I reached Heathrow, looking good to travel. At check-in, a handsome young clerk informed me of the current hand-luggage policy; I thought the hysteria following the foiled liquid bomb plot would have died down, but not so. Upstairs I sat people watching with a glass of shiraz. A glass collector endeared himself to no one by stalking the bar draped in a giant Australian flag, his country having freshly whitewashed England. My phone rang – Christos told me not to eat, for he was cooking. The time came to go to my gate before I could finish my glass of wine.
Immediately I was told to put my bum bag in my rucksack. Removing from it my passport and boarding pass, I assented. The young black tabard trailed me with a sympathetic smile as my hand luggage was checked for unauthorised products. The female attendant informed me that my bottle of water, from which I had taken but a sip, was prohibited, but available on the plane. The half-empty jar of Body Butter was a no-no. Agonisingly, my moisturiser, though unused, was twenty-five-millilitres over the limit. Having disposed of toiletries worth twenty pounds or more, I joined the queue to show my boarding pass.
Take off jackets and remove laptops from their cases, the sign read. Passengers were being checked like sheep for their markings, so the queue was moving almost at walking pace as I tried to take off my jacket, taking care to remove my laptop from my rucksack without dropping it, whilst maintaining my place in line. The lady behind me clipped my heel but was too exasperated to notice. 'This is ridiculous,' she snapped; her husband winked, shrugged and smiled an apology. Soon, an impatient female attendant took my passport, and satisfied, shoved it back.
'Take off your belt and remove your thing,' ordered the next attendant. I removed the iPod shuffle attached to the collar of my jumper, and it dawned on me how overdressed I was, with a vest, T-shirt, shirt and jumper all tucked into my jeans, fastened tightly with a belt, the wire of my iPod fed through the layers of the outfit, for security. Moreover the queues were long and fast moving, and I didn't want to hold anyone up. I put all my things in three trays and progressed through the X-ray frame, which remained silent.
Nevertheless, a meaty, moustachioed security guard, poised like a cowboy, compelled me to raise my arms. He groped, squeezed and poked, to the seeming entertainment of a guy across the way, who had either enjoyed the same treatment or was jealous of the security guard.
The latter took a step back into his cowboy stance and, tapping my left thigh, said, 'What's in the pocket?'
'My Oyster Card and a comb,' I replied.
His eyes narrowed. 'Collect your things.' He tracked me in the corners of his eyes, unconvinced.
I gathered all my things against my chest like a pile of dirty laundry, and dumped them next to myself on a waiting couch, deciding for a minute to watch other passengers being searched.
Next was a handsome, suited, city-type blond guy of about thirty. 'Good afternoon, sir,' smiled the security guard. The blond gentleman raised his arms and received a mere couple of flutters down his flanks. 'Just a routine check, you know how it's been. Thank you sir, and enjoy your flight.'
On the plane I sat next to the window, but it was already dark. There were two pretty blonde girls sitting behind. A slightly overweight, bearded Greek man sat next to me and took out his book and spectacles. He reminded me a little of the security guard. All flight long all I wanted to do was squeeze the erect nipples visible in his shirt and caress his packet. Otherwise the flight was routine.
A tension headache had crept across my forehead by the time I alighted the plane. Christos and I spotted each other immediately at Arrivals.
'Ciao Bello.' We kissed each other's cheeks. 'How was your flight?'
'Fine thanks. Crap food but, as you'd expect.'
‘Mamma mia, I told you not to eat!’
'I only had a nibble, I was hungry. Anyway, you know me. I'll eat anything you put in front of me, hungry or not, unless it's liver, which I hate. You didn't cook liver, did you?'
Christos lit up the moment we were outside. There were several blue and yellow taxis waiting. The plane had been full but the Arrivals area seemed relatively quiet. He noticed me glaring longingly at his cigarette and cheerfully offered. ‘I had such a nightmare at Heathrow,’ I told him, accepting.
'Why?' he asked.
'The security must've thought I looked like a suicide bomber.'
'No, why these problems in Heathrow?'
'Well, you must of heard of the plot to blow up transatlantic planes using liquid bombs in drinks bottles. And apparently one of the suspects was Jamaican, so I do understand.'
I'd barely got into my cigarette when Christos stubbed his out and commanded something to one of the stewards in Greek. Instantly a typical blue and yellow Mercedes E-Class pulled up. The driver stepped out and opened up the boot and rear passenger door. 'Efaristo', I nodded, stepping into the rear compartment. 'Parakolor', he smiled back.
Christos sat staring out of the window in silence. 'So how are you?' I finally asked.
'Ah,' he sighed. 'I am okay, but I am tired. I have many things to do.'
'Really? Like what?'
He turned down the corners of his mouth and raised his shoulders and palms like a Mafioso. 'Just some things.'
'Your hair looks good,' I remarked instead.
'Ah, thank you, ah,' he replied, running his fingers through.
'It's grown a lot. You'll be like Jimi Hendrix next time I see you.'
