towards the end of the season he woke, and not for the first time, with his face in the sand, his dry mouth tasting of aniseed, and decided the cure hadn't worked.
The worst night was when he found himself drunk and blubbering on a beach. A small dog, rib-thin and suffering from appalling mange trotted across and licked his hand in pity. He stopped feeling sorry for himself, brought the dog a meal and phoned home to see how things stood.
Alison answered the phone and told him that she and Pete had got together. He laughed. For the first time in four months, he actually laughed. He laughed for so long he woke with his face in the sand for the second morning running. Then he decided to come to the island and do some thinking.
Approaching the bay he saw not the promised temple, but a tiny whitewashed Byzantine church with red terracotta roof. Higher up the beach of fine volcanic grey sand a fringe of trees marked off an area of deciduous scrub, contrasting emerald green with the barren ochre rock of the hillside above. The leaves of the scrub were peculiarly luminous and verdant, and he suspected that somewhere there he might find the sweetwater spring promised in his copy of Giffords.
The church was built in the centre of the ruined temple. Fluted marble columns lay half-submerged in the sand, along with toppled capitals and broken plinths. Perhaps the Christian builders of the small church wanted to take advantage of the marble foundation; or maybe they sought to deactivate the power of the old gods. The tiny chapel itself had a dilapidated air as if it too were a relic of a broken culture. He tried the door. Unusually, for an isolated Greek church, it was locked.
Deciding to pitch his tent under the shady protection of the trees, he moved further up the beach but was soon dismayed. It seemed he had company. Pitched between the trees at irregular intervals were six or seven other tents of differing shapes and sizes. All of the tents faced the sea, and in every case the original canvas or nylon colour had been bleached out by salt spray and harsh sunlight.
Passing by the tents, he tried to peek inside to see what kind of people were there, but the flaps were closed and there was no sound from within. Perhaps they were all in siesta, but there was no one swimming, and no other activity on the beach. After pitching his tent he went looking for the sweetwater spring, but couldn't locate it. He'd brought enough water for two or possibly three days if economical; but he had in mind staying a little longer. No one came out of the other tents, and no one returned to them either. Eventually the sunset turned the sea ember red, but after the sun had dipped under the water there was no moon and it quickly got cold. He cast about for wood to make a fire but he'd left it too late; so he climbed into his sleeping bag and read his Giffords by torchlight.
'A quite singular and beautiful cove,' the Giffords reported, 'but I do not care ever to return there.'
Sometime in the night he was woken by a noise. He poked his head out of the tent. The sea, no more than twenty yards away, was calm, but there was still no moon. A light flickered, up at the other end of the beach, near the temple. The light hovered briefly, shifted, then it went out. He zipped up his tent and lay back, straining to listen for further sounds. Nothing. He opened his clasp knife and put it under his pillow.
In the morning he lay dozing in his sleeping bag, unable to surface. As the sun got up it became impossibly hot under the nylon and he wrenched himself awake. Tumbling out of the tent he walked like a somnambulist in an undeviating line to the sea. The water was chilly, effervescing on his skin. In the middle of snorting and splashing he suddenly remembered the other tents. There was still no sign of life. He'd hoped to be able to ask someone about water. Eventually he peeked inside the tent nearest to his own.
It was empty. So was the next. Examining them one by one he discovered the tents were all abandoned. No equipment had been left behind, nor any hint that their former occupants were about to return. Perhaps the local Greeks pitched them for convenient use at weekends or holiday times. It was October after all, and even though the days were still hot, the season was turning on the hinge of the Aegean autumn, and the nights could get very cold. No, he decided, he was alone, and with that realisation a slight breeze picked up off the water. One of the tent-flaps fluttered in the airstream.
He went about naked. Eating only when hungry from the things he'd brought with him, he also went without cigarettes and alcohol for the first time in fifteen years. Much of the first day was spent searching for the fresh spring, without success. At the temple, on one of the marble blocks, he found the ugly carcass of a sea snake. Buzzing with flies, its razor-fine teeth were bared and its rotting scales gleamed magnificently. He found, under a stone, the key to the church.
Inside, a small icon hung on the wall above the altar, but the lamps were dust-covered and hadn't been lit for some time. A bottle of oil and matches stood on a small table. He lit a lamp and a breath of light seemed to sigh around the tiny chamber. The flame winked on the silver icon. The face enclosed in the silver frame, one of the patriarchs of Greek orthodoxy, seemed stirred to anger rather than to one of the tender emotions. He got out, but left the lamp burning.
