Vignettes of Greece - I

It’s nearly noon but the Athens subway train is surprisingly crowded — all ages, all colours, most carrying goods in a cloth bag or attached to their cell phones/MP3 players by an umbilicus attached to an ear bud.

The heavy-lidded dude lounging on the seat diagonal to mine is wearing cheap fabric shoes with elastic straining across the arches of his chubby feet. His face is creased into a permanent frown as he fingers his indigo prayer beads — it’s as if he smells something foul as he glares around the car.

A red and green striped awning of a shirt cradles his belly like an apron. His haunches are spread over his seat and half of the next. He holds his knees flared open; his inadequate junk doesn’t make more than a suggestion of bulge.

He’s giving me the once-over. I want to yell, “I’m wearing shades, man, but I’m still able to see you!” Instead, I flip up my glasses and stare back. He couldn’t care less.

A young woman perches beside me with her legs demurely crossed at the ankles. Under caterpillar brows, those bloodshot eyes of his probe her body like fingers. She’s engrossed in a novel and doesn’t notice him. I mutter under my breath, choirídio - pig, but I’ve become invisible.

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A tanned older gent in blue worker’s overalls sways to the rhythm of the subway wheels. He’s sporting a forest green wool sweater tied nattily around his neck and he juggles a bright blue plaid plastic shoulder bag in his hand as he stares into the middle distance, a smile tugging at his lips. A happy memory? When he turns his head and glances out of the window to the right, I’m treated to the view of a most magnificent, parrot-beak nose jutting from his muscular face.

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A dumpy, leathery-skinned woman dressed in black, her scarred handbag strapped across her chest, weaves from side to side at the front of the subway, declaiming loudly in a harsh voice. The mid-day commuters around her wince as they edge away, leaving her in a narrow DMZ. They grab for their cell phones, dialing someone, anyone, trying to look busy, shaking the pages of their Metros and darting glances everywhere but at her.

Ah, she’s begging — I recognize parakalos, please. A path opens as she sways down the length of the car, muttering her useless mantra — parakalos, parakalos, parakalos. No one pays her any attention. As I reach for my change purse, the business-suited man sitting across from me leans in and spreads his fingers above mine, cautioning, no.

What should I do? I’m a visitor, torn between a desire to help but wary of committing a cultural gaffe. Head down, I slide my fingers away and let the coins fall to the bottom of my bag.
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