Copyright © 2017-2018 William King. All Rights Reserved.
Marge had been friends with Cath, Jordan's mum, for a number of years. They first met when they were working together in the local education department. It was in fact Margaret who had taken Catherine under her wing, so to speak, in order to show her the ropes. After Marge retired they stayed close, sharing a number of interests, which apart from the world of education also included amateur dramatics.
Jordan had met Margaret a few times, usually when she was with his mother at their house. Apart from knowing they worked together, and their shared roles in the local theatre group, he didn't really know her that well. It came as a bit of a surprise when his mother asked if he would go over to Margaret's to meet Amelie, a young lady who was staying with her.
“Amelie has just arrived from Canada,” his mum was telling him over breakfast.
“And you want me to do what exactly?”
“Well you see Marge and I were talking about you.”
“Oh yes, and what were you saying? You're not trying to fix me up with a date I hope.”
Jordan looked over towards his mother, who was stacking dishes in the cupboard. He tried to gauge her thoughts, but that was always difficult to do. She had a unique way of being very nice and very crafty at the same time. In other words, she was somewhat an expert in caching her game.
“It's nothing like that at all,” she paused from emptying the dishwasher, and smiled.
“Yeah! I'm not so sure, you've got that mischievous smile on your face.”
“Jordan,” she feigned annoyance. “Your mother does not have a mischievous smile.”
“If you say so. So what is it you want me to do?”
“We both thought, Marge and I, that it would be wonderful for you to take the time to meet this nice young lady, Amelie. She is very keen to meet you.”
Now Jordan couldn't help smiling himself. “But it’s got nothing to do with fixing me up with a date?”
“No, not at all. Amelie is keen to talk to you about your time in Turkey. You see when she gets back to Toronto, she is off covering a story on refugees arriving in Greece. It is her first real assignment, so anything we can do to help.”
“You mean, I can do to help.”
“Yes, if you like. Now come on Jordan, don't get all huffy.”
“Oh, why should I get all huffy, as you call it. After all, you’re only talking about me behind my back and volunteering me to talk to a, quote ‘nice young lady.’”
“Really, you make me sound like a schemer!”
“I didn't say that, those are your words.”
Even as Jordan was playing along with his mother, in what was quite a familiar game, he knew he was going to agree. He always did. That was Jordan, go with the flow, and so he acquiesced to his mother's request and allowed her to get back to tidying the crockery.
“Alright then. When do I get to meet this Amelie person from Canada?”
“Marge suggested you go over to her house. Then perhaps you could take Amelie out to eat and discuss things together, undisturbed.”
Jordan rolled his eyes. “And that isn't of course a date?”
“I suppose it all depends. But it’s fixed for Friday, because Amelie leaves on Sunday. So you see I'm not scheming at all, because she will be gone by the end of the week.”
“Yeah, yeah, alright, but I'll need either your car or dad's.”
“You can take mine.”
With a certain air of fulfilment his mother finished up in the kitchen and sauntered off. As usual Jordan was left wondering exactly how this had happened and what he had let himself in for.
Margaret was all smiles and welcoming when he arrived just before six on Friday evening. She showed him in and sat him down on the sofa next to Amelie, who as it turned out was not unattractive and quite easy on the eyes. He returned her smile as they were introduced and noted that she did not have any discernible Canadian accent.
That subject was how their conversation began, but whilst Amelie was half in agreement that Canadians from Toronto spoke mostly like any Americans, she did pay him back by laying it on a bit thick and saying, “That is of course except it’s not Toronto, but Tor-ronno, and Saturday would be Sadda-day,” which had them all laughing, and broke the ice.
Jordan's mum gave him free reign on her card, to pay for their meal out. Though he knew his mother well enough to know that free reign had it’s limits. Still the two of them passed an enjoyable evening, and Jordan recounted his time spent in Turkey. The part of his history that most caught Amelie's attention was the story of the three orphan boys whom he had taken with him across Turkey.