Soon it was dusk and this time he had his fire assembled ready for the dark. He was just finishing up a meal of olives, bread and cheese when he saw a dark flag-like figure by the water's edge. Again the dying sun had turned the water the colour of live coals. The figure approached in silhouette, his back to the sun, seemingly clothed in flapping black rags. A thrill of alarm passed through him with unnecessary force.
It was a Greek Orthodox priest. For some reason he didn't feel comforted. His skin flushed. The priest carried his stovepipe hat in his hand, his pace diminishing as he came closer. Finally he stood off by a good few yards.
'Yia sas!' he said to the priest, forcing a smile, 'Yia!'
'Yia sas,' the priest echoed quietly, eyeing him suspiciously, peering round him at the tent. A single bead of sweat ran darkly between the priest's eyebrows.
Even though as a traveller he was the xenos, the stranger, he tried to offer the priest some of the food he'd been eating. This desperate parody of Greek courtesy irritated the priest, who declined with a gesture. 'What are you doing?' he asked.
'Camping.' He wanted to add something rude. He'd taken a huge and irrational dislike to the priest.
'It's not a good place for that.'
The question was ignored. 'What do you do here?'
'I swim. I fish.' It was true; he'd brought a hand-line along and hoped to catch something.
'Dangerous to swim here. Very dangerous. There are currents out there that can take you out to sea. Very dangerous.'
Not having noticed any currents while swimming in the bay earlier, he raised his eyebrows at the priest. 'Can you show me where there is water?'
'Yes! Water! For drinking! My book says there's fresh water somewhere.' The priest, startled by this sudden animation, was torn by how to respond and merely mopped his sweating brow. 'For goodness sake, it's only water!'
The priest unaccountably turned his back and began to retrace his steps. He leapt to his feet and followed. 'How long are you staying here?' the priest barked over his shoulder.
When they reached the temple, the priest led him behind the marble blocks and grudgingly pointed to a slab. 'There. But it's brackish.'
Watched by the priest he removed the slab to uncover a shallow well. With a cupped hand he drew out a few drops of water. It tasted fresh and cool and clear. The priest's nostrils began to twitch as if he was sniffing the air. 'Have you been burning mastic?' he demanded angrily, mopping his brow with a handkerchief.
'Why would I do that?'
'Are you certain?'
'Of course I'm certain!'
He'd had enough of this priest who, scowling, went inside the church and closed the door. He retreated up the beach. Some time later when he returned to the church, it was locked and the priest had gone.
He lit a fire and pretty soon had a decent blaze going, though the piles of thin scrub flared too quickly. Crackling fiercely, it sent white sparks arcing across the fire before burning smokily. Very soon he realised what the priest had been talking about. The incense-rich smell of burning mastic was everywhere.
He'd unwittingly piled dead mastic bushes on his fire. The entire beach already smelled like a gargantuan temple. Flames writhed in the dark, flinging indigo shadows across the sand, and with the waves crowding nearer behind his back the fire assumed a sacramental quality. He sat with a blanket around his shoulders, hypnotised by the flames, drugged by perfumed smoke. He felt his forehead: his temperature was high.
When he awoke sweating in his tent the next morning he had no recollection of having gone to bed. Outside, his fire had burned out, and he stumbled across the sand and into the cold water, where he was shocked properly awake. While brushing his teeth in seawater that he spotted activity at the other end of the beach.
Three or four figures, perhaps a family, were busy close to the temple. Conscious of his own nakedness, he splashed through the water and jogged back to his tent, where he pulled on some shorts. He sat in his tent, wondering what to do.
Of course, he didn't have to do anything. They were campers, just like him. Perhaps they would cook souvlaki on a barbecue, stay for an hour or two and go home. What difference could it make? Concerned to announce his presence, he hit on the solution of going to draw some water from the spring.
He carried his water bottle the length of the beach. Four figures were busy with something on the ground. Rather than occupying one of the available tents, they had rigged up a large but crude shelter, immediately adjacent to the temple. Advertising his presence by a noisy approach, he actually got quite close before one of them looked up. Then all four of them stopped what they were doing and gaped back at him, open-mouthed.
He had the uncanny sensation that he was himself a ghost.
he older of the two men rose very slowly and stared, his hands hanging loose at his sides.
