CHANNILLO

1. On holiday
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PART I - Nec in Arcadia Ego

 

For a moment it was perfect: the sun, the shadow, the scent of a jasmine-like flower winding its way around the window. She could have lain there forever, not even reading, not even thinking, just being. 

But already it was time for Jayne to make her way down to the tiny harbour, dotted with boats and reeking of seaweed, to meet her cousins for drinks and dinner.

All things considered she was glad she had taken their suggestion of a holiday together. She had forgotten in the intervening years that they were what her father had described as "boat people": sailing fanatics. Casting her mind back now she remembered a childhood holiday of yellow sou'westers, foul weather and the misery of endlessly tacking around the Isle of Wight in a bitter gale. Since then most shared family occasions had been Easter or Christmas parties and a couple of weddings and funerals.

If her cousins were disappointed by her choice to spend her days on land while they sailed, they put on a cheerful front. And really, spending evenings with them was enough. Jayne was used to her own company. She liked tranquility. There was plenty to explore. And the peace of the villa with its small, walled garden - more of a courtyard really - enclosed and private and quiet during the day.

They had ended up dining at the same taverna most evenings. Most of the restaurants and bars were alike: ouzo at sunset, the aroma of grilled souvlaki, syrup-oozing baklava. Despite her inertia Jayne was hungry.

She arrived before her cousins and sat contentedly at a table, the same table as the previous night, watching the water. She had been gazing at a small group of divers mooring and preparing to leave their boat some distance away, when she realised one of them looked familiar.

Caroline! She hadn't seen her for several years. One of her set at university, part of a group that shared tutorials and swapped lecture notes, roomed together and socialised together. They had been quite a gang but Jayne had drifted away back to home life after graduation and not kept in touch very well.

And here she was in Greece, slightly surprisingly the only woman in a group of men, all of whom looked Greek or Mediterranean. Jayne didn't remember Caroline having an interest in diving. Something about the group struck her as professional or commercial, they didn't appear to be returning from a leisure dive. It was unusual. 

The group were still too far to call out to, so Jayne waited until they had reached the harbour's edge and were a few yards from passing her table. She waved and called out "Caroline!" but the woman in the group didn't respond or even turn her head. "Hi, Caroline!" Jayne called again, but she walked straight past.

Had she been mistaken? She was sure she had not been. Yet something prevented Jayne from running after her. If Caroline was staying here there was a chance of seeing her again even though her holiday was nearing its end. Perhaps she was tired and just wanted to get back to her accommodation and change. Or maybe divers wore some kind of earplugs, Jayne wondered.

Before she could think too much about it her cousins arrived, salt-sprayed and full of enthusiasm for the sea and the sailing. "You really are missing out Jayne," the youngest said. "A great shame you've lost your sea legs." They began an animated discussion about something to do with boats that was beyond Jayne's knowledge or interest, though they cheerfully and obliviously tried to include her, and she smiled and murmured at appropriate moments as the wine came, her mind cast back to her university days.

Et in Arcadia ego. Had it really been only a few years ago? It seemed a distant memory. The relentless roll of the terms, exams, finals. For a time that had been so intense it was odd to find it now such a blur. Had she deliberately buried the memories? The eight of them had seen one another nearly daily for three years but Jayne had barely kept in contact since.

Caroline, long dark brown hair, slightly horsey, kind, hard working. Very bright. From a very different background to Jayne: a titled family with a stately home, but always approachable and without airs. Jayne had very little idea of what had happened to her since they graduated. She knew that Caroline did something in the city at a merchant bank, but she had no idea what precisely. Caroline likely didn't need to work but she was the kind of person who would have done so anyway.

Jayne hadn’t gone up to London and embarked on a impressive career like the others. She attributed this to the loss of her parents and the distance from her home town. But was there a faint sense of shame and embarrassment, that she had gone back and done nothing much with her education and rather stagnated. Up until this moment Jayne had thought she was quite happy to stagnate. Now, seeing Caroline again, she felt a sudden sense of loss. What were they all doing? What were their lives like? Were they happy? Did they see one another regularly?

