It was his mother who asked me to talk to him.
'What else can I do?' she said, once she had me cornered in the privacy of her own kitchen. 'He comes to me and says mama I want to move to the city. Why? I say, what is wrong with the village? I cannot stay in the village, he says. I say you have to stay you are too young to go to the city. He says I am nearly nineteen, and I say I know how old you are I am your mother! And I slap him on the head,'
Maria was demonstrating the conversation with actions; I had to duck. Originally from the village she had lived a long time in America before moving back to raise her family here in the traditional way. She had three sons of which Dimitris was the oldest. And the cutest in my reckoning.
She barely paused for breath before continuing to recount the story to me.
'I slap him but it does not stop him saying he wants to move to the city so I say why? Why do you want to go? What is there that is not here? He falls silent for a moment and then looks me in the eyes, at least he looked at me when he told me. I have done something bad, he said and my heart stopped. Bad? What, what have you done that is bad? Have you stolen? No mama I have not stolen. But it is a crime. A crime? I say, what crime? Against your family? He says no. Against your neighbours? No mama. Against who? If it is a crime you have done it must be against someone? Who?'
She started fiddling with the crucifix she always wore around her neck and looked down at me as I sat silently at the kitchen table. 'You need to drink coffee,' she said by way of a direct order and immediately turned to the stove. I knew there was no point in disagreeing; she was quite a formidable woman. Besides, to refuse would have been impolite.
As she took down the small pan from above the stove and clattered around for a tiny cup and coffee powder, she carried on talking with her back to me.
'I had to repeat myself, a crime against who? And then he told me. Panagia mou!' She exclaimed and crossed herself. 'I did not know what to do. Against God, he said. I crossed my self, three times, and tried to keep calm. I could see he was troubled. Against God? I said. What do you mean?'
She measured out enough water for one cup of coffee and put it with the powder into the small pan. I heard, rather than saw, the pot on the electric ring, her hand was trembling, the metal pan clacked against the stove as she stirred the brew. I waited for the end of the story. It was quick in coming.
'He told me...' she paused to collect herself. I saw her shoulders slump. 'He said, I am like the English man who lives in the village. And I knew what he meant.'
I, the only English man in our tiny Greek village, did not.
'Like me?' I said, once I knew it was safe to speak. 'What did he mean?'
She turned to look at me across her shoulder, briefly and apologetically.
'I am sorry,' she said before turning her attention back to the stove. 'It is different for you, you are not from the village. You are not one of us. You are not like Dimitris and yet he says you are.'
'I still don't understand, Maria,' I said.
But actually I did. There were only two obvious things that set me apart from my neighbours. One, I was English and they were Greek; and two, I was gay. My heart did a quick back-flip as I figured that Dimitris was definitely not English.
The coffee had boiled and she poured it back into the tiny cup. Turning once more to place it on the table in front of me she shrugged and sat heavily in a chair.
'You know what I am trying to say?' she said and nodded at me encouragingly.
'Yes,' I replied.
'You will speak with him.' It was another order.
'And say what?'
She studied me carefully and I felt proud that she had confided this in me. A small village such as ours was not the place in which to be different. Unless, like me, you were an outsider. Even then you were only tolerated and never really accepted. But Maria had done more than tolerate me she had trusted me.
'Say whatever he needs to hear,' she said quietly and took my hand in hers. 'I just want him to be happy. I will send him to you this evening at eight.'
And that was the end of the matter.
Dimitris has dark, short hair that is always kept neat and tidy. His eyes are a deep brown, round and always twinkle with youthful enthusiasm. He has a zest for life that is contagious, greets everyone with a cheery 'good day' and his smile seems permanently fixed on his smooth, tanned face. He always stands tall and proud. He wears clothes that show off his physique and these are always washed and ironed, smart and fashionable. Dimitris wears jeans that are tight at the waist and hug his backside, at the front they give little away unless you see him on his motorbike when they tighten up around his crotch. When you see him riding towards you, you pretend to be looking at something in the middle distance and thinking. You stare at such an angle that, when he invariably stops to greet you, your eyes are already fixed on the place where his bulging crotch will be. After a moment of joyous voyeurism you pretend that you have just noticed his presence and you look up into his beaming face. He never notices that you do this every time but occasionally he slaps you on the shoulder and you thrill at the touch, or he winks as he clicks his bike into gear and your heart melts.
