There are people of whom you simply cannot guess their age. Alexander was such a man. A mysterious ageless being, who came from Russia once upon a time. and once upon another time; I met him.
I had a summer job in a small hotel, as a jack of all trades.
I don´t drink tea more than once a year, and that´s my absolute limit. I am a coffee junkie.
There was a tearoom attached to the auberge and alexander managed it. During the day he would serve tea, to whoever was willing to follow his rules on the art of drinking tea. To the uneducated mind on the refined ritual of enjoying tea, (mostly half-naked tourists) he would serve cold drinks with little umbrellas in them and bring them to people sitting under the dried bamboo parasols he had manufactured himself.
I don´t know why, but I loved observing Alexander while he was making tea. He seemed so absorbed in this, everything had to be impeccable, near perfect. Like it was a meditation.
Cha Doo was his favorite blend. He explained to me that it meant: tea road.
-“Take in the aroma, before you take a sip!” he would say after he finished pouring, “Then take small sips, and no more than three!”
Only the purest and cleanest water would do. It was Alexander´s way to pay tribute to the Earth and nature herself. In the afternoons, Alexander cleaned a lot of vegetables. He picked up every piece of fruit or veggie, looked at it as if he were thanking the earth for her bounty, churn it all over, and then began to cut it. At night alexander would serve Octopus, snell of Ouzo, and gaze at the sun setting in the Aegean Sea, listening to Eros’ murmurs that provide the imagination with its messages.
There was something about Alexander: he had a longing about him. A haunting in his eyes and the reflexes of a hunted one.
I felt comfortable around him. Something was soothing in his presence. He never asked questions. from time to time, he would touch me ever so carefully, to direct my gaze at something in a certain direction: a cat lurking under the fish vendor’s cart, or a seagull circling, awaiting the moment it could snatch away its meal…
Alexander didn´t talk much, but every word that came out of his mouth was a collection of several languages with an accent nobody could place. He finished every sentence with a smile and hurried back to his silence.
Every Monday a man would come to visit Alexander. Together they would sit, facing the aqua blue of the sea embracing the azure
of the sky, and sip tea. They each spoke in their own language, their calm conversations enrobed in a sense of mystery and secrecy.
One day I was sent to get some clean kitchen towels from the storage room. I hadn´t thought of knocking before going into the room. I froze in my tracks as I swung the door open. Alexander stood there. he had been changing his clothes and was standing naked with his back turned to me. I was standing there like an effigy for what seemed like an eternity, staring at the scars all over his back.
His reaction shook me back to reality. The look in his eyes mortified me: rage of the crudest kind. My brain was going overboard trying to decide whether to fight or take flight. His eyes were so full of hate. His soothing aura only exhaled violence during the few steps he walked towards the door, where was I standing nailed to the floor. He put his hand on my shoulder, to push me out and slammed the door shut, so hard I felt the floor tremble under my feet.
I composed myself and ran back to the kitchen, where I only heard half of the cook’s assistant scolding me because I came back without the towels.
I didn´t see Alexander for the rest of that day, but the images of his thorn back kept flashing before my eyes. the next couple of days, alexander went out of his way to avoid me. something in him had changed toward me. I wanted, and even tried to apologize for my indiscretion, but he pretended to be deaf to whatever I said.
When my shift was over for the day, I loved to go for a walk along the beach and on one such night, I found Alexander sitting on the terrace of the tavern. I stopped for the briefest of moments. There was no way around him, he was blocking the way to the stairs that led to my room. I was trying to shuffle past him when he grabbed my wrist. He looked me straight in the eyes, and I could have sworn that his clear blue eyes had changed color. Then he began to speak:
-“Violence is inherent in society!”
A woodsman had done to him what I read on his back. It hadn´t been by chance they later found the woodsman in the back of beyond with a jack-knife in his liver.
The smell of ouzo on alexander´s breath nauseated me. he stared at me for a few infinite seconds longer, then released his grip on my arm.
-“Secrets give power.” He said as I went up the stairs.
What he told me frightened me. in those few words lay a whole life. And a warning.
The following day I became a ghost again to Alexander. He was aware of my presence, but he never acknowledged me or deemed me worthy of a single look: my penance for a transgression that would never be forgiven. I´m not sure anybody else noticed the shifting in the atmosphere. It was a slow season, and everybody was concerned with their own problems.
When I left ten days later, Alexander was sitting in his usual place enjoying his morning tea. He looked as if he was on a distant journey, following the tea all the way back to China.
-“Goodbye Alexander.” I said.
He ignored me, pretending to be lost in his reveries. I went on my way in the direction of the train station, taking in the salty air the sea breeze blew into my nostrils and filling my soul with the magical blue of those waters, like a souvenir to conjure up on dark winter days. Before I turned the corner, I looked back one last time: I saw alexander standing like a statue staring at me. his gaze didn´t move, nor a single muscle in his face.
Maybe he was exorcizing me. The me who had stumbled on a painful secret, and in doing so became an excruciating reminder of an atrocity that happened a lifetime ago.
For a second it crossed my mind to wave at him, but I didn´t, for fear I might break his banishing hex. I simply walked on.
Giving yourself grace is hard. That was the message in his words, I believe. A lesson I came to learn for myself since that night. Time went on, seasons changed, and Alexander became a ghost, who popped up, once a year, when I cannot free myself from participating in a tea session…
The ageless mystery from once upon a time, who lived the simplest of lives, covering the scars on his body, having found refuge on the shores of the Aegean Sea, he came to love so much.