The man approaches me with a toothy, lascivious grin at the traffic lights—arm outstretched. Sighing, I reach into my pot of change and proffered him one Euro, at the same time activating the screen wash and wipers. His dirty water had made my windscreen worse, but I didn’t have the heart to turn him away.
The car in front edges forward, so I slip my rental into gear. Would I ever reach Central Greece?
“Kirya, it’ll take you 2 hours, maximum” the rental agent had assured me from their Athens offices. I’d been looking forward to visiting The Oracle of Delphi and had hopped into my Citroen with enthusiasm for what lay ahead: the city streets gradually petering out onto the National Road, cutting through the pine clad countryside to Mount Parnassos, culminating at the ‘Navel of the Earth,’ the place where the Ancient Greeks went to worship the God Apollo. What I hadn’t banked on was the Athens traffic. Already it had taken me one hour to travel approximately 5 miles.
The temperature gauge registers 32 degrees outside. Unable to afford a car with air conditioning, in my sweatbox it feels more like 42. I inhale the pollution around me, dreaming of Ancient Gods and Temples.
I’m jolted out of my reverie when I notice the car in front looming ominously close. He’s stopped yet again, but has no working brake lights. Instinctively, I slam my foot on the brakes, prompting a cacophony of horns as others behind follow suit, angry at the near miss.
Well and truly wedged in, I look around: The lane to my right has started to move, yet the man in the car next to me continues to chat on his mobile phone, often removing both hands from the wheel. To my left it looks (and sounds, through my open window) like an argument is taking place. A well dressed Greek woman is yelling at her driving companion, head shaking, thumping her hands on the passenger side of the dashboard in their sleek Mercedes. The man, ironically, looks serenely quiet, staring straight ahead. He’s either deaf, or learnt to zone out after years of aural abuse. On the pavement, a young woman is walking a poodle. It squats and relieves itself, yet its owner makes no move to scoop it up. I watch, repulsed as an old man, threading Komboloi though his fingers, walks straight through the freshly deposited mess, completely oblivious as to what is stuck on the bottom of his worn brogue.
Finally my lane’s pushing forward…if I can just make it to the lights before they turn orange—no, it can’t be done. I apply pressure to my brakes as the lights turn, but clearly this is the wrong thing to have done, I should have ‘gone’ for it. I hear the screech, and then feel the thwack of the small van as it goes into the back of me. Sighing, I turn on my hazards, steer to the kerb and climb out of the car to be confronted by an irate fat Greek man, who is raising his voice to an impressive level.
My dreams of visiting Delphi have disappeared in a puff of polluted smoke. Feeling exceedingly grateful that my car comes with full insurance, I try to explain that I cannot understand a word he is shouting, yet I can distinctly make out the word “Foreigner,” expressed in a detrimental way.
With no reaction from me, his attention turns to his mobile. I busy myself contacting the agents and they assure me they’ll send a tow truck. The man has disappeared and I worry it is for good. There he is, up the street, walking towards me. As he nears, I see him holding two Styrofoam cups of coffee. I’m offered one and he says in perfect English,
“We will be waiting some time. Drink this.” I thank him, disconcerted by this change in behaviour. His name is Nikos, he’d been working on the islands and had a week off to visit his wife and child. We sit amiably side by side on the kerb, sipping our coffees and trading life stories.
The tow truck arrives and Nikos helps to hoist my Citroen. I thank him, I’m waved away nonchalantly. It’s only once I’ve booked into a hotel for the night, arranged to collect a new car in the morning and am eating dinner under the gaze of the Acropolis that I realise Nikos didn’t apologise once.