WHAT HAVE I DONE? Why am I on a plane? To Crete?
Sometimes running away is the answer
On an ordinary Tuesday Ria Laburinthos decides to run away. There is nothing ordinary about her decision though. It’s been coming on for years by grief compounded by her dreaded job as an obituary writer for London’s weekly paper The Mail&Ledger.
Then when her horrible boss aka as ‘The devil-who-wears-Birkenstocks’ asks her to share her story, about how the best day of her life turned into the unequivocal worst, she decides enough is enough.
Which is how she finds herself on a plane to Crete bound by the tales she heard growing up from her beloved Yaya. What she doesn’t expect to find is Elysium a thousand-year-old family vineyard that burnt down amidst a sea of controversy, and the enigmatic son, Tom Bacchus who is trying to resurrect it.
As Ria finds herself increasingly drawn to the vineyard and to Tom in particular she realises that someone will go to any lengths to make sure that she doesn’t find out what really happened, someone who will threaten everything …
Ria realises more than anything she wishes to save Tom, because saving him may just mean saving herself too.
Part love story, part mystery An Invincible Summer is a story about having the courage to start over, live your life, and fall in love again.
Here is a sneak peak. I hope you enjoy it!
An Invincible Summer
Her hands were like old parchment; brown, mottled, and thin, yet to my five-year-old-eyes they were capable of anything; magic not least among them.
Today they were a domestic symphony rolling out the dough; the flour like fairy dust sprinkled on the marble countertop. Her arms strong and wiry as she kneaded, while she beguiled me with stories from far away conjuring images of sun-drenched olive groves, plum coloured wine sipped out of short glasses on cobbled sea-front tavernas, honey drizzled over rich creamy white yogurt, and wild pink tinged peaches warm from the sun.
‘Yew kno’ the story of how you got your name?’ asked Yaya in her heavy accent. Flour smudged on her soft brown cheek while she peered down at me; a smile edging the corner of her mouth.
I grinned, my slightly toothless five-year-old grin, while swinging my legs on the counter where I perched with my new and most cherished possession – the collected works of Hans Christian Anderson.
‘Yaya, you named me.’ I said, with a just a hint of a sigh. My name was collateral damage from my mixed heritage: part English part Greek, wholly doomed to walk through life and public school with the slightly made-up sounding name of Ariadne.
‘Yes-a but do you know who I named you after?’ asked Yaya holding up the index finger on her left hand, the one that curved ever so slightly at the tip, as if she would lift each vowel along with it in her lyrical burr.
I shook my head, espresso eyes wide.
‘I named you after one of the most famous princesses of all-a time eh the one who suffered the most-e,’ she said oddly with a sense of pride about the latter. ‘Unlike these silly princesses from your fairy book.’
My mouth formed an ‘O’ of surprise and my feet paused mid-swing.
‘Why I do this, eh?’ she asked.
I shrugged. She was a bit mad. This wasn’t exactly news. I loved her anyway and maybe a little because of it.
‘Well spanakopita the goddess Ariadne suffered most terribly, and it was her bravery and courage, not her beauty though she was beautiful, that made her a hero, which I think-e is what makes a hero, a hero, no?’
I shrugged. I supposed so. I liked the idea of the woman being the hero, at least.
Yaya continued, ‘She was the daughter of a king; a mad Cretan king who ordered a young man named Theseus to enter a maze and kill a wild monster of a beast that had killed many people before. Knowing that this young man was facing certain death, Ariadne helped him escape, and they fell in love. Together they fled the kingdom with Ariadne believing that she would have a love that would last forever. Only it wasn’t to be.’
‘Why? What happened?’
‘He left her. He left her sleeping in a cave one night so they say, and he ran away.’
I gasped. That was not how the story was meant to go. ‘What happened to her?’
