I am sitting in the grateful shade of an off white canvas umbrella, at a paper covered table outside a Greek street cafe. The glaring sun has leached out the colour from the street and I lift my chin to feel the slightest breath of cooler air on my flushed skin, as a fleeting zephyr spirals past. I am waiting for a cold beer and a warm gyros and indulging the illicit delight of people watching. A black and white sunhat is on the chair beside me and I run my hands through my hair to let what little cool air there is reach my scalp.
Across the way, a man and a teenage girl have been wheeling racks of cheap, brightly coloured, almost certainly ill-fitting clothes, all of them in sizes too small for even the most emaciated size zero, wheeling them back into the shop, ready to close through the hottest part of the day. The man has been impatient; the girl, indifferent. For him, the racks must be placed just so; must go into the shop in just this order and be placed together in just the right way. For the girl, who cares?
After ten demanding, irritable, edgy minutes, the racks were in; the door was locked and the shop was left, silently dozing in the still afternoon heat, its red and white striped awning shading the one stretch of evenly tiled pavement on that side of the street. The rest of the pavement is uneven, dusty and an invitation to a broken ankle.
The beer arrives in ice crusted glasses and my companion and I clink, smile and drink deep. Of course, it’s fizzy, too cold and we both half choke on that first mouthful, chuckling slightly each at the other’s discomfort. A second draught lets us really taste the beer and, smiling still, we put down our glasses, lean back in the white plastic chairs ready for Act II of the street theatre.
Into the shade of the red and white awning strolls a young man, maybe thirty, with slightly thinning brown hair and metal rimmed glasses. His thin short sleeved shirt is pale blue and he wears khaki knee length shorts and white designer trainers. On his shoulders he carries a small child. She has short, fine, mid brown hair like his, with a tiny red and white spotted bow holding up a few strands straight up from the top of her head. She is holding onto his ears, as though using them to steer him and he is talking to her, although I can’t hear what he is saying. Apparently at her bidding, he stops in the shade, lifts her down and stands her, tottering slightly, in her little red sandals.
Laughing, she runs away from him, looking coyly over her shoulder to see if he will follow her. He does; catches her; swings her high in the air and drops her suddenly, almost to the floor, then sets her down, squealing, on her little, red feet. He walks away, turns, squats with his arms wide and she, her mouth dropping open into a huge grin, opens her own arms and runs into his, to be lifted high in the air and dropped, just as suddenly as before, to the ground.
They repeat the process, ten, twelve, maybe twenty times, untiring, the pleasure fresh each time. They could go on forever and, each time he catches her up, he buries his face in the angle of her neck and shoulder, deeply breathing in her scent and closing his eyes tight. They are unaware of anyone else but I look around to see half smiles and softened looks all around me, drawn to their simple, un-self conscious joy.
Do these watchers remember with a constricted throat, that same feeling of suffocating rapture? Do they look back, as I do in that moment, to an instant when they lifted an excited, giggling, wriggling, squealing and oh so precious bundle high into the air, let it drop in free fall just for a second, knowing it would cling all the closer as it was caught in a tight hug? My eyes sting unexpectedly, watching and remembering.
A passing car blares music. “Sagapoooo…” wails some poor, love struck tenor, wandering, lost between the notes of the tonic sol-fa. Attention caught, the child looks up, listens entranced and begins to dance, hands high in the air. She spins, a little wobbly on those unaccustomed red feet. Her father claps his hands to the beat, encouraging and she tries to spin faster, loses her balance and drops with a look of surprise, landing on the floor on her bottom.
The street holds its shared breath. Is she hurt? Will she cry? Is the spell broken? The man leans towards her, smiles and holds out his arms. She smiles a wide smile, flings out her own little arms again and is caught up again in a huge embrace, the bump forgotten. But the spell is broken and he strolls on up the street, still talking as they go.
Eyelashes a little wet, I sit back in my chair, realising as I do so that I have been leaning forward, the better to see the show. I look around me. Others too are settling back into their seats with a slightly sheepish look on their faces, as though caught in a mildly embarrassing act. I catch my companion’s eye and know that I have been read like a book while I was so absorbed in the play. The gyros have been served, unnoticed, and the smell of hot pork rises to my nose. I reach for my glass and raise it.
“Yammas, “I say, “Your health.”