You go to Thessaloniki, Greece. Not to the parts of Greece rebuilt to escort tourists towards white statues of petty gods that no one believes in anymore, but Greece where the Grecians live and the water meets them.
Thessaloniki, where you decide to learn how to play chess.
Thessaloniki, where the men lift their pawns and coffee mugs and talk about you in a distant language, not because they want to sleep with you, but for pity. They don’t like your culture. They don’t like your youth or your gender. They don’t believe you are really alive. They don’t think you know what life is.
You assume much in Thessaloniki, but since you assume no one around you speaks English, you can’t very well check your assumptions, can you?
Thessaloniki, where you are merely comely and people don’t want to talk to you because the local women have thick raven hair and bottoms that bounce with sass and goat meat and vigorous lovemaking. Where these women seem to offer their men the secret to life itself with their bodies.
After Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and the other cities where you bought and used up 72-hour bus passes, listened to each track of the museum audio tour, and tipped the mimes, you are relieved not to accommodate opinions other than your own. You sucked up the stories of each city like tapioca balls in bubble tea. Then you left, throwing away the empty cup, ready for another.
Thessaloniki, where you have no specific reason to be alive and no one in particular to live for. You are shocked to discover how good this feels. In your maw, you chew over the goodness of not having to explain yourself. In your crotch, you shine the shine of someone who belongs to nobody. Your eyes light on nothing more than a white, hot, thirty-mile stretch of land and sea. You walk the paved embankment. Your hands float with nothing to hold, nothing to lose. Joy.
You wonder if you betrayed someone to feel this pleasure.
You walk three miles, maybe five. You aren’t wearing your watch but you’ll know when it’s time to turn around. The sun is straight above and the birds, if there are birds here, are quiet. There’s nothing but sand and hardy shrubs this far out from town. You pass an outhouse with graffiti: “‘Everything the light touches is our kingdom.’ – Mufasa.”
You wonder who would source their vandalism from The Lion King, which now in June 2007 is 13 years old. Why this cheesy quote here? It upsets you not to know whether the vandal was being ironic. In five weeks when you are home, you’ll regale your college friends with the story of this Disney quote on a bathroom in backwards Thessaloniki, Greece, but you’ll leave out the fact that you were the most out of place thing here. You wonder what they are doing now, whether they will answer if you Skype them later from the hotel.
The sudden urge to weep for this light-filled world that seems so simple and lonely comes over you. Who are you? Why are you choosing to be a stranger? Why aren’t you home, where people love you?
You sit. Your legs dangle over the water. You look out at some boats moored nearby — their paint is chipped and some have algae growing on their sides. Your uncle has a better one. You see a boat with two floors — a boat where people live, a boat that makes a home for people no matter where they go. There’s room enough in that boat for a big happy family to go on vacations together, you think. Every family’s a happy family in Thessaloniki, and —
Forget it. Assuming exhausts you. You admit that you are now, officially, bored. Even worse: you have now become boring. You’ve gotten so far away from your life that you are no longer even a part of it.
Fuck Thessaloniki and fuck you, you quaking protagonist.
A wind breaks the noon heat and the boats start bobbing. You remove your heart from its cavity and cup your hands around the throbbing swollen thing. You lightly lay it on the sea and watch it drift off. No, it’s not real, but it’s more real than any vision you’ve had in Thessaloniki till now. It’s time to turn around, time to leave behind the men’s stares, the women’s bottoms, and Simba’s father.
Now in this light-filled wilderness, you commit to discovering your mysterious heart. You don’t want to forget this heartbeat, this dull thud, that is your own. You assume nothing. You listen.