Chapter Three

Catherine's picture

The plane landed at the airport in Athens; Helena watched the clock on the monitor and realized it was 9.30 in the morning local time. She felt as if it was the middle of the night. She looked forward to her arrival at the hotel and hoped she could be there by noon.

The plane taxied its way to the terminal, then it stopped and the seatbelt sign was turned off. People around her started to get up from their seats. Helena was startled; it seemed like they were standing on the tarmac.

Isn't this a capital airport, didn't they have a gate, she asked herself.

The flight attendant came over to her.

"I suggest that you and your son wait for a while before you disembark," she said. "We have special transportation for families with small children, but it doesn't arrive until the regular busses have left." She nodded quickly and walked away before Helena had a chance to ask her about the details, so they waited.

Helena could see the mobile stairway from her window. Below it stood a bus and the passengers were ushered into it. The bus was soon filled and left for the main terminal, leaving passengers waiting on the stairway. This must be a joke, Helena thought. Isn’t there another bus?

She glanced around; the aisle was filled with people waiting to get off the plane. This is going to be a long day. Helena closed her eyes.

About half an hour later, the plane was almost empty and another flight attendant came over to Helena and Mike.

"The bus has arrived," she said, and smiled one of those overly helpful smiles that Helena resented. The woman reminded her too much of the grief counselor her mother had insisted she visited, after Tom's funeral.

"Let me help you with your luggage." The woman grabbed her carry-on and headed for the door.

Helena stepped out on the mobile stairway; the heat hit her face, and she almost took a step backward. Greece was hot, much hotter than she'd expected it to be.

"It must be over a hundred degrees, and it's still morning," she said. The flight attendant nodded.

"Athens is under a heat wave right now. It will probably reach a hundred and twenty in the sun around noon"

Helena stared at her. "A hundred and twenty degrees by midday?"

"That's why everything here closes around noon, the Greeks cope with the heat by taking a long siesta."

This is different from what I expected. Helena pulled Mike closer, protecting him from the heat and hurried down the stairway and into the bus. It wasn't air conditioned.

It took Helena almost two hours before she had managed to get herself, Mike and their luggage through immigration, luggage claim and finally, the custom area. For a moment, she feared they had lost Mike's stroller, until it finally came tumbling around the baggage claim. She realized things moved at a different pace in Greece.

It was still hot and Mike was cranky. She wasn't sure if the terminal didn't have an air conditioning, or if it was just too hot for it to work properly. She longed for the hotel.

Out in the arrival lounge, she found a guide with a big sign from the travel agency.

"Mrs. Mitchell, I assume," said the young woman with a cheerful smile. "I was just waiting for you. You're the last one out."

The young woman was helpful and immediately took care of Helena's luggage cart and started to push it towards the door.

Helena was too tired to look around. She followed the guide out from the terminal, across a busy street and over to a parking area. She boarded the bus. There were no seats close to the door; she had to carry Mike all the way to the back.

Is everything against me right now, she thought. At least it's cold.

***

It felt like it took hours, but the bus eventually moved. The air conditioner made Helena feel better. She hadn't thought about how they were going to get from the airport to the hotel. When the same cheerful guide, that met them at the airport, started to talk, Helena realized that the island was almost two hours away by boat; somehow that fact had escaped her, even though she knew they were going to an island.

The bus ride from the airport to the harbor took nearly an hour. During their journey, their guide explained what they saw in the great Greek capital, a mix of historical facts and the day to day life in Greece.

Helena didn't listen; she stopped after just a few minutes. She had developed a new skill since Tom passed away; like a clam, she closed her shell to the world around her. Mike settled in; they had almost fallen asleep when the bus finally arrived at the harbor.

The guide made sure she had everyone’s attention.

"Remember now that the speedboat is leaving from gate number eight at two pm local time, that is fourteen hundred here in Greece."

Two pm? Did I hear that correct? Helena quickly gazed at her watch and realized that she hadn't changed it to local time. The clock in the bus said 12.32. They had to wait one and a half hours until departure. The guide continued to speak.

"Remember to keep your eyes on your luggage all the time, there are occasionally pickpockets here." This gets better and better, Helena thought.

"There are no porter services at the dock here so if anyone approaches you and offers to help you with your luggage, it is a scam," the guide continued.

"There are a few food areas around the dock and there is one coffee shop just behind gate eight. A quick note if you go there, you pay for the coffee and pastries at different counters, it's confusing, and they don't speak that much English."

When Helena left the bus, the heat once again nearly knocked her backwards. In the air-conditioning she had almost forgotten how hot it was outside. Since she was the last one on the bus, her luggage was unloaded immediately and Helena stood there with her two extra-large suitcases, the carry-ons and Mike in his stroller.

What do I do now? I can't leave Mike, why isn't there a porter. Helena looked around, she felt helpless. At that point, Helena was sure she had made the biggest mistake of her life, and she almost had an urge to call home and admit it.

The cheerful guide watched Helena and realized there was a problem.

"Do you need help," she asked.

"Is there anywhere we can sit?"

"There are no waiting areas here, but let's move you into the shade," the guide said. "I'm going to the ticket office to fetch our tickets; maybe they can make an exception and let you wait there."

She helped Helena with the two suitcases, parked them under a tree and hurried down the harbor.

