Eleni lived independently in the cottage next door until two or three years ago when old age forced her to leave to live with one of her four sons. She has been missed. Her immaculately cultivated garden is now ramshackle and we no longer see her stooped, gathering wild camomile, or seated in splendour on her porch in a purple plastic chair, dispensing greetings to all who pass in the narrow, unpaved lane. Despite the mutual incomprehension of the language barrier, we became friends.
The house is rented now. It is being cleaned for some new, short term guests, musicians from Athens, and so her son and daughter-in-law brought her back for a visit yesterday evening, to sit on her porch and remember. She is 98 now and increasingly frail but still active and mobile. We rushed out of the house to greet her, kissing her on both cheeks. "Ah, fili Eleni"; "file Petro", she sighed back. Without language we could only enjoy the mutual warmth of presence. The daughter-in law-moved her hand, slowly at first in a narrow circular motion, before sweeping her arm out in an extravagant, expansive gesture. "We are all friends together here", she said. She is right. It is why this is the hardest place in the world for me to leave.