Maria (Chapter 6)

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 10/10/2021

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(This story is the product of fiction, and all characters are fictional; the historical elements included are real)

Famagusta, Nicosia – Summer 1926

When Lady Mary William Moore woke up in the morning in her cabin and saw from the porthole the port of Famagusta, the port of her homeland, she had mixed feelings. Her heart, beat loudly, almost madly that she had finally reached her destination, but on the other hand she regretted that she would lose the pleasant company of Kristian Hubertus, the Swedish Archaeologist. During the trip they had had endless discussions, they had shared opinions and feelings, and so his absence would leave a void in her.

Kristian Hubertus would go to Larnaca to meet Mr. Loukis Z. Pierides, to arrange how he would continue his mission, and she would continue her journey to Nicosia.

When they met at breakfast, Mary gave him her address in Nicosia and asked him to visit her, if he ever came to the capital. He assured her that he would write to inform her about his travels in Cyprus, and he would visit her in Nicosia.

They got on the boat together to get to the port. Kristian Hubertus helped her find porters to carry her trunks to the train station, to travel to Nicosia. He was waiting for Mr. Pierides’ car to take him to Larnaca.

They said goodbye with a warm handshake and Kristian said to her:

-I am very pleased to have met you, Mary. We will meet again.

-And I am glad to have met you too, Kristian Hubertus. I would very much like to see you again.

She hesitated for a moment and then added:

-My name is Maria.

Before Kristian could ask for clarification, Maria got on the train.

The train was very small compared to the London trains. However, it had first class and economy class. The seats of the first class were almost empty, because it seemed that Cypriots could not afford the expensive ticket. She sat in a first seat and as she was feeling now, she was glad that she had no fellow passengers to start chatting.

As soon as they got outside from the city of Famagusta, Varosha, as it was known, they saw the plain of Mesaoria. In the background on the right, the Pentadactylous mountain range could be seen, spreading lazily along the route. The grain in the fields of the plain had been harvested, and the landscape was bare and yellow. From time to time, some olive trees coloured the monotony with their green- silver colour. Flocks of sheep grazed in the plain, eating the remains of harvested grain. Maria smiled. In London, folks of sheep were used to eat the green grass in the parks and keep it mowed. No difference, she thought. The result is the same, the colour of the food is what differs.

Some shepherds were sitting under the olive trees, playing their flute, and others greeted the train as it passed by. Some children were running barefoot next to the train, as if they wanted to catch it. Maria began to greet the shepherds and children. She felt like a little child again. The burden began to leave her soul.

From time to time, she could see some villages projecting in the background, with low mad-brick houses. The weather was warm, and Maria had the window open. In London the weather was cold, but in India and Egypt it was hotter than in Cyprus. The difference was that, especially in the Indies, there was not any fresh air to breathe, even in the countryside, because people used as fuel, the manure of cows, which had a very bad odour. Here the air was clean and pleasant.

By the time they arrived in Nicosia, Maria was smiling and felt happy. The dream of a lifetime had begun to take shape. At the station, an English soldier was waiting for her along with a carriage. He greeted her militarily and announced that he was sent by the wife of the military commander of Nicosia, to receive her. He would take her to her house to get to know each other and rest.

She climbed on the carriage and the young soldier led her outside the walls of Nicosia, where the British had their houses built. They arrived at a house, built with a yellow stone, which also had a garden. Mrs. Jennifer Thomson, wife of the military commander of Nicosia, was waiting for her on the steps with her two children, Helen, at six and John, around seven. She was an ordinary English woman, slim and tall, who welcomed Lady Mary William Moore, with a bright smile. Maria, dressed elegantly, with the latest fashion and her aristocratic stature, seemed like a princess next to her.

-Welcome, my Lady, to my home, she addressed her. And she immediately nodded to her children, who made a bow.

Maria was surprised. She did not expect such an official reception.

-My dear Mrs. Thomson, I am really pleased to know you, and I thank you very much for your kind help. I will never forget it. For you, I will always be Mary and for your children Aunt Mary; Anything else is an exaggeration.

-But how is it possible, my Lady, Mrs. Thomson reacted. You are a Lady; I cannot address you differently,

-No, I am Mary and nothing else. Mary, who owes you a great deal of gratitude. Come children inside to see what is in my trunks for you;

The children followed her excitedly, and their mother followed them compulsorily. After opening one of the trunks and taking out the gifts for the children and Mrs. Thomson, Mary was taken to the garden to enjoy the afternoon tea, prepared for her.

The children were thrilled with the gifts. A doll for Helen and a car for John. A gift for both was the book: “The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story”, by Rudyard Kipling. For Mrs. Thomson, she had brought a fashionable hat and a matching bag. She, too, was thrilled but was trying  not to show it.

-You know I’d like to bring you a dress, but I couldn’t know your size and that’s why I chose those two.

-They are great! Thank you very much. Here you see it has no such fashions. Underdeveloped place, my dear!

-But I don’t understand, she continued, why you asked for a house in the old town. All of us, British, live outside the walls of the town. What will you do on your own in the old town, along with the locals?

-As you know, I grew up in this place and I know the locals. I speak both Greek and Turkish. My teacher was Greek and was called Antonios Philippou. I feel very friendly to the locals. Besides, I would like to visit the libraries of Phaneromeni and the Pancyprian Gymnasium to study.

