A story about love, ancient vendettas, olive trees, and Crete
|Georgios heard Maria before he saw her, joking with her brother and father. She laughed in the December sunshine and the sound lit up his world. He turned to see her dressed in white beside a battered, old, red Toyota pickup truck with her father and brother who wore traditional Cretan black shirts. The pickup was filled with olives from their village's harvest. They parked in the shade of an old tamarisk tree.|
Her family wanted to sell their olives to Georgios's father. He owned the automated processing plant serving this part of the north coast of Crete and supplying a global clientele with high-quality olive oil. Business was good. Georgios himself wished to see the places his father sold to but had never left the area surrounding the village.
Villages like that of Marias produced and collected the olives. The whole village worked together in the back-breaking harvests of November and December to collect the crop. His own village did this also after the tourist season was over and their hotel and restaurant were no longer filled with Germans and Dutchmen. Tourists did not visit Maria's village. The villagers hated the Germans for their crimes in World War Two and were not the type to forgive. The money they earned from the sale of their olives would have to last them the rest of the year.
When Georgios saw Maria none of this mattered and deep down he knew he loved her from that moment. Her dark brown curly hair blew in the salty breeze that came from the sea. He walked towards her, ostensibly to check out the produce in her truck. In reality, he was prioritizing this delivery over all the others just to say hello. She saw him approach and it was as if her whole face was shining like an angel. Her large green eyes studied him a moment, then she gave him a radiant smile before she turned back to her family.
Her father stepped forward. He nodded wordlessly towards the truck. It was piled high and the crop had clearly been a good one this year. The wheels were red and muddy from the iron-rich Cretan soil it had picked up on the dirt tracks the truck had taken on its journey here.
"Can I have your name please?" said Georgios. He spoke to Maria's father but being a head taller than him looked over his shoulder at Maria when he said it. This provoked an angry reaction from father and son who instinctively formed a wall between him and Maria. She smiled at him nonetheless. He felt butterflies in his stomach.
"Hey Nazi lover we are here to sell olives," said the brother.
Georgios remembered these Cretan farmers still hated his own village for submitting to Nazi rule while they had sacrificed so much. There were older stories about the resistance to the Turks in the mix also. He sighed to himself as he reflected on all the historical hatreds and vendettas that the villagers clung so passionately to.
Georgios needed Maria's father to fill in a form for this transaction. He needed address details and names for his computer processing. The father did not want to give him these details.
"We want to sell these for cash. We have no bank account. We come from Theriso. The olives are good." The father spoke in clipped short sentences. He did not waste words on a conversation he was clearly interested in getting over and done with as soon as possible.
"I need a name for the transaction records."
"Then Papadakis from Theriso is all you need." Georgios rolled his eyes and wondered if that was the man's real name.
"We need to weigh and check the olives," said Georgios and indicated that the father should drive his truck to the processing center on his right. He pointed just to make sure that the man understood.
He got back into the vehicle but the brother stayed with his sister in the shade of the Tamarisk tree.
The father drove the truck into the processing center. Georgios looked uncertainly at Maria. He wanted to speak with her but no longer had an excuse to be here. "We heard there was an accident on the road to Theriso the other day. A motorbike collided with a pickup truck," said Georgios. This was the best he could come up with.
Maria wanted to talk and replied. "The motorbike belonged to a tourist. He drove too fast. The pickup truck belonged to my cousin. He said the man came out of nowhere and he had no time to respond. When the bike hit the truck the man and his bike ricocheted over the edge. He died almost instantly."
"Stupid tourists should not be here anyway. They only cause trouble. It was a mistake to go into Europe," said Maria's brother. He pointed at one of the half-finished hotel buildings, on the mountainside, that was covered in graffiti and filled with debris. "Look at the evidence, Europe does not work for us."
Georgios reflected that many of the villagers considered these concrete skeletons to be relics of the financial crisis when in fact many of them were actually tax-free investments by well-off Greeks. In fact, his own family owned two of them along with a finished hotel by the beach and the plush villa he lived in. Rather than explaining this he simply replied, "It is these 'stupid' tourists that pay for the olives that you brought us. We sell to people all over Europe." Maria looked impressed.
"I want to see all these places where people eat our olives," said Maria. "Have you traveled to all of them?"
Georgios smiled at her. She spoke with an accent he had been taught to hate, but he loved the way she spoke. There was a joy and energy in her voice that made him want to sing.
