Fall 2010, Volume 9

Nonfiction by Eva Konstantopoulos

Next Year

We have two hours before my bus arrives so Theo* unlatches the gate and waves for me to follow. There’s a well up ahead, the water spurting from the rock, and it’s early enough where people in the village aren’t out of their houses yet. Theo pushes his cane into the earth; his hands rough, soil etched in his nails as we pass tomato plants and grapes. It’s hard for me to look as he staggers up a hill to a fenced in plot of land, his leg dragging behind him like a log. At the house, Thea’s** always fluttering around him, buttoning sleeves and piling more food on his plate. I hold onto his shoulder for support, but as always, he shoos me away. The last time I saw Theo was in Queens when I was six. He was stronger then with a full head of hair and liked to drag my sister and me around the living room on a blanket, pulling us in circles until we collapsed into fits of laughter and couldn’t breathe.

We hike towards a makeshift opening in the fence and walk into a grove where olives hang from the branches of evenly spaced trees. As we tread along the rows, Theo plucks an olive and hands it to me, watching as I study the hard, green orb. “Elia,” he says, pointing to the olive in my palm, and I repeat the strange-sounding word until he nods and slaps me on the back, smiling wide. I notice that some of these olives are shriveled and the land is parched underneath our feet. In the kitchen this morning, Thea told me that they’ll have to sell the land now that Theo can’t move his leg and there’s no one else to tend to the trees. I think of my father in New York driving taxis, and my cousins in Athens who are working in office buildings and restaurants, how everyone’s busy, trying to get by. The sun rises higher in the sky, bathing the olives in a golden light as we navigate the grove.

When we return to the house, Thea offers me a parcel of food. “Pame,” she says. “We’re going to be late.” As we stride out the door, Theo comes up behind us, struggling over the cobblestones, and our pace slows as we wait for him. It’s only when we walk down a hill that I see the bus pull into view and then disappear around the bend. I run into the exhaust, arms up, calling for the bus to stop, which it does next to a café where men drink coffee and stare at my red face. When the door of the bus creaks open, Theo hugs me tightly. “Next year, next year,” he whispers, the only English words I’ve ever heard him speak. I don’t know how to tell him that there won’t be a next year. That I’m officially broke and who knows when I’ll scrounge up enough money to fly halfway around the world again. Smiling, I kiss Theo’s cheek, hoping not answering isn’t the same as lying. As the bus drives away, they wave to me from the road, and I watch them until we round a corner and then settle back in my seat. Passing more olive groves as the bus rumbles on, I think about how people say I have olive skin back in the States, and how when I fill in boxes on scantrons I always have to put that I’m white. On those forms I wish there was room to write about these olives, how they hang heavy as stones, the limbs bending but still never breaking.                                                                              _____________________________


BIO:  Eva Konstantopoulos graduated from the University of California, Riverside, and her work has been previously published in online and print literary journals.