The International Writers Magazine: Only in Greece

Leda, revisited
Brett Hardman
and a gecko

I've never actually had much congress with geckos, though I've seen them around: geckos sunning themselves in Hawaii and in Mexico, hanging about poolside in Tortola and frequenting the bushes and rock walls surrounding hotel terraces in Yalikavak. A gecko dropped onto me from the overhead fronds of a roadside bar in Jamaica. That was the closest I'd been to approached by one. And I've only ever actually had anything like a sustained relationship with a gecko once, in Greece.

I hydrofoiled via Flying Dolphin from Piraeus, across misty pastel seas beyond Hydra and Spetses, Poros and Aegina, to Aphrodite's other island, Kythira. Kyrio Manolis, from whom I'd rented a house and a car, met me at Kapsali.

Kyrio Manolis spoke no English and I spoke no Greek. We communicated, at least so I like to think, in age-old fashion with extravagant if largely futile gesticulations accompanied by ever-louder repetitions of basic concepts, each in our own language. In this timeless manner, Kyrio Manolis introduced himself, welcomed me to the island, offered, and I accepted, a small meal of stuffed tomatoes and wine from two-litre-sized cylindrical plastic Pepsi bottles on the waterfront of Kapsali, after which he gave me a map and detailed, if largely incomprehensible, verbal instructions for the drive to the house.

Kyrio Manolis's rental house stood beyond the village of Livadi in the near centre of a treeless and wind-scoured, sun-bleached field by the foot of the mostly deserted hilltop monastery of Agia Elessa. Nearby squatted the tiny square concrete house inhabited by Kyrio Manolis's ancient and diminutive sister-in-law's uncle's father's second wife's aunt's brother's daughter's second cousin's grandmother's long-widowed and fully sun-dried sister-in-law, Kyria Maria. Nearer still, a squat concrete shed sat in the bottom of Kyrio Manolis's house's garden, behind the wall, out of sight of Kyria Maria and umbilically attached to the main house by a drooping length of weathered heavy black electrical cabling.

Arriving before dark, I parked the car on the gravelled area outside the garden wall and struggled momentarily with a rusted latch before freeing the gate from its shackles. Inside, small but abundantly fertile fruit and olive trees shaded the garden. A profusion of scented flowering vines climbed a wall-width trellis behind which a stone patio adjoining the house cooled under a leafy arbour.

The sun set as I moved luggage from the car and explored the house; I had just time to find light switches, matches and the torch before full dark. Grateful for Kyrio Manolis's huge battery-powered lantern, I sussed the facilities.

The house itself reflected the Greek Islands propensity for Aegean blue shuttering and whitewashed walls. A single story stone dwelling, it boasted a large and generously if haphazardly equipped kitchen, a huge, heavily knick-knacked living room and a single small bedroom in which two thin mattresses sagged wearily atop symphonic twin iron frames. The main house offered cold running water to the kitchen sink; the shed in the garden housed shower, toilet, washbasin and mirror.

The path to the shed was obstacle-free and direct through the small orchard. Entering, I located the light switch on the wall immediately inside the door on the left. A single high-wattage bare bulb glared from its position above the over-sink mirrored wall cabinet and attracted moths.

Farther to the left and in the corner, the shower appeared both working and workable: two gleaming taps and a faucet, a pipe going up, a shower head pointing down and a drain in the centre of the gently inward sloping stone floor. In the far right corner, under the mirrored cabinet, an obviously new white porcelain sink. In the far left corner, an immaculately clean and equally new but fiercely narrow-rimmed and seatless porcelain commode. Needing it, I perched on the edge of the rim, cursed, stood to squat over the bowl, cursed again, pissed, wiped myself, flushed, washed my hands, shut off the light, closed the door and returned to the house. Kyrio Manolis had thoughtfully stocked the larder with a few fundamentals: lumpwood charcoal, matches, coffee, cream, sugar, biscuits, homemade wine, a basket of fruit, honey, a pot of yoghurt. I fiddled with the kitchen radio 'til I found a local music station, turned it up, took the wine and a tumbler out onto the patio and watched the stars until even mean mattresses seemed welcoming.

I woke to birdsong and sunshine. With no idea of the time, I wandered through the house opening windows and shutters, and then turned on the radio. I sashayed naked into the kitchen, set out coffee things and decided to visit the loo before putting water on to boil. Feeling safely discreet within the walled garden, I strolled boldly, still naked, to the shed, stepping—almost in time—to blaring bouzouki music.
One small grimy window graced the lavatory of Kyrio Manolis's rental house. It peered darkly down at me from ceiling height and brightened the room only to dingily dim. In spite of the bright sun outside, I flicked on the light.

I had thought to find some at least bearable perch for that first, most luxurious, physical act of the day. I had planned to take my time, wiggle about, sit backwards if necessary, for that best, most deeply satisfying piss. Instead, I felt a sudden hot trickle of urine run down my thighs as I shrieked in girly horror. Black slugs dotted the toilet like a plague of large protuberant blackheads.

