Skaros

Skaros fish

By the time Andrea gets to the beach I'm already in the water. It's freezing. Several springs empty into the sea from fissures in the rocks and the freshwater sits on top of the sea water giving everything a blurry appearance. It's like swimming without one's coke-bottle-lens glasses. Up close it looks almost like oil as the two water types intermingle but do not mix. I could swear I see ice particles. We journey underwater down the coast scattering schools of giant fish as we blindly swim through them. It's like being in a polar sea. Andrea turns back, defeated by the chill. I swim a little further but give up too. Then, on the way back to the small beach a gopa swims right towards me from the opposite direction. I shoot him. Then another one. Wow. This is easy. Like a reward for my suffering. I forget the water temperature. I get almost to the beach where Andrea is sitting but swim across the small cove to the other shore and continue down the coast in the direction of Saint George where the sea is warmer. Both Panayotis and Dionysious had urged me to fish this coastline telling me of the many small rofos that live here. They were right. Rofos peer at me from under every large rock. Some come up for a closer look, then hurry back to their holes when they realize I'd noticed them. But I'm not interested in them. I see a school of gopa heading directly towards me as they hug the coastline. I get another one. Then I shoot a couple skaros. I don't even look at the kefalo who are also in abundance. I pick off a few more gopa, that are by now starting to avoid me if at all possible. Then way down below I see a great big skaros near a large boulder. It's deep but if I time it right I can shoot and come right back up. I take a deep breath and dive. I shoot and hit him in the head. It knocks him cold or even dead but the spear does not impale him and he falls to the sea floor. Disaster. I race for the surface and take a big breath of air. My legs are weak. My heart is beating fast. I feel dizzy. And, my fish is lying on the bottom, seemingly out of reach, attracting a school of the ever-present little black fish that nobody eats or talks about but everyone catches. How am I going to get that big dead fish off the ocean floor? If only I could train those little black fish to bring it to me. "But that could take ages", I think realistically. I wait until I'm rested. The bottom looks deeper then ever but I force myself to go. Down deeper and deeper. I will try to spear him again as he lay there immobile. I shoot and miss. Shit. I swim desperately for the surface. I rest and try again. This time the spear goes through the fish but is deflected out by the stone sea-floor underneath. Again I surface.

"Is this fish worth my life?" I ask myself. I look down. I already know the answer and this time without waiting to recover I dive down and pick up the mighty fish with my hand. I burst through to the surface breathing the life-giving air with profound thanks. I feel immense pride in my perseverance and accomplishment. I had challenged the sea’s murky depths and I had won. I look at my catch. Funny how things seem much larger underwater. Well, never mind. It's the thrill of the hunt that really counts.

The sun has disappeared from the tiny bay and I begin my journey back. I shoot one more gopa but I have to chase him around first. It's a hard fought battle and I had hit him with a lucky shot. They are on to me. When I get back to the icy waters of the small beach Andrea is gone. In her place is the French family who are staying at Katina's. I swim around for awhile chasing kefalo just for the fun of it. I had also picked up a few colorful sea-urchin skeletons to give to Amarandi. One of these I give to the small French girl who is happily playing on the beach. She smiles in heartfelt thanks and rushes off to show her family the precious gift I have given her. I smile to myself. I have made this little girl very happy. And some day she will grow into a beautiful young French woman.

I set about the unpleasant task of cleaning the fish. There are many yellow-jackets around and they hassle me mercilessly. While I am scaling and cutting I notice the French family staring in rapt attention at something in the distance. I hope it isn't the ferry. That's my planned entertainment for the evening. I gaze down the coast, letting my eyes slowly come into focus. It's a flock of goats standing on the rocks at the shoreline. "They come for the salt", I call out to the French father in a knowledgeable tone.

"Yes", he nods in agreement though for all we knew the goats are there to eat barnacles.

I continue with my task at hand keeping a sharp eye on the goats lest they should grab my fishing bag and make a break for the impenetrable mountains. When I finish my work I say farewell to the happy little French family. The small girl is still fondling the wondrous gift I had given her. I begin the arduous journey back to town. As I approach the small dock in front of the first row of houses I am met by my fisherman friend Crysanthos, who wants to see my catch. He looks at the skaros.

"You don't have to clean these" he informs me excitedly. Then he teaches me a little rhyme to help me to remember.

The rofos you eat the head
melanouri the body
but for skaros eat the shit
tell me which do you prefer?

It actually rhymes in Greek. He keeps making me repeat it until I get it right and then he lets me continue home.

I love Friday. I love to go to the bar at the dock and drink ouzos until the ferry comes in. There's usually several people sitting watching the horizon. It's almost a straight shot to Pireaus and you can see the lights of the ship a long way off. Gradually the area around the dock begins to fill in like an arena before a sporting event. By the time the boat docks up the harbor is packed and you wonder where the cars and people are going to fit when they get off. When the ship is secured and the travelers aboard are allowed to disembark it's a merging of two huge crowds. It appears to be total chaos as vehicles squeeze through the mass of humanity towards the road and freedom. It's fun to watch and there is always the chance someone you know will get off unexpectedly. But tonight I am looking for one person and to hell with the others. All I care about is Greg, and the package he would certainly have for me. Sure if a close friend from America surprises me with a visit I will happily welcome them with open arms. But for now there is something a little more important on that ferry. I know that somewhere in Greg's luggage is a copy of the USA Today with my name on it.

