A tiny rivulet of sweat trickled down Juliette’s back as they walked acrross molten tarmac into the shabby terminal. She hadn’t roasted like this since her last visit to Kenya. The lack of air conditioning made her regret her choice of travel clothes.
Gabardine slacks, a long-sleeved silk blouse, and heels had made perfect sense in Frankfurt. She eyed the guys’ cargo shorts and tees with envy, wishing she could feel OK about being casual or rumpled. She snorted, pulled herself up to her full height and glared at a middle-aged man in a flowered shirt whose eyes seemed glued to her chest.
On second thought, the designer blouse seemed like a great idea despite the heat. She could never fade into the background, so she preferred to stand out with style.
Ian grabbed her arm and pointed at a baggage carousel. “Slow down. Isn’t that ours?”
“Yeah,” Mark agreed. “Damn. Kinda Third World around here, isn’t it?
Juliette shot daggers at him with her eyes. Dima laughed and said, “Reminds me of the Odessa airport in the middle of summer. If I squint, the Greek letters look cyrillic.”
“Got it!” yelled Mark, running up and snagging the large suitcase off the roller belt.
Juliette grabbed Dima’s arm and tried to smile. “Come on. Let’s find Customs and get out of here. I’m exhausted.” She was relieved nothing had gone wrong. As they followed signs through the grimy terminal, she thought about how easy the trip had been so far. Poor Dima had been nervous as a cat, which was why she was holding his arm now, trying to calm him.
They’d held their breath at the Frankfurt airport, but nobody had so much as blinked at Dima’s military ID or passport. Her responsibility was almost over. They were safe here in Greece. She was certain the Russians couldn’t have figured out their destination. They’d been much too careful for that.
“Look!” squeaked Dima as he pointed. She suppressed a small shiver of unease when she spotted the armed soldiers in front of Passport Control.
She squeezed his arm when she noticed his eyes going round and bulging. “Relax. It’s just the way they do things here.” The bored official at the counter actually yawned as he stamped their passports, barely glancing through them.
She poked Dima and laughed as they searched for the exit. “See?”
Crammed into a tiny cab, sweating on Ian, she thought about how Athens reminded her of Nairobi. Narrow streets, whitewashed buildings, and a blazing sun baking spices into the air. For a second, she thought she tasted her grandmother’s cooking.
Mark’s gripe from the front seat broke her chain of memory. “God damn! This smog is worse than LA on a bad day. I can’t breathe.”
OK, she admitted to herself, that’s different from Kenya. There, the air was always clean and fresh. Here, she seemed to take in gritty particles with every breath. The air almost begged to be chewed.
Shouted voices, blaring horns, and distant sirens drifted into the open windows of the cab, hitching rides on gusts of furnace-hot air. The driver navigated aggressively for almost an hour — honking, cursing, swerving, bumping, darting through alleys in some spots, stuck in traffic in others.
Ian and Dima kept their heads out the windows on either side of her, staring, pointing, and yelling about the sights. Mark slumped up front, seeming to sulk in the heat.
“Holy shit!” shouted Ian in English. “Look up there on that hill!”
“Oh, my God!” Dima said, leaning over Juliette to get a better look. “Isn’t that the Acropolis?”
Then the driver swung the taxi to the side and stopped, handing the brochure back to her, pointing to a small, featureless building on the right.
“OK, hang on,” she mumbled, digging into her purse. “I’ve got Greek money here somewhere.” She handed over a big pink banknote and reached over Dima to open the door. “Out, you.”
“How much was it?” Mark wanted to know.
“That bill was worth about 5 dollars,” she shrugged. “He tried to give me change.”
Their rooms were small.
“I’m sorry it’s such a dump, guys,” she apologized, surveying twin beds, cracked tile floors, tiny casement windows, and walls that might have been white before she was born.
Ian grinned over his shoulder after opening a door beside one of the beds. “At least there’s a shower! And soap. Yay!”
“The islands will be much nicer,” she said. “I promise. We only have to put up with this for two nights.”
“What do you mean nicer?” Dima piped up. “This is great! Let’s go eat! I’m starved.”
She laughed. “You also stink. Nobody’s had a shower since Berlin. And that cab ride? Between two sweaty men? I’m over you two guys until you clean up. Mark and I are gonna be in the room across the hall. You can come get us in say, two hours?”
“Two!” Ian whined. “Why not one?”
“OK, 90 minutes,” she compromised. I was gonna try to take a nap. It’d be nice to relax without having to worry about anything. It’s so good to know we’re finally safe.”