I was standing in the beating down sun at the side of a road in the tiny Greek village of Argyrades, waiting for a bus to turn up and take me to Kerkyra- the main town on the island of Corfu. My plan was to catch a ferry to Albania at around 5pm, but knowing that the buses on the island are few and far between, and also notoriously unreliable (each time I’d boarded one it had arrived at least twenty minutes later than expected), I had decided to catch this particular bus at around 11am. In classic ‘me’ style, I had allowed a safety net of approximately five hours in order to ensure that I made it on to the ferry. But when you’re used to travelling on Southern Rail in England, this makes perfect sense. Trust me.
The only other person at the bus stop was a Greek girl in her early twenties staring sullenly into the distance, shuffling her trainers every now and then and occasionally glancing over at me- the pale English lass who was refusing to sit in the shade in a desperate attempt to achieve something resembling a tan. Even though I was at a bus stop, not on a beach. Every now and then a car or a coach load of tourists would trundle past, but for the most part the road was rather on the quiet side. The background noise of cicadas chirruping away carried on underneath the every-now-and-then drive-bys, punctuated with the laughter of some old Greek grandads gathered outside a bar over the road drinking extra-strength Greek coffee.
The Grandads give it away
It was a beat or two after the Grandfather Collective’s loudest laughter thus far, that the Greek girl turned to me.
“Excuse me. Are you Greek?”
The fact that she was asking, in English, if I was Greek, told me that she was almost certain that there was no way on this earth that I could possibly be of Greek heritage. I’ve got a real Casper the Friendly Ghost vibe going on in terms of my skin colour, know what I’m saying? After we’d established my very much non-Greekness:
“I just overheard what those old men were saying. In Greek. They don’t think there will be any buses today, because it’s a public holiday.”
Well that one really threw me. It was about an hour’s bus journey from Argyrades to Kerkyra, and in 30C heat up and down some seriously hilly ground, whilst carrying a hand-luggage sized bag, that is just not a distance that I’d consider walkable my friends. I was in a real conundrum; and so was she. The only thing that I could really offer up in reply at that point was “Oh no.” Which lets face it, solves nothing.
“I’m Eva,” she replied. That also solves nothing, but if you’re going to be stuck at a bus stop with a stranger for the unforeseeable future, you might as well get to know one another. “I’m Alex.”
I started frantically googling ‘national holidays in Greece’ and ‘do Corfu taxis run on public holidays,’ and everything I could find online seemed to be saying it was a ‘NO’ from Corfu taxis. They’re not really fans of running on public holidays; and even if they were, I couldn’t track down the phone numbers of any companies anyway.
Eva spills the beans
The two of us continued to sit at the roadside, stumped, although I eventually admitted defeat and joined Eva beneath the bus shelter’s flimsy roof. Tan or no tan, I was not prepared for this level of sun exposure and was beginning to simultaneously fry and boil- which is rather an uncomfortable experience truth be told.
Eva was also trying to reach Kerkyra, because that’s where she lives. Argyrades is very, very beautiful, but there’s also not really anything there aside from little alleyways, cats and churches. It just didn’t seem like the kind of place a 22 year old would want to spend an evening, especially not if it meant getting stranded there the next morning. (Not that she had predicted that part.) When I asked Eva what she was doing in the little forgotten village of Argyrades, so far away from busy and bustling Kerkyra, she sighed and said-
Oh no, Eva. I winced. She was looking very sad about the whole situation.
She had gone back to a guy’s house- in the Village Before Time, Argyrades- on the back of his moped, the night before. She wasn’t 100% sure about the whole situation, with the main conundrum being that he clearly lived quite far away from Kerkyra, so how on earth would she get back? He told her not to worry, he would take her back to Kerkyra in the morning on his moped, so everything was under control and hunky dory.
Next thing you know, she’d woken up bright and early the next day to the guy telling her she had to get out immediately as his grandma and the rest of the family were coming on over. The moped offer clearly no longer stood, and when Eva asked how on earth she was supposed to get home from all the way out in the middle of nowhere, he said he had absolutely no idea.
