Friday, 20 August 2010

A small wager

As I approached the taverna I could See Sotiris on the paved patio, sitting in the same chair, at the same table, his face turned to catch the early evening sun.

Was it really a whole year since my last visit? This was my twelfth holiday here, and almost every one of those holiday evenings had been spent at this taverna, in the company of these people whom I had come to love like my own family.

It now seemed like only yesterday since I last saw Sotiris. He looked as though he hadn't moved a muscle since then.

He was wearing his usual uniform of blue jeans, and a white shirt open at the collar, the sleeves rolled up to expose powerful forearms burned almost black by the mediterranean sun.
And, of course, his very expensive Ray Ban sunglasses.

“Yeia sou Sotiri my good friend, pos eeste?” I called as I walked across the marble.

“Steve, you are here again already, oh I am so happy that you are here.” A huge grin spreading across his lined, suntanned face.

He rose from his chair, and we embraced, and kissed each others cheeks. A tear of happiness threatened to escape from my eye as we hugged one another tightly with the great affection that we shared.

As he sat back down into his chair he called over his shoulder...“Eleni, Eleni, come outside... Steve is here...”

A few moments later Eleni bustled out through the taverna door, wiping her hands on her floral print apron.

“Oh Steve, welcome back, welcome back, we have missed you so much. Oh I am so happy to see you.”

We grabbed each other in a joyous grip, both laughing, and this time the happy tear did roll down my cheek.

We finally loosened our grip, and I took half a pace backwards, holding both of her delicate hands in mine. Looking her up and down.

“You are more beautiful each time I see you.” I said. The smile on my face threatening to split my head in two.

“And you are more handsome.” She replied playfully.“Now sit down with Sotiris, I will bring wine to celebrate.”

A few minutes later there was a plate of biscuits on the table, and we all held a glass of the local Robola wine in our hands.

“Yeia mas” We all cried together as we clinked our glasses.

As we sat there chattering away to each other, my mind drifted back to the first time we had met...

* * * * *

It was eleven years earlier that I had first set foot on the Ionian island of Kefalonia. The package holiday had been booked on a last minute deal, and it was purely by chance that I ended up here.

My lodgings turned out to be a small, and spotlessly clean studio in the Panos apartments at the northern end of a rather large, sprawling resort called Lassi.
On the second day, I decided to have a look at the island's capital, a town called Argostoli.
A glance at my tourist map showed me that Argostoli was only a fifteen minute walk away, up the main road, then down the other side of the hill straight into the town.

Or there was a coastal route around the peninsular, I imagined this would take the best part of a couple of hours, but I thought it would probably be a far more pleasant walk, and anyway, I was in no hurry.

I set off strolling along the coast road, which I later learned was known locally as the Fanari road, Fanaria being the Greek word for lights, and named after the lighthouse which was half-way along the road, and stood on a finger of land jutting out into the water.

A bottle of orange juice and a sandwich lay in the small knapsack which hung from my shoulders, as I intended to stop for a rest at some point for refreshment.

The views were absolutely stunning, the clear blue sea to my left, olive groves and the occasional bright white house, complete with colourful gardens and orchards to my right.
The sun pleasantly warming my body as I ambled along. Smiling and nodding to any tourists who passed walking in the opposite direction.

About an hour later I came upon a small taverna set only a few yards from the edge of the ocean.
A short rest and a glass of beer or wine seemed like a very good idea to me just now. The orange juice and sandwich would do for later. So I left the road and walked across the paved area towards the building.

A broad shouldered, middle aged local sat at one of the tables. He was wearing the attire that most Greek men adopted, blue jeans, white shirt, and sunglasses.

As I approached him he spoke to me, in almost accent-less English.

“Hello my friend what would you like? A glass of wine maybe? Or coffee?”

“I would like a glass of wine please, a local wine if you have one.” I answered sitting at the table next to his. “Would you like to join me in a glass?”

“Of course, efkaristo... thank you. Please, share this table with me... Eleni, krasi aspro parakalo.” He called to the open doorway.