That is Dimitris.
At eight-fifteen, in answer to a knock on the door, I called for him to come into my courtyard. I was staring into a glass of beer and wondering what on earth I was going to say to him. When I looked up I saw a different Dimitris.
His eyes were dull and a little red, as if tired from crying. They did not sparkle. His hair was askew as if he no longer cared about how it looked. And his tanned complexion somehow looked paler, he looked scared. He hovered in the doorway, stooping slightly, shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans and shuffled his feet.
I smiled and shrugged. We both knew why he was there. We were both embarrassed.
'Come and sit down,' I said, sounding like a schoolteacher. 'Shut the door.'
'Or leave it open if you feel safer.'
He closed the door, walked quietly to the table and pulled out a chair. When he sat he put his hands in front of himself, locked them together as if praying and bowed his head.
I pushed a bottle of beer towards him; he glanced at it and grabbed it quickly. But he didn't drink it, he just held it between his hands and stared at it. I knew this was not going to be easy.
'You mother asked me to talk to you,' I said. He made no response. 'But I don't really know what to say.'
He shrugged. That was it.
'She said that you had told her...' I didn't know where to start or how to break the ice. But then I had an idea. 'Actually,' I changed the tone in my voice, tried to sound less formal. 'What she actually said was...'
I slipped into the local dialect and accent, raised my pitch an octave or two and imitated Maria's fast, machine-gun fire conversation, more or less word for word. I even included the part about the coffee, stood up and pretended to be making it. I put down the pretend coffee in front of him, pulled my chair closer and said, as she had done, 'you will speak with him.'
Dimitris had changed. He looked more like the lad I had known from a distance for many years. And he was laughing.
'And say what?' I asked myself in the same way as I had asked his mother earlier.
'What did she say then?' Dimitris asked, turning his chair a little towards me, his face beaming once more.
'Say whatever he needs to hear,' I said quietly and took his hand in mine as she had done. 'She just wants you to be happy.'
His hand felt soft and warm, thrilling and yet alien. I had never touched him before and fully expected him to pull away and resume his previous attitude. Instead, he placed his other hand over mine and squeezed it. I felt my pulse quicken.
'Then she must let me go to the city,' he said seriously, looking directly into my eyes. 'I can only be happy there.'
'Why can't you be happy here?' I asked.
I did know why. He was young and he knew he was different, gay. He wanted to explore, find love, try sex, be with other people like himself and break free from the backwater village where we lived. Who could blame him?
I smiled knowingly and nodded. 'OK,' I said. 'So what can I tell you?'
'You can tell me a good place to stay,' he replied and his mouth broke into an impish grin.
'You'll need more than a place to stay,' I said, my schoolteacher voice returning.
'I will make friends.'
'I will find a job.'
'And other men?'
His expression changed; he did not understand.
'What will you do when another man asks you for sex,' I said bluntly.
'I don't know,' he replied and his back straightened.
'Would you know where to start?'
'What would you say to him?'
'I don't know.'
'What would you be prepared to do with him?'
'How do you mean?'
'I mean sex.'
He was still holding onto my hand, I was still holding onto his. We were both starting to sweat. I thought I could feel his pulse quicken to match the excited, expectant rhythm of my own.
'To have sex with another man?' he asked quietly, his eyes averting to look at his beer bottle.
I nodded seriously. 'You should know what it is like before you go.'
I felt bolder now. I was convinced that no matter what I, or his family, said he was going to leave for the city, and as soon as he could. I may never get another chance to be this close to him. He had come to me for instruction and maybe he would be willing to let me show him, let me be his first experience. Inside of myself I felt both nervous and guilty, as if I was about to commit a hideous but rewarding crime. I was manipulating him, maybe I was taking advantage, but he was old enough to know what I was hinting at.
He slowly brought his eyes back to look at me. His brow was knitted up now, wrinkled as he thought.
'Do you mean it?' he asked. 'Should I really know?'