Yaya looked at me with her beetle black eyes, ‘Well there are many different stories, and the historians they all tell different ones. But for me the story my own Yaya told me is still the best-e. After Theseus left her Ariadne sunk into despair barely able to keep going. Feeling sorry for the woman who had sacrificed everything for this man, Dionysus a god who knew all about suffering, as he had lost so much himself, fell in love with her and rescued her … though he would say that she saved him too. So you see spanakopita, life is never what we think it will be; it’s not always like these stories …’ she said tapping the green cover; leaving behind a faint film of flour on the cover. ‘It can be full of joy or misfortune, but mostly it’s a mixture like this dough. A real hero is like the bread, rising after it has been beaten.’
It’s not that I hate my job.
Hate is a strong word. I don’t hate it.
I mean there are parts of it that I don’t like, but that’s common with jobs isn’t it? No one loves every minute of their job. Well, except, maybe Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear.
But the rest of us? Not so much.
Sometimes when I think about my job, like on a Sunday evening, I get this odd feeling where I lose all sensation along the left side of my body.
But that’s normal.
Completely normal I’m … sure. It’s the Sunday blues, right? And anyway it doesn’t last that long. By around midday on Monday I’m fine. Mostly.
By then The Mail & Ledger is out and I can deal with whatever is coming my way. The irate phone calls, the tear-soaked letters, and the occasional little old lady queuing outside my cubicle. Like yesterday morning when Rosa Greenberg called after The Mail & Ledger hit the stands. My hands shook as I took the call. I scurried down as low as I could in my seat trying to avoid Kimberly Mondsworth-Greene’s gimlet gaze – my colleague in the cubicle next to mine who was busy writing her “action list” for the day with different coloured Biros to underline things like “priority item #1” and “red flag – follow up before 12.”
I despise Kimberly Mondsworth-Greene.
Meanwhile, Rosa Greenberg sobbed into the receiver, ‘I just wasn’t ready I mean it’s not like Pauline, you know, Pauline from next door. I told you about her when we spoke after, after… it happened,’ she sniffed.
I closed my eyes hoping that just this once my tear ducts would behave. Today I vowed as I do every Monday, I would be strong.
Rosa continued, ‘Pauline had time; Roger had two heart attacks already, and even then she says she had been preparing for it, but George was … just gone. I know he was 78, but he was fine. He wasn’t young, but he wasn’t old, not really, it was too soon.’
A loud foghorn sound announced that Rosa was blowing her nose. I took the time to surreptitiously reach for my ever-ready box of Kleenex and mop up my own eyes.
I’d have to be strong some other time.
Alerted to the sound like a vulture circling from above, Kimberly Mondsworth-Greene turned to raise an eyebrow at me. I ignored her, swivelling my chair as far away as I could to the wall opposite, while Rosa prepared to send my leaky tear ducts into overflow.
‘So beautiful what you wrote … that’s why I’m calling – it’s like you knew him. I was worried about it you know, worried that it wouldn’t be George, but it was. I know this probably sounds silly, but George would have loved to have read it – he would have been so pleased that you wrote about his time in India dear …’ she said before ringing off.
Afterwards, I put the phone back in its cradle and stared at the horrid blue speckled carpet until I had regained control of my wobbling chin.
Kimberly Mondsworth-Greene doesn’t approve of crying at your desk.
‘Journalists,’ she told me haughtily a few weeks ago,‘- are meant to be objective, to report the facts without emotion. Try to be more of a journalist Ria,’ she rebuked while I considered that the first action on my own “action list” would be to staple her stupid list to her forehead. I suppose that wouldn’t be an objective act though would it?
The thing is being objective is fine for Kimberly, who gets to report about current affairs and breaking news, in the entertainment world anyway. Like how big Kim Kardashian’s bum looks this week compared to last.
They ran a whole piece asking if Kim Kardashian’s bum was worth insuring for a million pounds.
People wrote in.
There were debates.
There were polls.
There were people with a bit too much free time on their hands if you ask me.
But I digress. My point is that it’s hard to be impartial when you write about death every day.
See, that’s my job. I’m an obituary writer for the weekly London paper The Mail & Ledger.
