[This is what I’ve been doing when I couldn’t sleep. Since I’m traveling the rest of the week I figured I’d inflict it on you.]
Sam awoke with a splitting headache. He grunted and rolled over. There were voices whispering behind him and furtive movements. All he had was one glass of ouzo at the-Wait. The end-of-term party wasn’t last night; it was two nights ago. Then yesterday, while his grad students were packing to return to the states he took Nikos up on his offer to go sailing…
He remembered the storm. That was it. Lightning had struck the mast. He must have slipped and banged his head against the deck or something. He could hear the surf outside. He could hear birds chirping. What a racket! His headache amplified every sound: the crinkling of the mattress as he shifted his position, the voices, the footsteps. Where was he?
He became aware that his bed was awfully uncomfortable. Like he was sleeping on a mattress of straw or something. It even smelled like straw.
He didn’t like the feeling of this. Where was he? His stomach told him he wasn’t at sea. The room wasn’t listing with the waves, at least he didn’t think it was. He realized he didn’t understand the voices of whoever was with him. Had he suffered a concussion? Are people who’ve suffered a concussion able to rationally evaluate such things?
Sam dared to open his eyes. He was in a dimly lit room. The walls looked like plastered stone. It was old-style architecture like something you’d see out in the countryside. He rolled onto his back to see the couple who had been talking. A man and a woman, both in robes Sam thought looked vaguely Middle Eastern.
“Giassou,” he whispered. “Pou einai…?” He stopped. They didn’t seem to understand.
“Melate ellenika?” Still nothing. They said something he couldn’t begin to make out. Had he somehow fallen off Nikos’ boat and drifted all the way from Lemnos to the coast of Turkey? His mind scrambled to find the little bit of Turkish he had picked up the summer he studied there.
“Selam. Benim adim Sam. I am an American. Amerikali, anlamak?” On a whim, he simply asked if they spoke English. No harm in trying, he thought, although the results were uninspiring. German, French, and Italian brought the same blank stares.
The man spoke again. By his gestures and tone, he was asking something. What, Sam had no idea. He said something to the woman. She was a fair bit younger than the man-no more than twenty and possibly a bit younger than that. His daughter? She smiled at Sam and left the room.
Now his head was really throbbing. He put his hand to his forehead. Only then did he realize his head was wrapped in a bandage.
This can’t be good.
“I could use an aspirin,” he said in English. Then he repeated it in Greek, then in German for good measure. “Do you have a telephone?” Sam repeated the final word. Surely the man would understand ‘telephone’! He needed a doctor; that much was clear.
Sam tried to remember as much as he could. He, Nikos, and Gianni had set off from Myrina yesterday afternoon. He assumed it was only yesterday, at any rate. Then the storm came up. Damn weathermen didn’t even tell them it was coming. A storm that fierce must have been on their radar somewhere. It certainly didn’t materialize out of thin air! He remembered the shear loudness of it, and his head throbbed even more. Then lightning flashed, and a second later Sam was treading water in the Aegean. Then… That was all he could remember.
The girl returned with a cup and a small loaf of flatbread on an earthenware dish. The man raised Sam’s head and offered him the drink. As soon as his lips touched the bitter liquid, he turned away, but the man wouldn’t take the cup away from Sam’s mouth. He smiled and made nodding motions with his head.
“This is the vilest- What is this crap?!” The man wasn’t budging. “Okay, amigo, on the off chance this stuff will keep my head from exploding I guess I’m willing to try it.” Down the drink went, and his hosts grinned at nauseated expression he no doubt wore.
The girl offered him her dish. “Turpi,” she said, slowly so he might understand. “Turpi.”
“Turpi,” Sam repeated, nibbling on the bread. Could be Turkish, he thought. Or Hungarian or Russian or Swahili for that matter. How many languages do they speak around the Aegean, anyway? Could it possibly be Macedonian?
Sam groaned. He pressed both hands against his temples, trying to keep his headache at bay. Couldn’t these people see he needed a bit more than some God-awful home remedy?
“Pihas,” the man said. Sam repeated. The man touched his chest. “Pihas.” Then he gestured toward Sam.
“Your name is Pihas?” Sam pointed and repeated the word. The man grinned. Next he pointed to himself. “Sam. Sam Barbour.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t underst-Oh. Yeah. No, Sam will be fine. Sam.”
Sam wondered what kind of name Pihas could be. Maybe a variant of the Hebrew name Pinchas?
Damn! This shouldn’t be so hard! I can almost always make a decent guess at identifying a foreign language. Why can’t I make any headway on this one? What is turpi, anyway? “Food”? “Bread”? “Are you hungry?”? “Please try not to soil the new sheets”? This is ridiculous!
His headache was getting to him. His vision was starting to blur, and more than anything he just wanted to sleep.
“Listen, Pihas, the room is starting to spin on me. I’m going to lay here with my eyes closed, okay? Anlamak? God! What is the Turkish word for ‘doctor’?