Not Enough Beauty in the World

A patient reader gently reminded me recently that I hadn’t finished the tale of Giorgos and the Octopus, and for that I apologise. I have been extremely unfocused of late and as a result, things tend to fall through the cracks, not least of which is additional installments of rambling stories.

When we last saw Giorgos, he was engaged in a prolonged game of patience not just with the octopus, but with the village, as everyone wondered how long the epic battle of wits would drag on before the showdown of brawn between man and octopus.

Winter came on, and rain and sleet scudded across the water, and the fleet went out every day, because this is what fishing fleets do; weather is no excuse not to fish. Snow landed on the yard and sometimes stuck for a few hours, and gradually, Molybos was blanketed in a dense, wintery quiet. The olives were naked and even the hardened tourists went home and it was just us in the winter stillness. Interest in the octopus had begun to wane after weeks, months, of going out every day and coming back emptyhanded, except perhaps for a handful of fish. People had moved on to other village dramas, Giorgos could walk the streets again without fear of being ridiculed, his wife no longer got sidelong and suspicious glances in the market.

Giorgos entered that contemplative state some people do in the winter, drifting along without consciously recognising the world around him, running on autopilot as he took out his boat each day and squared things away and then sailed briskly out of the harbour to bounce along the shoreline. I used to look for him, but the weather got colder and darker and meaner and soon it didn’t seem worth the effort to station myself at the top of the hill by the harbour to watch for him when the boats came in. I knew that when the day came, I’d know, because the entire village would be abuzz, and my curiousity didn’t stem as far as going out with Giorgos in frigid temperatures in an open boat on choppy waters.

This is the part of the story where we begin to enter secondhand accounts, or thirdhand, in your case, gentle reader. The story has it that one day, Markos rounded a rocky cape and encountered Giorgos, intently poised with his trident, hovering over the water. It was difficult to see through sheets of rain, but he was clearly on high alert, had finally confronted his prey, when he struck, and came up with the octopus neatly speared. It was clear that the cephalopod’s huge size made this a possibly foolhardy endeavor, and Markos zoomed over to offer assistance, but Giorgos waved him off, something Markos could respect; you do not come between a person and his octopus, you know?

The octopus was heaved into Giorgos’ boat, where it proceeded to thrash fearsomely, flailing tentacles roiling in the water, boat seesawing wildly, Giorgos soaked with rain and trails of ink and seawater, but there came a moment, at last, when the octopus settled down, and Giorgos looked at the octopus, and it looked back at him. Markos, not the poetic type, would not have gone so far as to say there was a moment of communion and connection between the two, but I will, because I wasn’t there.

To reecounter the enemy after months of patient stalking, of laying plans, is a bittersweet moment. An experience almost of letdown as you realise that the quest has come to an end and what you’ve been wanting all this time is within your grasp, only, it turns out that it’s not what you wanted at all. Giorgos looked into the eyes of the octopus, and the octopus looked back at him, scarred bodies confronting each other in the harshest the elements had to offer, and both parties suddenly understood something.

Catching a giant octopus, as anyone will tell you, is only half the battle. You cannot possibly hope to kill an octopus in a tiny boat rocking precariously on the water. Instead, you must stun it, and then whisk into shore so you can bash it on a rock, an event that will be eagerly observed by everyone in sight and a few more who will come running, because it is an epic scene, human against octopus. Markos waited with bated breath for Giorgos to unfurl the sail and head to shore for the grand denouement, but things did not go as expected.

What happened next was entirely unprecedented. Giorgos lifted the body of the octopus, and heaved it over the side of his boat, where it slipped back into the water, tentacles trailing after it, and hovered for a moment before darting away again; it takes a lot to disrupt an octopus and a trident through soft tissue and a few smart bonks on the head won’t do it. He studied the water for a moment, and then sailed back home, even though the day was far from over.

Seeking Giorgos entering the harbour in the early afternoon, everyone assumed that he had finally done the impossible, had defeated the octopus, and they charged into the harbour to look, but his boat was empty. He pulled it up on shore, took out the mast, and turned it over, and said:

‘At last.’

Everyone stared with puzzlement at the boat, and at Giorgos, until Markos arrived and explained what he had seen, and the puzzlement turned to deep confusion and worry for Giorgos’ sanity. Who subdues a giant octopus, who stalks the monster for months, only to heave it over the side of the boat? Who accomplishes the unthinkable, only to throw it all away? My father drifted to the head of the group, asking the question that no one else would dare to—Why did you do it?

‘Because there is not enough beauty in the world,’ Giorgos said, before staving in the side of his boat.