The grey eyed Cinderella – (Consolidated text )

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 10/05/2024

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Chapter 1

London

Mrs. Kalli Michael, alias Kalliroe Michael, was sitting on the terrace of her house in a village in the Limassol district and was looking at the sea. It was March and the nature around was raging of wildflowers and the chirps of swallows. She never got enough of seeing this beauty. She was now eighty three years old, well-standing for her age, with her white hair framing her face and her gray eyes clearly holding the secrets of a lifetime. A lonely life, but interesting, with many memories in reserve. Her journey into this world was unexpected, marked by her childhood and her desire to learn as much as she could.

Today, Kalliroe, the granddaughter of her exclusive friend in Cyprus, Eleni, and daughter of Demetra, for whom she had been the best woman at her wedding in 1995, would come to visit her. These people were the only family she had, and they took care of her like their mother or their grandmother. She smiled at this thought.

Kalliroe the youngest was about twenty-six, one of those girls whose every particle in their bodies radiates joy, affectation, and amorous expectations to men. She was not particularly beautiful by today’s standards, but one could see smiles everywhere. On her lips, on her skin, in her messy long hair. This young girl was the only person on earth who could force her to come out of her shell and talk about her past. Whenever she came, she took her hand and begged her:

-Tell me Aunt Kallis, tell me stories from your life! Please, I love them so much.

And she, Kalliroe Michael, who was never talking about her life, as if someone had forced her to make a vow of silence, began to speak and Kalliroe the youngest, listened to her as if enchanted. Even then, however, she was careful. She never mentioned the dark pages that had stigmatized her and shaped her monastic life. Only about pleasant and spicy events that amused young Kalliroe.

Even now, at the age of eighty-three, her heart was full of the bitterness she had tasted with the first milk she was breastfed by her mother. A mother despised by the society of the time because she had had a child out of wedlock. Her family had rejected her. She had no one to support her. In her mother’s blood and milk there was so much pain and grievance that the child that was breastfed from her could only inherit it.

She was born in 1940 in this village in the Limassol district, on the slope of the Troodos mountain range and from the window of their house she could see the sea far away. It was the only pleasant memory she had of her childhood.

Her mother, Mrs. Irene, had worked hard to make a living. Sometimes in foreign fields as a worker, sometimes as a maid in Limassol. However, they hardly had the necessities. The house where they lived, two rooms in all, had been inherited to her mother by a grandmother who had died. Otherwise, they would have nowhere to live. Her own family did not want to hear about her, because she shamed them, as they said. So, she did not get anything from her parents’ property. No fields, no money, no houses.

In her early years, before she went to primary school, she had not realized much of their subordinate position in village society. When her mother was away at work, she would go to her friend Eleni’s house, and they would play together. They were the only family that kept them company. She was just often asking her mother where her own father was. Her mother’s reaction was to cry and not to answer.

So, she  had stopped asking. But growing up and listening to whispers and conversations in the village, she realized that her father must have been an Englishman, one of those who occupied Cyprus at the time. It seems he had fallen in love with her mother, who was a beautiful girl and got her pregnant. When the event was revealed, he too revealed that he was married with a wife and children in England. After that, he was lost from their lives and never appeared again.

-I must have gotten my grey eyes and blonde hair from him, she considered.

During her attend to the elementary school, she realized the village’s contempt for her mother and for her. They called her a bastard.  Even the teacher, a strict spinster, made her sit separately from the other children, as if she had some kind of miasma. She would go home crying over this treatment and her mother would tell her:

-Don’t cry, my girl, and never show your feelings to others. Don’t give them such joy.

– Since then, my eyes have frozen, she thought, and behind their grey color they have closed the door of my soul.

This admonition of her mother was deeply rooted in her heart and determined her whole life and her relationship with other people. But that was not all. Her mother was also telling her something else:

-Never, ever trust men and the words of love they say. Never give them your body before marriage. They will abandon you!

These words nestled deeply inside her and shaped her character and her relationships with men. She was afraid of them. She had never believed in their sincerity. Whenever a man approached her, a bell rang in her mind, and she walked away scared.

This is how she spent her childhood in the village. Even though she was a good student in elementary school, when she finished it there was no way she could go to high school. There was no such a financial possibility. At that time, in addition to her personal expenses in books, transport, etc., she would have to pay tuition fees as well.

So, her mother took her to a dressmaker, Mrs. Penelope, in Limassol who took female students and taught them her trade. For a year, while they were apprentices, she did not pay them at all, but then she gave them a meager salary and that was according to how much work they completed each day.

