‘Is it the smell of comic books that turns you on, or are you just pigs?’ Dimitris asked his friends, Katerina and Antonis, who were making out in front of the Image counter.
The two laughed and separated as soon as they heard him. Katerina straightened her T-shirt, and Antonis leaned on the counter with a huge grin on his face.
‘A bit of both I think, huh?’ Antonis answered and looked to Katerina for confirmation.
Dimitris shook his head and turned around to find the newest Marvel releases. He was at his favourite place on earth. He’d spend quite a bit of his childhood in comic book shops with his best friends, all of them geeking out over titles, characters, and storylines from their favourite publishers.
Dimitris grabbed the new Inhumans V X-Men title and admired the artwork on the cover. His leg buzzed, and he reached for his pocket before the ringtone of his phone went off. Any use of mobile phones inside the shop felt like blasphemy to the sanctity of this place.
He slid the answer button across the screen and only briefly looked at the number on the top; a number he didn’t recognize.
‘Yes?’ he answered.
‘Mr. Aristiadis?’ a female voice echoed from the other end of the line.
Dimitris walked towards the stairs and exited the shop. ‘Sp…speaking,’ he said.
Last time an unrecognized number had called his phone, it had delivered the worst news he had received in his lifetime. He made it outside, feeling out of breath, his heart pounding in his chest and his fist clenched, nails digging into his palm.
‘My name is Elena Pappa. I am calling from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. I work for the university’s Erasmus exchange program,’ the woman said.
Dimitris relaxed his fist and took a deep breath of relief. ‘I never signed up for an exchange program.’
‘Yes, I know. I have your student application from when you started, and you had expressed an interest in being an Erasmus buddy. We have a student starting the new semester in your department, and I was calling to see if you were interested in being his mentor. You know, show him around the campus and the city, offer your help and support with his studies and aid him in the cultural exchange?’
Dimitris relaxed. He had signed up his interest to be an Erasmus buddy, but it had been more than two years ago, and he’d forgotten all about it.
‘Erm, yes, of course,’ he told the lady.
Ms. Pappa exclaimed, ‘That’s great!’
‘What do I need to do next?’ Dimitris asked.
‘I’ll send you an email straight away with the student’s contact details and some recommendations.’
‘Cool. Where is the student from?’
‘He is from London.’
That was brilliant. Who best to practice the language with than a native speaker? He could even ask for help with some of those God-forsaken Shakespeare texts he was having difficulty understanding.
As he was hanging up the phone, two guys walked up to him and greeted him. They were his other friends, Markos and Stelios. Antonis must have messaged them that they were in the comic book shop. They went back in together, and he told the guys about the exchange student.
Katerina jumped up and down. ‘Really? Does that mean we get to have our very own English pet?’
‘Yep, our very own English mastiff,’ Dimitris answered with a chuckle.
‘When does he arrive?’ Antonis asked.
Dimitris shrugged. ‘The woman on the phone said she will email me his details. I’ll ask him when she does.’
‘Coffee, anyone?’ Markos asked.
Dimitris rolled his eyes. ‘Do you have to ask?’
Dimitris purchased the new IvX title and Captain Marvel; Antonis picked up a few Batman issues and an ODY-C compilation, and Katerina got some Valiant copies of her favourite superhero, Faith.
They headed to the town’s promenade and took a seat outside at one of the cafes with the view of the Thermaic Gulf. When everyone had placed their order, and after they’d all lit their cigarettes, Dimitris unlocked his phone and found a new email sitting in his mailbox.
Clarence Julian Thomas. Gosh! Couldn’t sound more English if he tried. What kind of name was Clarence? He copied and pasted the email address and wrote to him.
My name is Dimitris, I know it’s a mouthful so you can call me Jimmy. I’m your Erasmus buddy. I was just told by my university you are starting this new semester. Congratulations! When do you arrive in town? Have you got anyone to pick you up from the airport? I’ve got a friend with a car.
How about housing? Have you found somewhere to stay yet?
Looking forward to hearing from you.
He put his phone on the table as the coffees arrived. The waitress put his drink down, and he reached for it without hesitation, flicked the ashes off his cigarette, and took a sip.
The phone buzzed and Dimitris opened a new email by Clarence.
Thank you. I’ve got a flight booked for next Tuesday. I arrive at noon. I don’t know anyone in Greece so I’ve got no one to pick me up, thank you for the offer, it would be great. I’ve paid a deposit for a house through the university. I might need help finding the house though.
You can call me Ren.
Speak soon x
Ren. That was more like it. A week today. Gave him enough time to brush up on his tourist guide skills and test everyone’s conversational English. Jimmy felt a butterfly escape from her chrysalis and spread her wings in his stomach.
That was new.