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Koru Lounge

This story is printed here by kind permission of Owen Marshall and Penguin Random House.

Reproduction of this material is forbidden.

Loneliness is a form of pain, but not the variety that prevents observation and comprehension, that narrows everything to fretful self absorption.
At least that's what he thought as he sat in the Koru Lounge and waited for his boarding call. He was Wallace Lowry. An unremarkable name, but he had
been a judge in courts that entitled him to be addressed as Justice Lowry, which added gravitas. A slight, elderly man with flat, white hair and a
somewhat imperious nose. A calm man, sitting relaxed and still in the busy Koru Lounge, but yes, a lonely man nevertheless and he knew that of himself.

He had been working on his laptop and there was more to do, but he was allowing himself a break. The lounge and the people within it were familiar to him,
the groups always the same even though the individuals changed. There were those like himself who sought only comfort and the opportunity to work, those who
were determined to eat and drink as much as possible to justify their membership, and those whose main pleasure was the sense of privilege, of being
elevated and apart from the restless, basic throng of waiting passengers.

Wallace Lowry had always felt different from other people and perhaps that sense had encouraged a propensity to be a student of human nature: an inclination
reinforced by his occupation. People were placed consciously beforehim and he had to judge them, to see behind their appearances and their stories to an
essential self. One's profession becomes customary and its requisite skills habitual. Even at a Christmas party the doctor notices the pallor of a fellow guest,
the real estate agent makes assessment of the property without intention.

When he was about to return his attention to his screen, Wallace noticed a young woman coming towards him, smiling, her eyes seeking his. He knew he should remember
her, but the name didn't come, nor did a context to their acquaintanceship, but he wasn't disconcerted. He was an elderly and somewhat important man. The young
woman would remind him of all he needed to know, just as he'd been able to ask for clarification in his rooms, or in court.

"Justice Lowry?" she said. He smiled and stood up. His mother had taught him that more than fifty years before. "I'm Rebecca Allison. We met several times at my
father's place at Oriental Bay."

"Of course," he said, and remembered. Rebecca was the daughter of a colleague and already a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney. Art History, he recalled.

"My father often talks of you," she said.

"And I of him," the judge replied, not altogether truthfully. "Are you on your way back to Sydney?"

"Via Auckland, and I should be in the air right now. My flights always seem to be delayed."

"I know the feeling."

"What about you?"

"I had a meeting and I'm on my way home," he said. "My plane doesn't leave for almost an hour, but this is as a convenient a place as any to work."

"I don't want to disturb you." They had remained standing.

"Not at all," he said. "Sit with me and tell me how things are with you and your family."

It's no hardship to listen to an intelligent and attractive woman. He liked many women although he had never slept with one. He'd never done that, but he could still
admire them for their appearance as well as their talents. He knew Rebecca was married and had a family, and he guessed her to be about thirty five, maybe more. She was
slim and fair and neat, and she looked very fresh and clean, despite the delay to her travel. She had a warmth to her manner that added to her appeal. Wallace knew that
despite his many natural advantages he lacked warmth, but then the great majority of people did, and he possessed courtesy, acumen, inate consideration and a lack of
malice as compensation.

When Rebecca had talked of her parents, her family and asked after his own life, listened with interest and made empathetic response, she told Wallace she was to go to
Greece the next month: to a symposium on religious art.

"Actually Crete," she said. "Heraklion. I've never been." Crete, Heraklion, the words were like exotic birds released among the drab verbal commoners that swarmed
about them. He'd been to Crete as part of his long-anticipated OE after he was admitted to the bar, and his time there was still clear, while many other places more
prominent in the brochures had faded. Yes, Heraklion, of course, and the ancient site of Knossos, the splendid Minoan artifacts of the archaeological museum, but
it was the city of Chania, farther along the coast, in which he'd stayed much longer, that had greater significance for him. He had met Nikos there on a very hot day.
Hot days were common, but the meeting with Nikos was special to him, even now after so many years and the loss of contact.

