Vonitsa is a beautiful harbour town on the Greek mainland, perched on the edge of the Amvrakia Gulf. Whilst sailing in the Gulf a couple of weeks ago, I stopped there for the night. There is an old Venetain fortress which dominates the skyline above the town; hidden right at the top is a chapel devoted to Saint Sophia. The morning of my visit coincided with Saint Sophia’s name day and I was lucky enough to to witness the tail end of the congregation of the town’s Sophias making their way back down from a service in the chapel. These are the factual details of my story this week. The heavily perspiring priest was there too. In the sole capacity though of his calling.The rest is fiction.
There, that’s got you interested.
Those of an illiberal bent might prefer to pass on this one.
Sophia’s skin prickled beneath her clothes as she picked her way along the stony path leading up to the old Venetian fortress. Not for the first time, she cursed the tradition which dictated that she wore widow’s black.
Any other morning she’d be positioned on her shady doorstep, waiting. He normally passed by on his way to the church, unless he had an errand elsewhere in the town; in which case she would continue her vigil late into the day, hopeful of even a cursory wave as he rushed to welcome a friend off the ferry or to catch the last post.
There wasn’t much Sophia didn’t know about Father Nikolos; he took his coffee at the bar, standing (in case God called him away on an errand at short notice), and returned to his home at one-fifteen, where his housekeeper Effie would have lunch prepared (not that she had ever made a meal worth taking the trouble to eat). He returned to the church later in the day (to attend to those who were unable to cope with the slightest problem life presented), before finally allowing himself the pleasure (and he certainly deserved it) of a cigarette and ouzo, taken with water, at Stephano’s taverna on the quayside.
Sophia didn’t approve of Stephano; unmarried men were not to be trusted, unless they were men of the cloth, in which case they were married to God.
Bravely taking her eyes off the path, Sophia glanced up at Father Nikolos who was walking a few paces ahead of her. Sweat formed a dark patch on his back, midway between his broad shoulders, spreading slowly across his grey cassock. It was good to see a man perspire, thought Sophia; her husband hadn’t sweated at all, which struck her as unnatural.
Sophia turned her attention to Stephano, who was walking with Father Nikolos; he had no business being here. He’d muttered some rubbish about representing his long-dead mother on her name day. Well, this was news to Sophia, who couldn’t remember him ever having a mother. In any case, the annual trek up to Saint Sophia’s chapel was best left to the living Sophias of the town; her saint surely had enough work to do with them as it was, without having to tend to the needs of the deceased too.
Sophia stumbled on a stone and fell onto the dusty path.
She looked up hopefully, expecting Father Nikolos to appear, arms outstretched to ease her to her feet. Instead she watched him disappear around a corner, the patch of sweat now about the size of The Virgin Mother’s halo on the frieze in the chapel at the top of the hill.
‘This walk will be the death of us one day,’ said another widowed devotee who had ambled over to help, ‘we’re getting too old for it.’
Sophia glared at the woman.
‘It was just a stone,’ she said.
The relative coolness of the chapel quickly dissolved with the combined heat of the congregation and the many candles which had been lit around Saint Sophia’s alter. Trickles of sweat now poured from Father Nikolos’s temples as he began to speak. Sophia fought the urge to reach out with her handkerchief to wipe the perspiration away. She wondered if he wouldn’t be more comfortable without the heavy tunic weighing him down. He’s a practical man, thought Sophia, and probably just wearing a simple vest underneath; even so, with all that sweat, he’d struggle to peel it off later.
Sophia realised with a jolt that the service was over and hurriedly joined the line of women filing past father Nikolos at the chapel’s entrance. Grabbing the piece of bread he offered, she blushed violently and scurried away to find a shady piece of wall to sit on.
Composed for the descent back through the fortress, Sophia eased herself from her improvised seat. Father Nikolos was nowhere to be seen; he was probably back at the gates, fingering the pack of cigarettes Sophia knew he carried somewhere in the folds of his priest’s attire.
Not wishing to be left too far behind, Sophia gathered up her skirt and made her way to the path. About half way down, a black cat joined her, weaving its silky fur between her ankles.
‘Hello there. Where did you come from?’
At the sound of her voice, the animal leapt away through an opening in the wall. Sophia stepped over the scrub gingerly to see where it had gone. Peering round the old doorway she stifled her scream by stuffing into her mouth the piece of bread which she was still clutching. Father Nikolos, (and she was certain that it was Father Nikolos because his grey vestment lay, sweat drenched, over a nearby bush), was on his knees, rocking backwards and forwards in front of Stephano. She couldn’t see Father Nikolos’s face; Stephano’s wore an expression of agonised pleasure.
It was only later, when she lay in bed, that Sophia recalled Father Nikolos did indeed wear a simple vest underneath his priest’s robes. That much, at least, she had known.
© flyingscribbler 2011