My first memories with him were made before I could walk.
I remember resting in my cot. I remember burgundy shaded curtains draped over the windows. And I remember looking up at his big smile, while he sung to me, and I kicked my little tootsies. He’d sing and sing and sing, and I’d kick and kick and kick. And then, when he’d leave, I’d cry. And someone else would come in, but I just wanted him to come back. No one else was capable of filling his shoes. No one could see me like he saw me. And I could sense that, from before my first birthday.
Later, when I could walk, I remember our regular trips to the supermarket.
Whenever he’d go for a drive somewhere, he’d plop me in the passenger seat, he’d hand me a roll of Rollo’s, wink, I’d put the little tube of caramel infused chocolate onto my tongue and away we would go. During the trip, he’d be combing his hair in the rear view mirror, making sure he looked a million dollars, which he always did – that handsome bastard. Not that it’s important, but my papou was one handsome gangster, Johnny Depp kind of handsome; high cheek bones, a caved in jaw line, Aldous Huxley styled hair, a strong nose, the kindest eyes you will ever see, and a smile that could melt ice; not to mention that he’d always be rocking a grey suit, white shirt and polished brown shoes as well. And he looked this way always, even when our main mission was merely to get some faki (lentils) from the shop.
What I chiefly remember about our trips, is that, whenever a woman was with her child, and the child was singing it’s pleasant hymn of cries, squeals and gaggles, he would always, without fail, walk up to the woman and tell her, in his broken English, not to worry, that she was an excellent mother, and asking whether he could make her baby laugh again?
I don’t know what it was about him I know exactly what it was about him, but whenever children would look up and at his face, they would immediately stop crying, and start laughing. And kicking. And playing. Just like I used to in my own little cot when I was a chipmunk. There was something so sincere, so authentic, so real about his stare that it would just make you feel that you were alive, that you existed, that you weren’t a ghost caught in limbo on this planet we for whatever reason call home. And every time, without fail, the mother’s would look at him with confused eyes, wondering what on earth had just happened. I remember one mother saying that her son had been crying for hours and she was at her wits end, and then she hugged my papou with tears in her own eyes. It was weird.
And here’s another thing, like me, he was the only atheist in our entire family.
Which is funny, because, back in Greece, my grandma’s father was a priest.
Now, Greek people fast for a week before Easter; you’re not allowed to eat meat, and on Good Friday, you’re not meant to eat meat or dairy. As had grown typical over the years, she would incessantly bust his balls to not eat meat during that weak leading up to Good Friday. And, as was typical, he would pay her as much heed as one would pay an ant crossing the street. But then, on Good Friday, she got extra vocal, demanding, pleading; praying that he refrain from meat eating for just one, single day.
If I’d learnt anything over the years with this man, I’d learnt that he was not only the wisest, but the most stubborn person I’d ever come to know, even more so than me. So on that Good day, he calmly, without words, got in his car, drove to the local grocer, and returned with about 4 kilograms comprising lamp chops, sausages, and steak strips. Then, he ignited the barbeque, pulled out his apron and chef’s hat, and grilled a one-man feast. My grandma cried in her room for about four hours, all the while he, with tongs in hand, whistled his merry Greek hymns, grinning; salivating over the Kingly meal he was about to feast on.
Later, about ten years ago, he had a stroke.
The stroke paralysed him on his right side. He couldn’t talk much, he couldn’t walk much, he couldn’t do much, but he was all there, up stairs. And he was much the same person.
Being such an expressive man, he loathed not being able say exactly what he wanted to say, when he wanted to say it. He loathed having his autonomy stripped from him, and being dependent on his loved ones. So much so that once, he even tried to drive the car, just to prove a point. However, fortunately, he crashed into a fence about 10 metres down the road … that’s how fucking stubborn he is. No one could tell him what to do even when he had lost 90% of the breadth of his vocabulary and was barely able to walk. Because that was him: That crazy old, loving, warm Greek man we all adored more than life itself.
Because the one thing he never lost was that smile, or those eyes, or that sense of humour. No stroke was going to take those things away from him, because so long as he was breathing, those things were what he was.
About two weeks ago the nurse told us that there was some sort of abnormality with his breathing, and that he should go to the hospital. Aside from religious holidays, one other thing that he could not stand the sight of was hospitals or doctors. He’d had some terribly negligent misdiagnosis in the past, and generally didn’t take kindly to getting help from others, so for the whole time while we were there, he was a little on edge – swearing his Greek slurs, waving around his walking stick, grinding his teeth – generally demanding that we leave the hospital as soon as possible. Eventually, he just plainly refused to let them do tests. And there, after a psychiatrist was sent in to determine that he was capable of making his own decisions, in refusing to get scanned and poked and prodded, and concluding that he was indeed in his right state of mind, he was free to leave.
Initially, the tests showed that he probably had cancer, but that it could have been an infection. So they gave him medicine to combat the infection, just in case. But then, a week after hospital, his health took a slide down a steep hill. And then yesterday, he died.
At first, I wanted to write this post to express how sick my insides feel; the extent to which I wish I would get hit by a bus, struck by a bolt of lightning, or just simply didn’t wake up from my sleep. About my worst nightmare becoming a reality. But, hell, this post is about him. The most beautiful man I have ever known. And so here, it stops.
I don’t know what I’m going to do without you, papou, but all that I know is that if I ever manage to pull myself out from this trench, whatever little good I do with this petty life of mine, you are the one, single person who inspired it all.