This is the second part of the series of my story, which starts with The Missing Coat. From here on out there may be some distressing topics covered.
Back in the ’90s, the tiny Greek island of Spetses was a weird mishmash of traditional Greek villagers running worry beads through their fingers and 20-something Brits partying on Paradise Beach. In the summer, the island was filled with both holidaymakers and British workers, who packed out the bars along the waterfront. Come winter, however, the villagers could go back to drinking their Ouzo in peace. As a family, we’d been to Spetses a couple of times before my parents decided they wanted to call here home. It was a no-brainer for my parents; if they were going to move anywhere away from England, it had to be the place where you could leave your door open day and night, and the only things that would come in uninvited would be a cockroach or a stray cat. Or the absolutely batshit landlady once in a while, but she was harmless enough.
Looking back on it, my parents were like summer and winter in Spetses. My mum was 18 when she had me, so she was in her mid-20s when we moved. Finding a job in the summer would be easy for her, she was just like every other Brit who wanted to push the work/party balance to the limit. Kids or no kids. My dad, on the other hand, was coming to the end of his party years. 18 years older than my mum, he’d had five kids before I was even a twinkle in his eye. He ran a pretty successful video game shop back in our hometown, which he was still overseeing from our little Greek paradise. How on earth he did that without a mobile phone or internet is actually beyond me, thinking about it. We didn’t even have a fax machine. During the summers, he’d work in a hotel as a chef and managed a bar that saw many-a-90s-celeb walk through its doors. In winter, he’d paint houses and twiddle his worry beads. That’s not to say my dad didn’t like a good party back in the 90s, nobody would have ever called him the ‘boring one,’ but it was my mum who was really living the summer dream.
As for me? I was learning the true meaning of “the grass isn’t greener,” when it came to school life. As the only English kid in the tiny Greek-island primary school, I didn’t exactly find myself surrounded by friends. This wouldn’t have been too bad had it not been for the toilets. The only block of toilets was outside and consisted of a hole to squat over in the floor. If you’ve ever been to an old-school Greek island, especially a couple of decades back, you’ll know exactly what I mean. I wasn’t too bothered about squatting over a hole outside, though. Needs must. It was more that the doors didn’t have locks. No friends meant no one to hold the door for you. If only I’d known how easy it would become to ask your new BFF to hold the door for you in any bar or club toilets as an adult. Alas, I’d have given anything to be shoved back in that guinea pig pen after the 80th time of having the door yanked open on me squatting over a hole, with everyone pointing and laughing at the English girl.
On the plus side, the Spice Girls were happening and I’d discovered platform shoes and camo mini skirts thanks to one of my half-sisters. Some of my dad’s other kids came over to see us in Spetses once in a while and Rhianna was only nine months older than me. I know, don’t look at me like that. Blame the lack of male contraception. I cherished these moments, however much we fought or she cut my hair in my sleep, because I learnt so much about the world that seemed so alien to me in my little Greek island bubble. Rhianna and I would go trolling* around the park in our Spice Girls outfits, and I finally felt as though I had a friend for the week or two she was staying.
*Trolling, as my dad would call it, was not bashing people on Twitter back then. It was the art of strutting one’s stuff to attract the attention of boys. Usually, at this point in my life, by filling a training bra under my crop top with tissue.
And so, life in our little paradise continued. Dad would graft, mum would party, and I would cry that I didn’t want to go to a school where everyone watched me pee. Every day was pretty much exactly the same as the last. That was until dad told me to run.
“Run. Quick! Get a doctor.”
My little legs had never carried me so fast anywhere in my life. Wearing just a t-shirt and no shoes, I remember running like my whole life depended on it. Just around the corner and down the hill was a tobacconist. I’d been there many a time to pick up ‘Eikosai Marlboro’ for my chain-smoking parents… Back in the days when kids could buy cigarettes. My Greek was a little rusty, but I managed to convey my pure panic to the man in the shop. He dropped his worry beads and called a doctor.
Even now, I still don’t have the full story of what happened that day. I remember a doctor rushing into my parent’s bedroom to see my mum. I remember my dad telling me not to worry and to go sit with my younger siblings, Corrina and George. I could hear my mum wailing from the bedroom and I wondered if she was dying. I guess in a weird way, she was. The snowball was getting bigger.