Maria (Chapter 14)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 05/12/2021Back to Blog
(This story is the product of fiction, and all characters are fictional; the historical elements included are real)
London, spring 1927
Alexandra was holding her daughter in her arms. She had given birth a month ago, and she became a very happy mom. She adored her daughter so much that she could not leave her care to the maids. Likewise, she was looking after her herself and that gave her great satisfaction. Now she realized how cruel it would have been for her mother when her father forced her to send her to London, in a boarding school.
She was humming to the little girl when the door knocked, and her maid announced that a gentleman was asking for her. Alexandra was surprised. She did not expect anyone.
-What is his name? She asked the maid.
-His name is foreign. I can’t remember it. In fact, he first asked for your mother, Lady Mary William Moore, and when I told him that she no longer lives in London and here stays her daughter with her husband, he asked to see you. I’ve left him waiting in the library.
Surprised but also curious, Alexandra left the child to the maid and proceeded to the library. As she entered, she saw a presentable young man, around thirty-five, with a Mediterranean appearance, looking at the books.
-Hullo, my name is Alexandra James Macdonald, and I am the daughter of Lady Mary William Moore. How can I help you? Unfortunately, my mother is away in Cyprus.
-Very bad timing for me, said the young gentleman. My name is Eleftherios Constantinou, and I am a lawyer. I have something for your mother from her teacher, Antonios Philippou.
Alexandra’s heart, beat loudly as she heard the name, Antonios Philippou. But before she could utter a word, Mr. Constantinou continued, showing her a wooden box, he was holding.
-I am instructed from the teacher to hand it over to the Lady personally. I don’t know what to do now. Not only that, but I have been holding this box for seventeen years and various circumstances have not allowed me to meet your mother.
-At the begging, when I came to London in 1910, to study, and I had searched for your mother, I discovered that she was not in London, but in India. Later, when the war took place, I enlisted and fought alongside with the British. In the war, I was wounded, and it took a long time to recover. Then I continued my studies and with some other difficulties I had, I am ashamed to say, I forgot the box and the mission assigned to me by the teacher.
-Lately I got married and as I was trying to clear up some things to transfer them to my new home I discovered this box. I feel bad because it was my teacher’s last wish to hand it over to his Maria, as he called her, and I failed. But I don’t know if I can give it to you. The teacher’s instructions were explicit: you will deliver it personally only in Maria’s hands.
-I do not want to pressure you, Mr. Constantinou, but I would like you to know that my mother has spoken to me about her life and about her teacher. She is now in Cyprus to find her teacher or any evidence for him.
-But to get you out of the inconvenience, I suggest that I give you my mother’s address and either write to her or telegraph her and ask for her permission to give me the box. In a month we will leave with my husband for Cyprus, to visit my mother, and we can take it to her.
Eleftherios sighed with relief.
-Yes, that would be a very good solution. I would keep my promise to the teacher and finally hand over the box, albeit in an indirect way.
Alexandra wrote Maria’s address on a piece of paper and gave it to him. At the same time, he asked for his own address in case something went wrong. After they exchanged addresses, Eleftherios thanked her and as he was leaving, he told her:
-You have great books in your library!
-They belong to my mother, replied Alexandra.
The night, when her husband returned, Alexandra talked to him about the unexpected visit and the surprising turn that events took.
-It is a tragic irony, to say the least, that my mother has been searching for clues about her teacher in Cyprus for so long, and that information is in London. I don’t know what to think!
-What did she write to you in her last letter on this subject?
-She had told me that certain information leads her to a lawyer, Eleftherios Constantinou, but she had reached a dead end because no one knew where he was. It seems that her teacher undertook his education and studies and from what emerges from his visit, he trusted him with everything he knew about my mother.
-Do you think he knows what happened to your mother?
-I can’t imagine because the box he was holding was sealed, nailed to be precise. Should we inform my mother about this incident, or wait for Mr. Constantinou to write to her?
-I think it is better to inform her. She will at least be prepared and will cease to feel that she is at a dead end. Did you get his address?
-Yes, of course, in case he forgets again, Alexandra said with a laugh.
-Perhaps we should speed up our trip to Cyprus, James concluded. Do you think it will be alright for our child to travel?
-I don’t think it makes any difference if we travel in two weeks or in a month’s time. Our daughter is strong. She is full of health. After all, we will be in a better climate than the climate of London.
The next morning, Alexandra went to the telegraph office and sent the following telegram to her mother:
“Eleftherios Constantinou visited me. He has evidence from the teacher. He will ask permission to give it to me. As soon as we have it, we leave for Cyprus.”
In a few days, she got an answer from Maria:
“Eleftherios Constantinou contacted. I gave him permission. Come as soon as possible.”
The next day, Eleftherios Constantinou visited Alexandra. In his hands, he was holding the wooden box again. He looked very relieved.
-At last, he told her. I can deliver it in your hands and you in the hands of your mother. So, I pay back this debt to the teacher, because in general I owe him so much in my life.
-Tell me about this teacher, Alexandra asked him. My mother says the same thing as you. That she owes him everything in her life.
-Our teacher, Antonios Philippou, may be the ideal of the meaning of the term “teacher”. Those children who were blessed to study near him will remember him until they die. I personally owe him everything I am today. Around the age of five, I had lost both my parents and was staying with my grandparents. They were both very old and all they could give me was a plate of food. I used to wander in the streets, and basically I was a vagabond. When I met the teacher, he started approaching me by telling me stories and fairy tales based on Greek mythology. I was enchanted, because it was the first time in my life I had heard such things. In this way I was drawn to school and my vagrant life was slowly replaced by discipline and learning. He gave me the money to study, which I think was all his life savings. That’s why I felt so bad when I discovered that I forgot my promise to hand this box over to Maria.
