Sleepless in Athens

After arriving at her hosts' apartment in a dodgy, semi-suburban area, Natasha Thompson is met with an arsenal of weapons, a three-legged dog and an unusual Athenian man

After arriving at her hosts' apartment in a dodgy, semi-suburban area, Natasha Thompson is met with an arsenal of weapons, a three-legged dog and an unusual Athenian man

While the mass of armoury was terrifying, the solo traveller couldn’t help noticing the excellent view from the couple’s deck to The Acropolis.

AFTER Dareios had finished explaining why Yaso was missing a leg, he plopped two triangles of white bread on a plate in front of me.

“This is our cheese sandwich, a local speciality,” he said, signalling to the slices of bread, divided by a square of edam cheese.

“Eat up,” he ordered.

I took a small bite from one corner. The cheese, flavourless and rubbery, combined with the bread, forming a stodgy ball that rolled around my mouth.

Dareios watched me intently as I tried hopelessly to swallow. Four attempts later the food ball had cleared my throat.

“And your girlfriend Anastasia?” I croaked. “When does she finish again?”

“Later, later. Come in here, I’ll show you our portfolios.”

As I entered the living room, machine gun-decorated radiator before me, Dareios rustled through the pistol-laden bookshelf to retrieve his and her portfolios. Modelling portfolios. They were models of course.

I sat awkwardly on the patchy, stained couch, flicking through the albums as Yaso licked my ugly backpacker feet.

“Nice stuff,” I said, unaware of the go-to response to share with a gun-possessing, dog-dissecting model about his work.

“Wine,” he barked handing me a full glass of dazzling red.

“Oh, thanks,” I said, immediately placing the glass on the coffee table beside me.

I glanced out to the balcony, “Must be a great view.”

“It’s OK,” he replied, with a dismissive hand gesture.

I stood up and moved towards the balcony, hoping to make myself seen.

Outside piles of clutter and garbage dotted the once-white balcony tiles. On the far right I could make out a number of large, black stains splashed across the ground.

“Mushrooms. Anastasia’s attempts,” he laughed, suddenly appearing behind me and pointing towards the stains.

“Ahhhh, great,” I replied, attempting nonchalance.

“Look, the Acropolis,” he announced, moving to the edge of the balcony and pointing down the long street to a gold-lit structure, afloat on the horizon.

The Acropolis

Sure enough, there in the distance of his “OK” view was the Acropolis.

In a strange way, the sight was soothing. It was really all I had come to Athens to see. If I died now at the hands of a gun-wielding, self-proclaimed model, at least the strange circumstance would warrant an evocative headline.

Just as I turned to start another awkward conversation, a phone rang. Anastasia. She was finished. Dareios would pick her up. I would wait here.

“Good,” I thought, “it will give me time to check the apartment and tell everyone exactly where I am.”

As the door clicked shut behind Dareios, I immediately got my phone out and messaged everyone I knew in the vicinity. Vicinity for a Kiwi meaning anyone I knew in Europe, bar my parents who would commit themselves to a psych ward at the thought of my predicament.

Once I had sent out the address and voiced my fears of murder in the least alarming fashion, I moved quickly around the premises.

Passing the armoured cabinet I took a photo I hoped I would one day laugh over with friends. Next I moved towards the main door and nervously turned the handle.

The door lurched opened. I could leave, there was my exit, my escape, but an escape to where?

The dodgy, lurker-filled streets I had arrived on, at midnight, in the middle of suburbia with the metro stopped for the evening?

At least here my friends would know where to find me, and he had left the door open. What kind of kidnapper leaves the door open?

I probably have them all wrong, I thought as I closed the door.

But I still didn’t know if Anastasia even existed. For all I knew, she was his last victim, trapped behind a wall somewhere, watching, screaming, too strangled for me to hear.

I had watched far too many episodes of Criminal Minds to disregard this as a possibility.

Turning around I scanned the walls for any eye-filled cracks. Nothing. I was probably paranoid. I glanced up at the pistol-laden bookshelf, or not?