"I went to Crete when I was a young man," he said. "Such a rich history. So many overlays of culture."

"My main interest is Christian religious art of the medieval period," said Rebecca. "I've been to Greece several times, but never visited Crete."

"If you get the chance, you should go on to Chania. I'd say an hour and a half's drive. There's the wonderful Venetian harbour and a history to match Knossos."

"There may not be a lot of time for sightseeing unfortunately. It looks like a tight programme and I have to be back at the university almost immediately."

"Go to Chania if you can, though," he said. He remembered the old sea wall and small enclosed harbour, the promenade and the bow sweep of many cafés and tavernas,
the small colourful boats nodding and jostling in the hot sun. He had come from Heraklion on a bus that had deviated and stopped many times on the way, so he was
hot and exasperated after walking to the sea after arrival, especially as he had a sizable backpack to carry. There were many places to eat and drink in the old
part of the city, but on that first day he wasn't selective, entering one of the first on the harbour curve, to escape the sun. He put his pack on a chair beside
him and tugged his shirt free from the sweat of his back. "Any sort of beer," he told the waiter, who seemed to understand, and later confirmed that by taking his order
for breads, tomato and olive salad and more beer. After that he was no longer exasperated, not during all his time in Chania.

The waiter was busy, but still friendly, lacking the air of slight disdain that Wallace had noticed in the staff of restaurants and bars in Paris, Florence and other
cities. Short in stature, as many Greeks are, and seeming then to be old because Wallace himself was young. It was the waiter who understood that Wallace didn't have
the money, or inclination, for a hotel, and suggested he go to the house of Mrs Volanakis in the street Agiou Markou. When he did he found it an apartment rather than a house.
part of an old building that accommodated other families and also a shop where lace was made and sold.

"I spent nearly two months in Chania," he told Rebecca."People in Crete liked Kiwis. I was there a long time ago and the older folk still remembered the war and
Kiwi soldiers, some of whom joined the partisans to fight when they missed evacuation. It may well be different now."

"I've always got on with the Greek people. It's a pity that economically things aren't so good."

"What places do you know best?" he asked, and she was enthusiastic in her response, talking especially of churches, monasteries and convents of which he knew nothing.
There were places, though, that they had both visited and enjoyed.

"Sifnos? You've been to Sifnos?" Rebecca exclaimed. "I love it. My favourite island. Definitely."

"Only a few days, but yes, well worth it and not crowded when I was there."

"I love it, love it," she said and leant forward, then back in her enthusiasm. Wallace remembered the small villages like squared white icing on the rugged and parched
beauty of the landscape, but he'd met no one who mattered to him there.

Chania was different. He remembered walking in the heat to Agiou Markou Street and finding Mrs Volanakis and her rooms with some difficulty. A Victorian novelist would
have called her stout and her face was heavily lined, yet she moved gracefully and had a pleasant voice. Like most of the local women she wore black. Yes, she had a room,
and he could afford the price. Her English was limited, but equal to the basic requirements of their exchange. "New Zealand like is Australia," she said.

"Almost, yes," he said. It was easier and more polite to agree. He had a wash and lay down for a time, then went out in the afternoon heat, but free of his pack.
He wandered the harbour, visited the maritime museum, then had more beer at the same café. The helpful waiter was still there and Wallace thanked him and said that he was
set up at Mrs Volanakis's place.

"She has no husband now and one empty room to help her live," the waiter said. When he turned to go, Wallace noticed the bald spot on the top of his head, like a tonsure
and with a gleam as if it was regularly polished.

Mrs Volanakis was talking to a neighbour when Wallace returned, a woman much like herself, in appearance at least. He had become accustomed the Mediterranean habit
of having the evening meal quite late, and although it was nearly seven, he went to his room and wrote in his journal. The room was small, the bed was narrow, the one
high window looked out to a second-storey string of washing, but there was a bare cleanliness to it all. As he wrote, the shadows of the clothes did a slow dance on the
pale wall before him, as if in welcome.