I’ve been doing that now for close to four years. Four very long years. I never planned on being an obituary writer. It’s not something you study at varsity for. No one says, ‘I’d like to do a course on financial journalism and obituary writing.’ And when I joined the paper the job wasn’t advertised as “obituary writer” either. It was: Writer required for popular London broadsheet, (yes, they actually called themselves a broadsheet, not a tabloid – I remember that clearly) graduate level acceptable. And when I started I wrote about other things too like films, events, and just once for a single glorious moment in my career, about travel … it was a little B&B just outside Sheffield, but still it was nice er … ish. Or it would have been if there hadn’t been a dead body in the dining room. But that’s another story altogether.
Although in retrospect it may have been a sign too. You know of things to come?
Because two days following the untimely death of a 97-year-old Mr Wimple from Sheffield; John Marshland, who wrote the obituaries retired, and I was asked to fill in for him until we could find a replacement. That was three and a half years ago – I’m still waiting for that replacement. But it’s just a glitch. Even Janice says so. Or, at least, she used to.
My boss. Janice Farland. She hasn’t said much about it being a glitch lately, to be honest. Not that I haven’t broached the subject, I have, quite regularly to tell you the truth. The last time, well let’s just say it didn’t go so well.
There were words.
There were tears. (Mine)
And threats. (Janice’s)
Then there was wine. (Me again)
And anyway it’s fine really. Most of the time I enjoy what I do, okay not enjoy really, at all, quite the opposite actually, if I’m honest. But I do feel a sense of purpose, of value in a way. Especially after what happened, like maybe I was meant to do it. Like it was all some really horrible calling? Which I realise is probably just a bit morbid. But I figured, for a long time anyway, maybe you don’t get to choose your calling? I mean we can’t all be called to be singers or doctors. Perhaps this was my calling, a professional mourner of sorts?
Or you know. Not
The thing is, and what gets me through really, is that somebody has to do it. And it may as well be someone like me who gets it. Though in hindsight maybe it would be nice if I didn’t get it quite so much. And the crying will stop eventually. Everyone said it would get easier. And it will. Someday. Still you’d think after four years that I wouldn’t cry every time someone called to thank me, or worse to shout at me for getting it wrong. Or just crying because it’s a Monday and I have nothing else planned that day anyway. Crying has become my thing, you know, like how some people are good at darts, I’m abnormally brilliant at it.
I’m not saying that my job is always hard. It isn’t always. Some days are actually sort of alright. It’s just that a lot of the time it’s a bit, well, brutal.
I mean you’re dealing with the very worst day of a family’s life, and you’re taking notes about the person they’ve lost, which is kind of horrible when you think of it that way, which I try not to. And if you get it wrong, well, let’s just say you know you haven’t actually ruined anyone’s life, but it sure does feel that way. Which is why sometimes on a Sunday when I think about work I get a bit panicky because that’s when the obituaries race through my head, and I know if I’ve made a mistake it’s too late. It will be there in print for the entire world to see, or London, or the people that read The Mail & Ledger anyway, or the obituaries at least, and they’re a tough crowd let’s be honest: retired school teachers, grammarians, my mum.
She doesn’t read it to be gloomy or anything, she just likes to read what I write; it’s nice – in its own slightly macabre way – probably how Tim Burton’s mum feels.
Although since it happened, Mum doesn’t read them anymore. I can’t blame her. If I didn’t have to, if I didn’t feel that I was needed; that perhaps what happened to me made me understand their pain, neither would I. Anyway, as I mentioned, on a Monday, after the phone calls, emails, or old ladies have left, (it’s always old ladies, never old men somehow) I can fix it on the online version, but I can’t undo what’s been printed. It’s not that I’m incompetent, or make lots of mistakes. Sometimes they just happen. How was I supposed to know that when the Woodrose family kept referring to Chester they actually meant Charles?
