There’s an untouched bottle of homemade tsipouro sitting in my liquor cabinet that reminds me of Mr. Takis.
Mr. Takis lived across the hallway from me when I had an apartment in the center; he was the kind of man who always had a smile and a positive thing to say, no matter what the weather or circumstance. We met when he came over to borrow some coffee or Nescafe, since he’d run out and his caregiver/brother and his sister-in-law were at work. I don’t drink coffee. But I went out and bought the largest canister of Nescafe at Atlantik and left it on his doorstep.
The next time we saw each other — a rare event complicated by my long absences in New York and sleepless socializing when in Athens, and his outings and appointments with doctors and therapists — he thanked me profusely, though I simply saw my gesture as being human. This day marked the beginning of a friendship.
Some months later, I’d barely gotten in the house with my luggage and sat down when I heard a polite knock on the door. It was Mr. Takis, and in his hands were my mail, a bowl of soup on a plate with a lemon and a glass of fresh orange juice. To this day, I’m baffled as to how he managed to carry everything down the long hallway and knock on the door without dropping anything. He was a young man but needed crutches to stand and walk.
He brought over the soup and juice because he figured I had a long flight, didn’t have any food in the house and was probably hungry. He was right on all counts. Mr. Takis explained that he kept my mail because we didn’t have mailboxes and was afraid it would be lifted or thrown away before I got back. I trusted him and was grateful.
After I thanked him in the only Greek I knew, which unfortunately didn’t include the word for ‘thoughtful,’ he made a quick exit because he understood I needed sleep. We spoke a bit about life that evening when I returned his kitchenware and gave him a few gifts I’d brought him from NYC. These exchanges would go on for two years.
On what would turn out to be our last meeting, Mr. Takis gave me a Greek music CD he made and a bottle of homemade tsipouro from his village on the island of Crete. We laughed about the dangers of such concoctions before wishing each other “Kalo Pascha” and heading in different directions, directions that would unknowingly end our friendship.
During my next visit to Athens, I found the landlord opening the door to show new tenants the now empty apartment. Mr. Takis was gone.
Terrible fights between his brother and sister-in-law often filled the air, and I wonder where Mr. Takis is living and if he has enough coffee. I worry if he’s OK and if he’s happy. Because even though he’s sadly no longer a part of my life, I will always remember Mr. Takis.