A Visit To A Poet

Getting to the island took five hours on what was called a ferry locally, but in reality was a converted fishing boat. There were only two other passengers, both locals and piled up with things they had acquired on the mainland.

Steve remained uneasy about the trip, but Georgie said it would do them good to explore, and besides her second favourite poet had a house on the island. She was hoping for a glimpse, even if he was billed as a recluse.

“I only want a photo or an autograph.” She insisted. “He doesn’t answer his correspondence. I’ve written, so I should know.”

Steve kept his silence; the Aegean was choppy and the sun overhead extremely hot. There was little shelter on board the boat and few facilities with the exception of a stove that brewed a syrupy coffee.

The seamen, all Greek, ignored the passengers as they smoked continually and moved about the boat with fluid ease.

Steve watched them work; he’d grown tired of looking at the sea and searching for brief glimpses of the far off islands they were afforded. He felt a little peeved; there were better places to visit on the mainland, and even when they reached the island there was no way of telling where they would stay. The guide book was quiet on the subject, but in reality he knew full well they’d find something. There had to be a Pension at the very least.

Evening was falling as they stepped ashore, with Georgie making directly for the nearest taverna. She’d held it in for the last few hours but now was about to burst.

Finding a woman serving inside she made clear her desires and was directed to a room at the back, as Steve found a table and ordered Retsina with a jug of water. When the owner brought their order, Steve asked if there was a hotel or guesthouse on the island.

“There are rooms, yes.” The owner responded. “Knock at any door, someone will put you up.”

“Very hospitable.” Steve conceded, wondering what he was letting himself into.

When Georgie returned she smiled when told.

“It’s good experience.” She acknowledged. “Did you discover where the poet lives?”

He shook his head, but she didn’t go on, swallowing a full glass of water before starting on the wine.

“I’m glad we came.” She smiled, settling back to observe the interior of the taverna which was relatively full, and mainly with men.

Steve remained to be convinced.

Next morning they emerged into the full glare of sunlight as it lit up the whitewashed walls of the small houses that adorned the island. It was a picture book scene, completely unspoilt; Georgie started taking photographs, using the camera she’d bought before coming on this journey. She wasn’t a complicated person, but when she went after something she could be tenacious.

“Are we going to explore?” Steve asked.

She nodded. “And also discover where the poet lives. I’m sure someone must know.”

Steve took in his surroundings, which were beautiful. “Well nobody in the taverna could tell us.”

She mused on this. “Strange wasn’t it. Maybe they are protecting him? Perhaps he gets a lot of mad keen people turning up?”

“Like you?”

She grinned, searching her handbag to make sure she had a copy of the collected poetry for him to sign.

“I just love the man.” She said.

Steve sighed. “Well, it isn’t a large island, not really. And there’s no vehicles allowed, not even bikes, so it’s down to stamina. Come on.”

They wandered freely, discovering yet more taverna’s, and a shop that sold souvenirs of a sort plus a small grotto that acted as a museum of the islands past, mainly dedicated to the part it had played during WW2.

The couple viewed everything, with Georgie taking a great many photo’s but still had not found anyone who knew about the poet.

It was becoming a mystery.

In the evening, returning to the taverna they had been in before, they ate a good meal and drank the best part of two bottles of a wine the owner recommended.

Afterwards, feeling mellow, they went for a stroll along the rocky shoreline staring out at an ink black Aegean.

“Does it matter to you if we don’t locate this poet?” Steve asked.

Georgie threw back her head to feel the breeze on her face.

“No, not really. It was just a kind of fantasy of mine. Do you mind?”

Steve didn’t respond; he was used to her, pursuing a whim.

“Glad you came?” Georgie asked.

Steve grinned; he felt relaxed and in the mood to please. She could have suggested anything, and he’d have been agreeable.

“Yes.” He answered, stroking her shoulder.

They remained a long time staring out to sea until the breeze turned chill, returning to the house in the village where they’d found a room.

