Sometimes a person enters your life and changes everything. With a different perspective on existence, a captivating personality, or even just a sparkling smile that lights up the world, once this person walks through the door, you just know that things will never be the same again.
For me, that happened today, and the person responsible was Santorini Sal.
I begrudgingly left Naxon on a ferry as full as a fat girl’s bucket of KFC, looking wistfully out the window as that magic island grew smaller and smaller. If I didn’t have a reservation in Santorini, I probably wouldn’t have left at all, but the times they are a’ changin’, and I had to take to the sea.
The tears had barely stopped flowing by the time we pulled into Santorini, and it proved to be every bit as delightful as it appears on postcards and in travel magazines. Hundreds of white buildings, looking like overgrown and over-bleached coral, clung to the side of a hill, as if a tsunami had picked them up and tossed them against the earth. The ocean, as blue and as calm as a child’s eyes, splashed against the edge of the harbour while an endless parade of yachts bobbed around happily. Half the world probably think of this place when they imagine paradise.
The heat was oppressive as I stepped off the ferry, climbed into a cramped bus next to a loudmouthed American with an even louder shirt, and then disembarked in the bustling heart of Thirra, the capital of Santorini. Tourists wandered left and right, waiters rushed around with meals, magnets and postcards and other trinkets sparkled in the light breeze, and I immediately realised it was far less organic than Naxos. More of a tourist destination, less of a living and breathing town. And then I felt a hand drop on my shoulder.
“Beautiful, ain’t she?” said a voice directly out of any mobster movie you’ve ever seen. I turned around to see a big, Italian-looking dude in a Hawai’ian shirt. A cigar the size of a small child dangled languidly from smiling lips that did little to hide the brilliantly-white teeth that sat in a row behind them. He held out a set of fingers the size of sausages, and I awkwardly took it and shook.
“Sal,” he boomed. “Santorini Sal, if you want my full name. Even says so on my driver’s license, you wanna look at it.”
I wanted to get to my hotel more than I wanted to see this bloke’s driver’s license, but he showed it to me anyway and, sure enough, his name actually was Santorini Sal. Seeing as he was clearly American, it had either been an incredible act of foresight on his parents’ behalf when they named him, or he’d changed it after moving to Santorini. I admired his dedication, even if I didn’t admire how close he was standing to me, or the stench of body odour that hung over him like a thick fog and almost burnt my eyes. I turned to leave, but one of those big hands grabbed my arm. Not forcefully, but enough to stop me from leaving.
“How’d you end up here, man?” Sal asked.
“I came on the ferry,” I shrugged.
“No no no, I don’t mean that,” he replied, before taking a heavy drag of his cigar. “I mean how did you end up here, in Santorini, dragging your bags through the streets by yourself. What’s your story?”
“I’m here on holidays, been in Europe, flew into Latvia and have travelled down from there.”
“That ain’t what I’m talkin’ about. You got a story to you, I can see it in your eyes, but I feel like you ain’t bein’ truthful, even to yourself. You’re on a journey to find somethin’, not a holiday. Tell you what, go and put your bags away, meet me back here, right on this same spot, in two hours. I’ll show you somethin’ that might clear up some of those questions swirlin’ around in your head.”
“Dude, I don’t have questions.”
“Might not know it now, but you do. Two hours, Row, two hours.” With that, Sal took another drag of his cigar, turned swiftly for such a big man, and headed off into the swarm of tourists, his stench lingering a little longer than he did. I stood there, looking dumb. I’d never told him my name.
I continued up the hill with my bags, trying and failing to dismiss Sal as a crazy man. What he’d said was weird, no doubt about it, but there was also some truth behind it. I didn’t really know why I was here, aside from some vague notion of going on a holiday. I did have questions about where the hell I was heading in life, what the hell I was doing with myself, what was going on in my head. I tried to take in the ancient concrete buildings and cobblestone paths around me, but all of that had started fading away, replaced by questions about who the hell i was and where the hell I was going. I checked in to my hotel, put my bags away, and then lazed around by the pool, too deep in thought to even let my eyes wander to the attractive blonde in the bikini across the water (alright, maybe I looked at her once or twice).
And then, after a swim in warm water that did nothing to wash away the questions that were eating my brain, I started walking back to the heart of Thirra, to the corner where I’d first met Santorini Sal. And when I got there, my life changed forever.
Find out what happened when I met up with Santorini Sal, tomorrow on Drunk and Jobless…