The Washing Machine

Socrates wore his Saturday best on the day the washing machine was delivered. I know this because he was still wearing it when he arrived at our house nearly eight hours later, banging on the door with enough energy to wake the dead.

‘Hello there,’ my father said, as though the sight of a very large and hairy man in a bedraggled suit was not at all an unusual occurrence for the hour. ‘Why don’t you come in?’

Socrates ducked his head under our low doorway and stomped to the table, where my father set out mezze and ouzo, obeying the time-honoured rites of accommodating guests. It might have been the middle of the night, but absolutely no business at all could be contracted without the niceties. Socrates nodded gratefully and slammed back the ouzo, taking a moment to catch his breath. I was torn between slipping out the side door so I could pet his donkey’s soft, silky ears and staying in the kitchen to see what could have possibly brought him to our door in the small hours.

‘You know washing machines?’ Socrates finally asked.

‘Er…in general or specifically?’ said my father.

‘You’re an American, of course you know washing machines,’ Socrates replied. ‘You must help me with the washing machine.’

My father and I looked at each other. This was a new development for Molybos, where nary a washing machine had been seen, or heard, in the village’s history. Clothes were washed in galvanized tubs, beaten against corrugated sheets of metal with harsh soap and rocks, and wrung out so they could be hastily rinsed and hung to dry. They decorated yards across the village on laundry day, bright flecks of colour dancing against whitewashed walls.

‘I went all the way to Athens,’ Socrates said.

‘Ah, your son sent money from America,’ my father replied.

‘Yes,’ said Socrates, furrowing his brows at my father. ‘So I go all the way to Athens to look at washing machines and I order one from the store for delivery. Last week they send a message, to say the washing machine is coming. I kept it a surprise from everyone, you know.’ He glared at us, as though we had somehow ruined the event, and then I realised that he wanted another glass of ouzo. I silently shoved the bottle back in his direction and he nodded, pouring himself a glass before continuing.

‘So the washing machine comes today. The man delivers it at the house and says ‘is ready!’ and then leaves again.’

My father and I started to lean forward with avid interest. A man does not come to your house to talk about washing machines in the depths of the night unless there is a problem with a washing machine, you see.

‘So Eleni comes home, and I tell her ‘we have a washing machine!’,’ he said, leaning back in his chair for a moment to gather his thoughts. There was a quiet humming from somewhere outside, maybe an engine on a fishing boat, and the wind sighed through the branches of the olive in the yard. It was summer, I remember, because the rocks were slowly releasing the heat of the day and the house was warm and dry. So dry that you could practically cure olives by leaving them out on the shelf to dessicate.

‘You see the problem,’ he announced. My father and I shook our heads.

‘It doesn’t work!’ He slammed his glass down at the table, glaring at us again. As the resident Americans, we were responsible for all technology woes in the village, and he wanted an explanation.

‘Well, er,’ my father said. ‘What exactly does it do?’

‘Nothing,’ Socrates said, glumly. ‘We loaded up the clothes like the man showed me at the store and I showed Eleni how to set the dial and we turned it on and nothing happened. Nothing at all.’

‘Hrm,’ said my father. He was clearly torn between washing his hands of the business, thus betraying a chink in the armour of the Americans, or taking the matter up and delving to the bottom of the washing machine problem. Embolded by a recent successful episode with the carousel, he dusted his hands off and started stacking the plates in the sink to wash later.

‘Well then,’ he said. ‘We’d better have a look.’

Socrates lept up, grateful that my father had volunteered before having to be asked, and hustled us out the door. They put me up on the donkey, since I couldn’t keep up with them on my short legs, and we set off into the night, guided at first by the glowing walls of the houses and then the chalky white of the road as we made our way to his farm on the outskirts of the village. My father frowned in the moonlight, scanning the sides of the road like he was looking for something, and shaking his head when he couldn’t find it.

We arrived at a household that had fallen into a stony silence, dismayed by their patriarch’s inability to resolve the washing machine problem independently. Calling in the Americans was an admission of defeat, as we all knew. My father nodded at Eleni when she answered the door, and proceeded directly to the washing machine, using his American prerogative to skip the usual ceremonies, given the late hour. The machine enjoyed pride of place in the kitchen, so it wasn’t a long trip, and my father pulled it out from the wall to survey the connections.

‘Ah, well, there’s your problem,’ he said. The family crowded around to look as he demonstrated. ‘It’s not connected.’

‘Connected? The delivery man didn’t say anything about connections,’ Socrates replied.

‘Well yes, you’ve got to put the hot water hose in here, and the cold…’ my father started to trail off for a moment, but he girded his loins to finish delivering the bad news. ‘And then the electric hookup here, you see?’

The family glared back stonily, and I glanced around their kitchen with curiosity, and a sudden glimmering of understanding dawned. I took note of the candles burning on the table, the oil lamp in the window, the bucket by the door to carry to the pump.

‘Ai gamisou,’ Socrates said gloomily. ‘We’ve been cheated.’

My father commiserated for a moment, and then tilted his head.

‘You know,’ he said. ‘It would make a rather nice watering trough.’