Intricate shades covered the surface of the sea, like a pulsating patchwork
landscape, it moved and merged, constantly reinventing itself. Louis observed
this metamorphose from the taxi he hired in Argassi’s main street, that now
took him along the coastal road towards the capital. A salmon tinge
impregnated the early evening sky as Louis’ eyes paused upon a white yacht as
a calmness settled upon him and like the yacht he surfed upon a wave of
contentment. He began to accommodate thoughts of the view from his room
where clusters of wild flowers and an assorted green carpet of trees dropped
into the arms of Argassi whose tiled roofs stretched towards the aquamarine sea,
like giant stepping stones. Each morning, from the balcony, he would survey the
sea, and each time it would take hold of him as if it was the first time, like
virgin territory, as a striking wealth of colour weaved a voluptuous brilliance
along its surface while the brush stroked waves of the Ionian added a splash of
white in the distinguished company of ferries, yachts, boats and the occasional
The white sugar cubed appearance of Zakynthos town shimmered in the rising
heat, as the pine clad hill behind her sloped into the sea and disappeared.
Gliding further, his eyes would rest upon the peaks of mountainous Kephalonia,
steel slate against an azure sky and then beyond, the coastline of the
Peloponnese, visible and floating on the horizon. Each new morning Louis
would contemplate that a part of heaven had fallen from the sky and blessed this
part of the Ionian.
He sat in the rear of the taxi, a light blue Mercedes and noted that its seats were
beginning to ware as cracks splayed over the leather which he brushed with his
finger tips. From this position only the back of the driver was visible. Louis
became aware that he had paid little attention to the driver, yet he now noticed
that he was middle aged and grey haired and deep creases fanned from the back
of his neck which became hidden by the collar of his white shirt. A cross hung
from the rear view mirror and gently swayed with the motion of the vehicle, like
a lethargic pendulum.
Louis rolled down the window, allowing the cool air to wash over his face and it
felt as if someone had breathed over him. He sank deep into the seat as muscles
relaxed. As the taxi neared the capital the early evening news filled the covered
space, as the capital began to engulf and dominate Louis vision. To the left
they passed a bell tower with an adjoining monastery, before encountering the
most prestige's church on the island, the church of St. Dionysios. A little further
and Louis’ attention was snagged by a juxtaposition of shops, cafes and
restaurants which trailed the entire length of the road, while parallel, fishing
boats, yachts and two small naval vessels, one Greek, the other Italian, hugged
the harbour wall. Louis gazed upon people eating meals, drinking coffee and
alcohol. He noted their relaxed and passive gestures, indicating their enjoyment
as they nodded appreciatively to attentive waiters, or throwing their heads back
in laughter, wrapped in conversations or merely absorbed within their own
space. Once the journey had been accomplished, they stopped at a taxi rank
opposite a large colonial inspired square.
The Plateia Solomos was an unexpected find. Flanked by elegant buildings
tropical trees and intimate pavement cafes. In the midst of this opulence stood a
statue of the islands famous poet, Dionysio Solomos. The earth quake of 1953
destroyed and devastated virtually every building on the island but it was here
that Louis absorbed the grandeur and elegance of the surrounding buildings
which he discovered included a museum and art gallery. In this particular area
Louis noted that there was no shortage of choice in regards to where one could
choose to eat a meal. It was pleasing to Louis to find that the majority of
eating establishments reflected pavement cafes in character, that created an
attractive Parisian atmosphere. Louis wondered, if any, which one Maria would
take him too, later on that evening. He looked at his watch, he had an hour to
spare. He consciously noted that the statue in the square was that of Dionysio
Solomos for it was there that Maria instructed him to meet her.
The square was now beginning to pulsate with the activity of dinners and people
out for an early evening stroll, who leisurely contemplated the assortment of
menus on display. Louis began to walk in no particular direction but instead
he was dictated to whatever attracted his eye.
A simple looking church with a muted white facade announced itself as the
Roman Catholic Church of St. Mark. As Louis stepped towards its two wooden
doors, one of which lay intriguingly open, a tall man, unexpectentely appeared.
Middle aged with a sweep of silver hair, he dabbed his forehead with a white
handkerchief while he invited Louis into the church.
