Imagine this: one day you are glowing with health, the other you get almost killed by sprouts carrying the dangerous EHEC bacteria; or, while you’re sitting in silence on a bench, gazing at the calm sea and letting the gentle breeze cool your face, a fuel tank explodes and catches fire in front of your very eyes.
Before you realise what’s going on everything has changed – thick pall of smoke has risen over the place and blackened the sky; the smell of gas has filled the air; a greasy gray spot has marked the sea and killed some of its inhabitants; the people around you have started running as if attacked by aliens. Then, you are no longer thinking how fortunate you are to be here and now but pray that somebody will save you before you burn to death.
All merciful God decides to answer your prayers. You know now you will end up in hospital and are secretly hoping to be treated by one of those nurses in a short white nurse dress, black fashion tights, red-white cap and red high heels. As you arrive, however, you feel kind of... disappointed.
The nurse that took care of me during my five day stay at the ‘Virgen Macarena’ hospital in Seville didn’t have long blond hair, wide blue eyes, thick red lips and an hourglass figure. She didn’t give me a seductive look either; instead, she smiled the smile of someone who knew why I’m actually there and what she had to do.
‘What’s your name?’ she asked, to my surprise, in English.
‘My name is Marc.’
‘Yes, Marc’ I thought, ‘An Englishman condemned to suffer from a deep second degree burns whilst on holidays! Gosh!’
‘I’m Eleftheria. In my country ‘Eleftheria’ means freedom.’
‘So you’re free to do whatever you like’ I tried to laugh out loud, but the pain in my face held me back.
Without saying anything in return, Freedom – I mean Eleftheria –, pursed her thin lips and walked over to the other patient – an old lady with a broken leg.
The old lady with the broken leg on the bed next to the window didn’t stop talking until the nurse left the room. This done, she turned to me and said something, but thank God my ‘no español, sorry’ quickly silenced her. She let out a long sigh, frustration written all over her face.
An hour later Eleftheria returned with our dinner and, instead of saying something while serving it, she started singing! The old lady and I were completely taken aback by this behaviour and couldn’t touch either the grilled chicken breast or the salad until the nurse finished her song.
She performed it again early the next morning. How many times I had to hear it afterwards, I can’t recall, but the refrain still echoes in my head:
Two little crabs are sitting amongst the pebbles on the shore,
Abandoned, anguished, in despair.
Two little crabs are weeping amongst the pebbles on the shore,
Abandoned, anguished, in despair.
For their dear mother Mrs Kavurina
Has just left with Mr Sparos for Rafina.
‘Please DO stop the music!’ at some point I wanted to shout at Eleftheria but something held me back and made me utter ‘It looks like you really like this song.’
‘It’s a special song. It’s my song.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked although the whole situation was starting to get on my nerves.
‘It...’ she hesitated. ‘It kind of tells my story.’
As she said this a tear rolled down her face, followed by an awkward silence.
‘I’m really sorry.’ I finally said.
‘It’s ok. Not your fault.’
Over the next hour, Eleftheria told me that some ten years ago the divorce court had awarded custody to the children’s father who, incapable of forgiving, had prohibited her to ever see either Spyros, at that time a boy of five, or Maria, a girl of two.
‘I don’t blame my ex-husband for throwing me out of the house’ she said. ‘After all, I wasn’t true to him.’
‘But you do blame him for leaving your children motherless, don’t you?’
‘Everything would be different now had I stayed in Athens’ she continued, thus ignoring my remark. ‘But Abelardo wanted to leave.’
Assuming that Abelardo was the man she had had an affair with, I asked her why she had followed him. Did she love him that much?
‘I had nobody else, you know – no parents, no brothers and sisters, no friends. My friends! They all turned their backs on me after the divorce.
Abelardo, I learnt, treated her much better than her ex-husband used to and was ready to fulfil her every wish, provided that she never mentioned anything about her past. Thus Eleftheria, eaten up by grief, began singing her story – to strangers.
‘Remorse will corrode my heart’ she went on. ‘Poor Spyros! Poor Maria! I’d give anything to see them again. If I knew where they are right now... ‘
‘How could I not worry? You have no idea how my children suffer!’
‘You suppose they suffer a lot’ I said, ‘But you can’t be sure, since you haven’t seen them for ten years.’
She said nothing but wiped away a tear and walked out of the room. Next time I saw her Eleftheria didn’t sing. Her small green eyes looked more thoughtful than ever.