And then I realised that he was being as manipulative as me, he too knew what he wanted and was playing along. I winked at him and squeezed his hand a little harder.
'If you want to,' I whispered.
He sat back in his chair, his hands slipping away from me, and stretched out his legs and thrust his groin forwards. He was quite obviously showing me the bulge that was growing there and I made it obvious that I was looking. He put his hands behind his head and locked his fingers together. As he did so, the front of his tee shirt rode up revealing smooth, dark flesh beneath; a delicate line of black hair ran from his naval and into the secret confines of his jeans. I envied it as I waited for his answer.
He placed one ankle on the knee of his other leg and the bulge behind his zip shifted. The weight of what he had inside pressed more firmly at the material to the extent that I could make out the shape of his large, semi-swollen penis. I was still waiting, and I was still staring. I set my face into a smile that I hoped would convey the impression of saying 'why not eh?' and slowly raised my head to look at him once more.
He was studying me, all signs of confusion and thought now gone. His features were relaxed, no lines or wrinkles, just smooth, youthful skin and a passive air of acceptance. He slowly nodded his head as if he had finally understood something, and smiled.
'I like you very much,' he said. 'I have always liked you.'
I was pleased to hear it. A thought suddenly raced into my mind and skidded to a halt there. He could stay. He could stay here with me. I could protect him, teach him, live with him. I could show him what sex between two men was like. He didn't need to go to the city.
I couldn't help but grin at his last remark. He had always liked me. And the thought that stood panting in my head suddenly took off again, raced to my mouth and, before I could stop it, burst out into sound.
'Then stay here with me. Stay tonight.'
So keen was the idea that I had lent forward and grabbed his ankle with my hand. I was almost panting myself as I gripped him and waited for him to say yes.
'Yes,' he said and laughed.
I laughed too. I wanted to hold him, hug him, feel his body wrapped in my arms.
'Yes?' I could hardly believe what I was hearing.
'Yes, I was right,' he said.
He dropped his leg to the floor and lent forward. He took both of my hands in his and sighed.
'I was right to think that you have the wrong idea. What did my mother tell you?'
'That you had committed a crime against God and wanted to move to the city.'
'Was that all?'
'That you are like me.'
'And what crime against God have you committed?' he asked it slowly and deliberately, as if trying to help me figure out something very simple.
'I don't understand,' I answered. 'None, I don't believe in God.'
'My friend,' he said and now he sounded like the schoolteacher. 'I want to move to the city because I am not a friend of God. I cannot go to church every other day with my mother any more, I want to turn my back on the Orthodox Church and become like you. An atheist. That is all.'
My blood chilled with embarrassed disappointment.
'I'm sorry,' I stammered, 'I thought...'
'Yes I know what you thought,' he smiled at me kindly making me feel about two feet tall.
'I am sorry.'
'Don't be. I am flattered.'
'I am embarrassed.'
'Dimitris, I don't know what to say.'
He stood up, still holding my hands, and gave a little tug. I stood too and we faced each other.
'I must go,' he said.
I could not think of anything to say and so said nothing.
'I have made you feel bad,' he sounded regretful.
'It was my mistake.'
'Who said it was a mistake?'
I looked up from the ground where I had been staring and looked at him. My shame was starting to turn to anger now, anger aimed at myself for being so foolish and at him for not explaining himself. I wanted him to go, I wanted him to stay. I wanted to be alone and I wanted him to be lying next to me in my bed.
I shook my head to show that I didn't understand him. I knew that if I opened my mouth some other stupid idea would rush out and damn me.
And then he pulled me towards him, let go of my hands and wrapped his arms around me. His head rested against mine and I felt his soft, springy cheek warm against me.
'You do not need to tell me what sex with another man is like,' he whispered. 'I already know.'
'You do?' My mind was spinning right out of control now.
'Of course, on a few occasions. But...'
He didn't finish the sentence and so I stepped in cautiously.
'But you are turning your back on that just as you are on God?'
'No,' he gave a small laugh. 'Although I do like to turn my back... If you see what I mean.'
He laughed again and I did too, it helped relieve some tension.
'But?' I prompted.
'But on each occasion that I was with another man, I wished that that man was you.'