The first screams of cicadas itch at me like a scratch from summers long drowned under golden sunsets. Petals fall from the jasmine climbing outside the window and children shout at one another from balconies. The cicada stops frantically as a thought interrupting. Heat blossoms outside in the courtyard, drying the sheets flat and crisp.
I could forgive. That thought fades as a moped buzzes down the hill, just passing outside the window in a hum - going somewhere. I was not going anywhere. All I had was a loose plan. I had arrived, firmly slipped off my shoes to walk barefoot on warm stone floors hesitantly unpacking. I had laid down on the bed looking up at the flat white plaster railings and ceiling rose like a flattened upside down wedding cake, I realised then the city meant nothing - after all these years of ghosts it had finally emptied me out. I had come here to fill myself back up again.
I could forgive her.
Find the words to undo her unkindness, the sharp prickling moments of cruelty carved on my skin. Every tiny grief against me. My heart broke open in the warm breath of sunshine as I walked. The trickle of sweat sliding down each bump of my spine. She too had felt like this once - arriving in a country far away from the one where she had been told what she was made from and how to carry it everyday.
Afraid to unpick and what could unravel, I went to a place the locals call Vaporia Beach; it turned out to not be a beach at all but a swimming platform perched in the jumble of crumbling grand buildings right at the shore. I cooled off before the baking heat hit at midday - when it came it finally explained to me the need for hats and shade and afternoon naps and the necessity of iced water on every table. I stood dripping on the swimming platform in the raw sunlight I could not help but drink the scene in; my feet warming on the decaying concrete, the battered sun parasols frayed from the winter storms. Each person I immediately longed to name as if that was a power someone like me could hold. A fragile world; a world of the town, of the island, of the country and its divisions right there; all the accents, the words from new and old countries that some shared and some struggled to keep up with. The creased skin of the lady pouring baby oil on her knees - the long lean cigarettes the handsome men pinched from her handbag and told her they’d replace - all done with a smile, these people knew so much about each other. They belonged to another age - bound by their rhythmic return to the water each day, an act that rendered them at once ageless and magic by their daily pilgrimage. The lilac light and pastel shades of stone and man-made adornments cascaded into the turquoise poetry of the sea - all under the watchful eye of St Nikolas. A younger man gave guidance to the waddling ducks - leading them back into shore with their seven ducklings. Such tenderness as he chased them in front crawl into safety, before the wave from the docking ferry hit the shore. Cats paraded and left mewling kittens in the shade. Dogs tied up yapping. The music came from an ancient radio crackling out tunes only they loved - not caring for anyone else’s taste. One by one they are joined just as others leave - some have keys to the stone boat cave where they keep towels and ice boxes and parasols. I didn't dare break the spell by speaking. I want to hold my breath and drown in it.
Now I know why she came here to be remade.
The photos she sent to my father showing that smile, gave it all away. The skin perfected golden, not quite honey sweet and underneath a tang of blood that made her human, bound to fail, and fall and make mistakes - she had trusted blindly and they took that trust apart, as if tearing meat and flesh. Leaving nothing but dust, bone, and memory.
I only have sacred things to do. Listen to the doves coo and donkey braying in the crooked streets. Swim everyday. Sleep in the afternoons, letting the heat rise to a crescendo and the rusty shutters clack in the salted breeze. Stay in the house for the summer. Let myself breathe a little - tan the grey skin a little - disappear into the craggy stone hillsides and let the days freefall into sunsets. If following my mother here was what was needed - now I knew why.
Let the white heat of August render me invisible and discover if forgiveness was a virtue, or a gift.
Lindsay Bennett Ford is an emerging writer originally from the North East of England. Her work has recently been published by Another North, Detritus, Cabinet of Heed and is forthcoming in Emerge Literary Journal. She works in the charity sector and splits her life between the cool heartbreak of the UK and the rocky islands of Greece. She tweets @linzdigs.