At the end of the holiday season, the Mykonos summer struggles pointlessly against an approaching winter that will banish not only the sun but the foreign intruders. The winter says it's time for us to go and give the island back to its rightful owners.
Mykonos oozes charm, with its whitewashed buildings and colorful shutters, turquoise-domed churches, brightly colored flowers on sills and picturesque boutiques lining cobble-stoned pathways. Nude beaches beckon, and your reluctance and innate shyness vanish as you shed your clothes and bathe naked in the sunshine, playing in the gorgeous, translucent blue-green ocean.
Skinny cats meow and scuttle in and out of every corner, grateful for a crumb of food from a tourist's table.
Feeling a little lonely and uncertain on my first night, I went to one of the bars, and a ruggedly handsome, 6-foot-6 South African man with a twinkle in his eye tapped me on the shoulder. We fell into jovial chatter, which became a profound and moving conversation. I had recently lost a friend and was heartbroken, but hearing David's story was humbling. David had owned a ranch in South Africa and had experienced unspeakable tragedy during the political unrest in the country. One day he had returned to the ranch from a long trip to find that his employees had been attacked and his house ransacked.
He sold his ranch, left South Africa and moved to Mykonos, where he bought several horses, stables and a modest house and has been taking visitors on horseback treks on the island ever since.
Mykonos cast a spell on me, and so did the South African cowboy. I would meet with David and his friends most days or nights, and I developed an almost instant affection for him. I stumbled into this affection not only because of his ruggedly handsome face and twinkling eyes but because of his openness and unbridled honesty when he told me -- a stranger -- his amazing, sad story. The tale tumbled out of him, yet he reported it matter-of-factly: strong and confident, a rough diamond; you had to search the jovial, smiling eyes to see the occasional fleeting sadness behind them.
Of course, I fell for the man because Mykonos does that to you. Worries evaporate on the island of Mykonos, and the only thing forbidden is inhibition. Barriers drop, and everyone falls in love with everyone else.
David cautioned me and joked that falling in love too easily on Mykonos is common, and the phenomenon is laughingly dubbed "the Shirley Valentine syndrome."
It was fun to be around him and his motley crew of friends; we were an unlikely mix of travelers who had converged on Mykonos, and we had encountered each other purely by chance. David was unperturbed by my sudden affection for him. He overlooked it tactfully. He was frank and charming about it: He liked me, but I wasn't for him, and his heart was with another. Tourists and locals greeted him warmly. I was comfortable around him and his friendly crew of merry travelers.
My last day on Mykonos was spent by the harbor with David and the motley crew, drinking slightly too much and laughing a little too heartily, perhaps to hide the sadness of having to leave. David took me to his home on the back of his motorbike.
It was early evening, and the light was fading, and the late-September Mykonos weather was blustery and chilly. I put my arms around him as a motorbike passenger should, hugging him through his leather jacket; speeding on the back of his bike was the perfect excuse to clutch him tightly.
His ramshackle house and stables were atop a craggy hill, and I met and patted his horses and shyly told him that I had this strange intuition that the island wouldn't let me go. At night on Mykonos, I had dreamed of sad pipe music that was haunting. The island had a living spirit and was trying to keep me there, but I would surely die of bliss if I stayed!
David's eyes flickered in recognition, and he said that sensitive visitors sometimes reported the same. He agreed and enthusiastically recounted legends of the island's troubled past. He played me recordings of traditional Mykonos pipe music.
He was subtly tipping his hat in acknowledgement.
Later we jumped onto his motorbike and sped down the winding coastal road to the small airport so that I could catch my flight to Athens.
As I thanked him and turned to leave, David grabbed me by the shoulder, turned me round and hugged me with great strength and kissed me, much more intensely than a kiss between friends, but just a little shy of a lover's kiss. With a cheeky grin and that oh-so-endearing twinkle in his eye, he wagged his finger at me, shook his head and, saying nothing, jumped onto his motorcycle and was gone.
The small turbo-prop plane rattled to the end of the runway. The engines revved, and the plane clattered and sped noisily, lifting gently into the velvet-blue, bejeweled evening Mykonos sky en route to Athens. I was both sad and happy. The plane was almost empty, and the friendly stewardess smiled an empathetic smile as she noticed my misty eyes and handed me a cold drink. I think she knew: She had seen it all before!