-We will soon leave for Cyprus to hand over this precious box to my mother. Would you like us to give her a message from you? I am sure she would love to meet you.
-Tell her that Antonios Philippou loved her so much that sometimes I was jealous. She was the surrogate of his daughter Athena, who also lost at a very young age. She must be a great woman. You are lucky to have her as a mother!
-Yes, Alexandra said. She is a rare woman.
-I wish she finds in this box that what she is looking for and what she needs. I, too, would love to get to know her. Who knows, that may happen someday?
Not many days passed, and Alexandra, her husband and their daughter were travelling to Cyprus. Her feelings were mixed, between a sweet anticipation, but also anguish about what it was hidden in the well-sealed wooden box. She had missed her mother, but she had learned to live away from her. When at the age of ten she was forced to move away from her, it took a long time for her to recover. But this separation had made her strong and independent. Like Maria herself.
Now she could live away from her without suffering. On the other hand, James was an exceptional husband, with whom she had excellent communication. He always found the best way to rein in her explosive temperament, which she had inherited from her father. She was very happy with him.
Through her mother’s letters she had realized that she had established a particularly friendly relationship with a Swedish archaeologist and Alexandra would not be surprised at all if she fell in love with him,
-He surely is in love with her, she thought. All men fall in love with my mother. Especially sophisticated men. She is the ideal of a beautiful, cultured, and intelligent woman.
Alexandra herself was quite beautiful, but certainly not as much as her mother was. But she did not mind. The rare beauty creates big problems. She had realized how her father presented her mother: like a trophy to flaunt.
-What matters in a relationship is love, understanding and tenderness, she concluded. Anything that goes beyond the normal creates inequalities that are sometimes very difficult for people to manage.
With the arrival of her daughter, Alexandra felt that she had completed happiness in her life. But she knew that most of the circles in her mother’s life had been left in limbo and placed her with huge gaps. Her unknown origins, her violent separation from her teacher and saviour, her typical marriage that took place basically to please her mother, the coercion by her husband to separate her from her daughter. It was a lot of them gathered. And yet this woman stood like a rock and was imposed by her presence wherever she was.
Her mother deserved to be happy! And Alexandra would never stand in the way of that. She had sacrificed much to please others. It was time for others to offer her as much space as she needed to find happiness.
Alexandra was surprised by her thoughts. She had never been so selfless.
-Maybe motherhood has changed me, she thought. When this event comes into our life, we realize that the joy of giving is greater than the joy of receiving.
She looked at her daughter, who was sleeping deeply, lullabied by the shaking of the ship.
-There isn’t a more beautiful sight than a child sleeping, she concluded. There is so much bliss, so much surrender of self to life, so much trust! Growing up come the doubts, the selfish claims and all this is lost. Similarly, the freshness of the face, the radiance from the eyes and the enjoyment of the person for their very existence, are lost.
Alexandra smiled at her philosophical disposition. It was not common for her!
-Motherhood is to blame, she concluded again.
At that time the cabin door was opened and James, her husband, appeared.
-Come, he told her, I will stay with the child. Go out to enjoy the sunset. It has fantastic colours.
Alexandra felt so full of the presence of her daughter that she had no other desires, but surely a sunset would help her change her representations and thoughts.
She wore a cardigan and assented to the deck. The sun had gone down and touched the surface of the sea with its disk. Golden, red, yellow, and orange colours spread on the surface of the water, dancing rhythmically with the movement of the waves. The clouds over the sky looking as if they had caught fire and a crowd of passengers was watching enchanted.
Alexandra held with her two hands the handrail of the ship, admiring the majestic phenomenon of the sun sinking into the deep blue waters. Little by little, the colours began to fade. The red clouds initially became golden, then rosy and at the end spread the grey that indicated the departure of the sunset. Not long passed, and the sky was filled with bright stars on the black background of the night. Alexandra was still looking.
-What a beauty, she thought. What a brilliance!
Suddenly and unexpectedly came to her mind, the horrible images she had experienced through in the war. How much pain, how much wretchedness, how much misery! And all this in a world that can be bathed in so much beauty!
-How can these two combine and coexist, she wondered.
She did not get an answer. Likewise, anyone never got, who asked this question. There is only the outcry of human actions that wreak havoc and destruction. But havoc and destruction are also manifestations of nature around us. Associations and questions that remain for centuries. And they do not change. Just as the course followed by the sun has not changed since the beginning of life, just as it keeps its beauty unaltered in all the sunrises and in all the sunsets, even if they take place over scorched earth.
Alexandra returned to her cabin and found James holding their daughter in his arms and talking to her tenderly. She was smiling subtlety.
-Oh, she woke up, Alexandra said. It’s time for her to be fed. One minute to wash myself and breastfeed her.
In a few minutes, she was holding her daughter in her arms, and she was suckling greedily.
-What a two-way relationship breastfeeding is, she pondered. It’s like erotic love. You share the juices of your being with another being and give them life. I am happy to have experienced both those greatest expressions of life!
Then she thought of her mother and their meeting tomorrow at the port of Famagusta. She had telegraphed to them that she would come to pick them up. Mrs. Jennifer Thomson, the wife of the military commander of Nicosia, had lent her driver and her car so that they would not have any difficulty at all. Especially the child.
That night she did not sleep. She knew that the contents of the sealed box would surely contain some tragic information. But they both had to learn. First her mother, then her. It was their roots. The story of their lives. That is the only way they could continue in life, knowing their identity, whatever that may be.