Last week, we heard of the passing of a lady who lived on the island or the rock as it is also known.  She was extremely old, and in fact, rumours of her death have circulated every year for about 15 years now, until someone spotted her and she lived to tell another story.  Alas, this time, the rumours were true and she is no longer with us. 

Mrs M, the lady in question used to run the island’s periptero, or kiosk.  This was the place where you could buy cigarettes, comics, newspapers, magazines, batteries, crisps and confectionery, alcohol, biscuits, milk, and basically anything else you can think of. It was one of two shops on the   It used to be in a small building at the end of my road, she would open her window early in the morning and stay open until midnight.  She would sit there and watch us all arrive from far flung places, our Greek hesitant at first and gradually getting stronger as the summer went on.  The thing we all remember most about her is the fact for our entire childhood, she gave us gum instead of change. 

“I don’t have any change, can I give you gum?” she would say.  By the end of the summer, we would all have pockets full of these chewing gums shaped like footballs, so hard that they could have been used as ammunition should the need have ever arisen.  Clearly, she had had this endless box of gum since the War (Trojan, not World) and she stiffed us out of hundreds of drachma of our pocket money each year with her small smile and frail look.  I should point out at this stage that we thought she was an old woman when we were young, so when a friend put up on facebook that she had died, many people were surprised to hear she was even still living.

She had three daughters, and she would always ask us for clothes for them.  I would arrive, unpack, present myself at the periptero for some crisps/ice cream/cigarettes whatever, and she would say:

“Hello, welcome back, how long are you staying?  Do you have any clothes for my girls?”

“Hello, nice to see you, 20 Marlboro 100s please, I will give you some clothes before I leave at the end of the summer if that is ok.”

“Yes, thank you, my poor girls, they would like to have nice things like you please, can we have your clothes?”

Eventually, I would get my cigarettes, and/or crisps and leave, with the promise that I would give her some clothes for her daughters.  This would happen almost every time I went to the periptero for a couple of days, and it did get kind of awkward, but it did wear off eventually, and I did always leave clothes behind at the end of the summer.  One year, however, I was standing in the window trying to buy things with a queue of people behind me.  She was telling me how much she liked my dress.  I was wearing a sundress that I loved and had worn to death that year. 

“This is very nice, the colour suits you, can I just-“  she reached out of her window and grabbed the front of the dress to feel the material.  What happened next felt like it was happening in slow motion.  She grabbed the dress, and I, in my shock, moved backwards.  Well, I must have forgotten to do up the hook and eye at the back of the dress, because basically, I moved backwards, the dress stayed in her hands and I was standing bare-chested in the periptero window.   

“Oh my gosh I am so sorry she said, letting go of the dress.

I clutched it to myself my entire body blushing.  The people behind me in the queue were starting to giggle.  Almost in tears, I ran off with a friend behind me who then helped me to do up the dress and secure it.  Needless to say, I was mortified.  At 14 or 15 you think you will never get over the shame, and even though I had done nothing wrong, I still stayed at home for several days with burning cheeks and the taste of embarrassment lingering.  I never wore the dress again.  In fact, I gave it to her at the end of the summer because it would always remind me of the day I stood naked at the periptero window.  I genuinely thought I would never recover.  Of course, now my 43 year old self wants to just say,

“It’s ok, nobody noticed, and even if they did, they weren’t judging you.  Relax, embarrassing things happen all the time, you survive, move on and eventually forget about them.”  (That last part is obviously a lie because I still feel embarrassed today, but still, maybe if someone had told me this at 14, I would have taken it to heart and tried to forget it.)

Anyway, this was embarrassing enough, but it is not the only mortifying minute I have spent in the company of Mrs M at that very window.  I once went up to the window to buy crisps and she said in a loud voice:

“Your Dad told me not to sell you crisps because you’re fat, and he doesn’t want you to get any fatter.” 

When I asked Dad about it, he was furious with her, saying that he hadn’t meant for her to say anything out loud, or to embarrass me. I am sure he felt really bad about it.  Still, the damage was done and many years of secretive eating followed, along with the consequences thereof. On the plus side, all the secretive eating and weight gain meant that my clothes no longer fit her daughters, so I was no longer in danger of being disrobed at the periptero.  Oh well, every cloud, as they say.

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