Perhaps it was the wine or simply how Amelie was, but Jordan felt instantly relaxed and at ease in her company. ‘Maybe she's just a natural journalist,’ he thought to himself. Whatever the reason, he ended up telling more of the story than he had ever told to anyone, including his parents. He wasn't in the habit of lying to his folks, but he had not told them the whole story, more by omission, than making up some false tale.
He told Amelie how he sailed back to Antalya and smuggled the boys out of Turkey, leaving them alone on the beach in Rhodes. He added that he had heard only once from them since, and it was a very short call, but they said they had made it off the island to the Greek mainland and were okay.
At the end of the evening as Jordan took Amelie back home to Margaret's house, they parted like old friends, even with a peck on the cheek. He knew that little scene would find it’s way back to his mom, but he didn't care. It was the first time he had been able to share what happened with anyone, and in some way it was a kind of relief. A lightening of a heavy load he had been carrying with him for months. Amelie seemed to understand this, and she promised if ever she heard anything she would let him know. Although they both knew that was pretty unlikely, it was a good thought to end their evening with.
It was a long flight to Athens, which was an ordinary airport just like any other the world over. Amelie for some unknown reason had a picture in her head of ancient Greece, the Parthenon, and ripped, bare chested warriors with shields and short swords. Somehow because of those images she expected to arrive somewhere different. It was a little disappointing.
She spotted the guy that was meeting her straight away. At least he was the epitome of the ancient Greek warrior, that is to say, he was tall, dark and attractive, with a two day stubble lending a rugged aspect.
“I am Bazyli,” he smiled extending his arm.
Amelie took his hand and noticed the firm grip. “Amelie,” she returned his smile.
“So my car is just outside,” Bazyli indicated the direction and Amelie followed.
“Can I take your bag?” he asked as a kind of after thought.
“No, I'm fine. Didn't bring much, just hand luggage.”
“First time in Greece?” He glanced at her as they approached the exit doors.
“Yes it is,” she smiled again. Amelie didn't want to say too much, she thought any more detail would show her up as the unseasoned traveller and novice reporter that she was. Because this was her first serious assignment and her first time in Europe. Actually, her first time aboard, because she didn't really count America in the equation.
Once in Bazyli's little car, that was the first thing that struck her, how tiny the car was, he put the radio on. “It's just under an hour to Piraeus and the hotel. So settle back and enjoy the ride,” he chuckled at what must have been his own private joke – Greek humour. Amelie stayed quiet, she settled back and watched the scenery float past the window. She was feeling a little weary, maybe it was the time difference, the long flight, or the tension. She couldn't get it out of her mind that this was a test and she needed to do well, to prove herself.
The Piraeus Port Hotel was not too bad – Amelie would discover later just how far apart was her comfortable living accommodation from that of the refugees. Bazyli helped her check in and said he would be waiting in the bar for her after she found her room and freshened up. He needed to brief her on how things were. He had only three days with her, because there was another photo assignment to cover. That meant any pictures would most likely be general stuff although he had set things up with a friend he knew, but they needed to talk about that.
Twenty minutes later they were sitting in soft armchairs around a little table, enjoying a drink.
“Amelie, you don't mind me calling you by your first name?”
“I guess not,” she smiled jokingly.
Bazyli continued, her joke like his own, floated away. “Tomorrow morning I'll pick you up here, at the hotel, at 9AM. We can do a tour of the refugee camp and port. That will set the scene for you. I know a few guys in the camp, so I'll introduce you and you can ask questions, but not too many. Don't want you coming over as the green foot journalist.”
She smiled at that last remark. Of course he new this was her first assignment, as well as his role as photographer, he was no doubt briefed by her boss to help her out.
“That sounds good.” It would be a start, but the story she was really interested in was that of the refugee kids like those Jordan had told her about.
“Afterwards, I have a contact at the hospital, and I have arranged for us to meet up tomorrow evening. We can eat together.”