'Yia sas,' they replied, in precise and hasty concert.
'Where did you come from?' the older man said quickly, still in a state of astonishment. The accent was difficult, but just comprehensible. They were gypsies in all probability. When the tent at the far end of the beach was pointed out the man stepped forward, his eyes followed the line of the pointing finger. His manly perspiration was strong and blended with an overpowering scent of mastic. Then one of the women spoke rapidly. Only the word philoxenia stood out, like a bright pearl among flat stones, before the man gestured to a sharing of the meal they were preparing. They had been slicing some kind of offal on a marble slab. It looked less than appetising.
The older man went into the rough tent and came out proffering a pottery tumbler filled to the brim with blood-red wine. It was slightly salty, acidic and rather thick, but it was to be drunk. Reciprocation of Greek hospitality demanded so. It was, after all, entirely possible that they were entertaining one of the Gods unawares, and he should behave as if he believed that to be the case. He tipped back the wine and they immediately seemed to relax; except for the younger man, who seemed unable to do anything but stare.
It was difficult not to stare back. The family was distinctive from most Greeks. These were darker skinned, and yet with copper hair, totally unlike the blueblack of most island Greeks. But they were not of the Asiatic descent seen in the islands close to Turkey. Gypsies, surely. He had to make a conscious effort to avoid gazing at the younger of the two women. His eyes returned to her time and again as they ate slices of cooked heart and liver, during which the older couple plied him with questions about his former life.
'From England? England, you say?' It was as if he'd stipulated that he had recently arrived from the lost city of Atlantis. Meanwhile the younger man maintained a hostile silence.
He noticed that the locked door of the chapel had been kicked down. He could see the priest's hat and cloak and shoes strewn around the floor. It was while he took in this disturbing detail that he felt a hand lightly brush his shoulder. 'Will you swim with me?' the younger woman asked, smiling.
She ran the same hand through her hair and the sun flaked fire around her. He felt a jab to the viscera. Her fingers playing with her hair were uncommonly long. Her white teeth flashed; the heavy lashes of her oval eyes blinked lazily.
'Swim! Swim!' said the father, waving towards the water.
'Will you swim with us?' he asked the younger man, trying to make some sort of point, but the fellow shook his head contemptuously, picked up a handline and jogged to the waters' edge.
The young woman set off up the beach. 'It's better this way,' she murmured. None of her group seemed inclined to follow, and the two of them clambered over some rocks, going out of view of the others. There she slipped off her rough costume and waded in, her shins swishing through the water.
He blinked at the naked girl. She had a large birthmark on her bottom. As he slipped off his own trunks and followed her, she waited, her eyes unashamedly assessing his body. Unconsciously, or perhaps not, she moistened her lips with her tongue. When he drew abreast of her she turned in a smooth motion and made an elegant crawl stroke through the water. Following, he found it difficult to keep up, feeling the tug of a strong undertow. The priest hadn't been lying about the swift currents. Afraid, he swam back alone.
He sat on the shoreline panting hard, trying to spot her. Alarmed over her safety he considered calling the others, but at last he descried a tiny dot returning from far out. Eventually she fell down beside him, uncomfortably close. Hardly out of breath she said, 'But you didn't come all the way!' A teasing note in her voice.
She squeezed water from her hair and it trickled down the ridge of her spine, where he wanted to brush his fingers. With her toes dipped in the water she wriggled her bottom deeper into the grey sand. A strong whiff of mastic incense came off the girl. Again his skin flushed, as it had in the presence of the priest, but differently this time. It was as if some warning chill came off her, some marine odour alerting him to a danger he had no capacity to understand. She locked eyes with him, and her breathing became shallower. He wanted to lean across and take the dark, erect berry of her nipple in his mouth. Too afraid, he asked her name.
'Alethea.' She stepped back into her beach garb. An important moment had slipped.
But he was glad he hadn't chanced his arm, because seconds later the young man appeared. He paced by, scowling, suspicious. A fishing line trailed from his wrist, and swinging from the hook was a vicious looking sea-snake, jaw open, fangs bared, exactly like the specimen rotting by the temple. A wave of hostility emanated from the young man as he passed, and it occurred to him that he'd made a mistake.
The situation was unclear. 'Is that your brother?' he asked Alethea.