She  really liked this work and tried to do it as best as she could. Thus, Mrs. Penelope had her sew the dresses of the rich ladies of Limassol and often took her with her to their homes to have the dresses try out and correct any imperfections. Thus, Kalliroe Michael, saw for the first time what the rich houses are like and how many comforts they have.

This life continued until she was eighteen. Then her mother fell ill and in a few months she died. Kalliroe’s pain was unbearable. She felt that she was abandoned in a void and was falling, falling into chaos. Then another student of Mrs. Penelope’s, Katerina, who, more or less had the same fate as her, gave her the idea to leave Cyprus and go to England.

-My aunt lives there, she told her, my mother’s sister, and she writes to me that there is a lot of work, if you know how to sew. Everything is manufactured there, they give you the fabrics cut, and you just must join them together. You are paid by the piece. The more you sew the more you will get paid. Forget Mrs. Penelope who gives us crumbs. We will get a lot there.

Kalliroe was very cautious at first.

-Fine, you will stay with your aunt. Where will I stay? she asked her.

-I ‘ve written to my aunt about you, and she said she can host us both for a while until we earn enough money and rent a room of our own.

Slowly – slowly Katerina convinced her. With the little money she had she was able to buy the boat ticket. But she had no money left to take with her. And then she experienced the biggest surprise of her life. The night before she left the village, her grandmother, her mother’s mother, visited her. Kalliroe knew her, since they were living in the same village, but she had never spoken to her.

-Since you have decided to leave my daughter, I wish you the best. Here in our village no one is going to marry you. There, that nobody knows, you might find someone to take you. Your grandfather and I have never given you anything. Now is the time to help you.

And she took out of her pocket and gave her one hundred English pounds.

Despite her insulting words, even at this hour, Kalliroe took the hundred pounds and thanked her. She even dared to kiss her hand. Her grandmother wept for a moment and kissed her on the forehead:

-Have a good journey my daughter and may God be with you, she whispered with emotion.

And she left silently in the night.

The hundred English pounds seemed like a fortune to Kalliroe. She had never seen so much money in her life. She kept them safely in her bosom. The next day she took the bus to Limassol with her few possessions packed into an old suitcase. To her great surprise all the villagers on the bus wished her a safe journey.

The ship was an old, dirty one and they stayed in a cabin with six other girls from Cyprus. They were all going to London to find their fortune. The boat was constantly rocking, and the Cypriot girls were dizzy and throwing up. By the time they reached London, they had all lost weight.

On the ship however, Kalliroe met a girl from Larnaca. Her name was Elpida (hope). They were a great match and made friends. When they arrived at the port, before disembarking, Elpida gave her the phone number of her uncle’s house, who would host her.

-Let’s not get lost, she told her. Calle me up when you’re settled.

By the time they were through customs and out, their confusion was red hot. Besides the fact that they understood nothing of the language that all these people spoke, the crowd was so great, the spaces so vast, that only then they did realize how far they were from what they had known in their lives.

With the help of some other passengers who spoke English, they managed to communicate and pass through the customs gate. Outside, Katerina’s aunt and her husband were waiting for them. Now, she did not even remember their names. The first impression was very negative for Kalliroe. These people were not pleasant at all, they constantly argued with each other, and it was obvious that Katerina’s uncle was drunk.

They got in the car and headed home. Even though her stomach ached, exacerbated by the negative impression created by the couple who were going to host them, Kalliroe looked around her with interest to see this city called London. In her mind she had imagined it as Limassol, maybe a little bigger. But what she saw left her speechless.

Endless streets with two-story houses, all looking the same. Only as they changed territory could the design of the houses be changed, and one could understand where the rich people lived and where the poor. Just like that, by the appearance of living quarters. In the front, all the houses had a small garden and a large window, which somewhat protruded, like a showcase. They were built with red bricks and the windows had no shutters. So, all the windows had curtains. The atmosphere was dull, cloudy, lacking the playful light of Limassol. But everywhere there were parks, trees, and flowers.

She could not stop herself and despite the negative atmosphere in the car, she asked:

-But how do you know which is your home? They are all the same.

-They have numbers, the aunt answered coldly.

She did not dare ask more.

As soon as they arrived at the house, in a suburb of London, Kalliroe noticed that it was the most unkempt of the entire street.

– That’s how I’ll distinguish it, she thought. It’s the ugliest house.