Mrs Volanakis had said nothing about her family, not even if one existed, and he knew there was no longer a husband only from the waiter's comment, but when he went from his room
to the kitchen, Nikos, her son, was there

Rebecca was telling Wallace about visiting the Convent of Faneromeni and the relics and icons there when they were interrupted by Bruce Porter, who came purposefully
towards them, a drink in one hand, and a plate of small cakes in the other. Wallace took no pleasure in his approach, was disappointed talk of Greece was interrupted, but
introduced him to Rebecca, causing Porter to balance his drink precariously on the plate so as to free a hand.

"This man is a bastion of the judiciary," said Porter enthusiastically. A silly comment, and Wallace remained formal. Porter was an influential businessman who had appeared
before him some years ago charged with tax evasion by the use of overseas subsidiaries. Wallace had found him not guilty and Porter saw in that a personal endorsement,
whereas in fact the judge disliked him, but applied the law. Morality is an individual creation, the law is imperfect, but must have common application and be upheld
despite its failings. It wasn't the only time Wallace ahd been scrupulous in carrying out his duty despite his own inclination.

There was no empty seat close to Wallace and Rebecca, and after Porter had talked disparagingly about the government for a time and invited Wallace again to make use
of his holiday home in the Coromandel, he somewhat reluctantly returned towards the buffet. Wallace admitted to himself he was a good-looking man who dressed well.
He had dark eyes, and the whites of them were clearly visible also. Whenever Wallace looked in a mirror, he noticed how little of his own eyes was visible, how the heavy
eyelid folds pressed in as if to shut out the world.

"Tell me more about your visits to Greece," he asked Rebecca. "I never went to many religious institutions when I was there."

"I shouldn't say it, but sometimes I'd rather have been on the beach," she said and laughed.

"I went to Corinth on my last visit and was disappointed. The city streets were very dirty and most buildings shabby. It put me off."

"Ordinary people are pretty much up against it," she said. "The national debt's sky-rocketed too, and there's this whole huge problem of illegal immigration. A surge
of desperate people who don't care about border rules, who just want to be somewhere else."

"There've become too many of us in the world."

"It's such an enormous challenge for the Greeks, those refugees."

"Even a history such as theirs isn't enough," Wallace said.

Yes, he'd been to Greece several times since that first trip, but never back to Crete, never back to Chania. There would in all his life be only one time for him in
that place. A time spent mostly with Nikos Volonakis. It's not only some fortunate women who have warmth, though it is less often found in men. Nikos had warmth,
apparent at their first meeting. He was sitting on a wooden kitchen chair talking with his mother when Wallace came in. No doubt Mrs Volonakis had told him of the
New Zealand backpacker in the spare room, and Nikos stood up unsurprised to greet him. His English was much better than his mother's and he showed a friendly interest in
their lodger.

"You will like it here," he said. "It's a fine place. An old place where lots of things have gone on, and a new place too where lots still goes on. People like to
come here."

Nikos wasn't especially good looking, yet better than most: chunky, but without fat, active but not restless. He had the clear, attractive skin of young
Mediterranean people, and the dark, abundant hair. He was happy, optimistic and young. Mrs Volonakis didn't join them at the table but bustled about to ensure Wallace
was well looked after. The meal was mainly mutton with spices and bread.

No doubt it had a special name, but Wallace didn't ask. Just enjoyed it. During that first meal together he and Nikos talked about things other than food. They talked
of their own countries, Nikos imagining New Zealand fully as exotic as Wallace found Greece to be. They talked of their lives and aspirations. Nikos had an academy
diploma in economics and business management, and for two years had worked for the airport. It was shortly to offer international flights, he said, and he was involved
with the planning.

