Endings and beginnings
Chris did eventually fall asleep. His dreams were a strange amalgam of his thoughts and fears about Lotte, the jumpsuited women, the cops on the train, his wife, and so on, with even Gav making an appearance at one point, for no obvious reason also wearing a white jumpsuit but not the wig and make-up (because that would have been weird). When he woke in the morning he was still tired.
Anyone with the slightest appreciation for things of ancient beauty will be impressed by the beauty and otherworldliness of the Acropolis and the buildings upon it. So it was with Chris. Even the teeming mass of other tourists did not diminish the experience for him. If anything, they added to it, the gawping hordes of short-trousered people of all nations making the whole experience more vibrant than it would have been if he had had the site to himself. The behaviour of the other tourists was fascinating to Chris, yet he noticed that they mostly seemed to be trying to ignore each other and pretend that actually they were the only visitors to the Acropolis. People were endlessly trying to photograph themselves or their friends with the Parthenon or Erectheum in the background, but with no other tourists in shot, a Sisyphean task that Chris felt would be mendacious misrepresentation of the site's true nature. But the ways of the tourist are strange and implacable. Chris was also fascinated by the tourist who was wearing what looked like the traditional garb of some east Asian country (perhaps the man's own). Chris thought of asking to take his picture, but feared being misunderstood.
After the Acropolis he had lunch and a drink and decided that there was no putting it off any further, he really would have to get in touch with his wife. But he could not ring her from his mobile, as she would recognise the number and not answer. And even if she did answer, he did not want to have a potentially fraught conversation with her on the side of the road where absolutely anyone passing by could be listening in. So he went back to the hotel to ring her from his hotel room, figuring that if she saw an Athens number come up she would be more inclined to answer. Once back there he dawdled for about an hour before finally plucking up the courage to pick up the phone and dial the number.
"Yasas?" came her voice at the other end of the line.
"Deirdre, it's me," was all he could think to say.
"Who is this?"
"Chris. Your husband."
"Chris? Oh Jesus Christ. Are you in Athens?"
"Yes. I need to see you."
"Well I don't need to see you. If you have something to say, can't you send me an e-mail?"
"Oh come on Deirdre, don't you think you owe me the courtesy of meeting me for what might be the last time?"
"I don't think this is a good idea, Chris."
"Oh for fuck's sake, I've come all this way."
"Well more fool you. It's over Chris. Deal with it."
"I want to see you saying that to my face."
"Oh what, you think I wouldn't be able to?"
"Eh, no, you wouldn't," said Chris.
"Well I would. And what's more, I am willing to show you. There, your reverse psychology has worked. There is café called the Petite Fleur on Omirou, just east of Solonos street. This is in Kolonaki, do you know where that is?"
"Kolonaki? Yeah, I have a map."
"OK, see you there at four. But Chris, I'm warning you, don't go psycho on me."
"I won't. See you there."
She hung up.
He walked quickly over to the café, which was quite a distance away from him in the more commercial part of the town. When he got there, she was already seated at a table outside the café. Chris noted that the place was a good bit busier than he liked. He really would be happier not having witnesses all around for this, but it could not be helped. In any case, they looked like they might mostly be Greeks, so hopefully they would not be able to follow their conversation.
"Hello Deirdre," he said, sitting down opposite her. "It's good to see you again."
"It's good to see you too, I suppose." She had a coffee in front of her but she was more engaged with the cigarette she was smoking. She only smoked when she was nervous. "But you really shouldn't have come all this way."
"Well I have always wanted to see Greece. I did get to visit the Acropolis this morning. It was very nice."
"That's great, Chris."
"But I didn't come here for that, I came here for you."
"Oh Chris, Chris. It's over. We're finished. I'm not yours anymore."
"I can't believe you mean that."
"Yes you can."
"No I can't."
"Yes you can. I know you too well, Chris, I can tell your insincerity. You're only going through the motions here, we're only having this conversation because you feel you ought to, but you don't really care and you know there isn't the slightest chance I'll come back to you."
"I have to try, Deirdre. I can't let what we've had together go without fighting for it."
"Oh yeah, sure you can't. You're saying the lines, but you don't believe them. You know it's over. Accept it. I've moved on, I've found someone else. You should do the same."
"But Deirdre, I love you…"
"No you don't! When I got the job out here, you said you would be out every month or so to see me, but you never visited."
"Well work was kind of busy…"
"And then when I came back home for a weekend you were stuck in the office the whole time instead of giving me some attention."
"But you picked my deadline week to come home! I was up to my tits with the big project."
"Too up to your tits to hang out with the wife you haven't seen for six months?"
"Well it was a very big project."
"Oh fuck that. You didn't care and you don't care. You're only here now because you feel you ought to, not because you give a shit."
She was starting to cry now.
"You already said that."
"That's because it's true!"
Her raised voice was attracting the attention of the café's other patrons now.
"I do care. I wouldn't have come here if I didn't."
