Jean Shields Fleming
A Turn in the Road
Updated: Apr 22, 2021
How a close encounter of the car-crash kind helped me stop worrying so damn much.
I learned to stop worrying on a wet, winding road, after lunch. It was January, and I just left it there, like a used coffee cup, after years of devoted practice. For much of my life, worry functioned like prayer. If I fretted enough about whatever it was – school, love, career, world – I could bend the outcome to my will. It was my default setting. That is, until a car nearly pushed me off a cliff.
My husband and I had just signed the lease on our home here in Greece, and we went out for a celebratory lunch – back before Covid put a stop to such frivolities. It was a gray Sunday, rain lightly drizzling, the winter streets empty but for a few old men drinking coffee and placing bets at the OPAP next door. Fortified by beef stifado, adventure beckoned and we decided to take our rental car and explore our new home.
We live wedged in between the Mediterranean sea on the one side, and the Taygetus mountains on the other. So exploring an unknown road usually means going up. Up up, not just a little up. The roads are narrow. The asphalt buckles in places. There are few guardrails and the ravines appear steep and sudden as you take a turn. We joke and say “rally, rally” when we start up one of these, because while the driving is fun, it demands attention and respect.
Such was the case with the road we chose. It looped in hairpin turns toward a village at the top of the hill. The surface was slick with mist. As we climbed, a white 4x4 approached, coming downhill. As we entered the heart of a curve, the other car didn’t swerve as it should have. The car came straight at us, slowly, like a fate you can’t avoid.
It rolled into our car, pushing us down the road, where the gorge opened out. Luckily, we came to a stop before the edge.
We got out of the cars and assessed the damage. No one was hurt. Both cars were scraped, and ours was dented, but they were drivable. We all had insurance, but we’d left our paperwork back at the house. They were a Greek couple who lived in Kalamata, the nearest big city, and were down in the country to tend their olive trees. They had a little English, but we had no Greek, and we were going to need some. I called our landlord, who came quickly, made a few quick calls to the towing company, and then took my husband to retrieve our papers. I stayed with the car – and the couple who had hit us.
They stood talking, smoking, laughing, looking out at the sea. It was steel gray, illuminated by sudden sunbursts. Me, though, I was badly shaken. And shaking. I started to cry.
The woman came over to me and put her arm around my shoulder.
“Why worry,” she said, trying to comfort me. “You have insurance, you are unharmed. Everything will be εντάξει.”
Εντάξει – say “eh-dax-y” – is the Greek word for ok. It is often shortened to something that sounds like “tox” or “toxi” to my unsophisticated ears, though what sounds like T to me is a D sound. It is repeated early and often in conversation, sprinkled liberally, a bit of social grease that keeps things moving toward their happy conclusion.
She had a point. We had full coverage on the car and other than the hassle, there was no harm in the event.
She pointed to the light streaming down in beams over the sea.
“We call those God’s fingers,” she said. “The old people say it means hard weather is coming.”
Then she went back to her husband, bummed a cigarette, and they resumed their banter. Laughing quietly at some private joke.
I sat and watched God’s fingers massage the sea. Flowers bloomed near by. Birdsong rose up from the gorge. Pretty soon, the tow trucks came. Our landlord drove us home. We were warm. We had food to eat. A new home. Clean water, a warm bed. Each other.
Jean Shields Fleming is the founder and editor of Certain Age and the author of the novel Air Burial. She lives on the Mani Peninsula in Greece.