Maria (Chapter 15)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 12/12/2021Back to Blog
(This story is the product of fiction, and all characters are fictional; the historical elements included are real)
Nicosia, autumn 1926 – spring 1927
After Kristian’s departure, Maria was upset for a few days. But life had taught her not to be trapped in negative situations, but to use what she has at her disposal as good as possible.
With Kristian, they maintained very frequent correspondence, at least once a week, and through the letters they exchanged, they shared thoughts and opinions on various topics. This helped them to come closer and understand each other better. They did not talk about their common future at all, waiting to see how the circumstances of life would evolve. But they knew fully well that, deep down, that was the goal of them both.
On the other hand, she waited anxiously for the time when her daughter would give birth and was sorry that she was not close to her. She was comforted by the fact that her son-in-law was a doctor and would do the best for his wife and child. In addition, he was an excellent man and a supportive husband. The assurance that they would visit her in the spring was a great relief for her.
She had begun to prepare their room, ordered to a carpenter a cot for the child, and she was completely ready to welcome them. At the same time, she bought many traditional textiles to decorate the room as well as Cypriot silk sheets for the bed of her daughter and son-in-law, and for the child. She tried to bring Cyprus to their room, so that they could get to know her homeland and its tradition.
At the end of February, she got a telegram that Alexandra had given birth to a healthy baby girl and the two of them were fine. How much would she like to have phones in Nicosia to talk to them! She had heard that in Limassol in 1925, someone called George Giordamlis, had installed a limited telephone network, but it was probably for domestic use. In Nicosia, there were only small telephone networks for government offices. So, Maria would have to wait for the arrival of the whole family in Cyprus, to talk to them.
Beside the above activities, Maria had visited the lawyer Georgios Antoniou a few times, to see if he had any information about his colleague Eleftherios Constantinou. Unfortunately, Mr. Antoniou could not find anything enlightening about her search. Eleftherios’ grandparents had died, and it seemed that he did not maintain correspondence with any of their common acquaintances. So here she found again a dead end.
At the same time, she began to visit more often the wife of the military commander of Nicosia, Mrs. Jennifer Thomson. Little by little they became friends. Mrs. Thomson, despite giving the impression of a plain woman, she was basically a very good person and as she turned out to be very studious. Maria had begun to introduce her to the Cypriot history and culture, and together they frequently visited the Women’s Bazaar, buying embroidery and textiles for their home. She taught her about the tragic fate of the place and its people, and Mrs. Thomson began to change her mind about the “locals”. Her children adored her when she told them stories about India and the mysteries of Egypt.
Mrs. Vassilia’s daughters also found in her face a lady who could take them to distant and magical places. They looked at her with eyes wide open and could not get enough of hearing her. In turn, they then conveyed Maria’s stories to their friends and classmates. Even their teachers waited to hear the new stories they learned from this exotic English Lady.
One day, as she recounted to them Carter’s discovery of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s mummy and the wondrous objects found inside the only undisturbed Pharaoh tomb ever discovered, she realized a timeless truth. She was explaining to the girls, that when this young Pharaoh died at the age of 19, his successors tried to erase his name from history. They destroyed all the signs that mentioned his name and did not include him in the long row with the names of the Pharaohs of Egypt. And yet three thousand years later, his grave was found undisturbed! This event made him the most famous Pharaoh in the world.
-The whole world now knows Tutankhamun, and his life will be studied for many years to come. That means justice. For every injustice that is done, there is the reciprocation of the universe that will balance things. Even if three thousand years have passed!
And she whispered, as inside her, she thought of herself:
-One way or another, the truth will be found.
But what filled Maria and gave her deep joy and emotion were her visits to Mr. Demetrios Demetriou. Despite his daughter’s initial negative attitude, Maria dared to visit him again. As soon as his daughter saw her, she was ready to drive her away, but again Demetrios appeared and invited her inside.
Maria’s presence it seemed to have a therapeutic effect on the elderly gentleman. At least for ten minutes after he saw her, his spirit was illuminated by a strange glimpse, and he told her stories with Antonios Philippou, before returning to the state of confusion and oblivion. However, a calmness erupted to him during the hours that followed, and this made his daughter accept her amicably and even treat her with coffee and sweets.
The short stories of Demetriou were lively and opened a window into time for Maria to learn how her beloved teacher lived and acted. There was nothing that could give her more pleasure.
One day, to her surprise, she realized that one of the photographs that adorned the wretched table of the hall (eliakos) of Demetrios house, presented her teacher with Demetrios posing on a street in Nicosia. She grabbed it in her hands with longing and looked at it with emotion. He was not like she remembered him. He had aged, and his hair had turned white. The details of his face were lost in the faint outline of the black and white photograph, and yet one could see his bright gaze! It illuminated his face, and the whole photo.
Demetrios immediately realized her action and said:
-Take it Maria, take it to remind you of Antonios.
Maria turned and looked at his daughter, who nodded approvingly. She did not hesitate any more. She took the photo in her hands and looked at whether there was the photographer’s name. She read: Papazian 1905.
-Very important photographer, said Demetrios’ daughter. He was the photographer of the Commissioner.
-Maybe if I find him, and he has the negative plate, I will tell him to reprint one for me and return it to you, Maria suggested.
-You don’t have to, said Demetrios daughter. I do not think that Mr. Papazian is still alive.
Maria kept the precious photo. She searched for Mr. Papazian, but she could not find him. So, she bought a frame and placed it in the most prominent position in the living room of her house.
Having this routine in her everyday life, she was trying to balance within her the absence of Kristian, her longing to see her daughter and granddaughter, but above all the absence of information about the teacher and her past.