“Yeah, okay, but who is your hospital contact, a doctor, nurse, and why? I mean how does the hospital fit in?”
“Ariana will explain to you over dinner. She is not a doctor or nurse, but an interpreter. She is Greek, but speaks English, and Arabic; as well as other languages, Kurdish, and Turkish. She is a clever lady. Anyway, the police always call on her to interpret for the refugees, so she knows a lot about what is going on. Sometimes there are fights here and people get injured, there is a lot of black market stuff going on, sex, drugs, any and all sorts of underground stuff. The refugees are the ideal people for the mafia and underworld. Criminals profit from the misery.”
Amelie thought that this lady could be a great source, possibly somewhere to start with the story she wanted to write.
“And this lady, Ariana, is... just someone you happen to know?”
Bazyli smiled. “Someone I know quite well.”
“Ah ha. Well it sounds good, a great starting point. Just one thing.” She looked up at him.
“Visiting the refugee camp at the port and meeting some of your friends, contacts, that's good, but I don't need any photos, okay. Just the introductions will be fine. A great help.”
“But like I said, I only have three days with you.”
“Yes, well we will see what happens.”
Amelie asked Bazyli if he wanted to stay to eat, it was early but she thought she should make the offer, but he declined. They shook hands and she watched him leave before returning to her room and calling her parents. She had promised to let them know she had arrived safely, and where she was staying.
As soon as her head hit the pillow she was out for the count, and she only woke when there was a constant ringing in her head. It wasn't, of course, in her head, but the telephone on the bedside shelf. Shaking herself awake Amelie reached over and picked up the phone. She recognised the voice immediately, it was Bazyli.
“You're still asleep,” Bazyli told her, and even half awake she detected the chuckle in his voice.
“Well I was... until you rang!”
“I’m your wake up call. I'm sorry, but I knew if I didn't call you, you would probably be asleep when I arrived at the hotel.”
“What time is It?”
“Almost eight. So you have an hour to get up and have breakfast before I get there.”
“Thank you, that's very nice of you,” she replied somewhat sarcastically.
He ignored her tone and continued, “See you in the hotel lobby then. At nine.”
The phone went dead before she had a chance to say anything more.
It was not immediately obvious that they had arrived at the refugee camp when they drew up outside the main gates to the port in Bazyli's little car.
“Best if we go in on foot,” he pulled into the kerb and switched the engine off.
It was just after nine, there was a refreshing breeze and the occasional screech of a seagull, the faint saltiness of the sea hung in the air. It was already hot, and looking up at the cloudless sky, it promised to be even hotter as the day wore on.
“Come on, this way,” Bazyli's voice intruded on her reflections.
As they walked through the gates Amelie thought it was just a huge open space, like a massive car park, mostly empty. She noted there was no control at the gates, they were wide open and no one was there to see people in and out.
“Is that normal?” She turned to ask Bazyli.
“Is what normal?”
“No control. Anybody can just walk in or out?”
“It's a port. Not a prison.”
“How many refugees are there?” She changed the subject.
She found herself thinking that her Greek photographer and helper had a rather particular way of answering her questions, something that went with his macho appearance, and his two day stubble, that was now three days.
“Five, six, seven thousand. Something like that. More and more keep coming.”
“And don't they get processed, so they move on?”
“Not so I've noticed. If they do, then the numbers that are arriving are getting bigger, because the camp is getting bigger.”
They had arrived at a huge hanger over to one side of the open port. Once inside Amelie was confronted with the rows of tents which occupied every square inch of available space.
Here there were people mingling around outside the tents. Mostly it seemed to be men, and boys, but she assumed there must be families and some women and girls.
“There are more people living outside. “The place is overflowing.”
She took in the scene as they weaved their way amongst the tents and people. Nobody paid them any attention. There were looks, but at least, as it seemed to her, no interest. She felt like she had entered another world, a different reality, where life went on, but in a way that was difficult to fathom.