Cockroach. Flickr photograph by Kidicarus222.
by Andreas Economakis
It’s late summer afternoon, one of those calm afternoons that warms the skin, coating the entire body in a heavy yet soft cocoon. I’m in a little seaside village in Southern Greece. Shirts unbuttoned, hairy black forests concealing little golden crosses, the smell of sun-oil and cheap soap permeating the salty air, fresh fish on ice, sizzling under yellow lamps. Mosquitoes are buzzing around, invisible.
The waiter wafts by, trailing a cloud of stale sweat and fried calamari. It’s hard work being a waiter in Greece, in the summer, with all the tourists. Greek tourists are the most demanding of all, never happy and with a chip on their shoulders the size of Mykonos.
I sit alone at a small round blue table on the sidewalk. A small pedestrian road and another sidewalk are the only things separating me from the tranquil sea. The salt water of the port laps up against the weathered harbor stone, against the sides of small white wooden fishing boats. The night is dark, the moon barely up. The water is black. My back is turned to the black water.
I’m watching soccer on the large TV that the coffee-shop owner has set up at the open window. Mundial, the World Cup finals. Every table at the coffee shop is taken, the predominantly male crowd, with their cigarettes and worry beads and ouzo and bottles of Amstel and Heineken and Kaiser beer all staring at the brilliant Philips green of the soccer field. Disoriented flies hover nearby, confused by the coupling of light and dark, food and exhaustion. They’re so lethargic you can pick them up with your fingers.
Next to me is a table with three old men, all turned and facing the TV. They speak with one another, eyes glued to the radiant green grass. They speak of their lives, of trips on boats, strange harbors, exotic women, greasy sheets, spicy foods. They must be retired sailors. Their conversation is pickled with ouzo and beer and olives and cigarettes. Lots of cigarettes. One of the men has an American accent. Not exactly American, just an accent of a Greek who has spent a long time abroad. Like me. Too long. Now he is here, getting drunk with his friends. Home at last.
The calamari waiter wafts by again and my eyes drift to the sidewalk floor. A huge cockroach stands (crouches?) motionless a meter or so away from my table, closer to the three old men. The waiter drifts by again but the cockroach doesn’t budge. He’s as big as pit bull. Brave too. Motionless. Steely resolve. I observe, transfixed. This is an insect god. Perfect. Frightening. The three men are laughing. Their voices echo in the distance. The cockroach has absorbed my attention.
Suddenly, the cockroach moves. Rather… he bolts. He runs, trickling, fast, determined, to the three old men. For a moment he pauses by the leg of the American-sounding one. I can hear my soul cry “WATCH OUT!” but my voice can’t catch up. Before I can find my speech the roach rushes up the man’s pant leg. The nimble old man jumps up with lighting speed, overturning the small table. Ouzo glasses and beer bottles and ashtrays come crashing down, shards everywhere, cigarette butts and black glistening olives floating in dirty frothy pools of beer. The old man swats his leg, screaming. Both his friends are doubled over, laughing up a storm. Heads from everywhere momentarily turn away from the Philips green, enjoying this old man’s frenetic dance. “Crazy old timer!” “Booze must have gone to his head.” “Too many years on a boat.” “America! That’s what happens to you if you stay there too long!” “Too much ouzo.” “Can’t mix ouzo and beer, old fella!”
The nimble old man keeps swatting. Frantic. The man can dance. And sing! The roach drops to the sidewalk and scurries off to a crack in the cement. Only the old timer and I see this. Did you see that?” he gasps out loud, pointing toward the crack. His friends, still doubled over in glee, ask him what happened. “There was a cockroach in my pants!” The men double over again. The calamari waiter crouches nearby and sweeps up the shards. “Crazy old coot!” he says to himself, his eyes snap-turning to the electric green Philips. One team has just placed the ball in the opponent’s nets. The score is 1-0.
From a collection of stories on Greece entitled: The Greek Paradox.
Copyright © 2010, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.
For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.