"Oh don't give me that, you're just trying to feel like you're the good guy in this whole stupid story."
She was quite upset now. Chris was starting to reply when he felt a hand descend firmly onto his shoulder. A voice behind him spoke.
"I think you're upsetting Deirdre. You should go."
Before he could turn around he saw Deirdre looking behind him.
"Oh for fuck's sake Gyorgy, I can handle this."
"Gyorgy? Gyorgy?" said Chris, standing up and turning around to face the man standing behind him. He was tall, taller than Chris, tanned, with hair cut short at the front but visibly flowing behind him. He had the physique of someone who clearly liked to work out. Chris was more of a lover than a fighter (and not much of a lover, he had to admit), but even if he had been in the mood for fisticuffs there was no way he was going to get into a suicidal ruck with this pumped Adonis. Still, that would not stop him trading a few childish insults. "So this is your new man," he said to Deirdre. "And his name is Gyorgy. What kind of stupid made up Greek name is that?"
"Who said I was Greek?" said Gyorgy. "I am from -"
"Leave it Gyorgy," said Deirdre, "I can handle this. I don't need you to fight my battles for me."
Gyorgy looked hurt. "Are you sure? It looked to me like he was upsetting you."
"Stop patronising my wife!" said Chris.
"Your wife, my lover," said Gyorgy, with a look of insufferable smugness on his face. It was all Chris could do not to swing at his stupid face.
"Oh shut up the two of you!" shouted Deirdre. "I never want to see either of you idiots again." Before they knew what she was doing she had thrown some money down on the table to cover the cost of her coffee and stormed off.
Gyorgy looked at Chris with a strange mixture of rage, astonishment and pathetic misery. For a brief moment Chris thought that he was about to have his face punched in but then Gyorgy ran after Deirdre.
"Baby, please, come back! Hunky's sorry!"
Chris decided to leave them to it, heading off on the opposite direction. He felt drained now. His attempted reconciliation with Deirdre had proved even more of a disaster than he had expected. Her remarks had cut him to the quick, as was always the case when she said harsh things to him. He found it hard not to conclude that she had read him like a book, that he was an unfeeling monster only going through the motions of pretending to care about their marriage.
So now what? He could kill time and then go to the Bar Apollo to hand the memory stick over to Costas. Then he would have done everything he had to and could slink back to Ireland, assuming he was not murdered first. But he felt deflated by his encounter with Deirdre and in need of self-validation. He knew what that meant and took out his wallet, in which he had secreted the note with Lotte's phone number. He rang her there and then on his mobile, asking if she wanted to meet for a drink or food later. It turned out that she did. So they found themselves meeting at a small restaurant for dinner.
"So," said Lotte. "How are things with you?"
"Well, I met my wife."
"And how was that?"
"Not great. It's over between us. Completely. No chance at all of us ever getting back together again. And I knew it all along. I only came here because I thought I ought to. I never thought there was any chance of getting back together again."
"Oh you look so sad."
Lotte was stating the obvious but her voice communicated such concern that Chris could not be moved. He did not want to completely wallow in self-pity, so he changed the subject by asking her what she had been doing in Athens.
"I have been a busy tourist," she replied. "I was at the big archaeological museum, which is up beyond that roundabout where we got the metro. It is very impressive, but not in a nice part of town. And yet there are so many things in the museum, so many beautiful things. You should go there Chris."
"And then I went to the Acropolis."
They compared notes on their Acropolis visits. Perhaps they were minded to agree with each other on things, but it was remarkable how similar their views of that great monument were.
After dinner Chris was onto a third beer and he started being maudlin again.
"Five years we were married. Five years. And it's all over now. I can't believe she's left me like that."
"Oh Chris, you are so sad."
"I am sad. My heart is broken." He felt a bit ridiculous saying it.
"She is still there in your heart."
"I suppose she is."
"Perhaps what you need is for someone to help you get her out of your heart."
Lotte smiled a wicked smile. "I think I know a way."
He caught her drift. They paid the bill and went back to her hotel, which was nearby and, Chris noted, considerably nicer than the one he was staying in. They kissed in the lift up to her room, and then embraced more fully once they had shut the door behind them. They went at quickly, just about leaving enough time to put on a condom, that they did not properly undress. Their outer clothing tangled around their flailing limbs, like they were animals caught in a trap.
"Jesus Christ," said Chris when it was over.
Then they undressed and got into bed and soon they were at it again. Afterwards Chris held Lotte in his arms.
"Holiday romance, it is good," she murmured.
"Good for you, for me the end of my marriage," said Chris. Post coital mopiness with a slight undercurrent of whininess had descended upon him. He turned away from her.
"Oh poor Chris, don't think of silly wife. She is fool for leaving you. Poor silly Chris." She turned around and kissed the back of his neck, before starting to nibble at his ear. One thing led to another and soon they were engaging in a sensational third round of lovemaking, after which they both fell into an exhausted sleep.
The story continues