Dareios returns

Twenty minutes later I was tapping my fingers furiously across the screen of my phone, attempting to calm my friends’ fears and settle our discussion as to whether I should stay, when Dareios waltzed in.

I turned to greet him and felt a wave of relief sweep down my back as a gazelle-like figure entered the room behind him, talking animatedly on a cellphone.

Ecstatic to see another normal, non-kidnapped woman, I smiled.

Anastasia smiled too, then shouted a few more Greek words, threw her phone down and collapsed onto the couch beside me.

“Long day?” I asked, accepting that it seemed the guest’s role to start conversations in this house.

“Horrible, photographers, sometimes, such idiots,” she responded in a strange, almost Russian accent.

“Yeah you know, they tell me, ‘lie on ground, head up, to the side, more, more’, but they don’t know my angles,” she said.

“That must be a hard,” I responded, once again surprised by the conversation.

“You are tired,” she announced, finally acknowledging me as someone who had just arrived in her house.

“You get Dareios to give you a massage. He’s good.”

“Oh yeah, you know, it’s a hobby I learned from a friend. He does it for natural therapy, great full body healing. I can give you one,” Dareios announced, his face glowing with enthusiasm.

“Oh thanks,” I replied, visualising the scenario with terror, “maybe tomorrow.”

“Good idea, you need to have a shower first — fully relaxed,” he added.

I smiled through gritted teeth. After an hour of smoky, red wine conversations and naked chests (just Dareios), I was confused, slightly disturbed and more than ready to escape to my allotted room.

I had been informed of the importance of eating only one vegetable at a time (fruit salads were terrible for digestion), how to use the powder in the bathroom for “cleaning out my ass,” apparently brimming with toxic oils (shudder) and why the world had adopted English rather then Greek as an international language (NASA was behind it all, stalking and conspiring against the Grecians for decades).

“Just a night,” I winced, as I lay on the dubiously off-white duvet.

I slept fitfully and woke at 4am to the sound of a plastic bag crackling on the floor. The air was heavy, moist, windless. Either someone was in my room or the plastic bag was alive.

I threw myself up and swiped my hand along the wall, feeling for the light switch.

Heart thumping, my fingers swept down across the recognisable panel. Sharp, hospital light filled the room, blinding my eyes with shadowy, gold-splotched images as I turned towards the sounds, willing my eyes to adjust.

• (To be continued next week).

AFTER Dareios had finished explaining why Yaso was missing a leg, he plopped two triangles of white bread on a plate in front of me.

“This is our cheese sandwich, a local speciality,” he said, signalling to the slices of bread, divided by a square of edam cheese.

“Eat up,” he ordered.

I took a small bite from one corner. The cheese, flavourless and rubbery, combined with the bread, forming a stodgy ball that rolled around my mouth.

Dareios watched me intently as I tried hopelessly to swallow. Four attempts later the food ball had cleared my throat.

“And your girlfriend Anastasia?” I croaked. “When does she finish again?”

“Later, later. Come in here, I’ll show you our portfolios.”

As I entered the living room, machine gun-decorated radiator before me, Dareios rustled through the pistol-laden bookshelf to retrieve his and her portfolios. Modelling portfolios. They were models of course.

I sat awkwardly on the patchy, stained couch, flicking through the albums as Yaso licked my ugly backpacker feet.

“Nice stuff,” I said, unaware of the go-to response to share with a gun-possessing, dog-dissecting model about his work.

“Wine,” he barked handing me a full glass of dazzling red.

“Oh, thanks,” I said, immediately placing the glass on the coffee table beside me.

I glanced out to the balcony, “Must be a great view.”

“It’s OK,” he replied, with a dismissive hand gesture.

I stood up and moved towards the balcony, hoping to make myself seen.

Outside piles of clutter and garbage dotted the once-white balcony tiles. On the far right I could make out a number of large, black stains splashed across the ground.

“Mushrooms. Anastasia’s attempts,” he laughed, suddenly appearing behind me and pointing towards the stains.

“Ahhhh, great,” I replied, attempting nonchalance.

“Look, the Acropolis,” he announced, moving to the edge of the balcony and pointing down the long street to a gold-lit structure, afloat on the horizon.

