Light snow began to fall. We hurried to the car to drive back to Ioannina before it got too dark to see the potholes. On the outskirts of the village, two men walking along the road, hunting rifles slung across their shoulders, stepped aside to let the car pass. Once again, mother motioned for the car to stop. One of the men peered into the car.
He asked in amazement, “Is that you Nitsa?”
I hadn’t been called Nitsa in years. “Yes, it is.”
“Don’t you remember me? I’m Spiros.”
I opened the window to take a closer look. His face was handsome but lined, his deep-set gray eyes intently looking at me, snowflakes gathering on his bare head. I had no memory of him.
“I was your classmate in the first grade. We played together at recess. You’ve changed. You had blond hair when you were little.”
I was now a middle-aged woman, but in his mind I had remained a little girl.
“The day after you escaped, they told us soldiers had killed you in the mountains, but we didn’t believe them. We always talked about you as if you were in a fairy tale, imagined how wonderful your life must be in the free world. Things got a lot worse here after you left.”
I touched his hand. I wanted to express my sorrow at their suffering and to rejoice if they were married and had kids. Even if my life was easier I longed to say, I didn’t escape the sorrow of losing my childhood and my sense of belonging. But this was not the time, snow fell thicker and faster, and darkness was descending.
Mother pulled two large oranges, green leaves still attached, out of a plastic bag and offered them to the men. They accepted the oranges, nodding their thanks. We said goodbye, and as the car drove away, I peered back at them through the rear view window. They stood in the middle of the road indifferent to the swirling snow, staring at the receding car, the oranges glowing in their hands. Behind them, the village nestled within the mountains, as if in a crystal globe, that had just been shaken.