“Watch out!” The warning came too late. I was already sliding down the hill, the sharp small rocks cutting in my flesh, desperately trying to hold on to the small plants on the sides of the path. Looking like a bug that flipped by accident and was sliding on its back, helpless. After 5 meters or so, I finally stopped, my white shorts all red from the dust, my skin scratched and sore, my hands bleeding. “I told you not to wear flip-flops” was all she said, passing beside me, not offering a helping hand or a word of compassion. Ahhhhh, mother!
At the very west point of Crete, on the very last day of our vacation. Balos. A magical natural reserve, leading to a beautiful lagoon. That’s all I was talking about for the past 3 days, trying to convince her to drive us there. She was lying leisurely on her deck chair next to the pool, sipping one virgin cocktail after another, renewing her tan oil and turning the pages of her novels. Wearing her black swimsuit and her white straw hat. A true lady. She showed mercy finally, she rent a car, put on trainers and drove us to Balos.
The dust street to the lagoon was rocky, narrow and full of dips. Dry hills leading to the blue Aegean, some wild goats running around and gazing at the passing cars. After an hour or so driving, her swearing that the car will break, that I was crazy, that doing this was pure madness, we arrived.
The path that led down to the beach was stip and narrow. It was early afternoon, the sun was blinding and the heat was at its peak.
She stopped and read every sign, not bothered by my nagging. Information about the natural reserve, warnings that it was forbidden to cut flowers and plants, bother the animals, pick up rocks and sand. It felt like walking on a deserted planet: the unrealistic heat, the dryness and redness of the landscape, the sea unseen.
And then it just emerged, once the path turned downhill. Balos at all its glory.
Sapphire waters. Golden sand. An island looking like a mountain in the middle of the lagoon. She stood still and looked at it. “Well now, that’s something” she said as I was dusting the dirt off my shorts, looking helplessly at my scratches. “You know, Balos is a typical Cretan dance, couples dance opposite to each other. I guess that’s where the name comes from, this hill opposite to the island”.
So typical of her, not to give a dime for my suffering, not to recognise any good idea I’ve had. I walk down to the beach behind her, looking resentfully at her beautiful back. It’s difficult for an unformed, clumsy 16-year old to have such a pretty, perfect mother. I can’t help it, I feel bad every time we walk together in the street and I catch glances of admiration and smiles. All for her. I’m invisible.
She takes a deckchair, lights a cigarette and opens her novel. I swim in the swallow, warm water, I wander around, I lie on the sand, I stare at the sun going down. I observe couples holding hands and taking pictures, kids playing with the sand, old men looking resigned or simply calm, staring quietly at the horizon.
She waives at me, it’s time to go, before the sun is down. We climb the path uphill, now it’s not that warm anymore, but the climbing is difficult. I stop every now and then, breathless. She’s not waiting for me, she must be reaching the car already. Well, let her wait. I sit on a rock and watch the sun set at Balos, dying the skies pink and the waters lilac. For a moment, I know that my life is about to dawn somewhere far, far away from here, far, far away from her.