Desperate and leaking, I hastily reviewed the set-up: central drain, sloping floor, entire room effectively the shower. I squatted over the slope to the drain as far from the slug-ridden toilet as possible and, anything but luxuriously, pissed. Then I showered.

I usually have coffee before showering. I usually have breakfast before showering. I usually brush my teeth in the shower. But then, I don't usually piss on floors. Soap-less, flannel-less, towel-less, I rinsed myself. Clean, or at least rinsed, I grabbed the taps to turn off the water and got shocked. Not badly shocked, just a nice minorly shattering buzz.

I looked down and noted the depth of the puddle I stood in; draining dramatically slowly, it covered the most of the floor and covered my toes. I noted the water streaming down my breasts, belly, thighs. I
looked up and saw the black electrical cable snaking across the ceiling from the bulb and resting upon the shower's water pipe before disappearing into a hole in the wall beside the window. I looked at the metal door handle. I believed I could smack the light switch with the now sodden toilet paper roll quickly enough to cut the current and not get fried, and so did.

I was going to tell you about a gecko; I'm getting there. Current off, thinking myself now quite safe, I twisted the taps and stopped the flow of water. Profoundly relieved, I opened the shed door, stepped out into the garden and stood for some minutes in the sun, pleased simply to be there.
An hour or so later, bolstered by coffee and fruit and following a particularly pointless telephone call from Kyrio Manolis during which he tried to impart some information to me, I tried to tell him about getting shocked in the shower and we both failed dismally—gesture lacking all impact over the wires—I found my toiletries bag and, kitted out with a towel and a slug-flicking stick, walked back through the garden to the lav shed.

Most of the water had drained away taking a goodly number of presumably bogward-bound slugs with it. Even so, I propped the door open before stepping in, before turning on the light. I hung my towel on a nail in the wall by the sink. Wincing hugely, squealing dramatically, I flicked and scraped slugs into the toilet, then flushed and flushed again.

Eventually satisfied and in a slug-free zone, I loaded my toothbrush, stuffed it in my mouth and scrubbed my teeth furiously whilst alternately, mistrustfully, watching myself in the mirror and the toilet behind me. Combing my hair, I thought I heard a rustling sound and paused but heard nothing more, then… There it was, that same soft rustling.

With rising bile and renewed horror I looked myself straight in the reflected eye. I looked beyond myself to the toilet and the rest of the room. Then I looked up and saw, looking down at me from behind the ledge atop the mirrored cabinet, a small gecko. We watched each other warily for a minute or two and then decided, apparently mutually, that there was no harm here. I finished my hair, the gecko watched, then I packed up my toiletries, turned out the light and left.

I dressed and drove into town for a few suddenly necessary supplies before morning's reconnaissance of the local villages and beaches, but this is a story about a gecko and not a travelogue.

That evening, back at Kyrio Manolis's rental house, I set out my shed supplies: one extra large square red plastic washing-up tub and one child's swimming toy, a white inflatable swan ring complete with long s-curved neck, smiling yellow beak and enormous painted and eye-lashed blue eyes.

The tub would serve for bathing. The prospect of daily sponge-baths in a fragrant garden, warm Grecian sunshine filtered by fruiting olive trees, entirely failed to mar my holiday bliss. The swan was another matter.
The idea was elegantly simple: inflate the swan, carefully place it on the toilet bowl rim, sit on it. Smashing idea, even if shitting with an inflatable cartoon swan's long neck and head sticking up from between my legs seemed slightly, well, unorthodox.

Unfortunately, the ring only imperfectly sat on the rim and precarious just begins to describe sitting on it in situ. Not that I didn't tough it out. Not that I didn't attempt every conceivable configuration of rim plus swan plus bum, including several ingenious neck and head placements, but I tell you truly, that inflatable swan was the archetype of slippery customer.

It slipped askew, slid partly or wholly into the toilet bowl or partially or wholly off one side or the other… During my two weeks on Kythira, every part of my body landed in Kyrio Manolis' toilet or became wedged between bog and wall and frequently both. I flew back to Athens, suntan dappled with porcelain bruises.
The little gecko behind the ledge atop the mirrored cabinet observed my every in-shed activity. It came out in the morning to watch me fill my bathtub. It observed me as I brushed my teeth and hair. It eyed me as I flicked slugs off the toilet bowl before transforming myself into the least dignified Leda in the history of all the gods and all the heroines of all the myths of all the Greek islands. In the evenings the little gecko stocked up on moths flying through the door I refused to close, attracted to the light I turned on. Then, when I brushed my teeth before bed, the gecko sat atop its ledge staring at me and munching Grecian moths, and their wings rustled like paper as it folded them into its mouth.
© Brett Hardman Oct 17th 2006 

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