"I walked away. Out of the door of our bedroom, out of our house. Past where little Stravos was playing with other children. I walked up to the top of the town and into a little bar. A place where only the old men sat and drank." As Isodora heard in rapt attention, Alanah continued, "I ordered raki, you know, the very rough spirit they have. I drank untill I could forget the way her round beautiful shoulder had snuggled against his chest. I drank untill I fell on the ground. They carried me home, I remember nothing of it. I woke up next day in our bed. There was no sign of Pegaso. I remembered her there in the bed and I got up to be very sick. There was no sign of little Stravos either. I went to work, but the smell of the petrol and the exhaust of the cars made me very sick again." Alanah suddenly felt tired, a wave of nausea swept over her and with that she again craved, after so many years, the wasteful taste of raki. Christina who was sketching, started humming a melodious tune and slowly Alanah composed herself again and after a short break of cold water, continued with her story.
"Magda had taken my child, my child! to her house. That night I had brandy, good Metaxa brandy to get me over the shock, and then I sort of crawled back to the petrol station, but couldn't talk to anyone, so I went home . Home! Huh! There was nobody there. Four days and nights of drinking, then I realised they had taken my child away from me. I heard like in a dream, that Magda's husband had gone away on a fishing boat to another island. And then the mind is a blank till I woke up in the hospital near the bus station."
"Come Isadora, sit near me, this is where your mother enters my story again. listen well and understand that missing year of her life, when she left her young family to be with a friend. I had given her name as 'next of kin' to the hospital authorities and they had telephoned her. She reached Lipsi the same evening." Saying this Alanah got up and hugged her friend of many years once again. Some bonds are eternal, forged without any reason, and yet they stand the test of time and blossom even in the coldest of winters. Such was the bond between Alanah and Christina.
"Pretend to be calm, pretend to be better, then they'll let you out." Christina had said to her, and that's what Alanah had done, pretended. It helped in the begining and she was let out of the hospital and sent back home. Pegaso did not speak to her, wouldnt tell her where Stravos was. Alanah could not raise her voice in fear of being locked up again in that wretched hospital, where every door closed in on her. Pegaso was living just across the road with Magda, Stravos was never to be seen, she could not go up to the bar and drink, as the whole town was watching her always. she bought a bottle here and a bottle there and drank till she passed out crying and being sick on Christina's lap. She never slept on the bed again, always on the sofa.
Every morning Christina would help her to take her bath, would wash her hair and tidy her up. She would speak of ordinary things like getting the grocery and in the same tone she would speak of going over to Magda's house and confronting Pegaso. Slowly she managed to get her message across to Alanah. And one day a tidy and relatively sober Alanah walked across the street to where Pegaso now lived. He asked her to go away, to leave him. She could stay in the house, but he had changed all the locks of the petrol pump. He said their son was living in Athens with his aunt and that she should never try and meet him as she would be a bad influence on the child. He was speaking as if to a person who had mental problems. Everybody except Christina treated her that way during those days, with quiet and patient concern mixed with a fear that she might suddenly jump on them. Pegaso said that he would sell the petrol pump and Magda and he would take little Stravos and start a new life somewhere. He would try and build a new and better life for Stravos away, he had said, from "this drunken madness".
Christina could not divert Alanah from the bottle, and she had to be put in rehab once again. "Once I knew I had lost everything, I didnt see any point in pretending." Alanah said. She had sold stuff out of the house and bought drink. She was in and out of rehab like a yo-yo. Taking advantage of her condition, Pegaso explained to everyone that she was an unfit mother. There was no court of law or social workers in the village those days. Alanah's not being sober was not helping either.
Little Stravos came back to Lipsi one day, and for a short while Alanah was allowed to see him for three hours every week. The visits were not a success though. Christina would tidy her up on these days and make her wear her best outfit. She always made Alanah carry a basket of baked goodies for Stravos. But still the visits were disastrous. She cried, you see, cried for the entire three hours over all that she had lost. She would clutch little Stravos and cry and tell him how much she loved him and needed him. She scared the boy out of his wits. Stravos started hating the meetings, he was fidgety and looked for an escape. He didnt recognise her anymore, how would he? He had never seen her like this before, and he was just a lttle boy.
These meetings continued. After the ordeal Stravos would look forward to going with Magda in the waiting car, an odd and unnecessary duty accomplished. Alanah would fill her bladder till Christina carried her back home. It was only after they left Lipsi, that Christina could start healing the bleeding wounds. There was not a fear now of them re-opening, you see. And so in the coming months as Christina worked in shops and cleaned floors to make money for them, Alanah got out of her stupour to realise the wastefulness of her actions. The tireless Christina who had just carried Isadora's picture with her to Lipsi was managing slowly to distract her friend. Old man Leros, who had a taverna on the outskirts of Lipsi gave Alanah work. And then one day a man, they all knew from the rehab, took his life. It sounds simple, but that was the day that Alanah gave up the bottle. It happened just like that. She had nothing to live for anymore, but she knew that unless she got her life in order, Christina would never return to her family.
Stravos would be almost thirty now. Every birthday Alanah wrote to him, to the last mailing address that she had, but till date there was never any reply. This had been the case with every every letter she had written in her life be it to her parents, her friends in Ireland or to her son in Greece, never a reply!! Suddenly she laughed and said, "Bless my stars !! I was not told to write to Christina from the hospital, else I would be still be locked up in the rehab!!" She didnt blame Stravos, how could she? He was a small boy, and she had been a nightmarish experience to him. How was he to know that she had mellowed down and could be courteous and polite to people? If he were ever to get in contact with her, it would be out of pity, and Alanah had never accepted that emotion from people.
"Dhen pirazi Isadora, Nothing really matters anymore." ended Alanah.
Isadora looked at these two weathered, and time worn women and smiled. She would find out where Stravos was, of course she would. The world was tinier now. But first she would go buy three tickets for a journey to Ireland. As the sun set that day there was healing for all as the painful gaps in their lives had been finally filled.