"Spring in Chicago--hah!" Kalliste Periakes gratefully held the cup of cocoa in her hands. "It was so cold in the stands I thought my fingers and toes would fall off." She was standing in the front room of the Woman's Co-op still bundled up from the cold of Wrigley Field. She was a slight woman with long cascading dark hair and a thin face dominated by large eyes.
"I don't know why you went to that dumb game." Cheryl poured herself a cup of coca. Outside the old storefront people were walking around bound up in heavy coats and scarves. "Baseball is silly. All of those organized sports are silly. And anyway, don't the Cubs always lose?"
"Baseball is different," Kalliste replied. She could feel the heat seeping into her hands. "Baseball is like opera."
"Opera?" Roxanne looked up from the space heater in the corner. "Now you've lost me."
"There are two kinds of people who watch Opera," Kalliste said. "There are those who go because it is expected of them, and there are those who 'get' Opera, as you Americans say. These latter people love Opera at almost an instinctive level. The same might be said for baseball."
"You risked frostbite to watch grown men play a child's game," Roxanne said. "Your 'love' of this game must be intense."
"Today was Opening Day." Kalliste slowly shed her coat and muffler. That still left her in a sweatshirt over a heavy sweater. "I would no more miss Opening Day than I would miss my birthday."
"Is she talking about baseball again?" Anna asked as she carried a box of yarn into the room. She set it by the loom and brushed her dark hair back over her shoulder. Her hard eyes measured Kalliste and the other girls. "You should know better. If you let her she'll talk your ears off about baseball. If you want to hear Kalliste talk, get her to tell you another one of her stories."
Roxanne and the others looked at each other. "Why not?" Roxanne asked. "It's been weeks since she told us a story." She left the room, calling out that Kalliste was going to tell another story.
"Nobody seemed to care for the last one," Kalliste said as people filed into the common room.
"I should hope not," Cheryl replied. "I thought the story of Theseus and Ariadne would be a great romantic story. But it ended so sadly." She glanced out the front windows where the last of the crowd from Wrigley Field were braving the chilly gusts of the early evening. "I was accosted by a pair of Jesus Freaks when I was leaving campus today. They act as if they're the only religion in the world. You're from Greece, Kalliste. That makes you Greek Orthodox, doesn't it? Could you..."
"I am not part of the Orthodox Church." Kalliste shook her head, smiling. "I'm from Crete. Crete is like a whole separate continent and has more history than all of the rest of Greece put together. It is part of Greece, but in many ways it is separate, too." She looked at the faces around her. "Let's not talk about religion."
"But most of your stories involve religion," Anna said.
"Religion was very important to the people of ancient times."
"I just finished a History of Religion class," Cheryl said. "I was thinking of doing my thesis on how religions get started."
Kalliste shook her head, her face set. "No. Absolutely not."
"Surely you know one that wouldn't rile too many people," Cheryl replied. "What about Buddhism? That's been likened to a philosophy as well as a religion."
"There are different aspects of Buddhism," Kalliste said. She looked around the room and sighed. "All right, but don't say I didn't warn you." Kalliste held out her mug for a refill. "This is a story about the Buddha. Don't ask where I learned it, though."
Short, fat, and drunk. Gloriously drunk. Outrageously drunk. He sprawled in the shade of a tree across the road from my inn, a yellow cloth casually draped across his lap his only adornment. A cup dangled from one soft hand, a half-empty wineskin filled the other. He had been to my inn before, buying wine with good silver. From the casual way he treated money he had to be rich. I thought him a young noble wastrel and paid him no mind, I saw enough of them.
For three days he had sat there, drunk, across the road from my inn, just outside the town of Sarnath. I had never seen anyone drink so much wine. Surely I would wake the next day to find his lifeless corpse on my doorstep. This day, though, he was laughing to himself, as if at some joke. There are limits to my patience, and he had found one of them. I stepped to the door and tried to chase him away with gestures. He laughed and waved his cup in my direction.