Unfortunately Greg does not get off the boat and if I'm disappointed it's nothing compared to how his wife Anastasia, is feeling. So far three people have let me down and I feel terribly cut off from the world of baseball. Two had come from Athens and forgotten my request. Now a third has not shown up at all. Perhaps it was somehow my fault. Maybe by stopping at a newsstand he had missed the ferry. Maybe Anastasia would never forgive him, leaving him and sentencing her daughter Nora to the unstable future of a life with separated parents.

"Life can be harsh", I think to myself. "But now it's time to eat.”

Katina's is jumping. Even without the presence of Niko the contractor and his work crew there is an air of celebration. Everyone we know is here tonight including all Katina's grandchildren who whisk Amarandi off to play. The only table available is a small round cafeneon table but they send the wine quickly and stifle the girls complaints. Then I see the reason for the excitement. Mister Octopus has arrived. He sees me and hurries to take my hand. I prepare myself to answer all my personal questions about what has happened in my life since we last saw each other many years ago.

"When is Jack coming?" he asks me.

"We arrived two weeks ago" I answer happily, completely misunderstanding his question. Andrea gently points out my mistake in her own special way.

Shaken, I re-answer his question trying not to let my hurt feelings show. "How the hell should I know?” I return to my table, miffed. The party had officially begun. The Octopus family has arrived and I suspect it won’t be long before he starts demanding that I catch him an actual octopus from the sea, as he does every summer.

It turns out to be quite a night. This time the table of Americans are permitted to take part in the festivities as the dance floor is cleared of tables with the arrival of Nikos the Contractor and his crew. He runs inside and cranks up the music, leaping to the dance floor with a grace that belied his girth. Elaine too is on her feet coaxing and cajoling as they circle each other like a pair of mongoose about to attack. Suddenly with a burst of kefi, Old Panayotis throws a plate, shattering it on the dance floor. Niko slaps his heels and the tension breaks. The dancers dip and leap as if trapped in the power of some bizarre ancient mating ritual. Soon they are joined by others. Elaine runs over to Niko the cop and tries to pull him out onto the floor. "I can't. I'm on duty", he says, pointing to the badge on his uniform and nearly choking on his beer. The crowd roars in approval.

"Nisiotika, play a nisiotika" cry the locals. A rift is developing between the hard-core rembetis who want to dance to the slow painful dirges of Athens and Pireaus, and the villagers who want a fast happy dance from the islands. Niko the cop, who is also the local music expert, searches through the tapes and finds what he is looking for. The next moment the music has changed to an up-tempo nisiotika and Katina's daughters and Mister Octopus are leading a frenzied circular dance. Even the Americans join in with help from Elaine who leads them through the elementary steps. Again the music changes and Niko the Contractor is back on the floor doing the dance of the wounded seagull. I'm thinking that this is Greece. This is one of those times. They're usually just moments of beauty and clarity. Pure fun really. They don't last long but they have the power to change your life.

My thoughts are broken by murmuring behind me. "Get Mathaos to dance", I hear coming from the table where Katina's daughters are sitting. Time to go.

I follow Andrea, Elaine and Amarandi to the bar at the port but they were long gone. I sit with Panayotis the kefalo fisherman and a woman named Natasha who is an art teacher living with her three little children in the house Jack calls ‘the love nest’ because Andrea and I had spent two weeks there the summer she was pregnant and miserable. Natasha's baby is giving her trouble and she excuses herself saying she will try to come back.

"So many beautiful girls, but they are so young" says Panayotis sadly, looking around the bar. Clearly he had hoped that this would be the summer when romance would find him hiding out in Kalohori.

"And so stupid", I think to myself, my mind drifting back to the many nights I had stayed up late at the bar, drinking and chatting up these pretty young things from Montreal, who by the age of twenty-one were already so screwed up by their parents that it didn't matter what a guy did or said to them. Maybe 'stupid' was too harsh. 'Numb' was more appropriate You couldn't really talk to them because they didn't listen to a word you said. They just followed their own script and looked blankly into space, occasionally mouthing the lyrics to the worst of the taped disco music that was being played at the bar in those days. But they sure were beautiful.

Well, that was then and this is now. All those young girls are now married and fat, with spoiled children, living with husbands from the same village stock. Young republicans who would work hard and one day return to Kalohori to built a palace that will tower over the palaces their fathers had built twenty years before.

"Can I tell you a story?" I ask Panayotis. He motions for me to go on. "The first summer I came here I was alone. I had a room of my own upstairs at Katina's. One night we were eating dinner and some Swedish people from a sailboat came in carrying a girl. She was very beautiful but looked very sick. They asked if there was a doctor. I said yes and ran to get "the retarded doctor" as Jack called him."

"I know him. He's a very good doctor, despite his appearance” says Panayotis in his defense.

"When the retarded doctor arrived he looked at her and asked if there was a bed handy. I told him there was a spare in my room and we helped her up the steps and put her in it. She was afraid. The retarded doctor has a strange look, one that you don't normally associate with a man of medicine and she looked worried as he prepared his large hypodermic needle. She looked at me for assurance.

"Don't worry" I smiled and told her. "He's not as weird as he looks," though at the moment I too had my doubts. He gave her an injection in her butt and gave us some instructions that neither of us understood and was gone. We talked for awhile. I asked how she felt. Her muscles ached. I was a massage-therapy school dropout, I informed her. She was quite beautiful. She let me rub her shoulders, her back, her legs her...

She left early the next day. It was one of the most beautiful romantic experiences of my life. She said she would try to come back but she was a guest of her friend's family. The father was the captain and it was up to him. I watched her sail away and for the next two weeks I watched the boats. I watched the boats until the day of her flight back to Sweden and I knew that she wasn't coming." I looked at Panayotis. "That's my advice to you. Watch the boats.”

I don’t even know what I was trying to say but it sounded wise at the time.

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