Of course, until now, she had found some information about her teacher, but these did not lead her on the way to her origins. But even what she had found gave her the context and the environment in which this excellent man, Antonios Philippou had lived and had been active.
And while she had originally invented a lie, that she would write a book about Cyprus, to justify her research, she was now certain that she had collected enough evidence to write about the life and work of Antonios Philippou.
She had begun to record the information she was collecting and especially after her visits to Mr. Demetrios Demetriou, she noted every detail he mentioned to her, slowly forming the skeleton for her book.
There were also times when she wondered if it was worthwhile to delve into her past like that and look for a truth that would surely be painful and tragic. After she had been rescued from that wretched house, life had generously given her opportunities and experiences. Very few women in Cyprus – perhaps none – were given the possibilities presented to her. Her parents adored her, and if there was not their action for her complete separation from the teacher, she would have no complaints with them. Her husband, despite the flaws she found in him, had given her a rich life, had travelled with him to magical countries and never stood in the way of her love of learning.
So why was she looking for something that would surely cause her pain? Perhaps because she too, like every plant that grows on this planet, has roots and if you cut even one of these roots, the plant will not be able to fully grow. Although in her life up to this day, she herself had blossomed, she lacked something basic: the truth. She had to find it and bequeath it to her daughter. It was the original root of their existence.
And while she felt that things about her were at a standstill, around the end of March 1927, she received a telegram from her daughter that shook her. She felt that at last, the gears that every day move the earth around the sun, were mobilized and began to move for her own life:
“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.”
-It’s not possible, she thought. I have been looking for him for so long in Nicosia, and he is in London!
Before she managed to recover from the shocking news, another telegram arrived:
“I am Eleftherios Constantinou. I have a package for you from Antonios Philippou. Am I allowed to give it to your daughter, Alexandra James Macdonald?”
She replied immediately:
“Deliver the package to Alexandra as soon as possible. Thank you very much”.
From that moment on, her life was filled with a different agony: not whether she would find evidence of her origins, but what these elements would be and how she would manage them. She often woke up at night sweaty. She had dreams of the Turkish house, Mother Ayşe, Fatma, master Suleiman, moving in a vortex and sometimes approaching her and sometimes moving away and fading into the void.
Somewhere in this nightmarish situation, she felt an unprecedented feeling: the embrace of a woman. It was a very blurry impression, but it gave her security and happiness.
-Is it possible for me to remember my mother? She wondered. Never have I had such a memory. Maybe deep inside my subconscious there is something.
Her mother’s thought had begun to fill her existence. A longing was burning for this unknown mother. What would have happened? She frequently wondered. Had her mother died, and she was taken to the Turkish house, or had they indeed stolen her, as Mrs. Aydan had claimed?
It was difficult for her to form herself and rein in her thoughts. For the first time in her life, she was constantly in a state of confusion and anguish. Even her visits to Demetrios did not bring her the same satisfaction. She had lost interest in almost everything.
She wrote a lengthy letter to Kristian, informing him of the recent events and the emotions that overwhelmed her.
-Luckily, there’s him, she thought. He is the only person to whom I can unfold my heart and unload the burden I hold.
Kristian’s response was brief but substantive:
My beloved Maria
At last, things have been taken to where you would like them to be led. The truth about your life, my dear Maria, has always existed and nothing will change when you read what your teacher recorded for you. It is just that this truth will illuminate your past and possibly open new paths for your future.
Don’t be afraid. When you read what is in the package from your teacher, you will have your daughter by your side. The only person in the world in whom this truth has a reflection. You will not be alone, and you are not alone either now.
Maria, your story proves beyond doubt that you are protected and the criminal actions of people in your childhood have not been able to stop your glorious course in life. Always remember that!
I am always by your side; And if necessary I will come and be physically present for you;
Don’t be afraid. Everything will be fine!
Kristian’s words had a magical effect on her. They took her out of the emotionally dangerous situation in which she was trapped and helped her find her usual composure.
Whatever events were recorded by her teacher, she would face them with courage. She could not change the past. She could only manage the present. And she would manage it in the best way for her, her daughter, and her granddaughter.
Now in a structured way, she made the last arrangements for the arrival of her daughter, her son-in-law, and her granddaughter from the port of Famagusta. She asked Mrs. Jennifer Thomson for the military car that had recently been given to the family and together with the driver they set off for the port of Famagusta.
The road passed through the plain of Mesaoria and Maria remembered the first day she had arrived in Cyprus and made the same route by train. Then it was summer, and all the fields were harvested. They spread around, yellow, and monotonous. This time it was spring, early April. The fields were all green and on their outskirts, as well mixed and with the grain, bloomed bright red poppies, yellow daisies, and colourful wildflowers. Everything was gorgeous.
-I am glad that my daughter will see all this beauty today, she thought. Our country has done its best and welcomes her with all its brilliance.
As soon as they arrived at the port, she told the driver to wait, and she proceeded to the reception hall.
Her daughter’s family arrived with the last passengers. They certainly did not want the child to suffer, and waited for the crowd to leave.
Amid the hugs, kisses and emotion of reunion, Maria could not help but noticing a wooden box that was stacked over their luggage. Therein lay the secret of her life.
As they began the journey back with her granddaughter in her arms, smiling, Maria knew that the first chapter of her existence would open in very little.
-The wind of my fate has blown, she thought. Soon the nails from the box will be gone, and the information left for me by the teacher will be revealed.
She shuddered and smiled at her daughter, who admired the landscape that was bathed under the bright sun of her homeland.
Photo taken from the book of Agnes Michaelides: “Chora”, the old Nicosia