There was great excitement, down by the Akrotiri pier the other night. A cluster of sun burnished cousins stood at the end of the pier, shivering, their skinny arms wrapped around bodies that had spent the day in the water and were now, along with the sun, losing their heat. A boat bearing two young boys was coming closer and the taller one of the two was holding something out in front of him. As the small boat drew up to the pier, it became apparent that clenched in his victorious fist was an enormous octopus, all waving tentacles and outrage at the indignity of being caught. The cousins went mad. The catcher was ushered off the boat like a hero. Behind our table, which was laden with fresh ntomatini salad, dakos and fried squid, the childrens’ Yiayia was yelling, ‘bravo! Bravo Niko!’ The octopus, still clutched in Niko’s fist, was ferried to the front of the restaurant which was, at the time, occupied only by us.
The kids followed, one girl and a handful of boys, Nikos the Pied Piper with his slimy catch. The Octopus seemed to have lost a touch of its outrage and now only waved its magnificent tentacles mildly, as if asking when the gawking and celebrations would be over, when he would be returned to the water and left in peace. In a trice, he was thrown to the ground and a specific section of his middle expertly and lightly stepped on. The tentacles stopped waving. We watched, laden forks poised before our mouths, as something oozed forth for where one would expect the octopus’s belly to be.
‘Oh,’ I said, returning my fork with its wedge of chloros cheese to my plate.
‘Oh,’ SG said, looking balefully at his plate of tiny fried squid.
Down below, the octopus, having departed this world, was scooped up and taken back to the pier where Nikos threw him to the ground, picked him up and threw him again. This was repeated about ten times with youthful vigour. An Auntie oversaw the process for a little while until Yiayia couldn’t resist and, in her apron and sensible shoes, she joined the crew on the pier to ensure the softening off the sea creature’s tough flesh was being done properly.
After the throwing, came the rubbing. The waiter explained to me, as he took our plates, that the octopus’s flesh needs to be softened considerably, after the catch, to ensure its edibility. And so we watched the octopus, floppy and limp, be rubbed back and forth over a rock, Yiayia watching with her hands on her hips, the work all being done by young Nikos, the catcher. After a while, the octopus was deemed soft enough and he was given to Yiayia who deftly bundled him and his unwieldy legs into one little transportable package and took him to the kitchen.
The cousins wasted no time. The catching of an octopus meant there could be more things out there that would make Yiayia shout ‘bravo’ and watch on with thin lipped approval and hands on apron-ed hips. A little boat was shoved out again.
The summer’s evening was still young. Who knew what these waters still held for a cluster of sun-browned cousins and their boat?