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from the March 2009 issue

From “The Book of Andreas Kordopatis, Part I, America”

I kept walking slow-like, straight ahead, the road took me back to the river. Same place the ship stopped the first day, then it left and went further up.

I saw someone who looked like a watchman. I ask him, Grik sala? No answer. I ask him again, he points further up the road.

I walk along in that direction, there was a small house with a fence around it, real low. I go inside.

Hello, I say, they look at me, two men and some women, they don't say a thing.

I turn to go, didn't want to get myself beaten up, then it dawned on me, the place was a whorehouse.

I go back outside. I had a small booklet, an English dictionary. I walked round and pretended to be reading, I was so afraid they'd come looking for me.

Time was passing, it was starting to get dark. I didn't know where on earth to find a Greek hotel. I ask the same watchman, he points to the street where he's standing.

Desperate, I walk straight ahead. It was dark now, lights were switching on.

I didn't know a word of English. As I was walking along I saw a fruttaría—an Italian fruit shop, the light was on. The man inside saw me.

Italiano? He says to me.

No, Greco, I tell him.

Bono, Greco.

Italiano? I ask him.

Yesss, he tells me.

Bono, italiano, I say to him.

Then I ask him, Grik sala, room for night? There were tears in my eyes. We just couldn't make ourselves understood.

Then he leaves someone else in the fruit shop and signals me to follow him.

We walk round for hours asking for Greek hotels or shops, no one knew of any.

At ten o'clock we arrive at some Italian man's place. He was a shoemaker and he worked with his wife at home. A patrolman walks in there just as we do. I was scared, but they didn't know anything about me.

I was thirsty, I'd eaten well at lunchtime, I asked for some water, in Italian: aqua. The woman brought me a glassful. I asked for some more, she brought it. I had spent seven days in Naples and I knew a few words.

While I was drinking they asked the patrolman if he knew of any Greek hotels.

They take me and we go somewhere very far away, a long walk. They take me to a Macedonian coffee house.

Standing right inside the door was a boy. I ask him, Where's the boss?

He'll be here any minute.

The boss arrives and I tell him to give everyone something on me.

They didn't want anything but I insisted. They finally gave in and had some coffees.

I gave the coffee man one dollar and he kept thirty cents. He gave me seventy cents' change and three tokens to give to the boy at the door when I was leaving to show I'd paid.

I tell him, I want you to send me to a hotel to sleep.

The boy's coming any minute, he'll take you there.

This boy from Sérres arrives, about my age.

The boss tells him, páre to palikári—take this young man—and go to a hotel. The boy didn't feel like it. He wanted to put me on an electric trolley car and tell the conductor where to let me out. I begged him, Please take me there yourself and I'll pay your fare. I couldn't get him to do it. And to think those Italians had spent hours trying to find me a Greek hotel.

He took me to the trolley stop, put me on and told me where I should get off.

We passed a whole lot of places, they finally let me out at some square. Full of trolley cars and the lights so bright they made you dizzy.

I had no idea where to go.

I go up some stairs, there are people walking up in front of me, might as well stop them and ask, I say.

I tap one of them on the shoulder, I show him the address, he looks at it, he says, Four blocks.

I start walking, I count four blocks, I tap someone else on the shoulder.

I show him the address, he says, Three more blocks.

I walk three blocks, I stop someone else, I show him the address. He takes it and draws a line through it, he doesn't say anything to me.

I realized the streets ended there. Oh fine, I say.

I turn right, I walk a short way, I come to some cobblestones.

I turn again, I take another fifty steps and I see a whole group of Greeks, the same ones who were on the ship with me.

I run over, I start hollering.

Vre, paidiá—hey you guys, do you have a hotel?

Yes we have, they tell me.

There was one close by, run by a man from Volos. They took me upstairs and went back out for a walk.

I was in a fright all night thinking cops might come surround the hotel and take me in.

In the morning I asked about my brother, they said that all the men from Dára had left. I ask some Macedonians, Do you know about trains?

Yes, we do.

Let's go see.

Before we left I asked them if they had an old razor.

Someone gave me one and I started shaving with cold water. It hurt something awful.

Someone from Mani had some old denim work clothes and a cap. I had bought my clothes in Italy. I gave him mine and took his. If we met up again somewhere we would swap clothes.

I put on the old clothes, half-shaved, and we headed for the train station.

Instead of taking me to the station they took me to the shipping company's office. The ship's interpreter was there, Kóstas Pylías. When I saw him I had myself quite a fright, but I kept my wits.

Tí thélete paidiá? What do you boys want?

We want to leave.

Where do you want to go?

To Chicago.

How much is the fare, I ask

Twenty-six dollars.

I had twenty-four.

That's not enough, he tells me.

Is there someplace closer?

Well, there's Saint Louis.

How much?

He looked at some chart.

Sixteen dollars.

That's where we'll go.

Read more from the March 2009 issue
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