"I want to see all these places someday also." They exchanged a look and Georgios added the unspoken thought, I want to visit these places with you. "We have job vacancies in our company that involve travel opportunities. I can speak to my father if you like," he added hopefully.
Maria nodded and her face shone but her brother's features darkened swiftly and he moved closer to Georgios as if threatening to start a fight. "Stay away from Maria. She does not work for Turks or Nazis."
"Me neither. Isn't this Maria's choice?" said Georgios looking at Maria. Her brother had revealed her name. Georgios spoke it with affection.
Maria's hand shot to her brother's arm constraining him. A smile flickered on her face as she looked at Georgios but there was also a look of concern at her brother.
"We are here to sell olives," she said.
The pickup returned from the processing center. The father showed a wad of euros to his children and indicated they should get in.
Maria exchanged a last lingering look at Georgios and a faint regretful smile.
"What is your name?" she asked.
"Georgios," he replied.
She stepped into the truck. "It was good to meet you, Georgios." Georgios admired her figure as she did so. Both father and son glared at him darkly from inside the truck when they saw the direction of his eyes.
A month later, Georgios mounted his new motorbike, placing ice water and an extra helmet in the storage container behind his seat. He drove up the long windy road through the mountains to Therios. Looking from his village the mountains seemed smooth and impressive and also nearer than they proved to be in practice. He discovered that a series of smaller foothills separated the highest peaks from the coast as he drove through them. He also thought that they seemed harsher to him close up. They were covered in broken rock over red soil interspersed with hardy desert plants, almost universally possessing thorns. He looked up as he drove wondering why the rocks did not simply slide down on top of him. He noticed walls, ditches, and metal meshes designed to prevent such occurrences. He was not entirely convinced that the mountain would not simply unload its debris directly on top of him anyway despite these precautions.
He looked down on the coastal world of white and creamy yellow hotels from the height of the mountains. The mountains seemed like a wall separating two worlds. Down on the coast, the Greek flag was everywhere. But inland the villagers had more ancient loyalties unto themselves.
Finally, he reached the top of the road and started to descend towards Therios. It was surprisingly green and maybe better watered than the coastal regions. Olive groves were everywhere, also Cypress trees. There were more birds here and stray cats and dogs lay out in the afternoon sunshine. He wondered why more tourists did not come this far. He knew there were no ancient Minoan or Mycean ruins here, nor forts or churches from the Venetian era, but it had its own pleasant magic nonetheless.
He asked the locals for Maria Papadakis. They laughed or sneered at him and rolled their eyes, but did not tell him where she lived. He came to the local church. It was a run-down building and needed a fresh coat of paint and serious repairs. A faded black two-headed Byzantine eagle was over the main entrance archway. Georgios parked his bike there when he saw the local Orthodox priest leave the building. He asked about Maria and the priest gave directions.
"Are you sure you want to risk it? Her family loves their guns and would not consider you a suitable match for her," said the priest.
"And if I love her?"
The priest smiled. "Love should cross the village boundaries, I tell them this in my sermons but they do not listen. You have my blessing and my prayers but be careful."
Georgios parked his bike down the wooded dirt road that led to the farm entrance and approached on foot. Before he reached the entrance he noticed a woman crying on a log by the roadside in the shade of a Cypress tree. It was Maria.
"Hello Maria," he said. He approached her carefully not wanting to scare her.
"Georgios... you came for me?" said Maria. Her face brightened.
"Yes, I came to offer you that job, in the hope that we could become closer friends also. The job comes with full board and lodging, a monthly salary and you can start whenever you want. "
Maria rushed into his arms, no longer crying but her face still wet. She clung to him and he heard her laugh out loud.
"My father forbade me to ever see you again or consider leaving the village. He wants me to marry one of the local boys. But the boy is a fool and a lout and I am afraid that he would beat me. I need to get out of here. How did you get here?" she said.
Georgios loved the feel of Maria in his arms her firm lithe figure and full breasts pressed close to him.
"I came on a motorbike. I have a spare helmet. We can leave right away." Georgios pointed down the dusty track at his red Daytona.
Just then Maria's father and two of her brothers all armed with pistols and shotguns appeared at the farm entrance. Maria grabbed Georgios by the arm and propelled him in the direction of the bike. The father shot his gun into the air but none of them wanted to shoot Maria so did not shoot in their direction. They started running towards her instead. Maria mounted the bike and Georgios helped her with the helmet from the storage compartment putting on his own helmet also.
"Are you sure?" he asked her. She clung to him, seated behind him on the bike, as he started the engine.
"Just drive!" she replied.
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