Mrs. Thomson was left with her mouth open. The intimacy with which Lady spoke about the locals, left her speechless.

-We, she said, prefer to socialize with each other. But will you come next week to take tea with us? How about next Wednesday? There will also be the wives of the other officers here.

-Gladly, Mary replied.

She knew she could not and should not refuse. She would make sure to keep the balance. It was not in her interest to snoop on the British, but neither should she have them very close to her if she wanted to finish her task.

At dinner, she met Mr. Thomson. A strict, unsmiling military man, not at all social, that was constantly making remarks to the children.

-Tomorrow I must leave, Maria thought. I can’t stand it here any more.

But she could not leave the next day. The house that Mrs. Thomson had found for her, on St. Antonios Street, next to the church of St. Antonios, was not ready to be inhabited. Of course, what she had sent from London had been transferred there, but there were other missing items, such as kitchenware and food, that had to be bought and arranged.

Admittedly, Mrs. Thomson, seemed very helpful. She accompanied her to the shops to buy what she needed and provided her with her servant to help her tidy up. She even suggested that Mary might employ her little sister, who still lived in her village. Maria’s answer was a definite no. All this brought her bad memories and on the other hand she did not want to have someone permanently at home. She knew that servants watch and listen, behind closed doors. She said she would be satisfied with a woman from the neighbourhood, who would come during the day and leave in the evening.

Mrs. Thomson found her increasingly strange. But the highlight was when Maria said she wanted to buy fabric and ask her to suggest a needlewoman to sew more simple dresses for her to wear in the city. She could not understand that. Why would a Lady want to look as simple as the locals?

-I will answer all your questions, dear Jennifer, at the party you are preparing for me on Wednesday. Don’t worry, I know well what I’m doing.

Mrs. Thomson, for better or for worse, made sure to invite an old English lady, who had been living in Cyprus for years and had met Mary McCain, before leaving for London. It would not hurt to do a second check on the Lady’s identity.

-I will answer all your questions, dear Jennifer, at the party you are preparing for me on Wednesday. Don’t worry, I know well what I’m doing.

Mrs. Thomson, for better or for worse, made sure to invite an old English lady, who had been living in Cyprus for years and had met Mary McCain, before leaving for London. It would not hurt to do a second check on the Lady’s identity.

Wednesday’s party was prepared with all British solemnity. All the invited ladies were very well-dressed, and Maria was not less. She dressed as she deserved and as her audience expected her: a Lady, who had just arrived from London, knowing the latest fashion. Maria enjoyed the interest of the ladies present.

Of course, she successfully passed the test with the old lady, Mrs. Jones, who was excited to see her again, and they talked about the old days. It remained the last announcement on her part, to satisfy all curiosity and stop the gossip. So, when the rite of tea was over, she got up to speak to the ladies:

-My dear ladies, I would like to thank you for the warm welcome and especially my dear Jennifer, who did so much to help me settle in Nicosia, in my home in Agios Antonios, in which I hope to move permanently from tomorrow. As you may have heard, doctors in London advised me to live in a warmer climate, as I have been accustomed to, almost all my life. I have lived in Cyprus, India, and Egypt. Of course, I preferred Cyprus because here I have spent my childhood with my parents, I speak Greek and Turkish, and it is easier for my daughter and my son-in-law to visit me.

-As Mrs. Jones, who has known me since she was a child, can assure you, I have always been a restless spirit with a great inclination to learn. So, I would like my presence here to be creative, so as not to be bored and not to feel the absence of my family. So, I thought I could write a book about Cyprus and the change that we British people brought to the governance of the place and to the lives of the inhabitants. I have already realized, in the few days that I have been here, the great progress that has been made. The swamps have been drained, hospitals have been set up, a train line has been installed and many more, I imagine, I have not been able to learn yet. For this reason, I should live in the city, to be close to the locals and make them trust me and talk to me freely and not as they would talk to an English Lady.

Maria’s explanations satisfied her curious audience and many ladies offered to give her information about the great work in the governance of the British, even though the locals were ungrateful and constantly asking to be united with Greece.

Maria thanked them and promised to come to them when the time would come. For now, she would like to collect material from the locals.

Mrs. Thomson was relieved and began again to admire the Lady with her great personality and creative ideas. After all, she, was her best friend!

When the hustle and bustle of the party ended, and the ladies left for their homes, Maria stood in the garden of Mrs. Thomson’s house and gazed at the crimson sky of Nicosia, as the sun set. In her heart, she felt that a wind had brought her here. Would it also lead her to her roots, the true roots of her existence?

 

Photo The first Nicosia Hospital:

https://www.google.com/search?q=%CE%9B%CE%B5%CF%85%CE%BA%CF%89%CF%83%CE%AF%CE%B1+1920&sxsrf=AOaemvIG4i5NMeG-1IVjuLOCYw8I-iCMUg:1632883868299&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwixmre3lqPzAhXBzoUKHZUHDuMQ_AUoAXoECAEQAw&biw=1920&bih=937&dpr=1#imgrc=jnz0h4AIjk91vM

Bibliography: Great Cyprus Encyclopedia

 

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