Dimitris - Is That You?
“That can’t be him.” - I said out loud looking over at the three bus drivers chatting away in the parking lot as I walked by. “No, the odds were too great for it to be him, … never in a million years could I be so lucky to run into him again, nah! -- I’d better run on.” I thought. After all my bus was waiting, and I didn’t want to be the last one back on. But those were some of the thoughts the little voice in my head kept asking as I went off in the direction of my tour bus, parked among many others in the massive Olympia parking lot in Greece; our group having just completed a tour of this impressive historic site where the ancient Olympic Games were first held.
The brilliant midday sun was high in the sky that April day, beating down on my uncapped head as I hurried towards my bus. Reflecting further on whether it was really him or not, if I missed this golden opportunity to know for sure, I knew I’d never forgive myself. What the hell, he could only say no if I asked and it wasn’t him. But at the same time, I’d be embarrassed no end asking a total stranger just because he seems to resemble someone whom I hadn’t seen in nine years.
Enough of these debates I decided, hesitating for a moment before turning around and boldly walking back to the three drivers, approaching the one in particular whom I though I recognized. My advances caused him to stop talking abruptly with his colleagues, turning to look curiously and apprehensively at this strange Blackman approaching.
“Dimitris! -- Dimitris is that you?” I asked out loud as I neared. There was silence, during which he continued to stare at me quizzically through his dark glasses; and so were his colleagues who must’ve been wondering about this stranger rudely interrupting their conversation.
“Yes – I Dimitris” he replied in hesitant English, shaking his head in the affirmative. “It’s me…Ray Williams from Canada,.…remember you were my bus driver nine years ago?” I stated enthusiastically, realizing he really was Dimitris. “Tour, -- 1996”. He replied, a quick smile forming on his lips in recognizing his long lost soul brother from way back then.
A bit chubby around the cheeks now and a few grey spots forming on his full mound of black hair, but apart from that he looked in great shape approaching middle age. I was still in disbelief nonetheless, and wanted to get a better look at his eyes; so taking the liberty, I reached over and removed his dark glasses without his objection. “You are Dimitris.” I joyfully exclaimed in the realization of finding this needle in a haystack in the form of my long lost Greek buddy.
We were both excited now as I leaned my tall frame over, dwarfing his in spontaneous embraces with the customary ceremonial kiss on both cheeks. We were so engrossed in our happy reunion, he’d temporarily forgotten his bus driver buddies standing there staring in awe, as we laughed, hugged and slapped each other on the backs overwhelmed with joy. I heard him prattle something to them in excited Greek, no doubt about my identity and the reason for our state of jubilation, to which they began to relax and smile in recognition of our good fortune.
While introducing me to them, I was mindful of the limited time and the fact that my bus was waiting for me, seeing as we still had a long way to go that day. So I grabbed him by the arm announcing, “Dimitris, you have to come with me to my bus, I want you to meet my wife Margaret”. And with that we sauntered over, floating on cloud nine with excitement. As we approached, outside the front door stood my present bus driver and tour guide awaiting me - the straggler.
“Gentlemen!” I shouted excitedly, “Look who I found, its Dimitris my long lost bus driver from when I last visited nine years ago.” They all smiled spontaneously as he in turn began explaining to them in Greek about our reunion. As it turned out, being in the tourist trade for years they were well acquainted with him, and were equally surprised and pleased to learn of it.
“Margaret!...Margaret!, come quickly, … you wouldn’t believe who I just found, …come.” I shouted excitedly poking my head through the door, trying to get Margaret’s attention in the packed bus. Dimitris was just as anxious to greet her, and waited nervously at the foot of the bus steps. She soon emerged, her face quizzical wondering what the commotion was all about. “Dimitris! …no,…is it really you Dimitris?” She exclaimed, rushing down the steps to embrace him. “Yes,.. me Dimitris. how you?” He breathlessly replied, continuing to hug and kiss her with that warm smile that lit up his whole face. In the euphoria I barely managed to explain how our chance meeting occurred, and how surprised I still was at meeting him.
I recalled before leaving home for this trip, I’d remarked to Margaret how ironic it would be if perchance Dimitris was our bus driver again, questioning the slim odds of that happening. And little did we know it would be our destiny to meet after all, when I least expected it.
In the meanwhile Dimitris enquired from our bus driver and tour guide our itinerary, and at which hotel we would be staying that night. Acting as interpreter, our tour guide explained that Dimitris would also be in Delphi that night, and would like to have a drink with us after dinner. We readily agreed, and after a quick photo session with him, off we went to visit the ruins of Delphi, a three hour drive away.
On the way there, some of our curious traveling companions enquired as to who Dimitris was, and what the big celebration outside the bus was all about. Being so happy, I was more than willing to share my joyful news with any and all. And as our bus maneuvered along the familiar picturesque mountain road on our way to the site of the Oracle of Delphi, I soon became lost in thought of our first encounter with Chanioeis Dimitris.
