So I’ve got a little favor from any visitors to this site and blog. I am taking a shot at fiction and wanted to give a snippet of the book I’m putting together.
The book follows the story of the Greek-American boy Billy Karagiannis and Greek girl Eleni Alexiou over the course of 20 years. As they grow so does their love, but their worlds also become more complex, both in how they view their culture, where they live, and the obstacles their own lives have thrown at them.
What follows is from Chapter 1 and is one of the first meetings between the two main characters. It is against the backdrop of Greece’s magnificent 1987 Eurobasket victory.
I would love, love, love to hear your thoughts, criticisms, advice, and whether you didn’t like it or perhaps if it makes you want to read more. I am under no illusions about the amount of editing needed, but for now I am just wondering whether this is enjoyable. I’m traditionally shy and unwilling to share so this is a big leap of faith from me. I welcome anything you have to say. The best to all of you.
Just as it was the night before, his grandfather’s magazi was teeming with activity. It was quite early in the evening, but with the basketball game beginning at eight, preparations had to be made for the expected crowd. Stella greeted her three grandchildren inside the shop, giving them each a bottle of limonada, without asking. Billy took notice of this developing trend.
All of the store’s wooden chairs with rush seating had been moved inside. This would have never happened on any other blistering, June evening. Tonight was different though. It had the chance to be a night Greeks would cherish forever. Vasilis had never spent more than a minute of his life reading through the sports page of the main Thessaly newspaper, Eleftheria, a daily ritual of his. While it did not matter much to him, he was a man well-versed in current events and knew that this was an opportunity Greeks did not get very often. As far as business went, he also knew this would be one of his biggest evenings of the summer. He ordered twice the amount of meat from Stefanos Dimitriadis, the butcher who lived just up the road.
Thirty minutes before the game began, there were over one hundred people gathered outside of the kafeneio. The energy was palpable. Everyone in the town had been united by the game. It was the focus of all, even those who had never watched basketball in their lives.
Stefanos approached Billy and Kalliope and handed them two souvlakia each. Kiki then cut bread for all the cousins and the children began to fill up the seats of the shop. A Grundig television set, sitting atop of the store’s refrigerator would be the focal point of all eyes this evening. Vasilis stood on a wooden stool to turn it on. A loud applause followed which caused him to smile. Life was meant to be lived with such joy, it formed the foundation of the way he interacted with his customers.
Litsa and Maria took Kalliope to the front row where they were sitting. Stelios called Billy over to sit next to him and his brothers. The only seat left in the entire interior of the store was next to Billy as the tip-off approached. Suddenly, through the crowd of adults on the periphery of the seats, Eleni emerged. She had been directed toward the empty seat. In the meantime, Billy looked away immediately, focusing on the game.
‘Geia sou Billy,’ said the young girl.
‘Geia sou,’ he replied.
‘Is it okay to sit here?’
‘‘Yes, yes,’ Billy stammered.
‘Do you think we will win?’ asked Eleni as she settled into her chair.
The difference between Eleni’s natural comfort in her familiar surroundings and Billy’s uneasiness with pretty much everything around him could not have been more stark.
‘I don’t know. I guess they say Russia is pretty strong.’ He saw quickly that his response brought a frown to her face. Instantly he felt bad. ‘But, there is always a chance for an upset in sports. It’s just one game.’ That seemed to assuage her. Billy felt relief as Eleni smiled.
By some sort of miracle, someone heard the commentator beginning to speak through the raucous noise those in the magazi had created. As the command for sushing spread, only the television was heard. ‘In a few minutes,’ the commentator began, ‘begins perhaps the most important ever moment for a Greek team in history.’
That one line set off a series of cheers from all those seated and standing in the shop. Billy realized the sweat that had built on his forehead was falling onto his blue shorts. He could barely breathe in the cramped quarters with the combination of heat and cigarette smoke. It was unpleasant and though he contemplated leaving, decided to stay.
