Greece – it’s the land of feta and fresh figs, picturesque seaside towns, and charming cobblestone streets. In short, a utopia for solo travellers, and the final destination of my epic backpacking trip around Europe.
I was staying at a charming little hostel shared with a litter of adorable kittens. Because I was trained as a veterinary nurse, I noticed right away that the kittens were unwell. I found out that the kittens didn’t belong to any of the staff at the hostel, so although they got fed well, no one had taken them to the vet for a check-up. I decided that since I’d planned to spend the day chilling at the beach, I might as well head into town to pick up some medicine for the kittens before that.
At the bus stop, I settled in for the wait. After about half an hour, there were still no buses, but a car pulled up in front of me. A middle-aged man stuck his head out of the window.
“I saw you’ve been waiting here a long time,” he said, in accented English. “There are no buses running today. It’s a public holiday!”
No buses? The poor kittens needed the medicine, but how would I get it for them if I couldn’t get to town? And if it was a holiday, would anything even be open? I guess my expression gave away the fact that I was disheartened.
“There will still be some places that are open,” he reassured me. “I might be able to help you. Why don’t I take you there?”
I was so touched by his gesture. This must have been the famed Greek hospitality that so many visitors spoke of. I thanked the man – who introduced himself as Michalis* – profusely as I got into the car. Ever the extrovert, I struck up a lively conversation about the kittens, my work as a veterinary nurse, and my travels.
Michalis, in turn, told me about some of his favourite spots in town. He went on at length about some of the must-try delicacies, like fresh figs. He told me how tasty they were, and how easily available they were – you could even pick them off trees along the roadside! He was so friendly, it was easy to feel comfortable around him.
When we eventually got to the animal clinic, it was closed. So we ventured to a pharmacy where I was able to get the medical supplies I needed. On our way back, Michalis offered to take me through a more scenic route.
“Let me take you to my favourite beach, we might find some fig trees along the way,” he said. He explained that he had just come from the beach and was on his way home when he saw me. At this point, we were driving along a winding, bumpy road. There were no houses in sight and I started to feel a little uneasy. His little car sputtered and rattled, as if it might fall apart any minute.
Just then, I looked over at the older man and realised that one of his hands was on his lap. His sarong – which the Greeks commonly wrap around themselves after taking a dip in the ocean – was pulled to the side.
And he was touching himself.
My eyes nearly fell out from beneath my sunglasses. I tried to mask my panic, remarking about the view outside the window. I worried that if I reacted, he might try to hurt me. So I decided it was best to pretend that I hadn’t seen anything. I had no clue where we were, and was pretty sure that there was no one around who would be able to rescue me. So, I kept talking as I held my bag close to me. I tried to casually drop a question about which direction the hostel was in, mentally preparing myself to make a run for it at the next red light.
In the midst of our conversation, Michalis said, “You must think I’m a beast.”
I had no idea if he was aware I was on to him, so I replied as calmly as I could, “Not at all, you’ve shown me a beautiful part of this place.”
Suddenly, he stepped on the brakes and exclaimed, “Aha!” My bag was in my lap and I was ready to jump out of the car, but instead of turning to me, he got out of the car and walked up to a tree by the road. From it, he carefully plucked some fruit, then got back in the car. Cradled in his hands were the figs he’d been raving about earlier.
The man gleefully tore into one of the figs, and held one half out to me with the same hand he had used to touch himself earlier.
What could I do? I couldn’t mention my concerns about hygiene since I had been trying so hard to pretend I hadn’t noticed his masturbating. So, I accepted the fig and put it to my lips. My throat felt like it was closing up and my chest tightened with dread. I took a bite and immediately pronounced that I didn’t like it, so that I would not have to eat the rest of it.
Disappointed, he started the engine and we continued our drive. I sat there in silence, looking for an opportunity to get out of the car. About 15 minutes later, we finally arrived back at the town. The man offered to drive me all the way back to my hostel but I quickly made my excuses, saying that I needed to grab something at the supermarket. I thanked him and practically jumped out of the car, before dashing into the shop, and hiding behind a shelf, terrified that he would try to follow me in.
A British couple spotted me peeking out from behind the shelf of bread and crackers. They approached me and asked if I was okay. I told them needed to find a way to get back to my hostel. “Catch the bus with us, we just came to town to get lunch,” they told me.
I was confused. They caught the bus into town? But Michalis had told me that the buses weren’t running that day! Only then did it hit me that he had lied to get me into the car. Thankfully, I got away unharmed. But to this day, I have never been able to eat another fresh fig.
*Names have been changed.