“Welcome to the only Catholic church on the island, did you know there are
fourteen churches in the capital alone? in you come anyway”
Louis was amazed to hear the thick audible tones of a southern Irish accent. He
moved, as directed , into a small entrance where a large dark wooden cross
dominated an otherwise sparse wall.
“Well then” the man continued, placing his handkerchief into his trouser
pocket, “What is your name young man?”
“Louis” he replied
“Well Louis you are welcome to look around our little humble church” he
gestured in a swaying motion with his hand.
The man wore a white shirt, opened at the collar and short sleeved with black
trousers. His face was, especially around his cheeks red from the sun and
he sweated profusely. Louis noted that he carried some writing paper in his
“I’m working on my sermon for this evenings mass, Marks gospel, Marks was
the first gospel to be written while the others came after him, almost a first
hand account....its the closest we will get to one”
“I wasn’t aware that there would be a need for a Catholic church here”
“There is a lot of Philippines who work in the hotels and restaurants , they
mainly make up the bulk of the congregation as well as the occasional tourist,
however, there is not a parish priest as such, one comes every month from the
main land and since I was here on holiday with some friends I offered to
celebrate mass for the duration of my stay”
“Ah I see” Louis said as they moved into the main body of the church.
There was a silence between them as Louis took in the interior and to his
disappointment he found that other than the stations of the cross, that decorated
three walls, the church was a poor specimen of its kind. The alter was drab in
appearance and not rich in the customary artifacts associated with such places
It seemed strange to Louis, that in a country whose people are obedient
followers of the Greek Orthodox faith, he now found himself standing in a
small part of Rome, courtesy of the only catholic church on the island and in
the company of a six foot plus Irish priest. No one would believe him, he
thought to himself.
“Tell me Louis” the priest began inquisitively, as he narrowed his eyes, an
action that crinkled his forehead, while his lips curled into a smile that caught
“When you are back in Scotland what team do you support, the blue and white
or the green and white?”
Louis returned the priest’s smile, acknowledging the humour in it’s deliverly,
for he was aware that the question placed before him referred to which religious
persuasion did he subscribe too.
“Well actually that would be the green and white but of the Edinburgh variety”
“Really” the priest exclaimed, his smile broadened, “I had a great uncle who
had a trial for Hibs, he ended up playing for Dublin City before a badly broken
leg ended his career, a big man he was, he played centre back, well then Louis
isn’t that a coincidence”
He bent forward, lit a match and tentatively floated the flame over a candle
until the wick burst into a yellow flicker. He rubbed the short silver bristles on
his chin, which reminded him that he still had to shave.
“You are welcome to attend mass if you wish the more the merrier”
“Well, its been a while father”
“Ah, call me John” he dismissed the courtesy with a flippant gesture of the
“I’m actually meeting someone for dinner”
“I see, and where are you eating?”
“I don’t know exactly, Maria will be the best judge of that”
“Well you are indeed spoilt for choice there are some good restaurants in the
The mentioning of Maria reminded Louis of the time. He glanced at his watch
and found that he still had forty minutes to spare. He could feel his muscles
relax with the knowledge of this revelation which dispelled any urgency to
“So then” John said, “I suppose that I would be wasting my time in trying to
tempt you to join our little celebration.”
“Well to tell you the truth I’ve kind of drifted from the church, my conscience
speaks a different language”
John’s eyes glistened as he indicated for Louis to sit on a pew.
“And what language might that be”
“Well, I suppose you could say that I tend to lean towards the left”
He reconsidered, “Possibly the far left when it comes to certain issues”
“Well then Louis, would you care to elaborate” John smiled.
“I suppose I’m quite unorthodox in my views I’d probably be excommunicated
by now if I had become a priest ” said Louis, aware that he had stirred within
John a keen interest in his opinion.
“Become a priest…..”
“I trained for several years but was pulled in another direction”
“It happens…best to find out before rather than later “
From his trouser pocket John produced the handkerchief and proceeded to
dampen the ever forming droplets of perspiration on his forehead.
“So then Louis, you don’t like sitting on the fence” his smile broadened.
“No, you tend to get splinters”
“Exactly” John said, as he sat on a pew opposite Louis, “That’s why it is a
good thing to be opinionated, people know where you stand and where you are
coming from, so then Louis, what language does your conscience speak?”