I mean I’m not an idiot, if it had been Chuck or something, I’d have checked, but Chester is a name, right? How was I to know it was a nickname? Who gives someone such a daft nickname? Well, anyway, it was a mistake that caused the real Chester Woodrose, a lecturer at Bristol University, to give a collective heart attack to the archaeology department when he showed up for work the next day, especially after they’d spent all the previous evening organising a touching memorial service. And now what was to be done with all the food? Or the giant dinosaur cake? The last was supposed to be a fitting tribute. Luckily Chester had agreed that the cake was a fine serenade, saying that when he really went he’d like one just like that. Just perhaps not purple and perhaps not Barney. (There was some mix up at the cake shop apparently.) While that had ended alright, and we printed a retraction (which had come with the price of Janice enquiring if I checked my facts properly – I had explained about the name but apparently she wasn’t interested in excuses).
She’d looked at me above her steel-rimmed glasses, perched on the end of her hawk-like nose, framing her hawk-like gaze, and said tonelessly in what I imagine a hawk would sound like if it had a voice, ‘I see your lips moving, but all I hear are excuses. I don’t like printing retractions. Don’t make it a habit.’
Yes. That’s the newsroom for you. Just delightful.
In case you’re interested, journalism is number six on the list of top ten professions that attract psychopaths according to The New York Times. This explains, well, a lot …
That’s another bit of information that may have been useful before I chose it as a career. Not that Janice is a psychopath, not the axe wielding kind anyway. More the “stick the figurative knife in your back, and make you doubt your own ability while handing you the rope to hang yourself with” kind. Pretty standard really. They seem to pop up in most offices nowadays, like lurid speckled carpets, and crappy open plan seating: Resident Psycho.
The trouble started though, as most trouble is want to do, in the present mire of my life with Kimberly Mondsworth-Green.
It was later in the day. My mind was in that comfortably numb state after having spent the morning worrying about everything that could possibly go wrong yet didn’t, and quite suddenly your body gives in, having decided that you’ve had your fill of anxiety for the day thank you very much. Or maybe the meds had kicked in. The ones Mum insists on force feeding me every morning, despite Dr Rushdie telling her that perhaps it’s time for me to just go off them and see what happens. I can never really tell. It’s a comfortable sort of hum, like white noise, for the nerves. I had just sat down with a cup of tea when she appeared: short and rather square in shape with square glasses framing her square, sharp-eyed face.
Her breathy, little girl voice – so out of place with all her “squareness” – caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end before I processed what she was saying. I was good at tuning her out, let’s call it a self-defence mechanism. At some point though, she raised her hand in front of my face and asked, ‘So what do you think? We need about four people for the feature.’
I frowned, ‘Sorry, what feature?’
She gave me a look. It actually looked a little like sympathy. She even seemed a bit nervous, or what constituted as nervousness for Kimberly Mondsworth-Greene. It looked like she needed to pee actually.
What the hell would make Kimberly Mondsworth-Greene nervous?
‘We’re doing a feature about surviving unimaginable tragedies – you heard about the guy who won the lottery only to have his money stolen out of his bank account, and now he’s completely destitute, and his wife left him?’
I shrugged. She cleared her throat, not meeting my eye, ‘Janice is thinking of calling the feature “When the best day of your life becomes your worst”, and she wants to know if you’d share your story?’
My throat went suddenly dry.
Share my story.
I stared at her in horror. Janice’s awful, pithy title tearing through my brain: When the best day of your life becomes your worst.
Who were these people?
Then she said it. As if I had any doubt what she’d been referring to, she cleared her throat, and said, ‘About what happened to Christopher.’
As if she knew him. As if she had any right to say his name.
The room started to whirl. I pushed back my chair, not bothering to look at her as I rushed to the bathroom, my heel breaking on the tiled floor as I fled to the nearest stall, and vomited my shattered heart into the cold porcelain bowl.