So why, he wanted to ask, is he behaving like a jealous lover? But after all, he was the xenos here, the one who didn't know the rules. Perhaps her nudity was innocent. Perhaps only her brother of all of them guessed the sensational effect she was having on an outsider.
For the next two or three days he ate, drank and swam with the family. They made fires in the evening and in the incense clouds they talked little. He went on long walks with Alethea. Together they explored nearby beaches, rock-pools and sea-caves, all of the time their hands almost touching and he never once thought of England or of Alison.
One afternoon, as they waded between rocks carpeted with slippery, luminous green weed, both naked having been swimming, Alethea missed her footing and grabbed his arm. It was the first time they had touched. Again he felt a visceral punch and a white-hot flare in his brain before he pressed his mouth roughly to hers, tasting salt-spray on her lips, scenting that strange mixture of marine odour and incense. Her hand cupped around his genitals. At that moment Alethea's brother chose to reveal himself.
Leaping from behind a rock he ran at them, puce in the face, screaming incomprehensible insults. But he failed to follow through, and quickly stalked away.
'It was only a kiss!'
Alethea looked stung and betrayed.
He knew he was wrong. 'No. It wasn't only a kiss,' he said. 'I want to be with you.'
'You can't,' she said simply. 'Let's go back.'
They walked hand in hand along the sand, but she let go as they approached her family. Her brother was still red-faced and angry. Her mother too looked furious, but her father, scratching the back of his leathery neck, looked sad. An impenetrable conversation began which he couldn't follow, though several times he heard them refer to him in the usual way.
At last he said, 'I want to be with your daughter. I'm prepared to do anything it takes.'
'It's not that simple,' her father said.
'What could be more simple?'
'You don't understand. You are a stranger. Even if you were one of the local Greeks from this island, it would still be impossible.'
'Is it because you are gypsies?'
'And anyway,' the boy spat, 'you are not worthy!'
A furious quarrel broke out between the family, bitter and vindictive. Alethea broke away and ran up the beach. He went to go after her, but her father held him by the arm. 'Leave her. It's no good. It's no good for you.'
He shrugged off the old man and took off after Alethea. She'd gone beyond the rocks on to the next bay. 'What do they mean?' he asked when he caught up with her. 'Why do they say these things?'
She shook her head. They sat on the sand holding each other, her staring out to sea at some invisible point on the horizon. At last she said, 'I sometimes think they don't want me to have anyone.'
'Has this happened before?'
She nodded sadly, and he felt profoundly disappointed to be a second-comer. 'They won't allow us to put this beach behind us.'
He nodded, trying to accommodate the Greek figure of speech.
'No, you don't understand at all. It isn't just a way of speaking. It means lovers must go on, to another beach.' She pointed out to sea, to a rock barely discernible in the distance. 'To that beach. But I don't think you can make it.'
It dawned on him that she was being quite literal. Some kind of gypsy ritual perhaps, a rite-of-passage for a courting couple. 'Swim? You mean swim to that rock? What are you saying?''
'We could get away. I would be at your side, swimming with you.'
She was proposing an elopement! He slumped to the sand and sat with his head in his hands. 'But that's out of the question!'
He had to think about it, but his head was on fire. She was actually inviting him to elope, and he couldn't think of a single reason why they shouldn't. The gravity of the moment pounded the beach like a wave. She was still searching his eyes for an answer. It shocked him that he was being offered a truly spontaneous moment of decision, in which he could make something astonishing happen or lose her forever. He'd been granted a miraculous opportunity to redeem his life with a single passionate act.
And yet what she proposed was madness. It was heady and dangerous. He looked at the rock in the distance, trying to calculate the swim. Last time he'd tried something like that he'd turned back exhausted at far less than half the distance. He feared the currents. But that phrase haunted, the one about "putting the beach behind him". He thought of the uselessness and the sadness of his life back in England. He had nothing to return to there. He gave no thought to what happened once the rock was reached. He assumed at that point that the statement had been made, that they would cross a symbolic or ritual line beyond which no challenge could be made to them. Then they would swim back.
Drunk on the romance of the situation, and on the reckless inspiration of her youth, he took one last look round. In the few days he'd been camping on the beach the dye had been almost bleached from his tent. It only convinced him to leave it all with the row of other tattered tents abandoned under the fringe of trees.
'You don't have to do this,' Alethea said.
He said nothing. She stripped off her costume and waded out into the water. Not until she was waist deep did she turn and beckon him to follow.
