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Nights of Rain and Stars
by Maeve Binchy
Dutton Books, 2004

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Andreas thought he saw the fire down in the bay before anyone else did. He peered and shook his head in disbelief. This sort of thing didn’t happen. Not here in Aghia Anna, not to the Olga, the little red and white boat that took visitors out to the bay. Not to Manos, foolish headstrong Manos whom he had known since he was a boy. This was some kind of dream, some trick of the light. That could not be smoke and flames coming from the Olga.

Perhaps he was not feeling well.

Some of the older people in the village said that they imagined things. If the day was hot, if there had been too much raki the night before. But he had gone to bed early. There had been no raki or dancing or singing in his hillside restaurant.

Andreas put his hand up to shade his eyes, and at the same time, a cloud passed overhead. It wasn’t as clear as it had been before. He must indeed have been mistaken. But now he must pull himself together. He had a restaurant to run. If people came all the way up the hilly path, they would not want to find a madman, someone crazed by the sun fancying disasters in a peaceful Greek village.

He continued fixing the red and green plastic-covered cloths with little clips to the long wooden tables on the terrace outside his taverna. This would be a hot day, with plenty of visitors at lunchtime. He had laboriously written the menu on the blackboard. He often wondered why he did it... it was the same food every day. But the visitors liked it; and he would put “Welcome” in six languages, they liked that too.

The food was not special. Nothing they could not have gotten in two dozen other little tavernas. There was souvlaki, the lamb kebabs. Well, goat kebabs really, but the visitors liked to think they were lamb. And there was moussaka, warm and glutenous in its big pie dish. There were the big bowls of salad, white squares of salty feta cheese and lush red tomatoes. There were the racks of barbouni, the red mullet waiting to be grilled, the swordfish steaks. There were the big steel trays of desserts in the fridge, kataifi and baklava—nuts, honey, and pastry. The chilled cabinets of retsina and local wines. People came from all over the world and loved what Andreas, and dozens like him, could provide.

He always recognized the nationality of any visitor to Aghia Anna and could greet them in a few words of their own language. It was like a game to him now, after years of knowing the way people walked and reading their body language.

The English didn’t like if you offered them a Speisenkarte instead of the menu; the Canadians did not want you to assume they were from the United States. Italians did not like being greeted with a Bonjour, and his own fellow countrymen wanted to be thought of as important people from Athens rather than tourists from abroad. Andreas had learned to look carefully before he spoke. He was a tall, slightly stooped man in his sixties, a thick head of gray hair and big bushy eyebrows.

And as he looked down the path he saw the first customers of the day arriving.

A quiet man, wearing those shorts that only Americans wore, shorts that did nothing for the bottom or the legs, but only pointed out the ridiculous nature of the human figure. He was on his own and stopped to look at the fire through binoculars.

A beautiful German girl, tall, tanned, with hair streaked

Excerpted from Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy. Copyright © 2004 by Maeve Binchy. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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