A family picnic takes an unexpected turn when a stranger shows up.


            He was like wearing this cap that was way too big for his head. One of those caps old men wear, you know, flat caps I think they’re called. Anyways, he was wearing this cap made out of wool or something like that and it didn’t sit on his head straight, but kind of to one side. The weirdest thing I’ve ever seen a kid wearing was his coat. He was wearing it even though it was stinking hot, and everyone else was in shorts and tee-shirts. This kid was wearing a scruffy coat,  the kind with two sets of buttons up the front. What are they called again?  Double breasted, that was it, a double breasted coat with a blue striped shirt buttoned all the way to the collar.

            When Dimitri saw the kid he wanted to hurt him, hurt him bad. He wanted to hold his head on the ground and stomp on it till his brains bleed out of his nose, that’s how bad. I told Andrea to stop him, hold him by his arms if he had, but don’t let him touch the boy. Andrea hadn’t been drinking the retsina because he said he would drive the van, and besides he was much younger. Andrea was a sensible boy, not emotional like his patera

            Eleni was our baby, our precious baby, our mόrό koritsi, our miracle. Even when they told us at the IVF pre-assessment programme we were not suitable, we were like not good candidates, Dimitri declared he would not give up. He said he would rather give up the air in his lungs than not have a child.

When he saw Eleni walking with the boy he was emotional.

            The boy was like maybe sixteen, around that age. And he was a coloured boy. Though I think what put everyone on edge was how strange Eleni looked. He dress clung to her little legs, and her hair was lank and pasted to her neck, its blackness peculiar against Eleni’s chalky face. Something had happened to our baby, something bad.

            Andrea approached them. He put his hands into his pockets trying to look relaxed. His shoulders were rounded, and I could tell he was tense. I held the back of Dimitri’s vest, twisted it round my fist until I felt the damp of sweat in the small of his back.

            “What are they talking?” Dimitri demanded. “Eleni,” he shouted. But still he did not move, not because I held his shirt. Hell, he could drag me if he wanted, he could drag a football team if he wanted to. Dimitri stayed cemented to the spot because he was scared.

            Flies buzzed the plate of kasseri and olives. I had waved them away all morning, swinging mechanically at their annoying persistence, everyone did. The loukaniko and tzatziki will be ruined. It didn’t matter anyhow, not now. No one moved, only Andrea who shuffled round-shouldered to a stop.

            Eleni walked stiffly to him.

            The picnic area was popular, hard to find a table. But it was not so crowded today, and we laughed at our luck in finding a spot without have to wait for others to leave.

            “She fell into the river,” Andrea shouted to us. He grinned as if to say no harm done. No drownings today.

            I felt Dimitri shaking through his vest. He was crying. I pushed him away. He was a heavy, bear chested man, but slide aside easily as lightly as elbowing bed linen on the washing line.

            I knelt in front of Eleni to study her face. She was scared for sure, but there was something else, an unspoken thing, neither of us could say aloud.

            “Oh, Eleni, Eleni,” I pushed my face into her cold hair and cried into the ashen skin of her neck. I whispered to her, “There’s nothing to be ashamed of. This is how it is meant to be.” Eleni pulled away from me. Her eyes were raw, red from the water, while her lips were dark. She moved ever so timidly, and I noticed dark pools forming above her cheeks.

            “She said the boy dragged her from the water.” Andrea looked back to where the boy had been. There was no one. He had gone, as though vanished.

            Dimitri flew past, swinging his arms—deranged. He brayed like an animal, lumbering along the path to find the boy.

            “Let him go, Andrea.” I picked Eleni up. She hung wet and limp to my shoulder. She felt smaller than she had been when we arrived at the picnic grounds. “Come,” I said softly and walked towards the table. We reached the cooler where I had left my handbag sitting on the lid. Ants crawled over a plastic container of baklava. Eleni stood silently as I brushed them off. In the inside pocket of the bag with Velcro strips holding it closed was a slim King James Bible. I pulled it out and opened the pages where a tiny print-out of an ultrasound image was kept. I gave it to Eleni. She studied it in bewilderment.

            “It’s…” She nodded her head angrily, the way she did when I told her things she already knew. I pulled my cardigan out to wrap around her shoulders. She pushed it away, and stared intently at the blurry image as though it had meaning, other than a vague impression of the face of a foetus.

            “What is it?” Andrea asked with his mouth full. He was eating a loukaniko.

            “We are giving one at birth,” I relied, “So that we are guided from the path of death.”

            “You mean…” he turned to look back at where the boy had been. “All that stuff about having a guarding spirit to protect us?”  He scoffed. babaghanoush had smeared across his silly grin.

            Dimitri was off into the distance. He had slowed to a limp. “He shouldn’t be running in this heat,” I said. “Poor Dimitri.”

            I turned back to Eleni. He eyes were closed, but still held the picture as though looking at it.

            I told her, “It is every mother’s fear that a child should meet their Daemon.”