We’d met in April 1996 on our initial visit as part of a touring group of Canadians to beautiful Greece. He quickly impressed me as being a friendly and decent man, who was truly professional in his driving duties. As a result, I made it a point to communicate with him at every opportunity. Sometimes boarding the bus in the mornings I would greet him with the familiar “Kalemera.” And at the end of the day would thank him with an “Efkharisto” for taking us safely; ending with a parting “Kalinikta.” He appreciated my effort at attempting to communicate in his language; thought crudely. And in turn struggled with a few English words, in which he was certainly doing much better than me in my halting Greek.
But one doesn’t necessarily need fluency in any given language in order to communicate clearly with another human being, as Dimitri and I soon learned. Within days, we’d developed such a strong human bond, that mere smiles, sign language and facial expressions were sufficient in understanding one another. And after the first week on tour, it wasn’t uncommon when we stopped for lunch at a highway rest station, the serving waiter would present us with a bottle of wine, compliments of Dimitris, in appreciation of our friendship.
Some nights after dinner he would seek us out with an invite to join him at the hotel bar for a bottle of wine and a chat. But after a while it became awkward for us to continue accepting his wonderful hospitality, preferring that he extend invitations to others in our group as well; but he apparently was more comfortable with us.
One invitation we were most honoured to accept occurred in the city of Delphi at the end of our touring day. It was Greek Easter at the time; the most important celebratory time of the year for most Greeks, and it being the last day of fasting before the joyous celebrations, gracious Dimitris invited us along with a few others to join him on a religious procession at midnight.
Not knowing what to expect, we all anxiously accompanied him in the bus downtown, where we parked and walked towards the local church; in full session at the time. On our way there, we stopped at a shop on the main street, where he bought each of us a large white wax candle to carry in the procession. And standing outside at the stroke of midnight, the multitude of worshippers each proudly holding a lit white candle emptied out into the darkened street; making for a procession of dim flickering yellow lights snaking its way down the narrow street, filling the night with hymns, with church bells tolling resoundingly in the background.
It was obvious one didn’t have to be Greek in order to appreciate and participate in this joyous celebration, but somehow on that wonderful starry night we all felt privileged to be Greek, joining the procession and walking in unison with the festive celebrants along the streets of this ancient city, singing the praises of the risen Christ.
When the procession eventually dissipated, it seemed like all the citizens dashed off to their favourite restaurant for a long awaited family dinner. Awaiting them was a feast of succulent roast lamb, red dyed eggs symbolizing the blood of the crucified Christ, Greek salad, wine and a variety of other delicacies. Making our way back to the hotel in the bus, we were all abuzz in the euphoria of participating in such a privileged event; no doubt Dimitris was pleased indeed.
Throughout the first week of the bus tour, and before the start of our cruise of the Greek Islands, both Dimitris and Maria, our tour guide of the time were truly representative of the kindness and hospitality that typifies the image of the Greek people worldwide. In so doing, our holiday was made that more enjoyable in every aspect; sparking a genuine desire in Margaret and I to return to Greece someday.
It took us nine years to fulfill that wish, with the faint hope of finding the wonderful Dimitris again. And true to his word as promised, he certainly found us that night after dinner at the restaurant in Delphi. Following our customary hugs, he disappeared to the bar, returning to our table with a large bottle of red wine. For years now, I’d not been indulging in any alcohol consumption, unlike Margaret the wine connoisseur, but on this occasion I felt obliged to share a reunion drink with Dimitris, fearing he would feel offended at my abstinence.
“Next year 2006, -- finito bus driving.” He said with a smile, his hands gesticulating the finality of his employment. “I go Chicago, visit family.” He continued; … further explaining he was now a grandfather as I was, and retiring, as I’d already done. Our laboured conversation continued, but with a general understanding of the subject matter, when I asked, “What about Maria, our tour guide from 1996, how is she, do you see her?” To which he suddenly put his hand up as in a ‘Stop’
gesture, took his cell phone out and dialed a number.
“Hello Maria, how are you dear?” I said into the phone as he handed it to me. He had contacted her in the city of Kalambaka, where she was staying overnight with a tour group. “It’s indeed a pleasant surprise to hear from you Ray.” Maria said in her impeccable English. We continued to talk for a while, Dimitri having told her how unexpectedly we’d met earlier that day. In closing, we expressed regret we wouldn’t be able to meet in Kalambaka, our destination the following day to visit my favourite monasteries on the mountains of Meteora, for she was leaving early in the morning.
By the time our bottle of wine was emptied, Margaret, Dimitris and I had more than recaptured nine years of events that had taken place in our respective lives, and speculated about the immediate future. In parting, we exchanged addresses, with the hope of keeping in touch, and the possibility of his visiting us in Canada when he goes to see his family in Chicago.
It was a sad and melancholy parting with more hugs and kisses between us, as we walked out the door arm in arm into the busy nightlife of Delphi; beneath our brave smiles were hidden private thoughts as to whether this was really our final goodbye. I was quite sure of that in 1996 when we first parted, until this miracle of our reunion took place. Perhaps, just perhaps if the Gods allow, I might one day be fortunate again to say to my Greek brother, “Dimitris, … Is that you?”
Italia!Dawn broke early, banishing night’s darkness with a gentle nudge. Kissed the glistening snow-capped peaks of the majestic Swiss Alps; then beamed her golden smile far and wide to light the morning sky. Our Alitalia jet had just crossed the Italian border where the scenery was so breathtaking...