"I will take you out to see everything there," he said generously, and so he did two days later, but Wallace only had a subdued recollection of that. Nikos even organised
casual work for him at the airport, handling luggage, and that time, too, had almost completely faded, except for a single incident in which he'd caught a finger in a
hatch door.

What remained vivid for him were the hot, long evenings spent strolling on the waterfront with Nikos, or in the cafés and restaurants with oudoor seating spreading
unchecked onto the promenade. Sometimes friends of Nikos would be with them, both men and women, laughter, extravagant talk and drinking, but the names were gone, and
usually it was just Nikos and himself. Nikos knew all the interesting places and was proud of his city and its history over many hundreds of years. One weekend they took
the small bus inland to the high villages of Lakkoi and Omalos, places of lemons and oranges. Places that looked as if they had fully accomplished evolution and would
change no more.

The recollection of those places still spun out like dreams for him, redolent with weighted sun, rural fragrances, the soft sounds of the grasses as they walked together.
At such times he had a strange awareness of the scene, as if he were outside himself and looking down upon them both, knowing the experience was special, knowing, too, that
it was passing even as they lived it.

There were nights also when they sat in the family kitchen making plans, talking of places already visited and people met there, sometimes playing draughts while Mrs Volanakis
ironed pieces of lace for the little workshop in the building, or cleaned the patterned copper and brass salvers she hung on the walls.

"Some of the religious sites need to be better looked after," said Rebecca. "It's not that people don't care - they do. But resources are scarce and curatorial
practices aren't always understood. Often I have a testing ambivalence, wanting to have things taken into better care elsewhere, yet at the same time knowing they're best appreciated in
their original setting."

She told him of the theft of the scrolls from the monastery of Karakalou. Wallace was pleased by here earnestness and animation. He liked to find people dedicated to something
worthwhile, rather than the crass, or depraved, men and women often put before him.

"Life is a scrabble for so many these days," he said. "Those going under in the present don't give a damn about the past, or the future, and that's understandable. And
is religion still important in Greece, or on the wane as in so many so-called Christian countries?"

"More superficial now, I feel," she said, "but that's not an opinion I can substantiate."

"Well, that's certainly true here. I sometimes think science is our new faith and perhaps no less a consolation than any other. We believe in pills and space travel rather
than gods.

Their discussion was interrupted by the boarding call for Rebecca's flight, and Wallace stood up again to wish her a pleasant trip and a worthwhile conference in Heraklion.
"Do see more of Crete if you get the chance," he said, and watched her go off towards the door with a turn and a wave. He was sorry to see her go, although he had work
to do. He was sorry because she was an interesting and worthwhile person, because was the daughter of a valued colleague, because she was young and had warmth.

She left a gift, however, which was the memory of Chania and Nikos activated by her talk of Crete and Heraklion. Wallace put his hand luggage on the chair where she'd
been, to discourage the return of Bruce Porter with his specious summaries of life, although there was no sign of him among those in easy view. He didn't immediately
take up his laptop again, but returned to his youth.

Wallace had a brother and a sister, but felt closer to Nikos in just weeks than he did to his siblings in all the time he was growing up. Maybe the intensity was because
Nikos and he knew a parting could not be far away: maybe it was because they sensed love, though there was no kissing, no late bedroom visits in the Angiou Markou Street
apartment. Wallace didn't know if Nikos was gay, didn't then fully understand his own inclination. He knew it was not unusual for guys there to walk arm in arm, to wrestle,
to dance together and laugh at it all.

On the evening before the day Wallace was to take the bus to Heraklion and the ferry, the two of them went again to the harbour and chose the café with the old waiter
who knew Nikos and his mother, and they drank there with another young man Nikos knew and who had noticeably small hands. Wallace drank raki with them, although he
disliked the taste, but it was the last night and to make the same choice emphasised togetherness. Late evening was often the very best time in Chania because it was still
warm and with natural light, but not blazingly hot. The waiter took a photograph of the three in which Wallace's sharp nose was evident above his smile, and in the background
a tall man stood with his head averted, looking out from the café to the people passing.