The water was buoyant and he felt strong. They swam for a long time. He even felt the sun shifting in the sky. Once out of a sense of anxiety, he tried to look back to the shore, but Alethea rebuked him. After swimming for almost two hours, the distant rock seemed no nearer.
He began to feel cold. Then he felt the undertow strike, and despite his efforts, began to sense he was failing to make progress. The distance between him and Alethea increased.
For the first time since they'd set out he took a lungful of water. Coughing and thrashing about, he had to rescue himself from a moment of panic. The distance between them widened, though he could hear her exhorting him to stay close. In a thrill of horror he wondered if she might abandon him; because he also sensed that if she didn't make the pace then they would both fail. The current was sweeping him to the side. He couldn't make progress and found it impossible to swim in her wake.
His muscles ached. While trying to lie on his back to snatch a moment's rest the current dragged and flipped him back on his stomach. He took another lungful of water. When he looked back he could barely discern the shore.
And when he turned, he heard the cry of a gull and Alethea was gone.
Calling her name and struggling against the current he lost all sense of direction. He swam desperately in the bearing he thought she had gone, his muscles turning to a fiery, unresolved slush and his feet cramping. The cold was penetrating and primal.
He despaired. Shouting her name again, in his panic and confusion he heard himself calling not for her, but for Alison. It was all too much; not just the swim, but everything that had driven him to this island, and to this pass. In his overwhelming tiredness he felt a tremendous desire to simply close his eyes. The possibility of surrender seemed at last sweet and comforting. He dropped his arms into the water, the better to accept the chilly sleep.
But anger sparked him awake again. Turning, he tried to swim. Still the current dragged. He took a lungful of air, and dived down, trying to swim under the surface tow, finding he could make better progress that way. He surfaced, breathed deep and dived again. He did this several times, until he had escaped the spiralling current. Catching sight of the headland, he made agonising progress towards it.
Then the land was before him. It was not the distant rock: he'd returned to his starting point. The sun was setting, the sea was burning ember-red. Crawling out of the water on hands and knees, he collapsed, shuddering, weeping, clawing and biting at the sand with relief. The gritty particles of sand under his fingernails were like grains of light, jewels of deliverance, shredded tokens of the life he had almost thrown away in this desperately stupid act.
When he woke it was dark. He got to his feet and staggered up the beach. He was alone. Desperate for water he cast around in the dark trying but failing to locate the spring. Returning to his tent he found a drop of water in a plastic bottle. Shivering uncontrollably he unrolled his sleeping bag and climbed inside.
When morning came around, his muscles were on fire. He lay sweating under the nylon, thinking about what he'd done. His head pounded. He got out of the tent and went to find water. There was neither spring nor the stone slab which had covered it. It was absurd: both himself and Alethea's family had been sustained by the spring over several days.
Alethea's family had made a tidy departure. There was no trace of them, not even an impression in the sand of where they'd been sheltered. Neither was there any sign of their campfire. The charred remains and blackened stones of his own fire were there, sure enough, further along the beach, but where was the evidence of the fire around which he'd spent those few happy evenings? The sun pulsed directly overhead. Sand gusted along the beach.
He decamped hurriedly. The bus which had delivered him there was due to pass again that afternoon. At the temple he saw what was perhaps the only evidence of the gypsy family's presence. A second decomposing sea snake lay on a broken plinth, next to the first one he'd seen, almost like an offering.
For the last time he glanced back at the row of tattered tents, and again he wondered to whom they belonged. Hoisting his pack he made the climb up the hillside. At the roadside he sat on his pack until the bus came, and flagged it to stop.
It was the same driver. He looked somewhat surprised, and when asked for water he produced a tin of sprite from a coolbox. 'Take it. Where have you been all these days?'
'Down on the beach.'
He started to explain that there had been other people, and that a priest had shown him where to find water, and that-
'Priest? There is no priest on this side of the island.'
The driver stared blankly then crunched through his gears as the bus moved up the hill. After that he would only look at his passenger through the rear-view mirror.
'I wouldn't go to that beach,' he said.
He merely shook his head. As they travelled back across the island, stopping at the mastic villages with their singular, geometrically patterned houses, the stranger thought of the last few days, and of Alethea. He wondered where she was. He thought also of the row of tattered tents under the trees, and wondered if he had narrowly escaped something deeply dangerous; or if he had forfeited some experience transcendent and beautiful.