St. Petersburg to Athens
by Evel Masten Economakis

We’d lived for ten years in St. Petersburg, Russia, when we packed our stuff and made our farewells. Everyone understood—even encouraged us—though with just 550 dollars in savings the move wasn’t going to be easy.

Exhausted after the five-hour flight and four-hour layover in Warsaw, Poland, we arrived at Athens International Airport at three a.m. At passport control, the officer looked at us sternly. I handed him our documents. He took his time inspecting them. Then he pointed to my four-month old son, whom Julia was holding in her arms. “Bring him here,” he said.

My wife approached, looking anxious. “Is something wrong?”

In silence, the man stamped our passports. Then he suddenly cracked a smile and said to Niki, “You’re the boss”—and put them in his little hands.

The taxi driver didn’t want to take us. “I’m no truck,” he complained, eyeing our things. We’d left so much behind in Russia but were still carrying half a ton of luggage.

“I’ll give you an extra fifty euros,” I offered.

He made a face but agreed.

Day was breaking when we entered Athens’ center. Niki and four-year old Anastasia were fast asleep. Julia was exhausted and worried. A friend had offered his apartment to us while he was out of town. He’d arranged to leave the keys with a kiosk attendant.

“Wait here,” I told the driver and got out.

I walked up to the kiosk and waited impatiently for a man to buy cigarettes.

“Has someone left a key with you?” I asked the attendant.

She looked around the open-fronted cubicle and shook her head. “Sorry.”

My heart sank. I had visions of my wife and kids sleeping on the sidewalk. Then, turning around: a ray of hope. There was another kiosk directly opposite. Bingo.

PHOTO: Acropolis (top of photo), Athens, Greece, by Christophe Meneboeuf, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This was the culmination of 10 years in Russia. Life had become too difficult in the former land of the Soviets, and I found it nearly impossible to earn a decent living for my family. I’d made a similar life-changing move when I left North America 10 years earlier, but I was single back then. This time I had a family to take care of, and my daughter was just four years old while my son was only four months old. My wife Julia and I didn’t know then that leaving Russia was going to be like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. We had no idea Greece was soon—the year of our move was 2005—going to descend into economic chaos and ruin. But that is another story altogether.

Masten Economakis1

An American citizen, Evel Masten Economakis’ literary work is often published in Geist, Canada’s award-winning literary magazine. He also contributes political commentary to Britain’s current affairs and politics magazine, The New Statesman. He has written eight books, including illustrated children’s books, most in English, but a few in Russian and Greek as well. His first book—too specialized and academic for his current tastes— From Peasant to Petersburger —was published by Macmillan. After receiving his PhD in Russian history from Columbia University in 1994, he taught briefly at colleges and universities in North America before throwing away a promising career in academia (and a relatively comfortable existence) and moving to Russia, where he lived for 10 years. Since 2005, he has been living with his wife and two young children in a small port town some 25  kilometers east of Athens. Both he and his wife put bread on the table by teaching high school; he supplements their income by working construction.