He passed before I got a good look at him. I only saw the uneven rise of his stride, the overshot ups and fluid, lolling downs. He wore a black fedora tied with a white ribbon. Black t-shirt, tucked in, and dyed shorts, whitewashed and thick-seamed down to his knees, where he’d rolled up the hem. Thin, bare legs tapered to thin, sock-clad ankles and yellowing canvas shoes that seemed too small, tapping out an irregular beat against the long, brown-tiled hallway. I listened as he walked out of sight: bum—ba-bum—bum—ba-bum.
I can only imagine the stranger’s face: large brown eyes, looking sad beneath thick lenses; Roman nose, a long aquiline lambda, two flared and symmetrical nostrils; thin, purplish lips pursed as if to catch the little beads of sweat forming on his upper lip and moistening his hairline. I imagine a half-hearted mustachio, sallow cheeks, and olive skin.
He must have been a golden skinned baby. He must have come from some Aegean country, some salt-crusted, reefed beach along the Mediterranean, where figs grow and olive trees blossom yellow in the spring. People from that region recognize the poetic sensuality of the olive, how it pleases all the senses: round and firm to the touch, its texture decadent on one’s tongue, its aroma and unmistakable flavor. The olive begins life sour and puckered; brine cultivates it, making the fruit lovely and invitingly plump. This stranger must have come from some scorching place where the heavy roots of olive trees intertwine with the soul.
I have only seen the Mediterranean in pictures: huge red nets spread over weather-beaten fishing boats; colonies of cats waiting at the docks for fishermen who return with buckets of small, oily fish; long blue stairways descending the hills, dividing rows of white houses.
My brother once visited Greece for some months. He fell in love with the starkness of the land, the white of its beaches, the cool pale water. He drank a lot of ouzo. While in Greece, he sent me pictures of Santorini and Mikonos: huge expanses of white, and sudden portals of unabashed color: cobalt, crimson, marigold, violet. His skin shone, dark and tan, and the sun bleached the tips of his hair white gold. In photos, my brother stands proud, some new god in front of the white walls, smiling with abandon at the call of distant drums: bum—ba-bum—bum—ba-bum.