The China Man and The Friend of Icarus, Part I

The dog days of summer had reached into the month of May and rinsed their ears.  Swoosh.  Swoosh.  And when they raised their heads and shook them, their droplets stilled the air.  People lapped their ice cream before it hit the streets.  The fumes of the sun rose from the ground.  Umbrellas everywhere.  Beggars, peddlers and thieves advanced down the streets where tourists drank and ate.  Monastiraki.  This was 3 days after May 16th.  A Sunday.

A 13 year old Albanian girl who had approached me earlier while I sat and ate—that day where I was divided equally between sun and shade—found me again at the corner espresso shop.  Eager to make contact—not just to sell me from her inventory a package of Kleenex, which I had refused to purchase earlier—she approached me cheerfully and told me her story.  But before she began, she advised me not to leave my phone on the counter.  “They steal here,” she whispered to me.

She was scrawny and her teeth were rotten.  She had arrived in Athens when she was about 3 years old, she said, and by the time she was 6, she had started working.

(Later, a friend of mine told me you should never buy anything from these children because they are part of a racket where a war lord gathers them and their parents and houses them and collects whatever profits they gather from the streets. This is something Greece needs to address, she said further, for these children are victims of abuse in every sense imaginable.)

It was obvious she was hungry so I asked her if she had eaten.  She pulled whatever change she had collected so far, less than 2 Euros.  I gave her 2 Euros.  But what can 2 Euros buy?  After checking the inventory of the shop she said she wasn’t interested in what they were selling.  But she had purchased a can of Coke.  “That’s not food!” I said to her.  “This is for my mother,” she said.  “But what about you?  What will you eat?”  She thought about it for a while.  And then her eyes lit up.  The fruit vendor was selling cherries, she said.  And she liked cherries.  “Then go get yourself some,” I said.  And she was gone.

Earlier where I had first seen her, there was a steady stream of peddlers.  Musicians from as far as the Amazon.  Gypsies with infants strapped to their shoulders.  And an old Greek woman who was stooped and selling lavender.  82 years old and recently widowed, this woman had composed and sang a song about President Kennedy—her voice was beautiful—where she had immortalized him.  By the time I left the restaurant, my pockets had grown thin, almost empty.  But I was glad to be able to share if only a few coins with some of these tragic figures.

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