Russia started strongly, breaking out to a 4-0 lead. Billy caught the smirk of Sakis, sitting in the front of the shop. He looked to be almost reveling in the fact that his prediction was going to be right rather than being upset about Greece losing. When the Greek team scored their first basket to make it 4-2, the magazi shook with the roar of those amassed within it. Billy began to get lost in the moment. Unfamiliar names to him such as Fasoulas, Giannakis, Christodoulos, Kambouris, and Andritsos became known. It was Nikos Galis who captured his imagination though. Relatively small in stature, Galis was putting together an epic performance in the final as his penetrating ability and shooting was ensuring Greece matched the Soviet side basket for basket as the match wore on. Stelios lived the game as if he was playing and at one point said to Billy, ‘Galis was born in America. Born American, but a Greek, just like you.’
There was complete attention given to every play inside the store. Even Vasilis had his eyes glued to the screen. The villagers cheered together when Greece scored and in unison shouted at the referee when the opponents would receive a foul. The decibel level when Galis made a shot only seemed to grow louder the deeper into the game it went.
Billy noted the difference between the people he sat next to. Stelios’ passion could not be contained. He arose from his seat frantically on virtually every play, cheering, yelling encouragement or directing abuse toward the Russians, officials, and even the Greek team itself. Eleni meanwhile sat cross-legged and with her hands clasped together. While she showed very little physical change in the way she experienced the game, Billy only needed to look at her to gauge her emotions. How her face beamed when Greece scored and how sullen she became when the opposition looked to be taking the advantage.
Billy himself began the game more like Eleni, but as the final minutes of the tight contest approached, he began leaving his own wooden chair with increasing frequency. Even if soccer was the sport he truly preferred, he had grown up watching the Boston Celtics with his dad and knew basketball well. It was easy to become drawn to this dramatic game and have the excitement generated in the small room finally win him over.
With two minutes remaining, hope was beginning to fade as Greece were down by six. However, Ioannou’s three-pointer restored belief. As the hope returned, everyone remained standing for a frenetic finish. Giannakis fouled out and cried, but Greece fought on. A four-point deficit with a minute left was cut to two with a Galis bucket and then Andritsos hit two crucial free-throws to tie the game with 36 seconds left. Russia lost the ball and Ioannou missed a contested lay-up with seconds remaining. The Soviets had one chance and as time ran out they scored. The hearts of a hundred souls in the old store dropped. Someone yelled, ‘One time we had the chance to celebrate something as Greeks.’ Sakis Galanis raised hands as if to say, I told you so. In the midst of the disappointment, Stelios had been yelling, ‘The time ran out, it’s no basket!’
Confusion reigned for a few seconds as it did in the stadium. The basket had not counted, it was scored after time expired. Relief swept through the inhabitants of Pefkofito. A huge cheer followed and the biggest jeers of the night were directed at Russian coach Gomelski who was arguing with the courtside officials that his team’s basket was good.
‘I don’t think I can bear to watch overtime,’ said Eleni.
‘I know. But now we definitely will win,’ said Billy.
‘Billy, there is no way we will lose now,’ Stelios replied, clearly exhausted from his exertions.
The people in the store mimicked those on the television as overtime began, chanting ‘Kipello, Kipello (Cup, Cup) as they realized they were now five minutes away from a European trophy. The match continued to swing both ways. As an epic encounter approached its end, the momentum of an entire nation looked to bring about the impossible, yet altogether inevitable. At 101-101 with 36 seconds left in overtime, Greece had the ball. Galis was closed down well and found Ioannou, his mid-range jumper hit the back of the rim, but Kampouris grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Pandemonium seized the store as fists were pumped into the air and cheers filled the room. Never had the shop’s foundation been tested in such a manner. Silence came next though as Kampouris took his first attempt. He scored. A brief, seismic cheer passed followed by the absence of sound again for his second shot. He made the second. 103-101. Russia inbounded the ball quickly and went down the court, a three-point attempt struck fear into all, but ecstasy followed as it clanged off the side of the backboard. Greece were champions of Europe.
Some ran into the streets to announce to no one in particular that their countrymen did it. Inside, Stelios dropped to his knees only able to muster ‘Yes’ in a sort of war-cry. Eleni turned and hugged Billy.
‘You were right! Anything can happen in one game!’ she rejoiced.
Billy could barely hear her through the mayhem. For the first time in his life he saw adults crying tears of joy. As everyone began singing the Greek national anthem, he was embarrassed that he did not know the words, yet he also felt as though this victory had as much to do with him as anyone else.