18 May Katarina Georgaras
A few winters ago, I left my new life in Amsterdam and travelled to Athens to obtain my Greek Identity Card so that I could stay in Europe legally and indefinitely. It was early December, and Athens was unusually warm.
I stayed in my grandparent’s apartment in Pireus, next door to the only family I had in the city. My real, immediate family, including my grandparents, lived in Canada. So I had the place to myself. The apartment was new, and had an air-conditioner in every room. It had the feel of a hotel room, since no one ever actually lived there, except the distant uncle who had been placed there surreptitiously by my next-door family and was ousted before my arrival. He was middle-aged and looked like life hadn’t been easy on him. But if he was mad that I had taken his home, he didn’t let on. He left behind the comforting smell of smoke.
Greece was a few years into its collapse at this point, and the whole scene was sad. There was a garbage strike, and a transportation strike, and all people could talk about was the “crisis.”
For two weeks, I spent my life between that sterile apartment and my family’s house next door. I’d kill my morning hours with Greek MTV and coffee before heading over to hang out with my cousin X while her mom fixed lunch. X was a couple of years older than me, wore a lot of make-up, and dressed in a way that was attractive to Greek men. At this time, I was beautiful but wore only black clothing that I had found in dumpsters and free shops in Amsterdam. X was an only child, and would often say that having me around made her feel like she finally had the little sister she had always wanted. I thought that if I were her, I would be disappointed in my little sister. So I borrowed some of her clothes, and tried to pretty myself up a bit. Sometimes, I straightened my hair and wore mascara.
While we waited for lunch, which was the only meal that my family would eat, I’d sit on my cousin’s bed and watch her do her daily exercises. Mostly she did sit-ups and leg lifts, and we would talk in English about boys and men. Sometimes we smoked cigarettes together. I rolled mine, and she only smoked the long, thin kind that “ladies” smoke, aka bitch sticks.
After lunch I would go for walks, but never went more than a kilometer from my apartment. I hated this part of the day, but I forced myself to do it. Usually, I bribed myself to leave the house to buy the beer that would get me through the evenings alone.
I had borrowed DVDs of every season of Friends and watched hours of it each night as I drank my beers in bed. The apartment did not have wifi. It was the most pathetic two weeks of my life. I felt that I should be exploring the streets of Athens, getting into trouble with Greek anarchists, or at least riding on the backs of motorcycles, but instead I could barely even muster the enthusiasm required to kill time.
That was also the winter that I was completely obsessed with J. It was the hope that I would hear from him via text, email or Skype that kept me going. I had a flight booked for December 18 that would take me from Athens to Berlin, where he said he would meet me before we both headed to Poland for Christmas. These, I felt, would be the most romantic few days of my youngish life.
Though I was unsure that he would actually show up, the look in his eyes when I arrived at the airport soothed me. I realized that he was crazy for me. He took my bag, hugged me for a long time, and produced from his jacket pocket a small bottle of Jager.
I spent my last euros on that, he said.
We were drunk before we even got to the metro.
We switched trains at Alexanderplatz, and took the U8 to Moritzplatz. Berlin was freezing that week, and J kept his arm tightly around my shoulders as we walked through the dark city in search of a squat whose name he knew only vaguely.
We walked and talked down Prinzenstrasse to Gitchiner and onto Skalitzer. At Kotbusser Tor we stopped for a shawarma. We went right on Adalbertstrasse and right on Waldemar. We crossed Marrianenplatz and found the building that J said was Bethanien. It didn’t look at all like a squat, and there was a fancy art event going on inside. The giant hall was warm and bright and filled with clean, happy, normal people, but we knew that we were close.
It was nearly 10 pm when we slipped between the buildings of that repurposed complex, and found a graffiti covered door hidden behind a dumpster. We knocked loudly several times. Finally, a thin, olive-skinned Spanish guy wearing Adidas tearaways and no shirt answered. I can’t remember his name, but it was something weird and obviously fake. This was an unfriendly place. It was an “artist” squat, unlike the squats in Amsterdam that I had come to think of as “squatter” squats where everyone is welcome. The squats where I lived in Berlin were mostly pretentious and full of adult children. We were told that we could sleep in the guest room at a rate of 2 euros each per night. The person who had keys for us wasn’t yet home, so we dropped our bags in the common room (sure to be stolen) and headed back out into the cold night.
Katarina Georgaras lives in Thunder Bay and writes poetry, short stories and plays. She makes art, and spends a lot of time in Nature. She is excited about life.