We passed the hospital and then Knossos. The road became a little narrower and Costas drove along the middle of the road. On one bend we narrowly missed a pick-up truck coming in the opposite direction, also close to the centre of the road.
‘You see what I mean, Ray mou, peasants. That is the problem with this country. Once we had philosophers ruling the known world and now we have peasants. Crete will be great again as soon as they stop picking olives and driving like idiots.’
Personally, I could not see the difference between Costas driving in the middle of the road and the pick-up truck. In my eyes was the miracle that they had avoided each other. I wondered what the pick-up driver was saying to his wife. Probably something similar.
In a little while we arrived at a one hundred and eighty degree bend and in front of us was an aqueduct which stretched from left to right. Here Costas turned of the road onto a dirt track and continued straight on under the aqueduct. The track wound left and right until we passed a huge wall extending upwards to the right.
‘That is my mother’s villa,’ he said ‘I will show you on the way back.’ On we went, maybe three hundred yards passing a farm to the left. At the end of the track was a gate that was locked. Costas unlocked the gate and we entered a space that had a small house to the left but in front was the huge mouth of a cave in the rock.
‘That is your home now,’ said Costas pointing to the small house. ‘Here is the key, take a look.’ He unwrapped a key from his keyring and handed it to me. I walked over to the front door of the stone house, unlocked it and entered.
It was lovely. It was certainly not only dry but very clean. A huge double bed was on the left and two comfortable settees on the right. I switched on a light just to see if there was any electricity here. There was. There were windows all around with closed shutters. I opened a shutter at the back and there was a wide view across the valley. In the centre of the house was a staircase going down. I went downstairs and there was another room just as large with a kitchen, a shower, a huge water heater and what I can only call a dining room with a table and chairs. There was also a door at the back that exited into the valley. It even had an inside toilet. This was pretty well luxurious. However much would this cost?
I went back upstairs to Costas who was sitting on the bed. ‘Is it OK, Ray,’ he asked?
‘It is fine, Costas, but how much does it cost?’
‘Nothing. Tipota. It is part of your wages. While you work for me I hope you have my humble mother’s groundsman’s house and call it your own. It costs me nothing, so it is yours for nothing. But come now, we must get on. You will live here?
‘Yes. of course I will,’ I said, still pretty well astonished.
‘Don’t forget to lock it up when you leave,’ he said, ‘not that anyone will rob you.’
‘But the cave, what is the cave, I asked?
‘Oh it is just a cave’ he said. ‘But it is a famous cave this one. You know here in the occupation, many people from Iraklion hid here from the germans. They came down with parachutes, people were frightened. Maybe a thousand hid here, not that it made that much difference. It is an old cave, they say the minoans used it for burying people. It is just a cave. Don’t worry about it.’
I locked up the house and the gate from the other key that he gave me, put the keys on my own keyring and got back in the car.
‘It is a fine house,’ I said, ‘I will be happy here.’
‘That is good’ he said, ‘it costs me a fortune to have it cleaned and cared for all the time, now you can do it.’
Costas drove back up the track a bit to his mother’s villa and entered by a gate which I opened and closed for him. We walked up to the villa.
I have to say here that this villa, this lovely house, was absolutely incredible. The entire front garden was constructed of beds of stone and in every bed were english roses. At first I just assumed they were english, but later it was confirmed. But roses do not grow in Crete like they grow in England. Here they were huge, I don’t think that I have ever seen roses as big as these. It was almost if they were cultivated specially for this villa. They were in just about every colour and they were truly superb. In England people must dream of growing roses like these.
I walked slowly through this amazing garden. Every rose had an individual scent as you brushed against it, but as you walked through them the cumulative perfume encompassed you.
‘Ray, Ray mou, where are you?
‘Here Costas, admiring the garden.’
‘Come and meet my mother.’ I was led onto the patio of the villa and there, at the back, was Costa’s mother. She seemed really alive and aware of the garden and stood up, with some difficulty, to shake my hand. She was, I don’t know, seventy or eighty years old, who can possibly tell. Her eyes were deep blue, unusual in Crete, and she had an air that was almost regal. Her hair was long and grey and her face lined with the ravages of life. But those eyes, they glinted like steel and like diamonds.
I said ‘hello, how are you.’ I said it in greek. She replied in an almost slightly posh english voice. Attractive but cultured english.
‘Good morning, it is a fine day. I am very pleased to meet you. Thank you for coming to visit me here at Aghia Irini.’
‘It is a pleasure’ I said, ‘a great pleasure.’
The three of us had tea (yes tea) and we passed the moments speaking in english. Commenting on the weather, the fine smell of the roses and the extremely excellent way that the garden had been cultivated.
Many people say to me that this was a bizarre situation. Here we were on the island of Crete in the time of the military junta discussing roses in english. What can I say? It was what happened. Costa’s mother was half english and half greek. This made Costas a quarter greek. But it mattered not to me and certainly not to them. Military governments pass as nations pass but people are people, they live and they survive. Then they laugh or they cry. But they go on living.
It was an idyllic day and as the time passed one o’clock, Costas said that we had to go. We said goodbyes, Costa kissed his mother tenderly and I could see that he loved her dearly. She was a wonderful lady.
We arrived back in Iraklion at Eleftheriou Square and Costas dropped me off by my car.
‘You have the keys to the house now,’ he said. ‘I will see you tomorrow at eight o’ clock. Adios.’
I drove back to the house, opened all the shutters and sat looking across the valley. Lines of vines curved along the floor and upon the hillside. This valley was just south of Knossos. How long had the vines grown here? Probably five thousand years, perhaps more.
I just sat here on my chair staring across the valley of Aghia Irini and thinking about what had happened that day. I now lived in Crete. I had a job, even though I had little idea of what that job entailed. The people that I had met were amazing people, from the chief of police to Costa’s mother. I was in a new world with a means to make my way forward. I looked at my watch. It was just three pm. Tonight would be my first night back in Crete. If this was the first day, I wondered what consecutive days would be like.
They would be good days, I knew that. I owed it to Costas. I also owed it to myself. There was work to do and times to live. I was a part of those times, those changing times. Tomorrow was a new day, a new life.