'Yes, but I want to go again to have this done,' he replied, pointing to the little remaining thinness at the corners of his hairline, that a prouder man might have called a 'widow's peak'.
'Wow. How much did it cost?'
'The first time, about five thousand Euros. This time, maybe it will be two thousand.'
I laughed. 'You have a lot of money, Christos.'
'I don't have a lot of money,' he replied, retaining the Mafioso affectation. His emphasis was on the of as if he would normally have said I don't have a lot money. 'I have money, yes, but I enjoy my money.'
He'd always been a little thin on top, but I thought it distinguished him. I thought to ask where the hairs were from but instead watched the texture of his face change under the streetlights as we approached central Athens.
Exhausted, I retired to staring out of the window while Christos engaged himself in conversation with the driver. As it was dark, I couldn’t see much of the scenery but remembered it as being replete with sandy, dusty rocks, palm trees and scrubby bushes; in any case, sightseeing had always come second to sex. Every so often I looked up into the interior mirror, catching the driver's eyes and mine behind them. His had shades of a young Marlon Brando; mine could have contained my luggage. As he caught me under a street lamp I averted my gaze back to the passing closed department stores and buzzing restaurants. It was January, but still warm enough for people to eat outdoors at almost ten pm.
Finally we pulled up in Christos' street, almost the centre-point of the city. The driver leapt out of his seat to open my door before I could. He was around five-nine and smoothly defined, with cropped hair and perfect teeth. 'Efaristo,' I smiled.
'Parakolor.' I watched him pull away. He bipped his horn.
'So, what do you think?' asked Christos as we stepped into his newly finished apartment. As my eyes adjusted from the dimly lit street to the bright interior, it was revealed to me an open space of kitchen, dining room and lounge, with large doors leading out onto a terrace. To the right was a corridor leading to the bedroom and bathroom. With its finely grained hard floor tiles throughout it had the Spartan feel of a Mediterranean holiday villa. Furthermore, it was an empty shell into which a person with expensive taste had emptied various wish-list items from John Lewis, or its Athenian equivalent – the curtain poles and chandeliers were by Swarovski, distinguished by conspicuous logos. Nothing yet seemed to have found its right place, however, except for obvious items such as the rug beneath the coffee table.
'Yes it's nice,' I said. 'Is that a real zebra?'
'Of course,' he shrugged, turning down the corners of his mouth. 'That's nothing. I have a lion in my other house.'
'Wow.’ The next obvious talking point was of the three ornaments gracing the mahogany dresser, sat behind the matching dining table and chairs, all in contrast with the teak kitchen. One was a raw, unfinished tusk, the other two were intricately carved into colonial fishing scenes and polished like marble. ‘Are they real ivory?’ I asked. Almost indignantly, he spun to face me. 'Of course they are real. I am Christos; I don't take fake things. I have my things taken specially, from Africa.'
I'd met Christos via my website. One weekend every couple of months he'd fly to London, to stay at the apartment of his friend Michaelis. I'd never met anyone before without first seeing his picture, but was desperate for cash, and we agreed two-fifty for the night. I was five minutes late in knocking the door, and before me stood a greying, balding, bespectacled, hairy-armed, deeply tanned gentleman with whom, it so happened, it was rather nice to cuddle up. The first time was always easy.
However, the first time became a fourth and fifth. He was warm, articulate (describing London as a 'mosaic of civilisation'), and a fine cook ('I have cooked for a hundred people in one night. People come from all around to taste the cooking of Christos'). He'd lived his life to the full, he'd said, and now wanted to look to his own interests, thus spending hundreds at a canter on designer clothes, favouring Armani and Versace. He'd describe his relationships with handsome black men in seemingly every major European city, so it wasn't difficult to imagine him being friends with a young Congolese in Amsterdam, with links to poachers.
Dinner was lamb chops with salad and chips, the chips being of the American variety, i.e. crisps, and a bottle of St. Emilion. I used the dinner to explain that I was quitting escort work and that this was my last ever job, in fact, that I'd come out of retirement for a one-off, but that we could still be friends when he came to London. The evening having been a pleasant catch-up, I became increasingly tired and bloated, and so made my excuses and headed for bed. When he came to join me, my eyes already glazed with the first film of sleep, I asked whether he could please save his advances until the morning, a request to which he acquiesced.
As the sun came up, Christos nuzzled my cheek and opened my thighs. Encouraged by my regular morning erection, he raised his hand to my jaw and pushed his tongue into my mouth. We sucked each other off, after which he got up and started his day. I went back to sleep.
After a breakfast of eggs and coffee, we decided to walk into town, and ended up first at Attica, the Harrods of Athens, where I sought to buy a moisturiser to replace those I'd had to leave behind at Heathrow. He remembered I'd liked the one he'd used last time we'd seen each other in London, so we went to the Biotherm Homme counter. He paid thirty-nine Euros for seventy-five millilitres. Finding nothing else either of us wanted, it was time to eat.
