Struggling in the heat and gasping for breath going up stairs she pushes the dust around with damp mop. ‘working working every day’ and points to her heart. With only basic language between us (her English puts my Greek to shame even so) she manages over several days to give me quite a picture of her life. She is 39.
Her Doctor has told her she mustn’t work so hard because of her heart complaint. She has to lose weight… Lots. And lots. And give up smoking. Now she only has 3 cigarettes a day. ‘I am strong’ as she grasps her wrists in a kind of muscular body-builder’s way.
I think she is really pleased that I am staying so long… 3 days maybe? has become 2 weeks all so easily. Easy because my little not-quite-clean-but-it-will-do room has all I could possibly need. A bed, a fridge (I don’t inspect too closely) and doors onto a balcony looking straight onto the waterfront of this peaceful, unspoiled fishing village. The sheets and pillow ARE perfectly clean and now that I have changed rooms, I can leave my balcony doors open because the fly screen works so the smelly cats can’t come in and leave their awful scent: an additional camping gaz ring with a blackened enamel pot means I can make myself a lovely cup of mountain tea… Taygetus Chai.
The loo and shower are down the corridor and almost work but not reliably and it’s 2 days now since the last successful flush. I bought a new bar of soap for the loo, which made me feel better!
I am not complaining…. why? Because Poppy is doing her best. She has good days and bad days, so I’m waiting for the right moment. And I love her.
She plonked herself down on my bed last night to share her problems (I am very funny about people sitting on my bed ever since someone wet themselves on my only bed-rug at boarding school all those years ago) and I had to disguise my discomfort for a good half an hour!
‘no friends, no go out, no erotica, television is my brain’; from her €350 she now has €30 left for the rest of the month and its only the 4th. Apart from food, it appears that most of it went on cleaning stuff. There are already countless bottles of cleaning stuff of every possible kind all over the place. She is close to despair and I cannot see how things might improve.
Her wizened mother has Alzheimers and is doubly incontinent, so nights are dreadful and there is so much more than the usual cleaning to do. Her moderately obese father is almost inert and although I spotted him watering his potted roses and trees, he rarely seems to move from his chair on the covered space downstairs. He has lost a lot of money at the card table. At night in what once could have been a lively taverna, the same group of men sit and play until late.
On the holiday weekend there was a tangible sense of days gone by when the whole family came to eat together and took up both sides of a long trestle table. There must have been 20 or so. Then by Monday they were all gone. This leaves Poppy as both full time carer and in charge of the 2 storey hotel which is understandably a little run down. I asked about the other young woman who was cleaning the pavement and hosing the road in front before the family arrived. A sister-in-law, but Poppy made high-pitched nagging noises and buried her head in her hands. They did the shopping together yesterday, but when the time came for them to meet she couldn’t find her and got in a state.
On the surface she looks so defeated and bereft of practical common sense, but she has such a sensitive, generous and lovely heart. We have talked briefly about love and loss. She left her husband and life in Athens behind her because she wasn’t able to ‘give’ him children and she wanted him to be happy. I told her about my beloved Martin whose early death was such a gift in waking me up to do the things that matter most. Her response was to wave to the heavens and say ‘Bravo Marteen’
I have changed her name and the date is no longer current as I have no wish to cause embarrassment. I am told the Greeks are great story tellers, but I am inclined to believe this one.
If I come back next year she will give me 10 nights for the price of 9; big kisses.