I met him each day coming down the stairs as I was going up. “Kaliméra,” I would greet him in his own language. He never spoke, never looked full in my face, just hobbled down the treacherous steps, water can in hand.
I never saw him in the shops or city streets. He seemed to have no name, no home, no family. To me he was “kipourós” – the gardener. Each day he descended the steep stairwell, with its glaringly hot white-washed walls cooled by wells of deep blue, and simply cared for the flowers.
His container garden was a healing oasis. My favorites were the scarlet geraniums in their blue and gold pots, the pink and red bougainvillea splashing down the white walls, and the fragrant herbs. A pinch or two of mint or lavender, and the entire staircase was awash in scent.
I longed to tell him what the garden meant to me, what he himself meant to me. My circular gesture embraced the plants, himself and me. “Meraki,” I whispered, “your garden, our souls.” For the first time, he smiled.
One day I finally succumbed to exhaustion and sickness, and was taken to the nearby hospital, where I was kept for weeks. When I returned to my lodgings at the top of the blue-white stairs, the flowers were gasping and dying. I pushed my finger into a pot of soil – dry as the bone-white walls, as empty of life as the dark blue shadows.
I found a dented watering can on the top step. I picked it up and cradled it, moaning with grief and an overwhelming sense of loss. My tears washed down the steps, swirled around the colorful pots, formed rivulets and ponds teeming with darting pale green fish. The red and pink blooms and green herbs sprang back to life. Fig trees curved out of pots, heavy with ripening fruit.
“Kipourós, my friend, ” I shouted. “You must come and see your wondrous garden!”
No answer. Only the fluttering of wings, as one silver-feathered warbler flew out of the thick green trees, singing in ancient Greek.