Strategoula’s square jaw tightened as I pulled her messy, straw-blonde hair hard at the back, like plucking a dead chicken off its feathers. Her head bounced back and forth as if joined with her shoulders by bed springs. She reiterated by kicking me hard in the stomach and then I felt her pincers-firm grip on my left wrist. She twisted it to the point of crackling it strained, the acute pain shooting hot tears into my eyes. I managed to release myself with a sudden jolt and stumbled into my house, locking the door behind me.
‘You’ll never come in!’ I screamed my lungs out, my nose misting the window overlooking the concrete yard.
There was no particular reason why I never let Strategoula, a neighbor and Primary School classmate, enter our house. I just stubbornly did. She came every summer morning when my parents were away at the fields and skulked behind the iron gate of our yard. Then pulled the bolt open and just stood there, holding my gaze, waiting for me to invite her into the house to play with my dolls. I always told her to leave and she always kept still, stick-like legs slightly apart, feet rooted to the ground, unblinking eyes clapped on mine. We ended up in each other’s arms, palms against each other’s chins; I shoving her out of the gate, she resisting ferociously, blood-drained knuckles clung onto the iron bars like an extra layer of dribbling paint. She wouldn’t budge. There were days she spent lurking by the gate for hours, until she heard my pateras’s pick-up truck rev at the garage late at noon.
I saw Strategoula on a sunny summer morning twenty years later in a busy street in central Athens. She was wearing a flowery, flared dress, golden sandals, a Burberry bag in hand and had her hair tied in a neat bun. Her nails were polished vermilion and she was wearing a matching lipstick. We sat at a café and chatted about our new lives in the city, scoffing at our little squabbles those early days at the village.
‘We should definitely keep in touch,’ she told me as I was leaving.
‘Of course, of course,’ I said trying to wriggle my hand out of her firm handshake. On my way home, the image of her plush lipstick smudging the outline of her lips and her front teeth made me shudder.