Monday, April 13, 2015

K is for Kos

Geraldine told me her brother was arriving in town to pick her up. I blanked out the date but one morning I found the bed empty and a small note on her pillow.



“Au revoir darling. We had the best of days. Think of me whenever you see a swallow.”

Geraldine had always talked about how she had admired the birds for the way they soared on the air currents. Now one had taken her away. It occurred to me that I had no idea what I would do with my life. I was about to get evicted from the small apartment overlooking the river and I had little money. The thought of England was unappealing. I walked to the square and wondered if it was too early for a Ricard. Without Geradline it seemed pointless and the small, intimate squares were vast and gaping places with nowhere to hide. Jacques was already set up for a day of painting. There was still warmth in the morning air but the chill would move in in a matter of weeks.

“Campbell. I saw your girl,” said the old man.

“Oh when?”

“A couple of hours ago after first light. She got in a car with a bear of a man. I didn’t fancy him and I can’t say she seemed to.”

I looked bleakly at the grand houses that ringed the square. Jacques had the good sense not to dwell on the girl. He let the silence and the grand morning light wash over us before he spoke again.

“You know I am leaving too.”

“Oh?”

“I’m going to Greece my friend. It will be warmer there and I can paint the antiquities. I may stay for a year or two. I feel the cold more in France now.”

I said nothing. An unpleasant image of Monty was forming in my mind.

Jacques cleared his voice. You are quite the student Campbell. You have great potential. I would like you to come to Greece with me.”

I had little hesitation but didn’t want to appear overly keen. Jacques also wanted to make it clear it would be no holiday.

“We will have little money. We will sleep on the beach and we will paint or we will die. You’ll need to develop quickly because we will live by selling our paintings.

The next few months were among the most interesting in my life. We hitch hiked south taking rides from tourists and workmen and lovers heading to the Cote D’Azur. There were people who drove past in swanky cars and spat at us on the roadside but most of the people we encountered were charming and renewed my faith in mankind. They were all fascinated with Jacques who would alternate his tales about the great artist he was related to – from Renoir to Monet to Mad Vincent himself.

For a while we hung out in the squares of Nice, painting sun dappled cemeteries, people on the shore and markets ripe with fruit. Passers-by always commented on our vastly different styles. I saw the world in bright brush strokes and primary colors and Jacques filled in the tones in between. 

Sometimes Jacques would grunt in disgust at my work and quietly pack up his easel and walk away along the shore. I had learned at an early stage not to follow Jacques but to carry on painting. One on occasion when Jacques’ bad mood had subsided he returned to find a small crowd of people gathered around my work. One man was jabbering enthusiastically about my painting of a church tower with a clock. It soared up unwavering into the heavens, solitary and curiously sad. The man brought out a wad of notes and I handed over the picture with a tug of melancholy. To him it was just a tower; to me it was a lonely milestone on a far off spring day.

When we made enough money from our painting, we boarded a ship for Italy and then another to Greece. Many of the people on board were holidaymakers, basking in the late summer sun, Italians flaunting their bodies and girls in minuscule bikinis, as well as backpackers taking a cheap passage to the Greek islands. I was their same age but felt apart from them. I was always intensely staring at the horizon and gauging the roll and fall of the waves. People generally ignored the old man and me and showed little interest in the seascapes we produced from the boat.

We spend a week in Athens, striding the dusty streets with sore feet and hanging out in bars with old friends of Jacques, drinking the potent Ouzo. One day in the late afternoon we climbed up to the Parthenon and felt awed by the soaring columns and the majesty of ancient Greece. When we had seen enough of the sites, Jacques said it was time to board a boat to the islands to chill out for a while. I wasn’t sure where this odyssey was leading but I went along with him.

In early September we saw the high limestone cliffs of Kos rise out of the turquoise water. Over the next week we slept on secluded beaches and on the roofs of houses of the old Greek men who Jacques befriended. We painted the ancient windmills overlooking the glittering sea and the ripe olives in the groves. We whiled away the afternoons in fields heavy with cicadas. My skin became so brown, I was unrecognizable as the erstwhile pallid drug addict who had been taken to France. Kos was the closest thing to paradise and our paintings proved popular with the tourists who thought we were traditional Greek artists. Jacques did little to counter the misconception as we took their money. I would laugh at the irony of the situation as I took money from British holidaymakers who little suspected I was one of them. I had just taken a different course.

We moved to a room in a hotel that was winding down for the season. I would sit by the swimming pool in the afternoon, but on occasions the feel of the water would send a tingle down my spine and make me long for Geraldine. On those occasions I would throw myself more vigorously into my paintings and my blues and whites would become even more vibrant.

Chapters from my novella Transitions are entirely fictitious and no resemblance is intended to real people or events.

7 comments:

  1. Very nice. Campbell sure is coming along. Too bad about Geraldine, but it sounds like he's on a much better course anyway :)

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  2. there ya go - thanks for your ongoing interest Tracy..

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  3. They say that the best way to move on is by having distractions or diversions. As in this case, he sure is in a good company towards his better days. :)

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    1. yes indeed and he has a new of those - thanks for stopping by

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  4. Nice read! Is your novel out? I'd like to get my hand on it.

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  5. Nice read! Is your novel out? I'd like to get my hand on it.

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    1. Thanks Sangita - no not really - I just wrote it for the challenge but may expand it a bit

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