September, 1998. Thessaloniki.

I was seventeen: out of school for two-and-a-half short months, lost and scared and alone; but also, even though I didn’t know it at the time, bright-eyed and magical and determined. I stood on the threshold between childhood and adulthood, but at the time I didn’t know that, either.

I’d dreamed about him, on and off, for a year. He didn’t mean much, he was just a handsome stranger in a band I loved. They wrote fairy-tale songs that made me dream. One evening in June I sat sat down and wrote him a letter, sent it off with a self-addressed envelope, and forgot about it all. It was late August or perhaps September by the time he wrote back. He’d be in town for a festival, he said, as if I wouldn’t know. I left a note for him at the hotel reception.

We stood on a street corner, late on a dark September night. The Russian-born north wind that haunts Thessalonikian winters blew, unseasonably, and we shivered as we waited for a taxi. A young man came up to us and asked for a light: he took the proffered box of matches, used one, gave the box back. It was a beautiful moment, cinematic, simple, and unlikely: it would never had happened had it not been for my letter. The realisation sent a shiver down my spine and gave everything that happened that night a secret glow.

Later on, he kissed me. He was a lot older than me, he was drunk; in many ways it was the wrong thing to do. It was my first kiss; I’d dreamed of him; in some ways it was the right thing to do. But, right or wrong, it was the prelude to my life proper — and the first sign that the world I imagined could, somehow, be true. I’ve always cherished it for that.