We gather that the approaching cloud, that is in some inexplicable manner subsiding as it approaches, contains Pavlos and Dimitri the second. And the kafeneion falls silent. Even the komboloi now describe silent patterns in the air. An elegant mime of themselves. It is several minutes before we can make out a man and a donkey coming toward us. Long lingering minutes that pass in complete silence. The smoker barks a harsh asthmatic cough, ending the silence abruptly. The man is leading the donkey on a piece of string and murmuring, we can see his lips moving, encouragement to the beast which is clearly aged - grey and less than surefooted. A part of his ear is missing and there are scars along his neck. A large leather and wooden saddle in the Cretan style straddles his back digging into the sores where it rubs his torso. We wait.
The pair slowly work their way closer until: the smoker coughs and declaims in a strong baritone voice : "Gia sas kyrie Pavlos". The man with the donkey now looks up from his feet and we can see that he is a small man with a pronounced hump on his back. He is as old as any of our three cronies but in his dark eyes there is an intelligent and knowing glint that speaks of a life well lived and a life that continues. This man is of the land. As resolute and unbending as the stones that pock the landscape. As prickly and dangerous as the thorny bushes that cover the lower slopes of this mountain until they peter out far above the village where the olives stop and the final stand of cypresses announce wilderness. he wears the heavy twill breeches of old Crete, greyed and scuffed and dusty, tucked into the high leather boots that he has owned since before he married 50 years ago. His wife is in the cemetery that he will pass in 2 or 3 kilometres on the left, laid there years ago leaving him to carry on alone. Leaving him to carry the burden of life in the mountain village where both of them were born all those years ago. When first she died he felt betrayed but over the intervening years he has learned again the pleasures of a solitary life - a life like a hermit of old. His health is good and his back is strong - he can think of no good reason to join her lying in the sun baked sod of the family plot. The boots are black with a high shine showing through the layers of dust. he polishes these boots every night last thing before bed just as he learned to do in the army all those years ago. His shirt, which is denim, would fetch a tidy sum in the boutiques of London where faded and pre-worn clothes command a premium. His sleeves are rolled roughly back behind his gnarled elbows and the tendons and muscles of his forearms remind one of the Popeye of childhood cartoons. "Gia sas" he shouts back. His head drops again and he pulls gently on the rope in his left hand to encourage the donkey's awkward gait on past the kafeneion and up the slope that rises before them. And now we can only see the back of this strong, proud man and the parting buttocks of his weary old donkey swaying. In the time it took them to pass the time of day the dust has settled and the cicadas have started their daily festival of noise behind the kafeneion. Their incessant, rasping chattering will continue until well after the sun has departed the day and often it will be the only noise. .
The owner of the kafeneion has joined us and sits with her back to the three old men. She is a small old lady, frail like a bird and pale. There are liver spots on her forearms and what might be a melanoma on her cheek just below her right eye. She is dressed in black with a black headscarf that is clearly of a newer vintage than the shapeless dress she wears pulled tightly in at the waist covering her wispy white hair. She has brought another pair of Greek coffees and a small plate with a bunch of grapes. She puts the thin tin tray down on the chair beside us and sits herself down. Silence ensues. Astonishingly, she begins to speak in English, faltering at first but slowly gaining confidence and clarity. Barely a whisper it is clear that she does not want to be overheard. "That fine old man who just went by? That was Pavlo. And DImitri, his donkey. But it was Dimitri the old - not Dimitri the second. Pavlo has always had a donkey called Dimitri - ever since he was old enough to care for one. At school he had a donkey called Dimitri. Sometimes he would ride me home from school when we were young. Before he got mixed up with Anna. Now he has two donkeys called Dimitri and that's what those clowns were talking about. Laughing at him, and them not fit to clean his boots. Did you see his boots? Shining like new. Better than new. My husband Georgo asked him if could he have those boots when he dies, but Georgos died first, god rest his soul. Last year it was, around Pascha - the cancer you know. And now he's lying up there in the cemetery not 5 metres from Pavlo's Anna. Pavlo has two donkeys now because the old donkey, Dimitri the first, is ... well, old. He's not long for this mortal coil. The donkey that is, not Pavlo, he'll go on forever I think. He's gone up there to talk to Anna and then he'll go on and collect some xorta and he'll sit up there and just look around. A man that old has so many memories he doesn't need anyone anymore. Just him and his donkey - donkeys." She levers herself up out of the chair, picks up her tray and shuffles back behind the counter where she stands, elbows on the counter and her head rested in her hands, staring out through the peeling doors. Craning a little to the right she can just make out the departing forms of Pavlos and Dimitri to the left. One could almost fancy that she has been carrying a torch for this man since they were at school together and he rode her home on his beloved donkey.