A minute or two later a slim, attractive looking woman whom I would guess to be in her mid fifties came through the doorway carrying a tray, and placed on the table two glasses and a large jug of white wine.
She smiled pleasantly, bade me hello, and welcome, then excused herself to return to her baking.

I never did get to Argostoli that day, by the time the second carafe of wine was nearly empty I had decided to leave it until tomorrow, or maybe the day after.

We had sat and talked for hours, Sotiris and I, laughing and joking, I found his company so pleasant, it was like we had known each other all our lives.
In the space of this one afternoon we had got to know many things about each other, if destiny exists then I think it must have engineered our meeting.
I felt that today I had found a true friend.

At some point during the day, Eleni reappeared, and said goodbye to me, as she was going to visit her sister in Assos towards the North of the island.

The sun was beginning to set as I eventually rose to leave....

“Well Sotiri, I have enjoyed myself so very much today. I feel certain that we will see each other again before my holiday is over.”

“Oh I doubt that very much.” He said. A knowing smile playing on his lips.

“You seem very sure.” I said. Still smiling, but a little confused.

“Oh I am very sure.... If you don't believe me, maybe we should have a small wager on it?”

“Okay then, Shall we say ten euros?"

“Agreed” he said. And we shook on the deal.

* * * * *

The very next day I set off down the Fanari road once more, I hoped to repeat the enjoyment of yesterday, and also collect my winnings.

Sotiris looked intelligent enough, but he must know it was a wager he simply could not win.

If I didn't return to his taverna, he would win the bet, but would not be able to collect the money.

If I did return, then I won the bet, and collected the winnings at the same time, I simply could not lose.

The money involved was just for the fun of it, we could just as easy have made it one Euro, I was burning with curiosity as to why he thought I wouldn't return.

I was also aware that the Greek people were renowned for their impish sense of humour, and their love of practical jokes.

* * * * *

He was sitting in exactly the same spot when I arrived, I walked across the patio to him.

“Good afternoon again Sotiri.” I said.

He rose to greet me, holding out his hand, which I shook warmly.

“I am glad you came Steve, please, sit down, we will talk about my winnings once we have a glass of wine before us.”

I could barely contain myself as Eleni laid the wine and glasses on the table.
I was just itching to lay before him the flawless logic of how I had won the wager and not he.

This time Eleni had brought three glasses, and she sat with us in the sunshine.

“Now, about my winnings...” Said Sotiris, smiling like the cat who had got the cream, Eleni sat beside him, grinning her head off, obviously in on the joke...

“But I bet ten Euros that we would meet again, and we have met again, so I think you must agree that the wager was won by me.” I stated, smiling all the while, I was so enjoying this friendly banter.

“If you remember correctly my friend.” Said Sotiris, almost on the verge of laughter, as was Eleni. “You bet ten Euros that we would SEE each other again, and as you can tell, that is definitely not the case ...”

They both burst into uncontrollable peals of laughter as Sotiris removed his expensive sunglasses, to reveal two very opaque and very sightless eyes.

©2010 Stephen. J. Green.


  1. Another great story!

    Have you heard of friday flash? Just thought your stories would be perfect for it. Details are here: http://jmstrother.com/MadUtopia/?page_id=577

    Also, are you on Twitter? I keep wanting to thank you for your comments on my blog but I have no idea how to!!


  2. excellent! remind of the the heat and tastes from my recent holiday. *sigh
    nice one, Steve! x

  3. This is wonderful, Steve, so evocative. I felt as if I were right there with you. Aren't the best days the ones where you stumble upon a new place and new people, especially when they then become friends? And you're braver than I am. I'm not sure I'd ever bet against a Greek!!

    1. Hi Kath, and thank you for the lovely comment.

      My wife and I visited Kefalonia about fifteen times, and made many Greek friends there. This story is in essence a work of fiction, but the taverna is there near the lighthouse, and the first time we called in there it was owned by a lovely couple called Yiorgo and Eva, we spent the whole afternoon drinking beer, and chatting to them. We didn't get to Argostoli that day either. :-)