Louis discerned an expectant quality in John’s question. He coughed to clear
“I suppose a modern language, one that the church does not speak today
unfortunately. In a nut shell I have felt for sometime now that priests should be
allowed to marry. The church is always complaining that there is a shortage of
men taking up such a vocation and it is my opinion that if a man entered the
priesthood with the knowledge that if he wished to marry and love another
human such a commitment would only be enriching towards that priest’s
ministry. Also if a married man could train to become a priest then this may
open the priesthood to many individuals who feel such a calling but are cruelly
denied what they believe to be their vocation in life.”
“So you think that there are a lot of married men who feel a calling for the
“I know that it would certainly be a stumbling block and that this issue of
marriage and celibacy puts off a lot of men who could potentially be priests. I
strongly feel that a man who has led a celibate existence is not qualified to
counsel and offer guidance to a married couple, especially when it may concern
areas that relate to their marriage. One tired argument that the church puts
forward in support of celibacy and non married priests is that a priest that is
married would not have the same level of unconditional commitment and time
for his parishioners, than one who is not married, yet, other Christian
denominations do not suffer because they allow their priests to marry, even
some of the apostles were married and the early popes for goodness sake”
The priests face took on a serious expression, like a mask and then he sighed.
“It is a problem that won’t disappear, yet, the church is slow.....or will not
“Then does it have a future? if there is no blood to work the heart it will die”
“Precisely” John conceded.
“The catholic church is forcing millions of people to abandon the faith they
were brought up in by being so hard lined and dictatorial on issues like
contraception, living together and not being married, homosexuality and forcing
millions to die of aids because it will not sanction the use of condoms even for
those couples that are married and one of them has aids or is HIV positive
Where in such a belief system is their room for tolerance, unconditional love and
Louis wondered if he had spoken out of turn, after all, he thought, John had
invited him into the church, maybe he should refrain from being so forth right
with his views, yet, John’s response had not been defensive or that of
someone who had been offended, but rather of a person who had spent time
reflecting upon his faith. John smiled warmly and immediately dispelled any
awkwardness that Louis felt.
The church was encased in a strange quietness and the softness encouraged
Louis to venture further.
“Since we are being honest would you be offended if I were to carry on”
“No, not at all I enjoy such discussions” he leaned forward and said, “Please
“I accept whole heartedly that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus,
that is fundamental to my beliefs, however, I do struggle with the churches
teaching that after Jesus she had no more children. There are instances in the
gospels where John is mentioned as the brother of Jesus or was it James?
anyway, there are very prominent figures who subscribe to the view that it is
possible that Jesus had brothers and sisters. I do not think that such beliefs
demean the concept of the immaculate conception nor does it take away the
veneration the church bestows upon her.”
Louis shifted his weight, “After saying all of that I would be totally opposed to
any theory that suggested that Jesus had experienced sexual relationships.......
simply because of his status as the son of god”
Like the church John sat still in silence, he scratched his chin.
Louis wondered and not for the first, if he had ventured to far.
John stooped forward, resting his elbows on his thighs.
“ I have the view that it is not just the words that come out of a person’s mouth
that are important, but rather, what that person feels in their heart and if there is
goodness there and compassion for the human spirit then in my opinion that
person is a religious being and yes I have contemplated the views that you
express and personally I do not have a problem with them for you speak of the
human side of living, yet, maybe the godly side would disagree. There would be
those in the church who would be horrified at such suggestions for this is not
the catholic faith that we profess. Then again others would say that such
opinions are enlightening. I feel that to take part in such debates can only be
healthy as it encourages one to explore their faith and their concept of god”
John shifted his weight.
“The virgin birth is not at the centre of my faith. The sermon on the mount
defines my faith, it is the greatest speech that was ever spoken, from it all of the
great men that have shaped our thinking and changed our world in one way or
another either unknowingly or purposely borrowed from those great words.
Jesus speaking about justice, poverty, forgiveness, charity, faith and love
inspired people to change the way they lived their lives. His death and
resurrection are at the centre of my faith for without them I have no faith. So it
is not whether Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born but rather am I inspired
to live the life that Jesus’ words reveal to me?”
“Mmm I’m disappointed that I am going to miss your sermon now”
Louis could feel a confident surge return to him, encouraged by John’s words.