The top-floor restaurant at Attica looked chic but was packed and far too noisy. People sitting opposite one another at table were forced to shout over the nightclub-loud jazz soundtrack. Instead we found ourselves taking aperitifs at the bar of a chic new restaurant five minutes’ walk away, part of a beautiful, marbled, Israeli-owned construction. It was clearly the new place to be seen, so the management had packed the tables in, such that even my slim frame struggled to slalom through the tiny gaps in between for fear of tripping over the giant Prada and Hermès handbags slung like hammocks over chair backs. Although not as loud as the restaurant at Attica, the atmosphere was a fusion of clashing pots and pans, shrill laughter and Tiffany bracelets jangling, with the smells of grilled meat and fish and designer perfumes and colognes. 'If they are too frou-frou, they don't have money,' Christos remarked.
Beyond this, he was quite silent, but people watching just as I was. I wasn't used to being taken out for dinner by clients; I suppose I wasn't the type; our meetings were usually a one-hour shag or an overnight with plenty of alcohol and/or drugs. The waiter eventually led us to our table. The décor was very elegant, the walls painted the shade of grey most synonymous with high fashion shoots, proving the perfect backdrop for his tan.
I thanked him for my moisturiser. 'Ah, it is nothing,' he replied, as fresh faces came through the door.
'This is a really nice place,' I observed, straining the last of my gin and tonic. 'Hope the food matches up.' At almost every table was a middle-aged man and his younger wife or girlfriend, who wore giant Gucci or Chanel shades, their blonde hair tucked behind their ears so as to show off the big double-G or double-C. The plates Christos selected were excellent, with fresh salad vegetables that tasted just as they should.
We walked home. I felt sluggish, and unfashionable in the clothes I wore. The streets were thronged with beautiful Greek boys and their girlfriends. Male couples would notice Christos and I and nod knowingly. I wished I could have been there alone and free to play, employing Christos solely as a tour guide and interpreter. On returning to the apartment I took out my laptop and tried to look busy, but still ended up in the bedroom, where I thought of all the faces, pecs, packets and arses of all the men I’d seen all day as I fucked him.
As the second of my two nights fell, we walked into the old city, always veering away from the Acropolis, but through narrow streets where young West African men sold fake Louis Vuitton bags, shades and trinkets. Stray dogs littered the area the way pigeons do in central London. I felt slightly aggrieved by Christos’ insistence on walking a few steps behind me, particularly as I didn't know where I was going. Eventually I led him out onto a main road, and he directed me left, past the government buildings and university campus. Further up was Athens' best hotel, where we had booked to have dinner at the top-floor restaurant. We had been there before, and the food and atmosphere were wonderful, overlooking the floodlit Parthenon, which was much more impressive by night than by day, as I was greeted with a dusty, cordoned-off shell rather than the revelation its iconic status suggested. But once again Christos and I ate in silence, my increasing boredom checked only by the spectacle of fun and frivolity displayed by the resident singer and party of pensioners sat behind me. Why wouldn't he talk? What things did he have to take care of? Was he really a Mafioso? Did I even know his real name?
'You're quiet,' I said. 'In fact, you have been all weekend.'
He didn't look up. I wasn't sure if he was even going to answer but finally he replied, 'I am tired.'
'Come on, how can you be tired? We've done nothing. We went to Attica, then for lunch, then home, walking like two old snails – hardly strenuous activity. You didn’t even have to move your ass.'
'I have many things to think about.'
'Don't think. Just eat your meal.'
I put down my fork. 'I knew I shouldn't have come here. I've always known you've no respect for me at all. Just because you flew me out here and you're paying for everything doesn't mean you own me. This is Athens; I should be having the best time in the world but I’m miserable!'
'Ah, la la la la la! I have cancer. I have no children or partner to leave my interests. There. Now please, let me enjoy my meal.'
I was stunned silent. I tried to apologise for my selfishness, and to ask where he had been affected by it, but he 'didn't know in English', and wouldn't be drawn to demonstrate where in his body he was ill. I drank to try to dissipate the solid mass of guilt in the pit of my belly. He paid, and we took a silent taxi home, lulled by alcohol and regret. Back at the apartment I brushed my teeth and went straight to bed. The next morning I got up first, and prepared to show my remorse and ask for his forgiveness. I brewed coffee, and poured him a cup as soon as he emerged. I had been watching TV, and the video for Mariah Carey's 'Say Something', featuring Pharrell Williams, set in Paris and featuring a Rolls Royce Phantom and lots of Louis Vuitton, presumably authentic, came on. He switched the channel. I thought to protest, but had already said too much.
'Christos,' I began, sitting next to him on the sofa and putting my hand on his knee, 'I'm deeply sorry about what I said to you last night. If you'll forgive me I hope we can reprise our friendship back in London, health permitting.'
He stood up and walked out onto the balcony, smoking a cigarette. Soon he came back inside and took his wallet from beneath the tusks on the dresser. ‘Thank you,' he replied, politely and economically, but finally, placing on the coffee table the wad of notes as we'd arranged. It wasn't until I was safely on the plane home, having this time remembered to check my toiletries in, that I realised I had lost my best client.