But I’m getting ahead of myself you see. Or behind myself as it were because it happened on a Tuesday really. As usual I was on the M4 on my way to work in my wheezy, gobbled up and spat out Renault. A relic that had been lovingly passed down to me from my grandmother once she had upgraded to a newer, more appropriate car for a lady in her 70s: the latest Renault Megane. What can I say? She liked what she liked. I reached down for a slug of the filter coffee that I had prepared bleary-eyed at six in the morning, my hand groping while I kept my eye on the road in front. Instead, my finger brushed the radio knob and tuned into some oldie station that was playing Sam Cooke’s Twistin’ the night away. I blinked in the grey dawn light, my throat constricting. And thought, simply: Yaya. The word itself a balm. Unbidden, the memory swam in front of my eyes and I saw us: my feet in their new sparkly red pumps; the ones that mum said I couldn’t have. The ones she went and bought me anyway. And us, together in the kitchen with the radio turned to her favourite station; the soundtrack of my childhood: Aretha, The Temptations, The Supremes.
I remember watching the cake rise through the blue door of the Aga; her smile as I tried to help, while we both twisted the day away, our hips in time, on a sunny, sunny afternoon.
I bit my lip and couldn’t help the watery smile on my face as my hands tapped along on the steering wheel. I barely noticed as the tears slid down my cheeks.
I swallowed and tried to push the image from my mind. Please, just not yet. Not today.
A car passed and honked its hooter. With a fright I changed lanes, and found myself taking the airport road by mistake.
The driver who passed me shot me an odd look, mouthing the word ‘lunatic’ at me.
I shrugged. Despite popular belief, lunacy isn’t exactly a choice. But I’m not sure if he got my mental message. He just continued to gawk. It’s not like I could exactly blame him.
It was then that I gave a thought to my hair. I’m not someone who usually concerns herself with hair. Well, beyond it being clean and neat really. There was a time when I did, sort of. There were hairdresser appointments, and highlights, and the obligatory consultations with Christopher before I lopped any of it off – he was such a typical guy that way. He’d actually pouted for most of the day when I came home with a bob once, but that had been a long time ago. But from the look I received from the driver I had to wonder … had I brushed it?
I had a look in the rear-view mirror and looked away just as quickly. They were still there – the dead things in my face where my eyes should have been, and above it, the nest that was my hair, shoved into an all-purpose, ratty topknot.
I really must brush it properly, instead of just giving it a quick wash and combing my fingers through it before I shoved it up and out of sight. But then I’ve promised myself that for a long time now.
I sighed. Okay. Focus.
At the closest exit, I’ll turn around, and with any luck I won’t need to explain my latest insanity to my boss. But at the thought of Janice or ‘The Devil-Who-Wears-Birkenstocks’ as I sometimes like to call her – once quite cheerfully to her face (I’d paid for it, I think, though it was during THE VOID so I’m not sure I really noticed), and our weekly “catch-up” meeting makes me put my foot down flat on the accelerator. My breathing turns sharp, and my hands tighten on the steering wheel. Basically what happens is that Janice goes through my copy line-by-line. And she lets me know what she likes. And what she doesn’t. To the point where I begin doubting my own name. Like last week.
‘Why do you mention this?’ she snapped tapping the obituary of Sarah Gilbert, and the bit about her tennis career – she was one of the first pro women tennis players after the Second World War. ‘Honestly Ariadne,’ she said using my full name, which she pronounced wrong (granted no one could pronounce it). Still her gall for even using my stupid bloody name made me want to stab her in the eye with my pen. ‘– That was so long ago, who would care?’ She said, eyes narrowing at me as if I were an imbecile. I didn’t take the look seriously; she looked at everyone that way. Mostly I felt sorry for her poor beleaguered husband; I mean … He had to have sex with that look. Ugh. I wondered if she kept the Birkenstocks on. Then really wished I hadn’t thought about it at all to be honest. Instead, I’d clamped my teeth in frustration and stared at her in disbelief – was she serious?
Sarah Gilbert would bloody care, which is precisely what I told Janice, which only made her hawk-like nostrils flare. Sarah Gilbert had been a housewife for most of her life. But before that she was a nurse in France who had seen the horrors of the Second World War and had done what she could to help. She’d raised three children and had been a doting grandmother. And once, a long time ago, she’d won at Wimbledon. It was important, a part of her and a part of her legacy. I’d fought to keep it in, and almost won, but when the copy ran over Janice cut it anyway. I was beside myself with anger. And rage. And, when I got home, with wine. I was beside myself with lots and lots of wine. This was when, for an unreasonable half a day, I considered taking up drinking professionally. God knows I need a hobby.
