Skiouro and the Meltemi
Every time the wind changes, which is often here, Niko watches me from his spot on the rooftop wall. He lies there like a cat, flexing his feet and letting the sun warm his stomach, a cigarette resting between the index and middle fingers of his right hand. He watches me, waiting to see if, this time, the meltemi will pull me down to the harbour and out to sea again.
That same meltemi brought me here two weeks ago. It can take you by surprise when you’re out in it, suddenly swirling up out of nowhere and blowing you off course, as if the gods themselves were up there playing water chess with you. Before coming here, I’d had to find shelter on a couple of the smaller islands, although never for more than a night.
The evening I came to Mykonos was different.
This time the wind was wilder and my little yacht, Skiouro, was having to work hard. I hadn’t wanted to stop off at Mykonos. Oh, it’s pretty enough, with its stack of sugarcube houses and warren of winding whitewashed alleys in the main town, but it gets so busy in the summer months that I had planned to avoid it. But the gods had different ideas and blew us in to port on that mischievous meltemi.
Niko says that just as the wind brought me here, it will take me away again. He’s right to worry. The truth is, I am finding it harder and harder to resist the pull. Each time the breeze picks up, I stop and breathe in deeply, my nose twitching like a dog catching a scent for the first time. I don’t even try and hide that I’m doing it any more. I can’t help what I am. I’m meant to be out at sea, not playing house with what was only meant to be a temporary diversion.
For the first day or so, I only ventured as far as the handcarts at the end of the quay. I bought oranges the size of melons, freshly-cut greens that looked more like weeds than any vegetable I knew and a couple of lemonade bottles filled with retsina. From the fishing boats coming in alongside me, I bought marides, or whitebait. I’d spend the rest of the day cleaning up Skiouro, taking the time to stow her ropes and sails properly and mending what the meltemi had damaged. Then, in the evenings, I would sit on deck with a plate of fried merides and greens, drinking a glass of retsina, listening to the boats rocking gently in the harbour, their clinking masts sounding like goats’ bells. I’d sit and watch the meltemi calm down, burnt out by one of those famous Aegean sunsets.
When I’d tidied and swabbed down everything I could and the wind outside the harbour walls was still no fairer, I decided to explore the island. At first, I stuck to the main town, wandering the maze of streets, being buffeted by tetchy tourists. Mykonos is a barren island and I had come ashore not inclined to find anything to like in my temporary home. But the more I walked through the whitewashed walls and streets, past the balconies and window boxes of geraniums, the weedlike spread of bougainvillea and clematis, the turquoise-blue shutters and doors, the more I came to like the place.
I admit that there were times when I felt I was drowning in the blinding whiteness of it all. All I had to do then was go and sit in a waterside taverna overlooking Little Venice and watch as the waves reached up to where the balconies hang over the sea. From there, I could walk up to the windmills and look out over the water towards Delos.
Just as the confusing web of streets draws you into the town, I found myself being sucked further inland and spending more time walking the hills, which is how I’d met Niko. We’d talked, and he’d laughed at my whispered Greek, although he still says that he wasn’t laughing at what I was saying. He’d just found it sweet that someone with eyes as blue as the Aegean was speaking his language. Or trying to. It’s cute, is what he’d said. We almost parted then and there. If there’s one thing I hate being called, it’s cute. But Niko can be very persuasive, and so I stayed that night. And the next. And here I am, still.
Niko shifts on the wall and raises himself up to rest on his elbow. He draws on his cigarette and I know he is watching me now. His face is in shadow but I can feel his eyes on me, making me shiver despite the morning sun.
I close my eyes and tilt my face to the sky, feeling the warmth stroke my forehead and cheeks. Then the meltemi brushes my hair away from my neck like a lover. I try and resist its pull but I sway a little and can hear Niko shift and sit upright. The wind is changing. The bells I hear are from the boats in the harbour, not the goats on the hillside, and down there somewhere amongst them is my little Skiouro waiting patiently for me.
It is time to leave, the wind is saying, time to move on. You belong with me, not him, you belong out there on the water. I open my eyes, see the light dancing on the waves like fireflies, and start to run. I think I hear Niko call out but I can’t hear what he says. His words are swallowed up by the wind. I don’t look back. I can’t. I’d stay, I know I would, and I don’t belong here. I’m running faster now, the wind at my back, all the way down the hill to the harbour. It’s time.