The Acropolis

Sure enough, there in the distance of his “OK” view was the Acropolis.

In a strange way, the sight was soothing. It was really all I had come to Athens to see. If I died now at the hands of a gun-wielding, self-proclaimed model, at least the strange circumstance would warrant an evocative headline.

Just as I turned to start another awkward conversation, a phone rang. Anastasia. She was finished. Dareios would pick her up. I would wait here.

“Good,” I thought, “it will give me time to check the apartment and tell everyone exactly where I am.”

As the door clicked shut behind Dareios, I immediately got my phone out and messaged everyone I knew in the vicinity. Vicinity for a Kiwi meaning anyone I knew in Europe, bar my parents who would commit themselves to a psych ward at the thought of my predicament.

Once I had sent out the address and voiced my fears of murder in the least alarming fashion, I moved quickly around the premises.

Passing the armoured cabinet I took a photo I hoped I would one day laugh over with friends. Next I moved towards the main door and nervously turned the handle.

The door lurched opened. I could leave, there was my exit, my escape, but an escape to where?

The dodgy, lurker-filled streets I had arrived on, at midnight, in the middle of suburbia with the metro stopped for the evening?

At least here my friends would know where to find me, and he had left the door open. What kind of kidnapper leaves the door open?

I probably have them all wrong, I thought as I closed the door.

But I still didn’t know if Anastasia even existed. For all I knew, she was his last victim, trapped behind a wall somewhere, watching, screaming, too strangled for me to hear.

I had watched far too many episodes of Criminal Minds to disregard this as a possibility.

Turning around I scanned the walls for any eye-filled cracks. Nothing. I was probably paranoid. I glanced up at the pistol-laden bookshelf, or not?

Dareios returns

Twenty minutes later I was tapping my fingers furiously across the screen of my phone, attempting to calm my friends’ fears and settle our discussion as to whether I should stay, when Dareios waltzed in.

I turned to greet him and felt a wave of relief sweep down my back as a gazelle-like figure entered the room behind him, talking animatedly on a cellphone.

Ecstatic to see another normal, non-kidnapped woman, I smiled.

Anastasia smiled too, then shouted a few more Greek words, threw her phone down and collapsed onto the couch beside me.

“Long day?” I asked, accepting that it seemed the guest’s role to start conversations in this house.

“Horrible, photographers, sometimes, such idiots,” she responded in a strange, almost Russian accent.

“Yeah you know, they tell me, ‘lie on ground, head up, to the side, more, more’, but they don’t know my angles,” she said.

“That must be a hard,” I responded, once again surprised by the conversation.

“You are tired,” she announced, finally acknowledging me as someone who had just arrived in her house.

“You get Dareios to give you a massage. He’s good.”

“Oh yeah, you know, it’s a hobby I learned from a friend. He does it for natural therapy, great full body healing. I can give you one,” Dareios announced, his face glowing with enthusiasm.

“Oh thanks,” I replied, visualising the scenario with terror, “maybe tomorrow.”

“Good idea, you need to have a shower first — fully relaxed,” he added.

I smiled through gritted teeth. After an hour of smoky, red wine conversations and naked chests (just Dareios), I was confused, slightly disturbed and more than ready to escape to my allotted room.

I had been informed of the importance of eating only one vegetable at a time (fruit salads were terrible for digestion), how to use the powder in the bathroom for “cleaning out my ass,” apparently brimming with toxic oils (shudder) and why the world had adopted English rather then Greek as an international language (NASA was behind it all, stalking and conspiring against the Grecians for decades).

“Just a night,” I winced, as I lay on the dubiously off-white duvet.

I slept fitfully and woke at 4am to the sound of a plastic bag crackling on the floor. The air was heavy, moist, windless. Either someone was in my room or the plastic bag was alive.

I threw myself up and swiped my hand along the wall, feeling for the light switch.

Heart thumping, my fingers swept down across the recognisable panel. Sharp, hospital light filled the room, blinding my eyes with shadowy, gold-splotched images as I turned towards the sounds, willing my eyes to adjust.

• (To be continued next week).

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