The North-Easterly

Nikos’s day will come too. We’re in no hurry. It’s only till we meet again. Time does not matter here; we don’t have any. We’ll show Nikos round our corner of our new world once he’s here.

Our home in Skaramagas stood aloof of its surroundings, at the end of a steep flight of steps leading from the harbour to an opening where our front door stands, perched on the highest point of the oldest corner of the city. It has lain empty for years, since the day I rejoined Ed at the end of the only stretch of time The Lord had us separated. Nikos cannot bring himself to sell the home. Ed and I don’t want to see it go either. And we keep an eye out when the North-easterly strikes. Nikos is forgetful. He’s often walked out the home leaving a window open behind him when he goes over to enjoy the North-easterly.

Ed and I, freshly married, had fled Gedling when the coal miners’ strike struck in 1984. Ed loved diving and he ditched underground for under water, at the Hellenic Shipyards in Skaramagas. But Nikos is Greek to the bone. He was born in Skaramagas and a Panathinaikos fan since the day Ed took him to his first football match.

“Mum and dad never betrayed me.”

“Will I?”

 

When Nikos walks those streets again, his head swims in memories of the old noisy neighbourhood, since cursed by a spell of stillness that’s left empty hovels with doors and windows parched to the lightest shade of their original colours. He sees again the rough kids playing football in the street, right after school to sundown. And the occasional fight that escalated beyond kids’ realm, with a hard kick to the shin mushrooming into brawls between family of perpetrator and the injured. The rough kids were responsible for Nikos’s sheltered early years, and for his shy adolescence. I never allowed Nikos outside the front door because of the street kids. His childhood was the space behind our front door.

It’s November, and in November the North-easterly visits our harbour. The skies cloud over and the wind turns with no warning. The North-easterly brings childhood memories for Nikos. Of the howling winds and the salt-stained window panes that blurred his view of waves crashing against the jetty and battering the shore. And of the foam of whitish sea spray rising in the air and travelling in the wind.

The North-easterly struck, and Nikos and Sela rushed back down the steps to the harbour in the pelting rain, for the next ferry to the other side of the port which he has long since made his home. That side is urbane and a world apart, a few miles and a galaxy away from our neighbourhood. We didn’t approve Nikos and Sela’s unsanctified union, and we fretted over his new choice. Just because we’re here, we don’t get to know everyone so we didn’t know Sela. But Sela’s turned out a good woman. 

On the way back, on the ferry, Sela asked Nikos why he always has to return to pace the streets of his childhood neighbourhood and stop at our door, head bowed as if in prayer before fishing the key out of his trouser pocket. She doesn’t understand it’s a pilgrimage, in remembrance of a childhood where betrayal was a scourge yet to touch him. And of the time Ed and I were there to shelter him when young, and love him to our last day in Skaramagas. We even wept with him when he was betrayed and we weren’t there to comfort him.

Nikos and Sela stepped past us up the gangplank, Sela’s arm around his waist and his over her shoulder, inches away but oblivious to our presence.

‘Mum and dad never betrayed me.’

‘Ha?’

‘Mum and dad.’

“Will I ?” Sela whispered in my son’s ear. And she planted a kiss on his face. God bless her.

Ed and I are in no rush.  But we’re waiting for the day they join us. Just because we’re here, we don’t know if it’s Nikos or Sela who gets to come over first.

But one day we’ll have them both.

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