Oxi Day

by Joseph Giordano

The day after the political rally in Athens, sunlight and the coo of a mourning dove opened my eyes. I was naked, next to Kia or was it Karina? I’m not good with names, and when she tried to tell me hers, the SYRIZA chants of "Oxi" in Syntagma Square elbowed aside her voice. Afterwards, at the Koulouri nightclub, we danced on tables. We would’ve smashed our empty ouzo glasses, but they only gave us plastic.

The silver light on the white sheet gave her body the look of a snowdrift, indistinct. I slid my hand over. She turned her head away. I moved closer. She accepted me, but I might as well have been alone.

Afterwards, my bare feet padded on the marble to the stove. I filled the dinged pot under the tap, then put in two heaping spoons of Greek coffee. I set out two small cups and awaited boiling water.

I assumed she smelled the aroma and said, "Want some?"

She pulled the sheet up to her chin.

The coffee bubbled into foam. I filled the cups. She took hers metrio. Mine was sketo.

Sitting on the balcony I was focused on catching a fly in my fist and didn’t hear her leave. Most of the women who stayed over escaped my pension before coffee.

You ask, "Why Athens?"

Greece was crumbling; I wouldn’t stand out. Well, okay, I'd majored in Classics and knew passable Greek. Soon after graduation, I realized that university hadn’t qualified me for much of a career in Manhattan. I had friends if I could get them high. My mother began to screen my calls. So, I gathered my pennies and flew standby from Kennedy on Olympic Airways.

Off the bus from the airport, I walked into Paradisos, a taverna in the Plaka, the old section of Athens below the Acropolis. The owner, a gray beard with spindly legs, Makis Christos, gave me a waiter’s job off the books because of my English skills. Over the next few months, I chased women. Makis raised his eyebrows and called me a kaimaki.

Half the people in Greece worked for the government, so when the austerity came, unemployment swelled like a boil.

Makis was adamant. "It’s the Germans." If a BMW passed he’d swear. "I’ll never own a German car."

When SYRIZA took the parliament and Tsipras became Prime Minister, Makis was ebullient. "I love that Varoufakis. He's giving the Germans the flat of his hand."

When Tsipras called for a referendum, we went together to the Syntagma Square rally, and Makis voted a defiant "Oxi" on continued austerity

As the days rolled on and the banks stayed closed, I could smell the acrid stress sweat on Makis. He pulled me aside. "We can only serve cash customers." Tourists were down to a trickle. His eyes welled. "Anthony, I can't afford to pay you. Would you work for tips?"

"Of course." I grasped his shoulder. "Eufaristo."

The next week, Makis slapped his open newspaper. "Tsipras accepted worse terms from the EU commissioners." Makis looked at me with a child's eyes. "Where did we go wrong?"

"In New York, we have loan sharks. They charge a weekly vigorish."

"I don’t know this word."

"Exorbitant interest. Most debtors are in their pocket for years. The bastards run your life."

"But what was the point of the rally against austerity?"

I thought, I got drunk and laid. But Makis was hurting too bad for my flippancy, so I shrugged my shoulders.

The next day a group of Germans from a Munich charter flight were bused in for lunch. They were mostly pale-legged paunches looking furtively at passersby.

Makis remarked. "It’s good if they’re uncomfortable." He asked me to wait on them.

Most of their discussion was in German, but a silver mustache with the ramrod posture of a former military officer took me for Greek and wagged his finger in my face. He had a thick accent. "When will you people stop wasting German taxpayer money?"

I gave him a simpleton’s smile and fought the temptation to spit into his tzatziki before I served it.

One late afternoon, we hadn’t seen a customer all day, and Makis sat in the shadows.

When I approached his table he said, "The Nazis raped my grandmother." His eyes rose to mine. "She lived in fear they’d return."

I sat. "I’m sorry."

He sighed. "I’m closing Paradisos. I need to save something for my old age."

"I understand."

"What will you do?"

"All the young people are leaving while they’re still considered Europeans. The jobs will never return."

He nodded. "Don’t forget us."

I texted my mother. Eventually, she purchased an economy ticket for my return. I moved into her house. It’s not the disappointed looks or the lectures on what I was doing with my life that’s made me restless. How do you bring a woman to your parents’ basement? Not to worry. I’ll be out soon. I picked up a line on some government assistance.