"You're away with the clouds tonight, Jayne," her female cousin, the middle one, said. 

Jayne blushed and apologised.

"I thought I saw someone I knew from university, but I didn't manage to catch her attention," she said. "It started me reminiscing."

"It's such a small place here, you'll probably bump into her again," her oldest cousin said. 

Yet as he said this Jayne suddenly knew, with a clear and strange premonition, that she wouldn't. If she saw Caroline again it wouldn't be here. She knew within herself that Caroline had heard her, must have seen her. But she had chosen not to respond. She would avoid a future encounter. Despite this Jayne did not feel slighted. She knew that Caroline had good manners and there was no animosity between them. Caroline had no reason to snub her. Whatever her reasons, they had prevented her from being able to stop and make contact, and one day Jayne might well find out why. Jayne was too patient to be very curious but her mind lingered on a few possibilities.

"I don't expect so," Jayne said. "But we’ll see."

Thankfully the conversation turned away from sailing to old family anecdotes and Jayne found herself better absorbed in it, insulated from her own thoughts. They were kind people, her cousins, and good company.

"We should take a day off the water and visit Delphi tomorrow," her female cousin was saying. 

Her brothers cried her down. "What about our plans to sail to that little island? It's only reachable by water."

"We could always go next week. Or you boys can go without me. I'd like to spend a day here. And poor Jayne, she must be feeling a bit neglected. She's been spending nearly the entire holiday alone."

Jayne wasn't feeling neglected at all but she was touched by her cousin's consideration. She happily agreed to a day of sightseeing and souvenir shopping.

The four cousins walked back to the villa in the inky darkness.

* * *

The ascent to Delphi mid-morning, after the rickety bus had dropped them at the foot of the site, was idyllic. Yellow broom shone bright in the sunlight as they made their way past ruined shrines and temples to the stadium at the top. It was pleasant to have someone to share it with. Her cousin chatted on about her job and her colleagues and a recent boyfriend she had, and Jayne realised how bare her own life was of people her own age. It really hadn't been since university that she had conversed like this.

Of course Jayne's isolation wasn't entirely her own fault. She had chosen to nurse her father unto the end, anything else was unthinkable to her. He had been a widower, her mother having died several years previously. He was already an elderly man and Jayne was all he had. Family members and neighbours had been very kind but it was her burden. 

And then finally he had died. Peacefully and in line with doctors' predictions. There was sadness, deep sadness, but no shock. And Jayne's living situation was unaffected. Her parents, cautious and modest living their whole lives, had left her the house as well as a small income from their careful investments.

So Jayne had stayed at home and drifted for the past few years, tending to the garden that was her parents' pride, involving herself with occasional village events. She wasn't even waiting for something to happen, life just continued. And then this Easter her cousins had invited her over and suggested the holiday. That was the first disruption. And now she had seen Caroline and she rather felt that everything had further shifted and changed. It was time for something new, but she didn't know what.

A couple of thousand years ago she could have consulted the oracle at the very temple she stood before now. "I'm surprised some Greek doesn't dress up in a robe and do predictions for a few drachma, he'd make a mint," her cousin said.

"I think it was a woman actually, the Pythia," Jayne said, consulting her guidebook. "What do you think you would ask an oracle?"

"I don't think you asked them anything specific, they just tell you what will be," her cousin said.

What will be. Standing here on this hillside, Mount Parnassus looming to the north. The hum of crickets, the sweet bright scent of broom. I will go home and England will be greyer, thought Jayne. She considered for a moment that she could stay here longer for a few more weeks or even months. She had no commitments and sufficient means. 

But winter would come here too.

"You're very pensive, Jayne."

"It's so lovely here, I wondered for a moment about staying on."

"Lucky you! When I think of all my work piling up back in the office."

"Oh I wasn't really serious," Jayne said. "I need to get back too."

But she didn't, not really. There was no one waiting for her, not even a cat. The garden would cope with a little neglect now summer was ending. Nonetheless she would go back. She wanted to go back. She wanted to try and reconnect with some of the people she'd lost touch with. Even Caroline.

Next: 2. The funeral

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