Sunshine and Shadows

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?


    1. Thanks, Barbra! It’s time I got a bit braver with my writing… I have SO many unpublished drafts, I had to have a stern talk with myself about why I wasn’t finishing or publishing them.

    1. I’m so sorry, Cheryl. I just found your comment in my spam filter when I went to empty it. No idea why it ended up there. 🙁 Luckily I recognised your name and gravatar. I’m glad to see you’re back blogging again and obviously loving your sketching! Thank you for popping over.

  1. This explains nothing. The explanation lies between “for the last time” and “Greece has left me.” You should write the story. All stories are a blend of fact and fiction to some degree because memory is slippery. This writing is a lovely meze that leaves me hungry for more. Can’t you at least add some soup or a salad? 🙂

    1. Hi Brenda,
      I’m so glad you liked this wee fragment. I agree about where the next chapter is obvious by its absence – it wasn’t deliberate – but it would be a sad read, I’m afraid. There have been breadcrumbs. Remember Kostas in My Journey to Ithaka? And the friend in Alfonsina y El Mar? Both lived in Athens. Both died. But this guy?

      In Greece, at the corner of the church square near my school, there was a solitary evergreen tree, a pittosporum tobira, rising triumphantly from the concrete; when it blossomed, it filled the whole square with its scent, and every evening, before I walked home or joined friends in a seaside taverna, I’d stand under it and breathe it in like a prayer. I still remember the deep brown eyes of the young man who first told me its local name in Greek – angelikí – as he plucked a waxy white blossom and silently gave it to me.

      This was the Greek who, after a year together, took a very young me to his folks and told them I was the girl he’d be marrying; I lost him, too. And two other close friends from my time in Greece who died of cancer. They were people who saw and understood and loved the real me. I’ve been blessed since the day I met my husband and made a family with him, and I still have close friends in Greece, but wee bits of my soul got split off and left behind every time I lost someone who’d mirrored back the best in me.

  2. Hi Janice – Sunshine and Shadows – yes Greece does that … Mediterranean colours glow and fade, fade and glow … and how what a ‘terror’ of a story – a heartbreak one doesn’t want to read in a story, let alone know it’s true …

    Perhaps in the long run you made the right decision to leave and let go … returning to Scotland the brave – a different scenario, but perhaps more solid friends … made from wild strong tamings, rather than loose Latin lovers … who would likely leave us in the end …

    Masterful story telling though – I thoroughly enjoyed it … sad, but true, as well as your answers filling in the blanks or some … cheers Hilary

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! It’s maybe time to weave some of the posts and notebook drafts into something more solid.

      Perhaps in the long run you made the right decision to leave and let go … returning to Scotland the brave

      And that’s another story right there, Hilary… It was over a decade before I made it back to Scotland; many of those years away from Greece involved spending part of the year examining there or translating and teaching Greek over here. I’ve never wanted or been able to let go of the language, the music, the place itself and my friends who are still there, although it would be too haunting to go back to living full-time in Greece now that so many loved ones have passed away and so much has changed.

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