This night, though, Poseidon was angry. As we left the harbour of Pireaus the ship started rolling from side to side. It was a cloudy night and I could hear the wind whistling across the bows of the ferry. I went into the large cafeteria, stumbled over a small goat and fell flat on my face.
‘Are you alright? Help me someone a man has fallen down? Oh panageia-mou, panageia-mou.’
‘OK’ I said, ‘I’m OK, look I haven’t even hurt myself. I’m fine.’ I got up from the floor and staring down at me was a truly beautiful woman. She certainly wasn’t thirty and she had black eyes and jet black hair. She made me sit down to recover myself and told me that she was really sorry that the accursed goat that she was bringing from Athens for her mother had made me fall. Then she spat at the goat. Not once, but several times. It is a greek thing, this spitting. They make the sound of spitting but nothing comes out. They do it to animals that annoy them and they do it to beautiful brides at weddings. The purpose is to show to the ‘evil eye’ that they are cursing the beautiful bride so that the evil spirits will not trouble them.
‘The goat is a present to my mother from my uncle in Athens where I stay when I go over there. I hate bringing goats from Athens but it is something that my uncle insists upon. He is an idiot my uncle. This is the fifth goat I have brought back and I only went to Athens to choose and order some furniture for our new house. I was married five years ago and now we have a house, paid for by my mother and built by my husband bless his soul, so I have to bring back the goats. I am so sorry you fell, are you sure that you are OK?’
‘Yes I’m fine’ I answered still trying to make sure that I had just understood what she had said. I’m pretty sure I got it all right.
‘You’re not greek?’ She said this as though she was really surprised, and I expect she was. These ferries were used almost completely by greek people. Foreigners came on aeroplanes, they would never use a ship to travel on. And why would any foreigner come to Crete? This was how the greeks usually saw me, as a very strange sort of foreigner.
I told her that I was english and that I had driven from England across Europe to come to Crete again because I loved the island and the people and I wanted to get a job here. To live here.
‘You must be mad’ she said ‘just wait here while I get some frappe.’ Then she was gone and I was looking after the goat. She soon returned with two frappes and they were really good. I sipped mine as she explained that Crete was still a poor country. There were the evil turks, then the germans who just killed people, then the awful civil war which killed her father and now these idiots who have taken over the government, long may they stay in Hades. Now this was pretty powerful stuff. The junta had abolished all political parties and it seemed illegal to do anything but praise them. She was telling me that she wanted them all to rot in hell.
I explained that I had spoken to some men in northern Greece who, although they were opposed to the junta, they didn’t speak as strongly as she.
‘What is your name’ she asked. I told her. She said that her name was Niki. ‘Well Ray, the difference is that I am a cretan and we hate people who tell us what to do. There have been so many years of these people telling us this and that and we have rebelled and fought them to the death. It is no different today. For hundreds of years we have fought invaders and these people are invaders, to me anyway.’
‘What is it like in Crete’ I asked. She said that the junta have made laws and they have secret police in Crete, but not so many. Anyway they are mostly stupid.
‘You know people who cannot do anything like be a butcher or a baker or even harvest olives, well they are the people they employ. Just idiots. Nobody cares.’
After that we just sat quietly. The ship was really rolling now though nobody seemed very bothered about that. We sipped our frappes. It was going to be a long night.
Then she said ‘have you ever worked for a travel business?’
‘Yes’ I replied ‘that is what I used to do in London for a little while.
‘Then you must see Costas Stavronitas’ she said. ‘He has an office in Eleftheriou Square in Iraklion. It is a travel office. He is also a crazy man. He drinks a lot of alcohol. It is the only travel office there, next to the cigarette shop. He will give you a job, certainly. Tell him I told you. Completely crazy, but he needs some help with his Americans.’
‘Thank you very much’ I said ‘yes I will see him. That is if this ship ever gets to Iraklion in this storm.’
‘This ship is manned by Cretans’ she said ‘the best sailors in the world. It will get there, do not worry about that.’
I noticed that the goat was beginning to chew my trousers so I thanked her very much for her help, information and frappe and said that I was going for a short walk outside. ‘Why do I always meet crazy people’ she asked, I assumed rhetorically.
Outside on the walkway the wind seemed to be rising still. It was beginning to rain and I could not see a star in the sky. I thought about what she had said, about the government and also about Costas Stavronitas. Perhaps he could help me find a job. The only alternative seemed to be the plastic greenhouses on the south coast. But a travel job, that would be something.
I returned to the cafeteria and sat down and went straight to sleep. At around five in the morning I woke to the King Minos blowing its horn. I got up and went outside just in time to see the sun rise out of the east. The storm was gone and the sky was clear. The world was getting redder, something the colonels were trying to change. We docked perfectly at Iraklion and I went down into the car deck to get my car. Half an hour later I was drinking coffee by the Morosini fountain in the centre of Iraklion. I was back in Crete. I was glowing again.