My siesta was well underway when I heard flat, anxious footsteps outside and a rough voice whispering as loudly as it could. The other members of our holiday troop were in their respective bedrooms and I stumbled out to quiet the visitor. It was Tarzan. Although every inch of his five-foot stature could be described as stocky, he had been given his nickname as a miniature child more than half a century ago as an unkind reminder of how little he shared in common with his athletic namesake. For years the most notorious and well-loved taxi driver on the island, George "Tarzan" Kastrisios is one of the more memorable physical landscapes the island of Kythera has to offer.
Tarzan shuffled from one foot to the other, hoped that he wasn't disturbing, and said he wanted to talk to me about my sister, who was visiting with me that year.
"My sister?" I was suddenly wide awake. I suppose brothers rarely think of their sisters as objects of desire, especially when their admirers are retired dwarf taxi drivers whose most passionate moments appear to come when blasting tiny birds out of the sky or while winning a game of backgammon in the village cafe.
"It's her boots," he said. My sister Eleni had come to the island after visiting England, where she had bought some smart black walking boots of a brand fashionable in the early 1990's. I had noticed the men in the village taking special note of her gait and Tarzan's visit now explained a great deal. We seated ourselves out of the sun on the veranda.
"They'd be perfect hunting boots. You can't get boots like those in Greece," he said.
"She bought them in England," I said. He asked how much and I told him the sum in drachmas. He rubbed his stubbled chin and at that moment caught sight of the very boots for which he had wandered through the screaming heat to wake me. He pounced on them, snapping one up greedily, and while caressing it in his palms in a manner that would have made his wife jealous, he showed me the workmanship, the springy soles, the double stitching. I had seen the same handling technique applied to ancient whiskies, handmade shooting weapons, and precious jewels, but never to a rubber-soled boot. His furrowed forehead glowed with desire.
After Tarzan's initial ecstasy had subsided, he asked me if I was going to England soon. I wasn't. I said that I'd ask Eleni to send him some on her way back to Australia, but that I didn't know if she'd have time.
"I'll tell you what we can do, my Dimitri," he leaned forward to me and his black eyes shone intensely, his hands never letting go of the smooth boot.
"On her way back to Australia she goes to England and buys the boots for me and I'll pay for them. I'll send it to her - in cash!" He slapped his right hand onto his thigh as if it were a wad of crisp new ten-thousand drachma notes.
"We can figure out the money later," I said. "I really don't know if she has time, Tarzan. We'll have to ask her. And there's the problem with the size - we can't be sure of the size." Tarzan ripped off his old shoe and plugged his foot into Eleni's boot before even a yelp of protest could pass my now widely parted lips. The smoothness of the whole movement recalls a well choreographed modern dance scene or, perhaps more appropriately, a deck of cards being dealt and palmed by a seasoned professional.
The fright I felt at the time, the danger of my older sister coming out and finding Tarzan's unique foot pressing fleshily inside her beloved Doc Martens, was one of those apocalyptic human experiences our memories mercifully suppress. As generous and understanding as my sister can be, I believed my life to be in grave danger at that moment. It was only due to the grace of the gods that I had survived her teenage years, and although we had become very dear to each other since I had moved away to another continent a decade previously, I feared her wrath should she discover me fitting her shoes on rustic Grecian feet.
"They're exactly my size," he exclaimed with glee, wagging his booted foot in my direction. It jiggled slightly indicating that his foot was even smaller than Eleni's. "And they're so light and soft and comfortable!" I looked into the living room window for any movement and moved closer to Tarzan to block the view from inside.
"Please take it off, Tarzan, so that we can check the size," I begged. He was deep in thought. He leaned forward to me again without letting the prized boot even brush the floor.
"I'll tell you what we can do, Dimitri-mou. When your sister leaves the island I'll buy these boots from her! They're so heavy for her to carry anyway, and then she doesn't have to send them from England. Just look at how heavy they are!" He could barely keep his foot off the ground, such was the terrific weight of those terrible boots. I was now worried that he would decide to take them with him right then and there, and expect me to put his old shoes in a paper carry bag for him, or worse, offer to leave them for my sister to wear until she got to London.
I admitted enthusiastically that his idea was brilliant, but that since they were the only shoes my sister had with her, we would arrange for her to send a new pair from England. He agreed reluctantly and took the boot off to check the size (36). I hastily returned it and its mirrored twin to the doorstep where Eleni had left them.
A few days later, when my heartbeat had resumed its normal irregular percussion, while out for our morning wander around the village frontiers, I mentioned to Eleni in passing that the men in the village were spellbound by her boots. This she said she could well understand, and skipped a step or two in those famous boots to confirm the villager's high opinion of them. I added that Tarzan had even requested that we arrange to have a pair sent to him from England. She promptly offered to send the shoes herself. When she asked about the size, I said we couldn't be sure, but that Tarzan had estimated his foot to be about the same size as hers, and that he would risk the possible difference.
"Don't be ridiculous," she told me. "Just get him to come by and try mine on!"
Yanni Sklavos | Koula Entertains | Photo Gallery
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