“Since I have spent time in this country I have certainly felt some kind of
spirituality present in its people, its landscapes and certainly the churches and I
do feel a closeness to god that I have not experienced for a long time now. I
think it is because in this country its people and society are ingrained in their
religion in such a way that it filters into every fabric of life. You cannot go
anywhere in this country without finding a church at the top of a hill or
discovering one in the middle of know where”
Louis noted that one wall was ablaze in sunlight, splaying light on the dark
wooden carved images of the stations of the cross.
“You are a good man Louis and I thank god for allowing us to meet, I would
have liked to have the luxury to talk more but I must begin to prepare for this
They both rose to their feet.
“Of course it was a pleasure, I’ll see myself out”
“Enjoy your evening Louis”
“Thank you father, I will”
John extended his hand, Louis accepted it and they shook hands. Louis was
surprised at how strong and firm John’s grip was.
“God bless, and may you walk in his presence”
“Goodbye” said Louis as he turned to leave the church.
Louis found himself wondering down a narrow lane, called Metropoleos,
he came across a street named, Alexando Roma flanked on both sides shops
applied their trade enticing their would be customers with their cosmopolitan
flavour. Above such assortment of trade, a juxtaposition of apartments loomed
above the street, their balconies communal havens, where children played and
parents celebrated the joy of the family as the early evening light transformed
the sky with a fusion of flame red and soft blue. Colourful window gardens and
clay pots periodically painted alluring greens and rose red against striking white
washed walls. Louis walked without purpose, absorbing the salubrious climate
vitalising him with each step. He walked further and found himself
amongst the familiar setting of the quayside. The traffic became heavier here,
the intimate features of Alexando Roma were now left behind, consumed by the
turmoil and volatile nature of the capital.
He walked further and imagined that this must be how a child would feel in a
fairground. He inhaled the smells and tasted the aroma of strong coffee that
hovered in the air and he was gratified that such simple pleasures had been
revealed to him.
An old priest sat on a wooden stool at the top of some steps that led to the
church of St. Dionysios, his silver beard cascading onto his chest. His thin
and vein lined hands lay on his lap, resting on the folds of his ankle hugging
black robe. Several people climbed the steps and with an Olympian effort he
stood up and greeted them warmly before they entered the large dark entrance.
Louis mounted the steps, the old priest had once again rested his body on the
creaking stool. He did not greet Louis with the warm affection that he had
display previously but simply nodded his head without expression. Louis
returned the gesture and smiled. His attention was snagged by the flicker of
gold, the wax of burning candles and the audible intonations and hypnotic tones
of a melody, a prayer that ventured outside and caressed his ears with a gentle,
low voice, amplified by the acoustics of the building. There were many people
inside, some lighting candles, others in deep meditation and prayer amongst an
ornamentation of gold that illuminated the church interior, like emanating rays
of sunlight. A vast wealth of colour adorned the ceiling and walls, a pulsating
and vibrant spectacle that Louis found intensively addictive. Layer by layer his
senses became alive with wonderment. He sucked in a breath and the curtain
of his memory blew back as images presented themselves, a thread of another
life that imposed itself upon him. Pictures and voices filed his head, as real as
the old man in his black robe, each contained a clarity of detail, that shocked
Louis, as they surfaced one after the another, shedding memories. He felt as if
he had stepped inside this world and was a silent witness, as he watched Jez ride
a scooter, for the first time, cumbersomely along a narrow lane in the heart of
Rome, he encountered the contentment on Emma’s face as they scanned the
distinguished Edinburgh skyline from the advantageous height of the
observatory, he could feel Emma’s voice soak into him as they drank coffee in
Ryan’s bar and shared a scone with jam and cream, he saw his father walk into
a glorious light and turn and wave before his body melted into that brilliant
source, Emma touched his cheek and tentatively kissed his forehead he could
sense her lips upon his skin as her familiar perfume surrounded him.
And then he was suddenly aware that his eyes were clouded in a glaze, he
dropped his head and covered his face with his hands.
Louis was unaware of time as he stood in this fixed position, sobbing. He
adjusted himself and wiped the wetness from his face, startled, he
herd a tentative but reassuring voice, “Let it pass, it is part of the healing”
Louis turned to find the old priest standing next to him, his thick beard falling
like a curtain.