The friend had difficulty in remembering where he'd left his scooter and went off in search of it after a brief farewell. Wallace and Nikos walked along the old stone
sea wall to the Venetian lighthouse as they had often done before, and they sat there and looked back over the blue harbour water to the bobbing coloured boats and the sweep
of the small shops, cafés and restaurants behind. A pleasant and steady breeze that had come a long way across the Aegean sea bore only clean, natural scents. Nikos had one
arm casually on Wallace's shoulder for a time, the slight pressure felt through the thin cotton of the white, collarless shirt, and as his friend spoke of things they had
done together, and his ambition to work in Athens, Wallace had heightened awareness of the pressure, light and passing though it was. They talked of the airport and the
people there, but more of the places they had visited together like Omalos, and the ruins of the Ottoman fort in the olive trees close to Rethymna.

"Why should you go home at all?" Nikos exclaimed. "Every city needs lawyers. There's money here."

"Money's the same everywhere, but the law is different from country to country, and the customs around it. Anyway, you can come to New Zealand and I'll show you round."
Maybe we'll get motorbikes. Have a road trip.

"I will come. Of course I will." he said enthusiastically, but he never did come. "I like motorbikes," with equal vehemence. "Italain bikes are much the best, yes? When
I have money I will come and see you. But now you should stay here."

Nikos said goodbye the next morning at breakfast. On work days he left quite early for the airport. "I will come, yes, you will see. When I have more money I will come
and we will have motorbikes to ride. And you must come back here. Come back any time. Come back soon."

"Of course I'll come," said Wallace, but he never did.

When Nikos had left, Wallace didn't want to stay in the house any longer. He had nothing against Mrs Volanakis, but it was an empty place without her son. He gave her a
gift of money from his airport earnings because he knew that was useful for her, then took his backpack and walked in a leisurely way the considerable distance to the bus
terminal and waited there out of the sun. Yes, he was sorry to leave Chania and Nikos, but he was young and looked forward to other places and other people before he went
back to his own country.

Now, however, he was old and realised that although he had travelled much farther in the world, and in ways that were not all physical, he had never forgotten Nikos and
Chania, and sometimes he wondered about his choices there. And choices made since, which were also judgements in a way. He had never slept with a man, even after
1986 when the law was changed. He had been wary of the effect any committed emotional attachment could have on his ordered, purposeful existence, and casual carnality
was repugnant to him and dangerous in a life always under scrutiny. He had devoted himself to his own advancement, but also to service in support of the law, and found the
two not mutually exclusive.

Given the oppotunity, he would probably make the same decisions again, but nevertheless the passing years had brought a greater awareness of the isolation that was the
price. The boarding announcement came for his flight, and he gathered his things in an unhurried way and made his way to the door. A slight man, almost dapper, with a
composed face, prominent nose and white hair combed forward in the roman way. He passed a seated couple, and the man looked at him keenly, but Wallace didn't notice
and the man said nothing until the judge had gone by.

He then turned to his wife and said, "That's Justice Lowry. I'm sure of it. He's heading the royal commission on the waterways. I've had some dealings with him. Such
a dispassionate man, but scrupulously fair. Sharp as a tack, the old bugger, and you don't put one over him easily. He sleeps with law books, they say, and that would
be right. Total commitment."

"Sweet dreams there," she said. "I'm going to leave my bag here and go to the toilet. Look after it."

"That's Justice Lowry for sure," said the man aloud again, even though his wife had moved beyond earshot. "I should've said something."

But the judge was already walking down the corridor to the plane and preparing to think of legal matters that he would consider during his flight, yet bouyed
somewhat by the unexpected meeting with his young self, and with Nikos. Almost he could smell the lemons of Omalos and fragrances borne on the sweet wind across
the Aegean Sea.

This story is printed here by kind permission of Owen Marshall and Penguin Random House. Reproduction of this material is forbidden.

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