The Other Coach
by Sozou-Kyrkou Konstantina
I’m unzipping the small suitcase open when the phone rings.
‘Tonia, is that you?’ My mama’s fuzzy voice comes through the line in agonizing gasps.
‘Yes, mama, it’s me. What’s up?’
‘It’s terrible! Have you heard about the coach accident? On the highway, near Korinthos. People were killed. Horrible!’
‘Yes, I saw it on the news. Things…’
‘Ismene had come to town for your cousin’s wedding.’
‘I know that, mama. I was there too, remember?’
‘Oh, yes, yes, of course. She left this morning for Athens on a coach. Was it the same coach? Have you talked to her? Please… ‘ Her words are minced up with sobs. I take a deep breath in order to reply but she interjects. ‘I called her as soon as I heard. Several times. Her phone is dead.’ Another whimper. ‘Please, Tonia, find your sister immediately!’
‘Calm down, mama! She has possibly forgotten to charge her mobile phone. You know her. And it wasn’t the same coach. The one that collided with the lorry was coming from Lefkada, not Preveza.’
‘Oh… Is that so? Well, that’s a relief!’ Her deep sigh a discordant breeze against the receiver. ‘There was something else I meant to tell you but… I forgot.’
‘Well, it can’t be that important. You would’ve recalled it if it was.’
‘Yes… yes. You’re probably right.’
Mama’s dementia is deteriorating day by day. Last month she called after she’d heard Ismene had her salary chopped by the new austerity government measures. She asked me to chip in. I had both my husband’s and my own salary to live on, she’d said. Forgotten I’d been redundant for two years.
Phoned another time when there was this protest march in Athens, when anarchists burnt down some buildings in the centre of Athens. Ismene’s phone was out of order, as usual. Wanted to see whether Ismene’s flat had suffered any damage or she herself was injured. The fact that my sister’s work and home were in Glyfada, a southern suburb of Athens – nowhere near the Syntagma square, where the incident took place – seemed irrelevant.
Ismene has always been on mama’s mind; a source of constant worry. Mama had only been eighteen when she gave birth to me, the product of an arranged, oppressed by despotic in-laws marriage. When she had Ismene, fourteen years later, she had finally reached equilibrium in her life and was ready to love and nurture a child.
‘Tonia, when you find your sister, tell her to call me. And… well, I can’t remember… there was something else but… anyway. Have to go now.’
‘OK. Bye, mama.’ I hear the click of the receiver being replaced in its cradle. ‘Don’t worry, mama. I’ll always be here for you and Ismene,’ is what I want to say but never do. I take the red crepe dress out of the suitcase and hang it in the wardrobe, trying to brush aside the thought that what eludes mama is probably the fact that I was also on that coach coming to Athens from Preveza this morning.
I hold a BA(Hons) in Literature and an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. My stories have appeared in print and online in several literary magazines. My first collection of short stories in going to be published with Matador (Troubador Press) soon.