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  • Encounter scene (stationary shot, empty plateia).

    My heart beating in the present, eyes desperately trying to align memory with image. I drive directly to the village at the center of the island. I haven't been there in over 25 years.

    For some reason, I knew my father's childhood school would appear to the right as I entered the town. And there it is.

    I stop the car in front of the school, hands shaking as I put it into park, eyes scanning across the street to the kafeneio and the guys sitting there. Younger than I am, so they don't know me. I'll walk to the center of the village and look for my grandparents' house. Without any directions, just memory. Could I possibly retrace a childhood path and get to the house of my dead grandparents, this was the challenge I set out for myself, as I parked the car.

    My father's words: don't worry, if you decide to go to the village, no one will recognize you.

    No one will remember you.

    I start walking past the center, up a hill, and hear an old man call out to me in Greek — "Where are you from?" I turn around and my heart jumps to my throat. This is a tiny town, at the center of a not-particularly-touristy island in the North Aegean. No one come to this village. I know I stand out. Anxiety has painted me a target.

    I have to use my newly learned Greek. Here we go. I can do this.

    "I'm from Athens," I reply, and he starts laughing.

    He looks like he's in his 80s, although it's possible he's older. My grandparents lived into their late 80s and early 90s. These tired old towns age well.

    "You're not from Athens." He's testing me, so I try: "I'm from New York, but staying in Athens." This type of conversation was one of the first we learned in level one.

    So far so good. The idea that I can get by. The feeling that I belong.

    "Where is your family from?" Whoa, why is he asking this. OK, this is it. If I say my last name, I'll set something in motion. This type of name is instantly known to anyone from here. What if it gets more complicated. What if he asks more questions. Why didn't I let anyone know? I thought I could slip in like a voyeur, like Google Street View, floating through town unrecognized. Faces blurry. I thought I could see my father's childhood home, the one seared into my memory at age 3. No one was supposed to call out to me.

    "Soulellis. My father is Stratis Soulellis."

    A look falls across the man's face. He recognizes me. He recognizes someone. He grabs my arm. We're standing in the center of the street, no one else around.

    "Soulellis. Soulellis," sort of whispering like he can't believe it. Repeating it, looking straight into my eyes. I tell him that Ignatios Soulellis was my grandfather. Alarmed, worried, why is he getting emotional? I realize he's looking into me and seeing my grandfather. He sees the resemblance, like a ghost. My family. I am the son of my fathers, standing here right now.

    Ignatios, my middle name, is the name of my father's father. He knew my grandfather. Tears come to his eyes, he's gripping my arm harder, and talking quickly now, trying to explain how he knew him. He can't believe it. He's asking more questions and I can barely understand him. Where am I staying? How long am I staying? Why am I here? I don't know how to answer. I'm aware that he hasn't let go of my arm and it's starting to hurt.

    Finally, he tells me to go down to the plateia and wait at the kafeneio. He's going to get someone, several people perhaps. My relatives? My father's cousins? I think I understand, but I'm not sure. I agree and he takes off.

    Sweating, shaking, like several layers of identity have been stripped away. Something exposed. I stepped in. I'm no longer a voyeur. I've been identified, the village is being alerted.

    I sit at the kafeneio and order a coffee. I take one photograph. I wait 45 minutes.

    The old man doesn't come back. No one comes.

    No one will remember you.

    I get back in the car and drive out of town.




    [Note: this story expands upon this: http://soulellis.com/2011/06/island ]
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