The owner’s wife served them a treacly coffee which they drank at a rickety table overlooking the harbour. The night remained quiet with a silky moon hidden behind low cloud.

It was then there was a commotion at the street door as a man dressed like the locals was admitted into the house. At first he spoke only in Greek, and Steve and Georgie assumed he was a friend of the family, but then he turned towards them, breaking into English.

“I hear you have been asking after me.”

There was a slight American twang to his words.

Georgie stepped into the light. “Spiro….?”

The man nodded, employing a simple grin as Georgie examined him.

“You don’t look like your photograph.” She observed.

Spiro shrugged. “Who does? Besides I haven’t written a thing in eighteen years. All the photo’s there are show me as a much younger man. You’re lucky to catch me at all.”

“But your words are so…truthful and honest. Why don’t you write anymore?”

He smiled ruefully. “I was a boy when I wrote those things, now I no longer believe in poetry. A man grows older; he realises what he believed in is no longer true, and he matures. I married; I am raising a family, and I have no time for writing now.”

Georgie took a step back; she felt appalled he could say what he did. She believed in the power of the written word as a force for Good in troubled times and felt profoundly disappointed, allowing the book she had been holding out to him to fall aside.

As Steve examined the poet he saw a ragged man who smelled of a combination of sweat, fish and booze. It didn’t perturb him unduly; this was the first poet he’d ever knowingly encountered. Who could predict what to expect?

“Where have you been?” Steve asked. “No one on the island knew who you were.”

The poet laughed. “To them I am Vasos. Spiro is the name I used when I wrote and I don’t write anymore. I have been fishing with my brothers. Even a man like me needs to eat.”

Spiro/Vasos accepted a mug of coffee from the owner’s wife which he drank down thirstily.

“What do you want with me?” Spiro asked directly of Georgie, who backed off a little before producing the collected poetry book.

“I wanted to meet you; to tell you I admired your work, and to ask you to autograph it – if you will?”

She spoke in a monotone, hardly daring to meet his gaze. Steve had rarely seen her so cowed.

Spiro glared at the book before lifting his gaze to meet hers.

“Pen.” He demanded, holding out a filthy hand that had seen a great deal of honest labour in the last couple of days.

Georgie remained quiet next morning and Steve allowed her to dwell in silence as they awaited the departure of the ferry back to the mainland.

“Regrets?” He asked.

“Some.” She smiled. “Not many.” She breathed a sigh, taking in the island scenery and warm sun drenched morning. “Life’s too short for regrets.” She took out the book the poet had autographed, re-reading the inscription he’d written. “He was exactly as I imagined he would be.” She remarked inscrutably.

She smiled, but Steve knew she’d been shaken. Never meet your heroes, as some wise person had once remarked.

Just before the boat cast off the poet re-appeared, carrying a sprig of some local flora in his hand that he thrust towards a surprised Georgie.

“For you Madam. I came to apologise. You caught me by surprise last night, and I acted ungraciously. It is not usually my way, but I had hardly slept for two nights and a day. Now I feel better.”

Speech over he leant towards her to plant a kiss on her cheek.

Georgie reacted girlishly, pulling out her camera before handing it to Steve to take a shot of Spiros/Vasos and her together.

“Do you mind…?”

The poet placed an arm around Georgie’s shoulder as Steve took several pictures for posterity. It was over so quickly they hardly noticed the boat casting off with the poet smoking and waving, as if seeing off a long lost couple of friends.

Georgie felt elated at the experience as she watched until poet, dock and island itself became a hazy blur in the distance.

Turning to Steve, she gripped his hand, quite overcome.

“Beautiful.” She smiled. “What a beautiful experience.”

“Yes.” He answered protectively, wrapping an arm about her as once again the boat shuddered as it encountered the fierce and choppy waters of the Aegean. There was a five hour journey ahead of them, but they had already been on separate journeys of their own which would remain forever impressed into the memory.

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