I found the following fragment buried in a file of old drafts. I was always going to do something with it, stretch it into a short story or shrink it into a poem, but I never did. Woven from composite memories of love and loss from decades ago, it was a response to a writing prompt, an exercise in blending fact and fiction; it’s the closest I’ve ever got to explaining why I left Greece.
The sun brands your soul with memories…
Athens. Blinding white glare off the pavements and buildings as we walked in the fierce mid-day heat, up steps and through the narrow bustling alleyways of the Plaka, different tunes from every shop, bouzouki strings and soulful singing, brightly woven rugs, strands of leather goods and sandals, carousels of postcards and tourist guides.
We rose steadily, hand in hand past the beckoning waiters and blue and white checked tablecloths at crowded restaurants; everywhere the smell of oil and fish, roast meat, oregano and wine – cutlery and plates, glasses clinking over the babel of laughter and languages. Past jewellery and hand painted ceramics, blue glass and brass, icons, inlaid backgammon boxes and amber beads, we climbed steadily through alleyways of steps worn smooth towards the grubbier, darker alleys where there’s nothing for foreigners to see except scrawny kittens and closed doors with peeling paint.
Beyond the tightly closed shutters of a darkened, rented room, the throbbing pulse of cicadas singing to the death; we lay in the dark, sweat mingling for the last time.
Greece has left me haunted, hating and longing with a love so deep it runs like a drug through my veins, a love crying out with a thirst that only the light from the sea can ever quench but never does. Greece sates the senses but cries out More… love me more. Don’t leave me… ever. If I hadn’t left when I did, I would have died there too, strung out between love and grief, bliss and death, fear and a fierce, proud longing, like the sun-bleached sails of an ancient ghost ship that never reaches Ithaka.
A country of extremes, of blinding light and shadows deep enough to drown in. You pay for its poetry with your soul.
What memories has the sun branded your soul with?