An extract from ‘Falling for Icarus’ (from chapter one)

This is what happened. It was after three and I couldn’t sleep. Another broken, black night. I went for a walk in the ruins. A raw breeze blew up and I decided to climb the rocks. I found a foothold, the mark of an ancient chisel, and pulled myself up the old wall. In the dark I moved by touch, caught hold of a root, searched for a second step. I felt rather than saw the hand-cut limestones. The sheer blocks were cold against my cheek. My hand reached for a crevice, dug into it and lifted the weight of body and heart. A speck of mortar blew into my eye. I worked up toward the glow of sky. I reached an arm over the parapet and clambered to my feet.

I stood at the edge suspended between heaven and earth. At my feet spread the silhouettes of islands, mulberry shadows in a moonlit sea. Behind me a twisted cord of cloud tethered the peaks, separating them from the foothills, dividing silver snow from green olive groves. The lower flanks of the mountains were flecked with white light — villages not yet asleep. Higher up the slope the solitary warm pinpoint of a shepherd’s fire flickered and died. Above it the sky was crowded with stars, a thousand sparks piercing the night.

I turned into the quickening breeze. I took a deep breath. I balanced on my heels and tucked my toes over the precipice. Eyes shut. Head up. Arms out. A sudden gust pushed me back and I leaned into it. I wanted to feel the lift. I was ready for the lightness. The soles of my feet tingled. Legs together. Palms angled into the wind. My stomach tightened in anticipation of the rush of flight. I laughed for the first time in months.

Eyes wide open. I spun round, scrabbling to catch the wall. A stranger’s hands gripped my ankles. Horny, earthy hands which had knocked me off-balance.

‘Hang on,’ shouted the voice above the wind.
‘What the hell are you doing?’ I managed to say. I’d thought I was alone.
‘Saving your life, you bastard.’
This is how I met Yióryio.

I wasn’t trying to kill myself. Really. I was groping for a way forward. It had been six months since my mother’s death. A year since her cancer had been diagnosed. My wife and I had taken her into our house. We had nursed her, bathed her and held her hand as she passed away in the pale green English bedroom. The loss numbed me. It splintered my confidence and crippled my imagination. But her death had one surprise in store for me. A sudden, starved passion that no one in their right mind could have predicted.

When my mother had taken her last breath, and the swallows swept out from their nests under the eaves, I wanted to fly. From that moment I needed to feel white wings lift me into a warm spring sky. The compulsion was the single clear certainty in my now dislocated life. Which is how there came to be a stranger gripping my ankles, dangling me over a cliff face, in the chaotic ruins.

‘You can’t jump,’ ‘said Yióryio, a truss of chicken lashed to his belt.’You don¹t have wings.’

‘Not yet,’ I yelled back at him, as he pinned me down on the cold, black wall.

‘Excuse me,’ he said, tightening his grip, ‘but I think you are a little crazy.’