Read an Excerpt
What are you waiting for?
Sophocles: Electra (tr. E.F. Watling)
"Nothing ever happens to me."
I wrote the words slowly, looked at them for a moment with a little sigh, then put my ballpoint pen down on the café table and rummaged in my handbag for a cigarette.
As I breathed the smoke in I looked about me. It occurred to me, thinking of that last depressed sentence in my letter to Elizabeth, that enough was happening at the moment to satisfy all but the most adventure-hungry. That is the impression that Athens gives you. Everyone is moving, talking, gesticulating but particularly talking. The second one remembers in Athens is not the clamour of the impatiently congested traffic, or the perpetual hammer of pneumatic drill or even the age-old sound of chisels chipping away at the Pentelic marble which is still the cheapest stone for building...what one remembers about Athens is the roar of talking. Up to your high hotel window, above the smell of dust and the blare of traffic it comes, surging like the sea below the temple at Sunium the sound of Athenian voices arguing, laughing, talk-talk-talking, as once they talked the world into shape in the busy colonnades of the Agora, not so very far from where I sat.
It was a popular and crowded café. I had found a table at the back of the room near the bar. All along the outer wall big glass doors gave on to thepavement, standing open to the dust and din of Omonia Square, which is, in effect, the commercial centre of Athens.It is certainly the centre of all thenoise and bustle of the city. The traffic crawled or surged past in a ceaseless confusion. Crowds as jammed as the traffic eddied on the wide pavements. Knots of men, most of them impeccably dressed in dark city clothes, discussed whatever men do discuss at mid-morning in Athens; their faces were lively and intent, their hands fidgeting unceasingly with the little loops of amber "nervous beads" that the men of the Eastern Mediterranean carry. Women, some fashionably dressed, others with the wide black skirt and black head-coveringof the peasant, went about their shopping. A donkey, so laden with massed flowers that it looked like a moving garden, passed slowly by, its ownershouting his wares in vain against the hurly-burly of the hot morning streets.
I pushed my coffee cup aside, drew again at my cigarette, and picked up my letter. I began to read over what I had written.
"You'll have had my other letters by now, about Mykonos and Delos, and the one I wrote a couple of days ago from Crete. It's difficult to know just how to write I want so much to tell you what a wonderful country this is, and yet I feel I mustn't pile it on too thick or you'll find that wretched broken leg that prevented your coming even more of a tragedy than before! Well, I won't go on about that, either.... I'm sitting in a café on Omonia Square it's about the busiest place in this eternally busy city and calculating what to do next. I've just come off the boat from Crete. I can't believe that there's any place on earth more beautiful than the Greek islands, and Crete's in a class by itself, magnificent and exciting and a bit grim as well but I told you about it in my last letter. Now there's Delphi still to come, and everyone, solo and chorus, has assured me that it'll be the crown of the trip. I hope they're right; some of the places, like Eleusis and Argos and even Corinth, are a bit disappointing...one leaves oneself open to the ghosts, as it were, but the myths and magic are all gone. However, I'm told that Delphi really is something. So I've left it till last. The only trouble is, I'm getting a bit worried about the cash. I suppose I'm a bit of a fool where money is concerned. Philip ran all that, and how right he was...."
Here a passing customer, pushing his way between the tables towards the bar-counter, jogged my chair, and I looked up, jerked momentarily out of my thoughts.
A crowd of customers all male seemed to be gathering at the bar for what looked like a very substantial mid-morning snack. It appeared that the Athenian businessman had to bridge the gap between breakfast and luncheon with something rather more sustaining than coffee. I saw one plate piled high with Russian salad and thick dressing, another full of savoury meatballs and green beans swimming in oil, and innumerable smaller dishes heaped with fried potatoes and small onions and fish and pimentos and half a dozen things I didn't recognize. Behind the counter was a row of earthenware jars, and in the shadow of their narrow necks I saw olives, fresh from the cool farm-sheds in Aegina and Salamis. The winebottles on the shelf above bore names like Samos and Nemea and Chios and Mavrodaphne.
I smiled, and looked down again at the page.
"...but in a way I'm finding it wonderful to be here alone. Don't misunderstand me, I don't mean you! I wish like anything you were here, for your own sake as well as mine. But you know what I do mean, don't you? This is the first time for years I've been away on my own I was almost going to say 'off the leash' and I'm really enjoying myself in a way I hadn't thought possible before. You know, I don't suppose he'd ever have come here at all; I just can't see Philip prowling round Mycenae...
My Brother Michael. Copyright © by Mary Stewart. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.