“We never regret. Us old guys never regret.” They both chuckled and gave a nod of goodbye.
Wednesday 10 December 2014
The old guy was watching me. I could feel it.
It was hotter than usual out, and we were looking for somewhere shady to kill some time before the Diakofto train. I bought a warm beer and Dave, my Canadian friend, took a cold coffee. I think he asked for it that way. I didn’t.
We chatted about this and that. The fig tree in Patras. The girls in Nafplion. The one he went home with and the one that I argued with near the port.
The wooden bench was so upright. It felt like waiting outside the Principal’s office with the teacher sitting opposite. I tried stretching out but I was feeling too self-conscious.
The old guy kept looking at me and I could swear he tittered when I told Dave about the hairy arms on the girl in Nafplion. I imagined that his woollen tam-o’-shanter (I think that’s what you call it) concealed a shiny sun-spotted head. His cat-like eyes followed movement and noises like a trained assassin.
He was joined by another well-worn old guy. The friend flicked the bobble on his cap as he sat down. Silent, they watched the people traffic … in stereo now. The hat was like an antenna that wobbled up and down when someone needed examining from top to toe or sideways as new sources of interest walked by.
“Dirty old coots,” I said to Dave.
He laughed. “You’ll be the same when you get to that age,” he said.
“We’ll never get to their age … we’ll be working till we drop to pay for them and everyone else here,” I said with unexpected vitriol.
I finished my warm beer and went for a cold coffee. Dave opted for a hot coffee. He was always one step ahead.
“What part of Australia do you come from?” I heard from behind as I waited to be served. It was old guy number one. Unusually good English, I thought.
“Um, I guess Melbourne,” I told him.
“I lived in Footscray for 30 years,” he said. “Colourful back then, but it was all we could afford when we got there in the 60s,” he added.
“I wish I bought in South Melbourne,” he winked. “Then I’d be laughing the other side!”
“Yeah, probably. Even Footscray has come along since then,” I told him. “It used to be total Romper Stomper, but it’s changing. The western suburbs are getting snazzier as young families move out there; it’s too expensive in the city and south-side.” I added in clearly way too much detail.
“Haven’t been back since years,” he said. “It’s a good life here with the Aussie pension … Not the same for everyone in Greece, though. Many people are not doing so well. It’s that bloody perestroika that’s making Greeks pay for everything!”
I laughed. In the meantime, Dave had started chatting to his own Greek émigré who had spent 20 years in Toronto and returned on a similar pension deal as my Greek.
“You know Ireland, Portugal and Spain are also going through this imposed austerity programme like Greece and they’re all clearing their debts. Why should Europe feel sorry for Greece? They had it good on EU money for decades. And now it’s time to pay their dues and Greeks just complain,” I immediately regretted pointing out.
“My friend …” he said slowly and patiently “you don’t know nothing about it here. I’ve seen how hard work can make you rich, in Melbourne, you know. I bought my house, I put my kids through school and university. They all got good jobs now, not dirty hands work like me. We left a broken Greece and came back to something better,” he gestured to his friend, or maybe towards the old steam engine near the depot.
“I tell you, young people want to work, and now look … they have to do what we did and start again somewhere else,” he continued, “But it’s not like it was for us.”
They can go to Germany or other places in Europe to work, he suggested, but everywhere is harder for younger people these days. He said something about the economic or social system favouring older generations. I got distracted by a small child teetering on the edge of the platform.
“You saying the baby-boomers rigged the system?” I came back.
“Yeess,” he slapped his thigh, “… the grey ones who got fat after the war and want to keep all their money. They make the system good for them not for the young ones,” stressing ‘young’ each time he said it. “They grew up hungry and they still think like hungry people. Me first!”
The Patras train had pulled in and people started gathering their things. I gestured to Dave that it was time to wind up our new friendships.
I slung my pack on and headed to the carriages. “Do you regret coming back?” I asked over my shoulder as I passed my Greek.
But it was the Canadian’s Greek who answered, as though he’d been having the same conversation: “We never regret. Us old guys never regret.” They both chuckled and gave a nod of goodbye.