I’d taken two hours to open the email that came from the Gilberts the next day, dreading what it said. When I had finally opened it, I found that they had thanked me. It was polite; sweet even. This, of course, made it so much worse. The signs for Heathrow get closer and still I stay in the airport lane. Three exits. Two exits. One exit …
‘What the hell am I doing?’ I say aloud with a maniacal laugh as I take the entry lane for Heathrow International and head towards the nearest parking lot. Finding an open bay, I pull my car in and turn the ignition off, and sit in the dark. It’s strangely quiet. For a scary moment, I wonder if I can hear the sound of my own brain unhinging. It’s a quiet that builds and begins to pound in my ears. A noise outside startles me, making me jump out the car and race inside, away from my own inevitable madness.
Dr Rushdie had told me that madness wasn’t certain, even after everything that had happened. She suggested a hobby, which is when I’d suggested the drinking. The thing is, despite everything, I just didn’t want it to end that way: crazy Miss Havisham hair, dead eyes, and a bottle of tequila? It’s not what they would have wanted either.
Entering through the automated doors, I breathe a sigh of relief as I feel the warmth of the interior envelop me. I’m walking blindly, blinking at the sudden racket. All around me, the airport is teeming with people. Men and women dressed in business attire, wearing serious expressions as they tap away at their laptops and iPads pausing only to take a sip of coffee, ready to depart for some or other business engagement. Young adventurers wearing excited grins huddle in groups with their large backpacks in place, maps open, while they chat animatedly with one another.
There is the holidaymakers, the visitors, and the people coming home with exhaustion etched in the creases of their clothes and in the dark shadows under their eyes. Every wall, pillar and balustrade is densely populated, the larger groups creating a cacophony along the perimeter of the building. Some people are just milling about, others have luxury luggage in hand while they hug their friends, lovers, or families one last time. The air is thick with excitement and possibility, a tangible feeling that anything could happen.
You could go anywhere. Be anyone. Do anything.
I’ve always loved the airport, even as a child. I remember feeling this familiar sense of longing whenever I had to fetch or drop off a friend or relative, someone visiting from abroad, or leaving to some far off, and to my child’s eye, exotic destination (everything is exotic when the furthest you’ve ever been is Wales), and I’d experience an overwhelming desire to go somewhere too.
I still feel that way sometimes.
A woman draped in a scarlet coat bumps into me and gives me a nasty look as she wheels her luggage past. She comments to the man alongside her in a snarky tone, imbued with self-importance, ‘who just stands stock still like that in the middle of the corridor?’
My face colours and I give myself a mental shake; the rational side of my brain finally shows up. Better late than never, right? It knows its job though. It’s been through this before. Like a police psychologist summoned to convince the person threatening to throw himself off a building while a throng of onlookers stands in wait, he must approach gently, taking care not to exacerbate the situation.
So begins my rational brain: it tries to bargain, it tries to bribe, ‘Why not browse the bookshop for a bit? Or maybe get a cappuccino? Or a chocolate croissant? All three?’
Clearly it’s desperate.
It whispers pleadingly, ‘A little pick-me-up, and then off to work, and no one need ever know that you almost lost your mind, again.’ Except the thought of my office, of Janice, just makes me feel … tired.
I’m stuck. Deep inside, a little part of me can’t help wishing that just this once I could be like the people surrounding me: going somewhere, doing something, doing anything else.