"Go away," I called. "You'll scare away my customers." He laughed even harder, as if that was the funniest thought in the world.
I had to do something about him. If he stayed where he was I wouldn't have a customer all day. I could put him in the little shed behind my inn, I thought, him and his wine. I gave the soup a quick stir, then walked across the road to deal with him.
"Welcome, Ancient One," he said, waving his cup at me. A cold spear shot down my spine. Ancient One? The heat of the day vanished. "How are you, you and your Gods?" He dropped the cup in his lap and tried to count on his fingers. "Le's shee, one hunner'... two hunner'... three hunner'... I give up, ancient lady, how old are you today?"
I looked in his eyes and saw something I had only seen a few times before. Herakles had had that look, and so had Akhilles. Here was a man who had been marked out by Them. I took a second look and shook my head. They had chosen him? They had a talent for choosing the most unlikely of tools for Their bidding--myself for instance. "I-I don't know what you're talking about," I stammered.
He levered himself upright. "I am drunk," he said in that self-important way some drunks have. "But you have been touched by Them. I know, because I see it in myself." He cocked his head, examining me. "You have the mark of a Goddess on you, lady." He gave a nod, satisfied with that conclusion, and relaxed back against the bundle that had been propping him up.
"You're a crazy drunk," I said. I tried to pull him to his feet. "Come with me. I'll give you some soup and a place to sleep it off."
He pulled his hand out of mine. Using the tree as a prop he slowly climbed erect. "No," he said, "We will trade. If you give me some of your soup I will tell you something you haven't heard inna long, long time."
I glanced up and down the road. Nobody was in sight, it was too early for the crowd I got for the mid-day meal. If I could get some soup in him I knew I could get him out of sight. He would sleep it off, and I would be done with him. I brought my palms together and bowed to him. "You will honor my humble inn."
He pushed himself away from the tree. My tone had not been lost on him. "I will honor it in a way you do not know," he said. He lurched across the road and sprawled onto a bench just under my awning. "Soup!" he called. He laughed. "Soup!" I ladled a bowl for him. He looked at it with mistrust. "What is in this?"
"Vegetables," I said. Some of the people of this land had the strangest eating habits. "I used fish caught from the river for the stock."
He nodded and noisily slurped a couple of spoonfuls. Then he dug around in the cloth covering his loins, pulled out a piece of silver half the size of my hand and slapped it on the table. Picking up the spoon he began to empty bowl. "Soup's good."
I stared at the silver piece. It was enough to buy my inn twice over. "I can't take that, it's too much."
"Are you sick, woman? A Keftu turning down money?"
"K'ftiu?" I dropped my voice. "Where did you hear that name?"
With a belch he finished the soup. He hooked a stool from beneath another table and pulled it over. "Sit," he said in a commanding voice. "Your many other customers won't mind."
"You are hopeless," I replied, sitting.
"And how old are you, Ancient One?" Intensity shone in his dark eyes, and suddenly he neither looked, spoke, nor acted drunk. "I look at you and see many years weighing your shoulders, Lady. I ask myself, how could this be? And then I see that the hand of one of Them has touched you, and I know the answer."
"You are a silly drunken fool."
"That I am," he said seriously. "I am drunk, lady, I am on the Gods' Own Drunk. And do you know why?" He touched his nose slyly and leaned across the table to me. The smell of wine was almost overpowering. "Because I have learned a great Truth. I know the secret of everything. I know what rots men's souls, I know why there is so much suffering in this world, and I know how to stop it." He reached for his cup, knocking it over in the process. Carefully he righted it. "If you would fill my cup, I will tell you that Truth."
I have heard the one great Truth in many different inns and over many empty wineskins. Never before, though, had I heard it from one marked by Them. Curiosity won out and I fetched him more wine. Instead of gulping it, he sipped it carefully. Drunk he may have been, but his words came out cold sober.
.... There is more of this story ...