The guide finally returned with a big smile. She had arranged for them to wait in the ticket office. The wooden chair felt like a deluxe accommodation. One of the women put a glass of what looked like coffee into Helena's hand. There was no air conditioning, but the coffee was ice cold.

***

The boat looked more like an airplane without wings than a boat. Helena watched one of them come into the harbor earlier. When it picked up speed it floated above the sea, it almost had feet or at least some sort of runners. Even the inside was like an airplane, the same type of chairs, small windows and door.

The guide took care of Helena's suitcases and an elderly Greek man helped her aboard with the stroller. He said something in Greek, Helena didn't understand him. He appeared friendly, she smiled, nodded. He patted Mike on his head and smiled at her.

The strange boat left the harbor on time. At least it's cold, she thought. Almost chilly. The boat eased itself out of the harbor. Free from the pier it accelerated and Helena could feel how it lifted from the sea. It was unusual, though not necessarily uncomfortable. The water splashed over the windows, there was nothing to see on the outside, just open sea. For the first time since she arrived in Greece, Helena could relax.

The boat made a few stops on the way; Helena couldn't understand what they said on the PA system. I guess the guide knows where I'll get off. She closed her eyes.

This was a new thing for her, to leave the control to someone else. Helena had always been the type of person who controlled the situation, all that changed after Tom's death. Sometimes it wasn’t necessary, other times she didn't know how to gain control. Then there were times like this when she simply didn't care.

Not only life has changed, she thought before she fell asleep. I have changed.

***

They arrived at the harbor or actually at a long pier out into the water. Helena glanced up over the island. It really is a mountain in the sea. I like it, it looks like a postcard.

It was still hot, even though the wind swept in from the sea. I didn't expect it to be this hot, she thought. Am I going to survive this? What about Mike, maybe he's too small? She didn't know.

It was late in the afternoon, but it was early morning back home. I feel like I've been out all night, I'm exhausted. She didn't look around; she was too tired. Once again the guide stepped in. She ushered her up the street.

"Don't worry about your luggage; I will fix it somehow."

The hotel seemed nice in the picture on the travel agency’s website; it was a deluxe apartment hotel, but Helena soon discovered the difference between a deluxe hotel on a Greek island and one back home.

She had a small studio, basically a long room ending with a large balcony. First, there was a kitchen with a tiny table and a sofa. Behind the sofa was a low wall, just four feet high. On the other side was the bedroom area with two separate beds, a desk and a TV in the corner. To the left of the kitchen were some wardrobes, a dresser and a small bathroom. All the furniture was in dark wood, the walls were white and the floor tiled. It's nice, she thought. It looks more like a better motel though than a deluxe apartment. Helena was too tired to complain, it was clean and that was the most important thing.

The cheerful guide arrived a few minutes later with a Greek man carrying a crib, provided by the hotel, and their luggage. When everything was moved into her apartment, Helena could hardly move around, there was almost no free space left in the room.

She decided that the luggage could wait; she just wanted to put Mike in the crib and go to sleep. Hoping he was as tired as she was.

***

Helena woke up early; she hadn't a clue how long she'd slept. It took her a few seconds before she remembered where she was. What had woken her up? Then she felt it again. Helena started to laugh; a tiny sunbeam tickled her nose.

She glanced over at the balcony; the shades weren't closed properly, and a small ray of sunlight came into the room. The TV reflected the sun, and the little beam found her in her bed.

Helena reached for her wristwatch.

"Damn." She had forgotten to reset it last night. She looked around the room. No clock. She didn't know what time it was. What's the time difference to New York? She didn't remember.

Helena slowly got out of bed; Mike was still asleep, and she tried not to wake him. She hadn't unpacked last night, so she just grabbed the same clothes, slipped into them and stepped out on the balcony. It was very early in the morning; she could tell by the light and the fresh feeling in the air. The sun hadn't heated everything yet.

Helena was stunned by the view. Below the balcony was a beautiful garden, since the hotel was located in the middle of the city, the houses were close together and so small. They all came in different shades of white and pale yellow. Helena smiled when she saw the blue doors and windows. There were just a few rows of houses between the hotel and the water, she felt like she stood on the doorstep to the sea.

The water was blue with a hint of green and there wasn't a boat anywhere, nothing disturbed the surface, not even the wind. Everything felt so serene that Helena just stood there, looking out over the city and the sea. She took a deep breath and filled her lungs with fresh air. Then she noticed it; the smell. She gazed down and beneath the balcony was a huge hibiscus tree. It had big red flowers and the scent travelled up to her balcony and filled the air with its soft perfume.

When did I ever stop and smell the flowers, she thought with a smirk. You don't find that in New York.

For the first time in months, something moved inside her. All the feelings she'd tucked away refused to stay inside, her tears didn't want to be cooped up anymore. Slowly, they fell down her cheeks and with them came a sense of relief she hadn't felt for a long time. She knew she would eventually stop crying; she knew everything would be okay in the end. For the first time in what felt like ages, she found peace on that balcony, just by looking out over the blue Mediterranean Sea.

"This might actually have been the right decision," she whispered. The urge to call home disappeared as the sun rose and the island slowly came to life.

Maybe it looked like a motel, but it was definitely a room with a view, and that morning Helena fell in love with the island of Spetses.

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