Maria Kostaki is a native of Moscow, Russia, but has spent most of her adult life on a plane from Athens, Greece to New York City and back. She holds a Masters of Journalism (magazine) from New York University, where she was a recipient of a grant from the Knight Foundation. She has worked as an editor and staff writer for Odyssey magazine in Athens and New York and her nonfiction has appeared in publications such as Elle Décor, Insider Magazine, and Odyssey.
Her short story, “Shorter”, was published in the Summer 2010 edition of Flashquake. Maria is working on her debut novel, “Father,” a story about unconditional love as it takes its protagonist, Sasha, on a powerful path of both destruction and healing.
Please visit Maria Kostaki’s website: www.mariakostaki.com
Recently, I was led to a hole in a fence. It was a man-made hole, someone had used pliers to cut through the wires, just big enough for a person to climb through. Beyond the fence was a beach. I knew it was there but had never bothered to go in, sticking to self-set rules of a snobby Athenian that state that true Aegean beaches take a plane or at least, a boat ride. The premises belong to the Greek Ministry of Tourism and during the hot summer months, thanks to its proximity to the city, it may as well be an ant-hole surrounded by a swamp. But a few weeks before locals start swarming the coasts, it’s paradise. The sand has just been cleaned and spread, it’s spotless except for ripples that the tractor’s tracks have left, still untouched by feet, empty garbage cans dot the shore, ‘Life is a beach, keep it clean’ stamped on their faces, and the sound of the waves block out the traffic from the highway just above. The water is sexy, first scaring me with its iciness, numbing me, then slowly seducing and encasing me as it grows warmer, stroking my tightened skin.
It’s noon on a Monday in May. I walk towards the side where the water is clearest of pebbles and seaweed. A woman in her late sixties, is sprawled out face down on the sand. She’s topless, a G-string covering a sliver of her body which is the color and texture of a milk chocolate bonbon left out in the sun just enough to slightly melt and then quickly put into the fridge. An old-fashioned radio catches the static from a station next to her head that’s hidden from the sun beneath a white swimming cap. A strand of bleached blond hair escaped from the side. It brushes against her ear in the breeze.
I lay my towel a few meters away from a mother and daughter. The sound of tennis balls hitting wooden racquets and yelps of ‘Bravo!’ make their way from the Winter Swimmers Club housed in a small building behind the shore. The members come down to the beach only to walk, run or swim. Otherwise they pull out beach chairs, coolers, sandwiches wrapped in aluminum foil shining like little slates of silver in the early summer sun, and keep to one another. When a member chooses to flee the flock and lay on the sand, someone is sure to come running by and ask what they’re doing there, inform them of who has joined the group, who they’re expecting later.
It was the third week that I’d been climbing through the door in the fence, only on weekdays, suddenly aware and unashamed of the fact that I can enjoy the beach while everyone I know is staring at a computer screen at an office. The first few days the winter swimmers stared at me as they walked by, I was an outsider, a stranger, but then we began smiling, nodding, mumbling “good morning”, and finally having full-blown conversations.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be warmer by three o’clock.” I turn around, waist-deep in the water. An old man in red shorts is nonchalantly jogging into the sea. I realize that he is one of them because they are all the same deep brown color.
“I lived in Germany all my life,” he says. “Worked hard at factories, every day, it’s a beautiful country. But I developed a problem with my back, retired and came home. There’s nowhere in the world like here,” he says, spreading his arms to the side, showing me the sea, the horizon, the little island that lays ahead of us, the tanker that floats still in the distance, and the clear blue water that surrounds us. “I swim every day, it does wonders for my back. Where are you from?”
I smile and tell him, and for the sake of conversation ask him what that building is, off to the right of the beach.
“Oh,” he says, shaking his head, “that’s the children’s hospital. It’s very sad. That’s where they take those special children, you know, the ones that are born without hands and legs and things.” I nod. “Go on in,” he says, sensing my unease, “but it will get warmer later, I promise!” He smiles and waves. I dive into the water.
Back on my towel, goose bumps cover my thighs as I aim them at the sun. The beach’s security guard walks by, lifting his arm in a friendly wave, a man jogs by in tight blue trunks, and the tanned man with the green bandana arrives at his usual time. I lay there with my legs spread to different sides, not caring what I look like, none is around to see me. The breeze takes the pages of a science book I’m editing and I chase them as they fly slowly towards the mother and daughter. The mother grabs one and hands it to me. I smile. She doesn’t. They are there every day too. They’re foreign, Slavic I gather from the sound bytes of speech that reach me. The mother lays out her tanned slim body and chain-smokes. Her ashy blond hair is always in a messy ponytail, dark roots inching towards her ears, blue eyes shaded by dark glasses. She looks weathered, hurt, exhausted. The daughter is writing something in the wet sand.
“Mama, mama!” she calls, pointing at her work, inviting her to come to see. The mother jumps up, though I was expecting her to simply glance and nod. She walks over, looks at her daughter’s work, hugs her and kisses her, first on the mouth and then on her forehead. I imagine that she’s written something for mother’s day, like ‘I love you mom’ with a heart in place of the word ‘love’. I find myself envious of the moment they share. I lay back down to focus on my work, grinning at the idea that this is my new office. An airplane cuts a straight white scar through the sky, heading straight for the midday sun, momentarily disappearing in its light.
A few hours later, when a soothing warmth that has seeped through my skin and into my bones, I climb back through the hole in the fence, knowing that it may be the last time I come through it before the beach is open to public, and it is knit shut. I turn back to look at its odd ends and edges, thinking that maybe next year, I’ll cut through its wires.
Text in this post: © Maria Kostaki
Published with the permission of Maria Kostaki