God knows that I need an escape from everything. It’s a feeling so profound, so consumed by its precipice of grief that it eclipses everything else. And at that moment I make a choice. One of those snap decisions that change the course of your life forever. Only, of course, I didn’t realise it at the time. I’m standing in the middle of the passageway. On my right, there’s a coffee house; the lingering scent of freshly brewed coffee mingled with wafts of chocolate and cinnamon, warm and inviting in the air. On my left, there is a row of counters manned by several travel consultants. Next to which are man-sized posters with photographs selling exotic destinations, each claiming a diverse and unique adventure: the magic of Europe, fun in Disney Land, Tango in South America; beneath these is the catch phrase ‘Travelstar: Your Dream, Our Promise.’
I stand transfixed.
And I turn left.
WHAT HAVE I DONE?
Why am I on a plane? To Crete?
There has to be some mistake.
Surely someone should have said something? Tried somehow to stop me? It shouldn’t have been that easy, should it? Even when I was about to pay there was a tiny part of me that thought that it couldn’t be real, something would go wrong, and when the agent asked for my passport to book my ticket, reality finally checked in.
I needed a passport.
Which was, I was quite sure, in the dark recesses of a drawer somewhere at home. Dejected, I tried to ignore the sudden stinging between my eyes. How could I go back now? I stood biting my lip, my throat tight with unshed tears. At the agent’s kind but expectant look, I’d opened my bag to mime looking for it and felt my mouth fall open in shock because there it was, bold as anything, in the side pocket. As if that was where it had always been.
How had it got there?
I’d taken it out with shaky hands and stared at it in astonishment.
The travel agent, an older lady with short blonde hair had looked at me curiously and said, ‘Thanks love,’ while holding out her hand.
And here I was.
She said that I’d get a special rate if I took the flight that was boarding in 40 minutes.
It had made sense, at least, financially. Except it didn’t really make sense at all. Maybe I actually dozed off and I didn’t realise it? And this is just a bizarre dream. Only I feel wide awake, like I’ve been hit with a course of electric shock therapy, which at this point, I could probably do with.
My chest is tight and I’m finding it hard to breathe. I’ve been ushered to a seat by the window. I’m clutching my bag like a misshapen leather teddy bear, my eyes darting around frantically.
I must calm down. I must.
My cell phone begins to ring and I can feel eyes from all around boring into me. I scramble in my bag to switch it off, feeling like claws have attached themselves to my throat. I glance at the screen.
Oh my god.
Why did I look? Why?
I cut the call.
My vision lightens momentarily, and I sway in my seat. I think I’m going to be sick.
I try desperately to calm my breathing. A second later my phone starts to ring again, and I stare at it in abject horror.
A friendly flight attendant comes over to ask if I’m all right. She has wide, gentle brown eyes and seems genuinely regretful as she asks me to switch my phone onto flight mode. ‘I’m so sorry – you can make a call from the plane if you need to once we’re in the air?’ she says with a kind smile.
I must have nodded because she’s leaving.
I want to shout out, to tell her I’ve made a mistake that I shouldn’t be on this plane … but she’s already half way down the aisle.
I sit down and stare dumbly ahead. I jump as the phone starts to ring again.
I switch it off and put it in my bag; I take a deep breath, then another.
Soon the flight attendant is coming round to check that we’ve all fastened our seatbelts.
I’m looking around somewhat feverishly when I feel of a pair of eyes boring into me. I look up, and a young girl with enormous amber eyes and wild curly red hair is peering at me over the top chair in front of me. ‘Are you alright?’ she asks in a loud probing voice.
I swallow my fear and will my hands to stop shaking, and I give her my “I’m not mad, really” smile (it’s well-practised) and say, ‘Ah yes, quite so, I was just about to read … this,’ reaching for the in-flight magazine in front of me. Inquisitive eyes watch as I search for my often-lost inner calm. A woman’s head pops up next to hers, she mouths ‘sorry’ at me, turns to the child and says, ‘Leave the lady alone Olivia, turn around and sit properly, we need to put our seatbelts on.’ I close my eyes when I hear her say, ‘poor thing’ wondering when it will no longer be etched on my face. I glance at my lap to see what I’ve pulled out of the flap. It’s a folded over newspaper titled Eudaimonia: The Guide to Good Cretan Living. Absently, I flick through the pages; it’s an English-Cretan newspaper featuring profiles, reviews travel tips and island news. An article about a vineyard that burnt down catches my eye. There’s a picture of a young man with his arms folded, wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, looking intently at the camera. He’s tall; with sharp blue eyes and dark brown hair.
