What does it smell like? I say as we bump into each other in Athens. Swishing across the street one way or another. It’s all chemical and noise.
Smells and sounds travel. They echo back what happened. The last night on the island had jasmine drifting in to bless us through the kitchen window. Such island noises are varied; sheep bleeting, the sweeping of stairs, the ruins of time, the hum burr of the petulant motorbike. But the city is monotone – even in smell. I long for carpet, fabric to muffle and peel down the timbre. The slams and creaks above and below a voice talking in an accent that isn’t mine through the walls like a vapour.
Others like us and others not gather and gaggle, gawping eyes and opening doors designer clothes scent sunglasses mirrored to reflect the gravity keeping the rest of us away. Squawking Monastiraki gleams and stinks at night, first rains of autumn, this new season shines, loosening a slick of filth into the blocked drains. Too late I say. For us. To leave.
Isn’t that what we share with the sounds and smells? Not belonging. The wrong time, wrong country – wrong skin full of bones that don’t fit and clunk as we run. Heavy weight of bags trapping shoulders making welts. Cohen on repeat. Lost.
Winter not even in the shadows but people out before it reaches them in the last cold water flats and empty furnaces. Platia Iroon fills with Greeks wearing seasonal clothes; boots shining new and long trousers hemmed, light sweaters. Everyone else is flip flopping in the dirty puddles shorts and sheen sweat faces. Holiday. Snap.
This city is full of fools don’t let anyone tell you about the crisis while sipping fine 5euro coffee. They rebuild. Abandoned is an idea being swept out with lost people making room for stainless steel shower heads and slender chairs of honeyed wood. Air. Pay to breathe it. B&B. This is for the rich.
Smoke car fumes in my eyes looking like I’ve been crying. City snot. So far from home the kid shouts bedding down in doorways with the funk unwashed stink of lost. Countries or fixed ideas. What good did they do for anyone? Half here half there we don’t draw lines or marks in sand to say much of anything. Better to drift than pledge allegiance to something solid, cruel, broken. Sit in your tower and holler.
Yet I’m watching us pile into the plane seats, scent of adventure and neon plastic, caught in the idea of how many leave never to return. Land in Luton like me but not; with new lives and jobs to go. Using up freedoms holding hands packing big suitcases with everything they won’t ever need. Just in time to open and let the last smell of home reach them.
Warm. Like fried food and old clothes.