We are sitting in a kafeneion - a traditional Greek cafe where only men are allowed and where card playing and gossip are the pastimes and tiny Greek coffees served hot and sweet and with an exact amount of froth are the order. . . . .
There are 3 old men at the table next to us: if we glance to our right we can see them in profile. They are sitting at the back of the kafeneion in a corner: this way nobody can enter or leave without them seeing. They are all old. They are probably in their eighties and a life in the open air has ravaged their skins which are tawny and wrinkled - more like some form of leather than human skin. Their leathery faces are punctuated with wrinkles around the mouths and eyes and they look like laughter lines although all three have mildly disapproving countenances.
One old man is smoking a cigarette - untipped and in front of him on the zinc topped table lies a packet of Sante, not one of the new fangled flip-top packet but something more akin to an open box- timeless like the old man himself with his white hair and moustaches. There is tinge of tobacco yellow at the margin of his handsome handlebar moustache but he is otherwise spotless. His clothes are old and have faded in the punishing sun but they are spotless as is he. Doubtless a handsome fellow in his youth. he still has the erect posture of a man of some importance. He has the penetrating light blue eyes of a man whose family hail from Sfakia.
The Sante box lies open on the table, its lid propped against his water glass. Red and gaping, there is a picture of a blonde Greek woman sporting a marcel wave and a red slash for a mouth on it lid. The cigarettes are untipped and a small amount of dark brown tobacco dust lies in the bed of the open box dislodged in its constant travels to and from his shirt pocket that clearly bears the faded silhouette of the box. A cheap blue Bic lighter advertising some bar or other in Xania sits beside the cigarette box nestling between it and the battered aluminium ashtray, its own advertising slogan long ago washed away, in which he is accumulating a pile of short, dangerously short butts and a separate pile of ash. In places the metal of the ashtray has worn thin with years of wear. He has clearly been here since dawn for it is still very early and the sun is yet low in the sky to their left. The sky is cloudless and threatens an intense heat later.
The road that passes by the kafeneion leads from the village on their right up to the mountain pasture to their left where the sun has recently risen. They can sit here all day and watch everything that happens. Nothing can escape these Cretans' gaze. The road is white with dust and away in the distance up where the village ends, there is a small cloud just forming in the dust. It is small and far enough away that it is impossible to make out what it is. The man with the pale blue eyes looks at us and motions with an upward tilt of his head toward the growing cloud - "Pavlos einai!" The man opposite him nods, his grey beard crumbed with rusk, "Ne, kai Dimitri!". The third man laughs and looks up from his komboloi for the first time. He has been playing with these beads since we first entered the kafeneion in an intricate one handed dance routine, their amber clacking gently in the background with only the occasional loud click as his wrist describes an exaggerated arc and he executes a backhand manoeuvre. He nods to the smoker, who has since lit another cigarette while his last one expires busily in the aluminium ashtray. "Dimitri defteros!".