The old man was holding a long wooden pole with a hook at the end. "I thought you were dead," he called out. "What are you doing in the shipping lane, that filth?"
"My father thinks it's the rust from the big boats, but I always knew it was the petrol."
"That strip of black water goes to the mainland. Are you going to the mainland?" he asked.
The mainland? She thought she'd left the mainland, and then she realized she'd lived her whole life on an island.
"How do I find Thalassolicos, the sea wolf?" she asked.
The old man dropped the pole by his feet and put the oars back in the water. "Tell me your name first." He was trying to steady the boat.
"Effy . . . Eftihia. That's a beautiful name. Did you swim out here all by yourself, or did you fall off a boat?"
"I swam," she answered. "What's your name?"
"Come out of the black water and I'll tell you."
She was getting tired. It would be nice to hold on to the little red boat for a while, at least until they finished talking. She reached out of the water. "Help me, please?"
Papa Thalassolicos pulled a plastic bag from his side pocket. Using his knees to hold the bag of tobacco, he started to roll a cigarette, mindful of the waves.
"Can I see you tomorrow, Papa?" Effy asked.
"Of course," he shot back, and then sealed the tobacco in the rolled paper with a lick. "I'll be here, Eftihia." He put the tip of the cigarette between his lips and reached for the oars again, started pulling for the beach.
Her father was standing on a little sand dune, his feet bare, pants legs rolled up to the knees. He hated the water. "Careful, Effy," he'd said as he squeezed her hand, tried to keep her from running into the water, "or Thalassolicos will jump out at you like a shock of breaking sea water."
"He's not like us, Effy," Papa Thalassolicos mumbled as he strained, the tip of the cigarette almost touching his nose.
Her father hated the sea.
"I'm sure he can't swim," he grunted.
"He'll drown, Effy."
Her father had stepped off the sand dune and was already at the water's edge. He was waving his arms. "Hurry, Papa," she said, though she didn't believe her father would step in the water. "Hurry, please."
"I can't," he muttered. "My shoulders are burning." His cigarette was gone, swallowed.
"He hides in that dark water," her father had said, "waiting for a ship to sink. He feeds on drowning men, Effy."
She slipped into the sea without saying goodbye to Papa Thalassolicos, who was rolling another cigarette. She needed to reach her father and take him by the hand, lead him out of the shallows.
Copyright by Antonios Maltezos