“I have seen this reaction many times, some are over come with happiness
others with a profound sense of grief, St. Dionysios enters and touches the lives
of the many people who come to this church”
Louis was astounded, it seemed inconceivable, unbearable even, that such a
reaction overcame him with such intensity that he had no control over it. It had
emanated from his stomach, tightening his chest, before it lodged in his throat,
escaping through the convulsing sobs that paralysed ever nerve ending. He
could not disengage himself from it. He felt as if he had been anaesthetised by
emotion and plunged into a deep ravine of embarrassment, of pity and of guilt.
He attempted to compose himself but the sensation had not yet completely left
him. He sniffed the gathering mucus from his nose, involuntary spasms jerked
the muscles of his shoulders and a look of agonised shock and bewilderment
suffused his face.
He was in no doubt that time had exorcised the ghost of Emma from his mind,
yet, he now realised that each living cell and fibre in his body was traumatised
by the realisation that this church had summoned and revealed that he had still
to grieve for the loss of the life that she could have had. Louis understood that
his grieving had been a self centred, selfish cycle, it only concerned what had
been taken from him not what had been lost to Emma. He now realised the
enormity of the unveiling. The promise of motherhood, of nurturing an innocent
life full of possibilities, the prospect of marriage, of sharing her life with
another human being, thoughts, senses, touch, discovering together the
unfolding of new chapters that shape and mould new directions which open up
and become impressed upon a life, these things he could now concede would
never be hers to experience.
“I am not crying for myself but for another person” Louis heard himself respond
An attempt to justify his dissolving demeanour.
The priest laid a skeletal hand on Louis’ shoulder as two swallows cleaved
through the still air with a proficient precision, simultaneously gliding and
turning in an articulate display of artistry in flight that resembled the rehearsed
movements of an eloquent dance.
The priest pointed a crocked finger in their direction, “Some people say that
returning swallows are the souls of dead friends visiting their loved ones, that is
why they return year after year to the same houses and buildings”
The thought presented itself that if Emma was a swallow she would indeed visit
him and make sure that he was well.
A warm sensation erupted within his abdomen, Louis nodded and smiled at the
“Yes I’m sure she would” he heard his voice compensate in relief.
He breathed in deeply and a tight pulling grabbed his chest and the thought of
spending the evening with Maria submerged him in an apparent nervous flurry
a discomfort that he attributed to the resurrected emotions for Emma that had
shattered his bubble of contentment that the last few weeks had afforded him.
And now that he had confronted the veiled emergence of his submerged grief
with the understanding that it was unavoidable he found himself relieved that
it had been exposed and was now over with. He could now channel his
emotions with renewed vigour towards the profound and undeniable pleasurable
feelings he cradled for Maria.
The indiscriminate clinking of the fishing boats accompanied Louis as he strode
with confident strides towards the square. Running parallel, voices and traffic
reached him as he eagerly considered feasting his eyes upon her once again.
Prompted by the gripping need to unfold himself within her presence and he
craved the immediate details of her features.
He crossed the road and began to gently jog towards the square. The sound of
impatient car horns, cursed the air as Louis noted a lengthening number of
vehicles ground to an inconvenient halt. Several drivers had began to leave their
cars and approach the vehicle in front whose owner lay slumped over the
steering wheel. Louis did not see the man, who looked as if he had succumbed
to a deep sleep, but instead he was drawn to a women with an orange and
yellow tattoo imprinted upon her arm. His jog became a quick walk, as the
sultry air threatened to stain his top with sweat.
Once he had reached the square he anxiously looked around. To his surprise
he found scores of children, accompanied by their parents, filling the square.
like an army of purposeful ants, the children converged upon each spare metre,
with bicycles, tricycles and scooters in a crescendo of squeals and exuberant
pitched voices watched by the protective glances of parents on the sidelines. A
cumbersome, yet, intent child of two wondered the square in search of
something to detain his curiosity. He was comically unsteady on his feet and
stumbled several times, though each time he managed to regain his balance. A
panic expression passed across the mother’s face and its effects announced to
Louis her instilled parental attachment amongst the swell of curious faces that
inspected the child with varying degrees of weighted detachment. And then,
amongst the concoctive concerto of blissful excitement that radiated effortlessly
from the square, Louis thought he heard his name being called.