There’s something about his eyes though that makes me look harder. Something dark I can’t help recognising, as I see it in my own every time I look in the mirror. As I turn to read the article, the captain announces that we’ll be starting our ascent. I take a breath and look up.
I’ve never been very good at this part. Across the aisle, an elderly man gives me an encouraging sort of look and I take heart. Soon the plane levels out I breathe easier again. The flight attendant is handing out drinks and I choose orange juice with a liberal amount of vodka, past caring that it’s barely eight in the morning, and turn my attention back to the article.
When a fire destroyed Elysium, the 1000-year-old family-run wine farm in the mountainous region of western Chania, Crete ten years ago, everyone believed that the vineyard would exist only in our memory, until Tom Bacchus (33) returned just 18 months ago determined to resurrect his family’s legacy.
The cause of the fire has long been held in controversy and continuing strife in the family led to mounting debt and the eventual liquidation of the vineyard despite Bacchus’ attempt to hold onto the farm.
Despite these setbacks, Bacchus returned and managed to buy back several hectares of the old farmstead. ‘I’m hoping that in time I’ll be able to buy back as much of the original farm as I can,’ says Bacchus, who will have his first public harvest later this year.
Bacchus, is the half-brother of Tony Bacchus who is married to Ilana Kirosa, owner of the upscale resort Pleiades in Elounda and daughter of the ex-mayor of the city of Chania, George Kirosa.
The first-ever Greek Pinotage?
In a bold and audacious move for Bacchus’ first harvest the intrepid young wine grower, who was cleared of suspicion in the involvement of the fire, has planted pinotage the red wine grape from South Africa that has an almost equal share of acclaim and disdain with many wine critics referring to it contemptuously as a “new world wine.” In fact, the irascible French wine critic Arnold Prisane once claimed that it had all the charm and taste of “old paint.” While New York magazine food and wine connoisseur Mathew Sprint famously declared it as the only wine that tempted him out of Manhattan to the beautiful city of Cape Town.
Whatever the feeling about this long-contested wine its origins lie in the Winelands of Stellenbosch where it was bred in 1925, the grape is a cross between the pinot noir and cinsaut producing a deep, smoky, earthy flavour which has become a signature variety for the country, known for its bold distinctive taste which has proven quite popular across the globe with some countries attempting to grow their own. However, this will be the first for Greece. The feeling with pinotage has long been you either love it or you hate it. Let’s just hope in Bacchus’ case the Cretans love it.
I studied the series of photographs printed along with the article. They revealed the old wine farm before and after the fire, with the before picture depicting a lush valley in the Cretan countryside. The men of the Bacchus family are outside, an old man with dancing blue eyes has his arms around his two sons. The eldest – presumably Tony is medium height and stocky; the angle of his body and his stiff posture make it clear he doesn’t want to be there. Tom, the younger brother, who couldn’t have been more than 16 in the photo, appeared young and carefree. He was tall and lean, already showing signs of the striking man he’d one day become. He looks amused, smile wide open, clearly mid-laugh; his eyes crinkled around the corners while his father grinned down at him.
The next photo was taken after the fire, showing remnants of a large country home, most of which was swallowed by the flames. A third photograph was a shot of the farm as it stood today, the newly planted vines in neat rows shrouded by the early morning mist and Tom Bacchus, his face thoughtful, standing among his newly planted vineyard, so altered from the carefree youth from the photograph before.
I touch the photo, almost in benediction, he looks like he needs it.
I close the newspaper and return it to the flap in front of my seat, only to retrieve it, fold it up and place it in my bag. There’s something there … something intriguing about Elysium and Tom Bacchus really; an unanswered question, something that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it’s his haunted eyes, but I can’t help but feel that there’s more to his story.
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