The Question Never Asked
When Kay got home from her weekend on the mountain, the first thing Nikos asked was if she’d had a good time. An innocent enough question, but when all she said was ‘Yes, it was good’ she could tell he wasn’t satisfied. The babble of excited English he’d expected to gush from her dried up too soon for his liking.
She breezed past him into the lounge in a waft of cold Greek winter air, and dropped her bag to the floor. Nikos followed her. She knew he was there without having to look round.
‘Did you ski?’ he asked, knowing she’d never ski’d before in her life.
‘But there was snow? On the mountain.’
‘Yes, of course. We went sledging on plastic bags.’
‘Me and Jacqueline. I told you Jacqueline was going with us.’
That last little tag, with us, was a taunt that she hadn’t intended, but he let the gauntlet lie for now.
‘Make me a cup of tea,’ he said, feigning a loss of interest.
He used to be a die-hard coffee drinker. His liking for tea was one way in which his marriage to her, a foreigner, an Englishwoman, had changed his native tastes. In turn, her usual readiness to go and do his bidding without question was an indication of how Greek she’d become. Today, though, a little bulldog spirit was revived in her.
‘Why don’t you go and make it yourself? I don’t want a cup of tea. It’s you who wants a cup of tea.’
‘I’ve got to go to work soon.’
‘I work as well.’
This remark was met with a lumpy silence as Nikos dumped himself down on the sofa. Kay knew he didn’t like her working but she’d go crazy with boredom if all she had to do was lie on the beach all summer and watch DVDs all winter and iron his shirts all year round.
‘Oh, all right, I’ll make your bloody tea for you or you’ll sit there with a face on.’
‘You don’t normally mind making me a cup of tea. Who’s been teaching you that attitude? Not Jacqueline.’
Kay ignored him and went to the kitchen.
It pleased her that he liked Jacqueline because without such a close English-speaking friend she’d go mad. But she wished he would make an effort to get on with the other Brits who came and lived in the town mostly for no more than a year or two before going home or moving on. She needed friends of her own kind, whether he liked it or not. She wished he’d make the effort to get on with them. What did he think was going to happen when Jacqueline left? All the ex-pats left in the end. All except her. She couldn’t. But if commitment to her husband meant staying in Greece, then she had to make the best of the Brits who passed through, and he had to understand that.
When she returned from the kitchen he was glued to the basketball. She put the tea tray down in front of him and he swore in Greek because she’d made him miss a point being scored.
‘So who else was up on the mountain?’
‘A few of the English teachers.’
‘How many is a few?’
‘Four others. It was a squeeze, but we all managed to fit in the car.’
‘Which ones? Do I know them?’
‘Of course you do. You’ve met all the Brits. I just wish – ’
‘That you’d try to be a bit more friendly with them.’
‘I feel awkward going out with a group of English people. You know that.’
‘Well I don’t see why. Your English is very good. And you like Jacqueline.’
‘Why? Because she’s a woman? Besides, I have to go out with your friends and I’m the only English person there.’
‘Well you can speak Greek.’
‘Oh, I give up.’
He smoked a cigarette and pretended to be absorbed in the game. Finally, as though talking to the room, he pronounced, ‘It’s my country.’
And the room spoke back through the voice of his English wife.
‘Well it’s not mine.’
That raised the level of his suspicion. She could feel it oozing out of him and see it in the wet stoniness of his dark eyes as they gazed at the screen without really watching.
Ask me, thought Kay. Go on, just ask me.
She knew he wanted to, and the longer he kept silent the more she
willed him to ask her. She wanted to tell him that, yes, some of her
friends on the mountain had been men and that, yes, she enjoyed their
company. She also wanted to tell him that she’d wanted him to be there
too, having a nice time instead of moping at home alone eating takeaway
But there was always that one unspoken question, the only one he
wanted to ask her, and the one she knew he never would, because he
was scared of the answer. That poisonous suspicion that there might be
someone else in her life to meet a need that he, a foreigner, could not
She knew she’d never be able to lay it to rest because he could never bring himself to ask it. It was like a spot he refused to squeeze but that wouldn’t go away, and it left them both dithering at the edge of a crisis.
And if he ever did, she wondered anyway, would she lie to him or tell the truth?
‘I’m going to work. I have to catch the seven o’clock boat.’
He rose to put on his oilskin, hoisted his kitbag onto his shoulder, and, at the door, turned towards her.
It was there – the question. She could see it suffocating him.
‘Leave me some breakfast out for when I get back. I’ll try not to wake you.’
The door closed on his departing back.
She lifted the tray and carried it to the kitchen.
Outside, the weather had turned bad, and a rumble of thunder rattled the kitchen windows. She crossed herself, something that was second nature now, and hoped he would be safe tonight out on the oil rig in all this.