As she stepped off the plane, she felt a rush of excitement and anticipation flood over her. She wondered if her mother had felt the same when she arrived in Greece almost twenty-five years ago. She knew that there must have been many changes during that time. Instead of flying direct to the island, her mother would have had to fly to Athens first and then taken a boat to the island as direct flights to the island had only started up a couple of years ago. She stood in line waiting to clear customs, feeling guilty even though she had nothing to hide. Just walking through the green channel she could sense hidden eyes watching her every move. This automatically made her act suspiciously and then breathing a sigh of relief she was through and out into the bright Greek sunshine. Squinting to read the address on the scrap of paper, she hailed a taxi and the driver sped off towards the hotel.
“Hi, I am Leo,” the taxi driver said, introducing himself in fluent English.
“Allie,” she replied.
She’d been anxious about being ripped off or being taken on a wild goose chase, but there was no need to worry. Leo seemed to be the exception to her stereotyped image of Greek drivers. Although he drove fast, he negotiated the roads with great skill. Driving up narrow tracks, he tooted his horn to let any other drivers know he was coming. She wanted to ask him about the austerity measures that had recently been imposed on them in order to meet their euro deficit obligations. She had been quite shocked at the effects that the cutbacks had had on ordinary people. Last year the government had introduced a kind of surtax cunningly collected through the electricity bill. If you refused to pay or couldn’t pay, you were cut off – simple! People had struggled to keep warm through the winter, as many couldn’t afford oil any more. The news had shown piles of rubbish in the streets thanks to the refuse collectors going on strike because they hadn’t been paid. Allie remembered seeing pictures of Piraeus on the news with rubbish piles as high as cars. She wanted to ask Leo more about how ordinary people had coped but when she pressed him for more details he shrugged and smiled,
“Greece is not only Athens, you know. Here, sure, life is tough but we survive. Maybe we spend a little less, complain a little more but life is good. You are in the most beautiful place in the world. If you have the sun and the sea and a few vegetables – what more do you need?”
Looking around at the idyllic scenery of the island, Allie thought that this was a far cry indeed from the sensationalist pictures of Athens that she’d seen on the TV. They finally pulled up in front of a traditional-looking but freshly painted hotel. Allie took the well-thumbed photo from her bag for comparison. Whilst the land around had all been eaten up by new developments, the hotel itself looked remarkably similar to the photo. It had been extended at the side but there was no doubt that this was the place. Maybe now she would get the answers that she’d been waiting for all this time? She wanted answers that her mother couldn’t or perhaps wouldn’t give her.
“Here we are,” said Leo, taking her holdall from her and escorting her up some stone steps. Allie added a few euros to the fare, partly in relief at having got here in one piece and also because Leo had been so charming. She knew from the guidebook she’d read on the plane that it wasn’t necessary to tip, but Leo accepted gracefully, handing her a card with his number on it in case she needed his services again. If what he’d told her was true, Allie guessed that meant his family could eat that night.
She walked up to the reception desk and seeing no one about, rang the bell. She was quite surprised by the interior. Whilst the hotel looked traditional on the outside, the inside had been renovated in a very contemporary style. She was sure it was the right place, but she really didn’t know where to start to get the answers she’d come all this way for. She was in the middle of reading the notice above the desk which advertised free Wi-Fi access for hotel residents when a man in his late forties or could be early fifties – Allie wasn’t much good at telling people’s ages – came out of a room at the back. His skin was lightly tanned and he was wearing a light blue chambray shirt, which set his tan off perfectly. He must have been good-looking in his youth, thought Allie.
The man stopped in his stride and she watched the colour fade from his face in disbelief.
“My God, it can’t be,” he whispered.
“You must be Nick,” replied Allie. “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost!”
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