Athens: A Low Summit
After Roberto proposed for the first time, he mistook my hesitation as joy and tried to embrace me.
All I heard was wife. I looked around to see whom he could be addressing. “Wife?” I said. I shook my head. “Say it in Italian. I think we’re having some serious miscommunication.”
“Marry me. Be my wife.”
I stuttered terribly, backed myself into a corner of the room we shared.
“I’m an only child,” I said.
“I know.” He was patient, nodding. Everything smelled like dirty socks.
“I don’t know how to share anything.” And then my excuses got lamer. “I can’t wear a ring. I have very sensitive skin.” I compared the diamond to a wart I had on my thumb in seventh grade. I began scratching at my blotchy neck and pulling at my collar until he backed away with slumped shoulders. I looked down and saw I had broken out in hives.
In the morning, Roberto woke as I shoved all of my belongings into my bag. When I told him I had to get away, I think I wanted a fight, an excuse to run away forever; instead, he nodded, said, “I hope you’ll return home to me,” and handed me my backpack. I took a cab to the airport and boarded the next flight to Athens. To me, it marked the beginning of civilization, the crux of humanity. I needed to stand where democracy was first established. I wanted to look down from the acropolis and realize just how small I was. I would run my hands over the marble statues of ancient Greek gods and goddesses, and I would remind myself that nothing is permanent as I touched the blemishes and holes in the busts, the spaces where limbs once were on gods.
When I arrived, I found the outdoor station with a short, blue awning over it; a one-stop shop that sold tickets for the trains, buses, and shuttles. I couldn’t read or speak Greek, and I was surprised to find there weren’t English translations. I noticed the most popular ticket was the blue colored one. I tried to ask the cashier for a day pass, but he just drained a bag of almonds into his mouth then shrugged. So I took the blue one too.
Like most things, the acropolis was smaller than I imagined. All the temples and statues and pillars couldn’t live up to my overactive imagination. I frowned from the hill, looking down at Athens. I saw flower petals stir and fly in the wind below, but the flowers could just as easily be garbage, and how would I know from way up here? The sun was going down, and so came the cold that comes with the dark. Exhausted, I hiked down, making my way to the train station to find the motel I’d booked, excited to finally take off my backpack.
I pushed through the silver turnstile. Just as I went down the first set of stairs and turned on the landing to go down the second set of stairs, I heard pounding footsteps behind me. A bulky woman with thick, matted hair barreled down the second flight of stairs too. I looked back at her, shocked, and I saw something even more shocking: she was after me. She was yelling in Greek. I started running down – I had almost made it to flat ground – when she jumped in the air and tackled me. My right side hit the concrete first and I screamed for help. She yanked me up and tried to take my purse from me. I fought back, screaming, “Help! Someone help me! I’m being robbed!” But all of the people waiting for the train sat on the benches, their elbows on their knees, hunched over like this was a most normal scene. I was crying, sobbing, repeating, “Please, please.” The woman twisted my arm around my back until she freed my grip on my purse strap. I fell to my knees. She sifted through the contents until she found my wallet. She held up the blue ticket I bought earlier, barking again in Greek. She heaved me up, put my hands behind my back, and secured handcuffs tight around my wrists.
“Who are you?” I asked, trying to wiggle out of her hold. “You’re not wearing a uniform. Get off me!” She walked me up the stairs, poking me in the back like an animal to keep me moving.
I waited in a small room with off-white walls for forty minutes. A tall man in uniform entered. “Hello,” he said. “Good afternoon.” I started to cry, this time happy tears because he spoke English and we could communicate and this whole mess would be cleared up for good.
He held up the blue ticket. “Is this yours?” he asked.
“Yes. I bought it this morning. An all-day pass. I bought it first thing when I arrived.”
“My partner is an undercover transportation officer.”
I snorted. He had to be joking.
“The blue ticket is an hourly pass only good for the buses.”
“That’s what this is about! I’ll gladly buy the right ticket. Do you mind uncuffing me? This all seems a bit extreme.”
“I’m afraid the fine for your arrest–”
“Fine? Arrest! For having the wrong train ticket!”
“You’ll have to pay 295 euro before I can release you.”
I only had 200 dollars in my bank account. “I’ll need to use your phone,” I said, planning to call my parents.
“Only calls within Europe.”
I sighed and dialed Roberto’s number. He wired the money within minutes of my call, and I was released after three and half hours.
All of the buzz inside me, the excitement of seeing the Acropolis and walking the streets of Athens, it had left me, and I limped through the maze of roads, north toward the motel. I stopped at a McDonald’s on the corner. The pudgy woman at the register smiled and asked, “What would you like today?” I broke down right there at McDonald’s, hands planted on the counter, head down as I sobbed out loud.
“Just – just some fries,” I said.
“A large French fry?” she asked.
And I nodded, smearing snot from my nose across my face. I almost answered her question with the truth, that I’d like nothing more than to go home. This is the risk of looking at everything like it’s temporary; you might want to go home, but you’ll have no idea where that is.
Leave a Reply