Athens: Omonia by night

Having had no sleep the night before, and a rather sore foot from marching, I retired rather early on Mayday, going back to the same hotel I had stayed in previously and immediately crashing out around 6pm. I woke up just after midnight, starving, and decided to go find somewhere open.  Swinging my legs out of bed, the pain in one of my feet hit me, but hunger overcame discomfort.

If women were outnumbered by the men on the streets in Excharia, the opposite was true in Omonia.  Every street corner had individual women, or small groups standing around, while the rest of the streets were deserted.  Eventually I found an open air cafe still open and as I ordered, realised I was out of cigarettes.  I asked the man at the counter for directions to the nearest place that was still open  and to hold off my order until I returned.  I followed his directions and found the stall easily then started to make my way back.

As I was walking, a car slowed down on the opposite site of the road, which is a familiar experience in Omonia both day and night.  Usually if you ignore them they just drive on by, but as I walked, he pulled over, beeping his horn and shouting over to me.  Feeling rather rattled by this, I turned off the main street down a one way street, hoping to lose him, but as I turned, the car reversed round the corner after me.   Sore foot or no sore foot, I fucking legged it.

About half way down the street with the pain in my foot growing more intense, I felt confident that I had lost him, but it was a long way back to the main street that I had been walking along and my foot was absolute agony.  Hoping to approach the cafe from a different (and shorter) angle than returning to the main road, I turned down another side-street, narrower than the first.  Again I was about halfway down the street when I behind me I saw the same car travelling up it.   Struggling to walk with the pain in my foot,  and in a narrow street with no visible exit, running wasn’t an option.

The car slowed as it approached me rolling down the passenger window.  “I have been driving around looking for you”  the man said in English.  I quickly told him I wasn’t working. “I know” he said “I am from the cafe.  It is dangerous for women round here at night, you should not be out on your own, and you are lost”.  I looked at him carefully and recognised him as being sat at one of the tables when I went in.  And indeed I was lost, the sidestreet that I thought would quickly lead back to the main square seemed to go on forever.  Having previously had a bad experience getting in a van with someone I didn’t know and sworn blind I would never do it again, I wasn’t keen in the slightest.  I insisted that I would be fine. “You don’t understand”,  he said, “if a car stops and you tell them that you are not interested, they will just get angry and think that they do not have to pay you.  You are in a really dangerous area and there is no-one around to help you”.  

He wasn’t wrong:  in the narrow street full of derelict buildings that I had found myself in, there were no street corners in view where the women would congregate, yet rather uncharitably it did occur to me that I wouldn’t have been in half as much a dangerous situation if he hadn’t frightened the bejesus out of me.  Sensing my hesitation, he reached into the glove compartment and pulled out his passport, giving it to me through the passenger window.  “Keep hold of this”, he said, “and I will drive you back to the cafe”.  

Looking around me at the boarded up fronts and menacing atmosphere I figured that it was probably wise to choose the devil you know, and accepted his lift back to the cafe, returning his passport when we arrived.



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