Letters in Delphi. Photo taken by me, summer 2011.

The urchin

We had little money that year so we decided to spend our summer vacation driving around continental Greece with a tent in the trunk of a small rental car. It was deathly hot outside and we debated sorely over whether or not the car’s air conditioner was a waste of gasoline. Every now and then you’d pull over to rest your burning, itching eyes.

We were driving around, lost and landlocked for hours until beyond a parched field, over a rocky crevasse, like a mirage in the middle of the desert, we spotted an isolated, seemingly idyllic beach.

The water was a cool blue azure, much like you’d see in the postcards.

Crossing the field and carefully climbing down the crevasse, the heat was unbearable. Une canecule we’d say in French. A heatwave. When we arrived at the shore, it was covered in an ominous blanket of sea urchins. This was no place for bathing. No wonder why the only sign of life was a rusty abandoned camping car with shattered windows. Fed up, I picked up an urchin and chucked it a few feet away.

Determined to make the most of it, you courageously tiptoed your way through the minefield and waded your way into deeper water. The Aegean current seemed unpredictable on this shore. We could hear the sound of waves slamming against the surrounding rocks.

“Come in the water,” you beckoned me at the top of yoir voice. 
“The water is perfect. There are not many oursins over here. Just float and avoid touching the ground.”

I went over to look at the urchin that I had thrown. I noticed that it was bleeding dark red blood. Its mouth was contracting and I could see its tiny teeth: it looked as if it was silently screaming in agony. Suddenly, this amorphous prickly thing had an anatomy and perhaps even a soul. I felt guilty and sad. I picked it up and carried it back to the water where it could at least die hydrated among its brethren.

When we returned to Athens, protesters were occupying a square in the city centre. The economic crisis was spiraling out of control. Outside the city, stray dogs wandered in packs. I asked the man at the front desk of our dodgy hostel to change my bedsheets because they appeared to be spattered in blood. You confirmed that it wasn’t my imagination. You kept your steely-eyed composure.

A friend sent us a text message saying that our beloved old cat had run away and she did not know what to do for us. We did not want to spend another precious centime on a long distance phone call, only to cry about our lost cat, thousands of miles away. What good would it do? We tried not to think about it.

We were tired and disheveled. While we waited to turn in the keys to our rental car, an ostensibly wealthy couple cut us in line.

I sat on a park bench and began to sob.

“Il faut relativiser,” you’d try to assure me.
Relativiser, a verb that has no literal English translation. 
Make it relative. 
Put it into perspective.

A man sitting on another park bench a few feet across from us looked on. I continued sobbing, you tried consoling me and he kept on staring. At first I thought he was looking at us with sympathy and concern. But then I noticed that his face was expressionless and eerie. The sunlight bleached everything around us. I squinted my eyes, foggy with tears.

Then I realized that he was masturbating.

Like what you read? Give Sarah W. Rose a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.