A Cretan in Chicago

Ryan Thomas Spencer

You wake up at 9 on Sunday morning. The city is quiet - it reminds you of home. You roll out of bed and open the curtains, welcoming sunshine into your studio apartment. Opening your window, you hear the pitter patter of heels as families make their way to church, dressed in their Sunday-best. You look bleakly into your wardrobe; nothing seems adequate to wear. Normally, you would throw on a tunic and slacks, but you don't wish to stick out on your first day at the Greek church near you. You grab the nicest shirt you can find, and throw on some clean pants. Most of your clothes lie in a dirty pile on the floor. You sigh. You won't be able to go to the laundromat until you get paid on Friday. Looking at yourself in the mirror, you can't help but feel under-dressed. Scratching your chin, you realize you haven't shaved since Thursday. <i>Gamato</i>, you mutter. You slick back your hair with some grease and throw on your big baptismal cross your nouna got you when you were a baby. You brush your teeth and leave without eating - you're receiving Holy Communion this morning.
As you open the door to the church, you step in with your left foot, praying that you will feel a little less alone than you have during your first few weeks in Chicago. You look ahead. Down the aisle you gaze over the altar, toward a large, ornately carved wooden wall, covered in Byzantine iconography, featuring eight consecutive life-size icons, two of which led to the restricted chambers behind the altar. A change from the marble wall in your village's church, but a lovely wall nonetheless. It seemed so much further from you than you were accustomed to. Out of reach. You take a breath and turn to your right, reaching towards a stack of candles. Your hand bumps into another's.
"Oh! Pardon me!" A melodious voice exclaims. Your eyes meet hers and widen. She is an American beauty. The light of candles next to you bounces off of her blond hair. She smiles, "I don't believe we've met. <i>Pos se lene</i>?" "<i>Me lene </i>Panayiotis" you reply. You smile hesitantly, "It's my first time here... I don't know anyone yet". She leans in a little and says with a soft laugh "Well, if you stick with me I think you'll be just fine." You nod with a grin. "Do I get the pleasure of knowing your name?". She blushes. "Mary". You pause. "For Maria?" you inquire. "Well, yeah, it's more American. You know how it is." Your eyebrows furrow a little, then you let them relax. "I think it's a lovely name". You both proceed to light your candles and pray for your loved ones, alive and dead. You look over at Mary as she adds another candle. She made you feel so welcome. Maybe your prayers had been answered. You decide you are going to marry this girl, if she will have you.
Six weeks of meeting Mary before church, and you're both enamoured with each other. You are about to ask her father for her hand in marriage. Dating is quite unacceptable for Greeks, but, being away from your family, you have avoided an arranged marriage. You feel confident marrying for love. You don't have a dowry to offer, but you have a big heart and a strong will to take care of Mary. Besides, you are saving most of your money to start your own Greek restaurant downtown which will surely provide. You take a deep breath as you walk from the bus stop onto their street in the suburbs. The houses are very large here. Every house has two stories and expansive property with lush green lawns and manicured gardens. On some of the properties stand statues and sculptures, one of which you noticed was the Venus de Milo, the famous greek sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite. Setting eyes on number twenty-six, you set foot across the lawn to Mary's home. You step foot on the patio, passing four Ionian pillars that hold the roof above you. Preparing to knock, you juggle a bouquet of flowers from your right hand into the crook of your arm while you hold a platter of baklava you made. The door swings open and a tall, well-dressed man stands to greet you.
Good evening.