With my heart pounding I waited in front of the one-story house which up-to-that moment had only existed in pictures my mind concocted from hazy childhood memories of a summer in Greece.
It looked like the right house.
I dearly prayed it was.
Summoning the courage to confront my fears I told myself, “This is silly.”
It had been so long, so many years since we had been in touch. I had both written and called telling them I was coming; would my Aunt and Uncle receive me?
I gingerly pushed the short black wrought iron gate open and stepped through it onto the pathway that ran beside the building. I trailed my hand along the house’s rough plaster exterior then rounded a corner and almost gasped.
There in front of me was the exact same patio I remembered as a child.
In fact, in almost the same place where I had last seen him over thirty years ago was my Uncle. Sprawled out in a chair frowning at a book through glasses perched on the end of his nose.
Unchanged, still the same man.
“Impossible!” I told myself. Was it my imagination or had he been as gray then as he appeared now?
Suddenly I felt twelve-years-old all over again.
Self-consciously I stepped back around the corner partly to avoid being seen, but more to get a grip on myself. It was ridiculous to stand this close to my family without introducing my presence.
But for the moment I wanted to relish just being here.
The heat of the Mediterranean sun filtered through the twisted grapevines overhead to cast spidery patterns on the floor. Somewhere from the other side of the tall concrete wall behind me a lone rooster crowed.
I reverently patted the house wondering what room my Aunt was in. She was probably bustling about her small but immaculate kitchen slicing fruit and preparing for my arrival. I could picture her peering out at me owlishly from behind the thick lenses of her glasses, eyes set in a pale round face framed with straight black hair worn short.
I closed my eyes to let myself drift backward in time for a few brief moments.
To remember lazy hot days escaping the world of adults with my two girlfriends, running away, carefree, to the clear sea sparkling in the sun. How deliciously cool the water had felt after plunging into it from protruding rocks above, and I could still taste salt on my lips.
The raspy sound of my Uncle clearing his throat jarred me back to the present. Blinking, I peered back around the corner to see him shifting position in his chair. I couldn’t help wondering if Theo was as oblivious to his surroundings as he appeared. Such a bookworm he was.
I steeled myself back to the present, away from the luxury of reflection, to take a step forward around the corner and onto the patio.
It was strangely quiet and suddenly I realized why. My three lively cousins were grown men now, scattered around Greece with their own families.
I stood there nervously waiting, folding and unfolding my hands. Sliding my foot back and forth on the worn smooth stone beneath my sandal.
My Uncle looked up from his book just as my Aunt exploded from the doorway of the house with a torrent of welcoming Greek words and then threw her arms around me.
I drank her in like a starving person.
Surprisingly my aunt’s skin was even today still soft and smooth, and she smelled like fresh-cut flowers.
But her black hair was suspiciously devoid of gray for her age.
My Aunt sighed and then released me long enough to say, “We ladies have plenty to catch up on, don’t we?” Before giving me another hug she winked at me as if she could read my mind.
I realized at that moment a small part of me, which for some reason had been held captive to the past, had been released. It was as if I had been holding my breath and it was suddenly all right to let it out.
Somewhere in me a knot had become undone.
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