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Greek-American Stories: Many Happy Returns to Areti

The guys were gathered around the table in Dixon’s with their usual coffee and donuts in the center when George informed them that Areti’s birthday was coming up. “Wonder how Yiannis will get away with getting her nothing, again,” his face in a frown.

“Yeah!” Dimos lifted his head in recollection. “Last year he came to the diner and ordered a cake from the display counter. That way he didn’t have to buy one from a bakery. I remember at her birthday, watching him. He ate most of it.” George laughing said, “I remember he told his daughter, Barbara, to get her mother the slippers she asked him to get for her. Areti thanked him for remembering that that was what she wanted.”

John, not finding the humor in it, told them, “that’s not so bad! Last year, Yiannis came into the florist and selected a bouquet of flowers, saying they’re for Areti. He put together the most expensive flowers and asked me to wrap it in the paper I use for special occasions.” Kipreos, smiling, said, “How nice of him! I bet Areti was very pleased.” John, still not amused, said, “he admired them and then said, ‘Ah, John, you always do a nice job. Areti will be so happy to receive these; especially, when she hears they’re from you.”

They all looked up. “You mean, he didn’t pay for them?” John shook his head, setting down his coffee cup, noisily. “Pay for them! He wanted me to have them delivered, too! I had to pay the delivery man his cut and tip, too.” Appalled, they all agreed that Yiannis had crossed the line. “He’s gotten away with too much, I think.” Shaking his head, Dimos said, “at our expense!”  “We’ve got to do something to teach him a good lesson,” George insisted, adding, “if that’s possible!”

Agreeing, their brains went to work trying to think of ways to make Yiannis aware of his stinginess and lack of propriety. Just then Yiannis entered and, getting his coffee, sat down among them. “Greetings, my very good friends.” he said, cheerfully. The others greeted him with less enthusiasm. Sensing a certain lack of sociality, he chose to, instead, reach out for his usual donut and drink his coffee, saying nothing. Then, Kipreos piped up, “isn’t Areti’s birthday coming up soon, Yiannis? I’ll bet that’s something she’s looking forward to, right?” 

Nodding solemnly, Yiannis paused, looking around. “I don’t know! Yesterday, she looked so sad. She said, she’s getting older and it won’t be long before people start forgetting that she exists. She remembers, fondly, last year’s flowers from John. It brought tears to her eyes. You can’t know her joy, John. In her prayers, she always mentions you.” Turning, he told Dimos, “and, the cake from your diner! It’s one of her favorite memories, she always says. The photograph of it is still on her night stand.” He drank his coffee as if savoring bitter herbs. “Yes, she says having such good people in her life made all the difference in the world. But…” They turned to face him. “But, what?” asked Dimos.

Yiannis breathed in a heavy sigh, looking into his coffee cup as if seeing signs of a gloomy forecast. “That was last year, she said. Tears came to her and she said, ‘I wish it would all be that way just once more. But, I know that’s not possible. I know that! I shouldn’t be ungrateful. But, what a stroke of luck if…’ Then, she makes her cross.” Every face reflected solemn expressions. “Is that how she felt?” asked John, deep concern for the unassuming, kindly, patient Areti. “Good friends never forget friends, Yiannis.” Then, Dimos said “we’d never forget so saintly a woman like Areti.”

Yiannis bowed his head and thanked them for their kind words. “Well, I told her. Don’t be so sad, Areti, my dear!’ Like you say, Dimos, ‘good friends never forget friends.’ Her birthday is Saturday. And you know you’re all invited, as usual. Will you all come?” Looking up, each felt pangs of guilt for their previous insensitivity. John patted Yiannis’ shoulder. “She can expect her flowers, as usual.” Dimos told him, “a beautiful cake will be on her table, and we’ll all be there with our wives to wish her a very happy birthday.”

Leaning back, sheer contentment on his face, he finished his coffee, leaving George in awe at Yiannis’ ingeniousness.  

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My name is Charles Robbins, the chief correspondent of the Chicago Daily Tribune in Constantinople.

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