THE SHEER AUDACITY I TELL YOU.
That morning, Eva had come to the conclusion that all boys in Corfu are awful, and she might need to cast her nets wider.
I told her maybe it wasn’t Corfiot boys, just the particular Corfiot boys that she somehow seemed always to meet.
“What. A. Douchebag.” If Eva was upset, I was stark raving mad about the whole situation, but I did my very best to attempt to cheer her up whilst also giving her some friendly guidance about sticking with your friends if you’re not sure whether gallivanting halfway across an island with a stranger on a moped is going to end well. I couldn’t be sure whether she was laughing with me or at me, but the main thing was that she was laughing at all after having had such a horrible morning. Poor Eva.
We sat in the bus stop for a long old time, her telling me all about life in Corfu with their ‘awful awful boys’, and me telling her all about life on a ship, and about travelling around by myself from time to time. (“What are English boys like? And boys on the ship, are they nice or also awful?”) I had been rather concerned about Eva’s safety, but she was especially concerned about mine- “travelling alone!? But you have to be careful!! You’re a nice girl!”
Eventually, Eva declared she was going to be brave and call her dad, who she was certain would be ragingly mad with her.
He was ragingly mad at her.
But, he also told her he would drive out from Kerkyra to come and pick her up.
The nicest Greek dad I ever did meet
I decided that once Eva had gone, I would head back to my Airbnb and see if the owners could offer any advice. But as soon as her Dad arrived, Eva yelled at me to get in the car and we were on the way, two hours later than planned, to Kerkyra.
What an unexpected turn of events.
After some vocalisation of his anger with a very colourful collection of Greek swear words combined with a good deal of head-shaking, Eva’s dad thanked me for looking after his daughter (although let’s face it guys, I’d not so much ‘looked after’ her as ‘happened to be waiting for the same bus’), and stopped at a bakery to buy us both some water and pastries. He is clearly a mind reader as by that point I was both starving hungry and severely dehydrated. God bless that man.
And even though I offered to pay for the water and pastries, and at the very least contribute to the cost of the petrol, he refused to accept it. About an hour later, we were finally in the centre of Kerkyra, and after thanking Eva’s dad approximately twelve times, I clambered out of the car and Eva clambered out with me.
…and the nicest Greek lass
“I am buying you lunch, and then I am showing you the way to the port. You made my awful morning one hundred times better so it’s my way to say thank you.”
And that is exactly what she did; we had some gyros and strolled along to the ferry terminal in the afternoon, while Eva earnestly explained that I had to text when I got to Albania, and also be careful because she’d heard some ‘not great stories’ about Albanian boys. (I had nothing to worry about though so don’t worry pals).
A month later I arrived back in Corfu on the ship that I was working on, and got in touch with Eva to meet up on a day that we were docked there. She said she was always jealous of the tourists who come into the shop she works in with their giant Starbucks cups. Don’t get me wrong guys, I wouldn’t normally advocate going all the way to another country and heading straight to Starbucks, but in this particular instance Eva was more of a tourist than I was, so I took her out for coffee as a thankyou. Autumn was on its way and that meant it was imperative that she be introduced to a Pumpkin Spiced Latte as her first Starbucks experience.
We sat by the cricket pitch on Spianada Square- a leftover from the days of British rule- drinking Starbucks and discussing the events of the last month. Eva discovered that I work with approximately forty different nationalities on the ship, and wanted to know what the boys were like for each and every one. Good lass. I admire her determination.
I know you’re not supposed to talk to strangers, pals, but imagine if I hadn’t talked to Eva in the bus stop. She would have had a miserable morning, and I would have still been sitting in the bus stop three days later, skin turned from see-through to scarlet. Frankly it would have been a sorry situation all around.
What a nice lass, what a nice dad, and what a serendipitous turn of events.