Katerina’s aunt was clear from the first moment they walked in.

-Tomorrow I will take you to the factory where you will work, she told them. It is owned by a Cypriot. He will pay you about twenty pounds a week. If you work overtime you will get more. You will give me five pounds per each for your room and three for your food. Total eight.

And she led them to a small room with two beds. Basically, that’s all it fit, that’s how small it was. Their suitcases were placed on the beds to be opened.

Katerina’s aunt had two boys, eight and ten years old. They shouted and argued with each other constantly. They used a mixed language with English and Greek words. It was very difficult to understand what they were saying. Their parents were completely indifferent to the situation. Only from time to time did they raise a loud voice, exacerbating the chaos that prevailed.

In the evening, when Kalliroe lay in bed, she felt sick and frightened. The first impression of London was heavy, unbearable. She wanted to leave, to go back. But even in Cyprus no one expected her. Only her childhood friend, Eleni, cried when she left.

-I’m not going back, she decided. As soon as I collect some money I will leave this house. Anywhere else will be better. I will try to do it. I also have the hundred pounds that my grandmother gave me. I haven’t talked to anyone about them, and I won’t either. She recalled her mother’s words again: ” Don’t cry, my girl, and never show your feelings to others. Don’t give them such joy.”

With these thoughts, she began to relax. All her life she was alone with her mother and thank God, they managed to survive. However difficult the circumstances may be, she would find a way to cope. This family was nothing to her. If Katerina wanted to, she would stay with them. She herself had no obligation to do so. Anyway, it was obvious that their purpose was to make a profit from their “hospitality”.

She felt free, strong, and blessed to have this opportunity in her life. She would not leave without a fight. Tomorrow dawned a new day. Tomorrow she would meet her fate.

She closed her eyes and fell asleep.

 

Chapter 2

Τhe factory

The next day, after having a quick breakfast they started for the factory. Katerina’s aunt accompanied them this time, but she told them to be careful to learn the route because she would not come with them again. They took the bus from the stop near aunt’s house. Kalliroe was impressed by the red double-decker buses of London. They were nothing like her village bus. She wanted to go upstairs to see better but aunt would not let her.

-Upstairs is for the smokers, she told her. Stay here with us.

Kalliroe obeyed but she would do it the next time, that aunt was not with them. The ride took about twenty minutes. When they got off, aunt told them to make a mark so they would know where to get off next time. Kalliroe, even though all the buildings seemed the same to her, was trying to spot some differences, like signs or shops to determine where they were.

When they arrived at the factory, in the Camden Town area, it was obvious that aunt knew the owners, who were aware that they were coming. They were immediately led into a large hall where about fifty women were sitting in front of a sewing machine, one behind the other in five rows, bending over and sewing.

-I was told that you know sewing, the owner, Mr. Costas, told them.

-Yes, answered Kalliroe. We have worked for the best tailor in Limassol, Mrs. Penelope, if you have heard of her.

-I don’t know her, and I don’t care either,” Mr. Costas replied coldly. Here we work differently from Cyprus. Our clothes are industrialized. There are no rehearsals or anything. We will simply give you the fabric cut, along with a sample, a sample of how the finished dress should look. You will see the sample and sew the clothes in the same way. It is very easy. Mrs. Eleni here, will show you. I will pay you eighteen GBP a week for 40 hours of work. If you need to work more, I will pay you overtime.

-But aunt said twenty pounds, Kalliroe dare to say.

Mr. Kostas glared at her for a moment, but then laughed.

-Well, twenty pounds since aunt said so. But if you’re not quick, we’ll be back at eighteen. There are no excuses here. Anyone who doesn’t do us, leaves.

Thus began the work at the factory. Kalliroe did not find it difficult, but very boring. The workers competed to see who could finish the most dresses in the least amount of time. None were particularly interested in quality and perfection. Neither does the owner of course. If the result was satisfactory, only production mattered.

Kalliroe noticed that the workers, “the machines”, as they were called in the anglicized Greek they used, were almost all Cypriots. Trapped in this closed environment, among other Cypriots, they made no effort to learn the English language. They used a mixture of Cypriot dialect with heavily corrupted English words, which at first make it very difficult to understand what they were saying. They only knew enough English to buy a bus ticket or buy food from the neighborhood grocery store. A few words, that is.

The first promise Kalliroe made to herself was to learn English properly. She did not like being treated by the locals as a foreign member of their empire, of a lesser class. Besides, her natural appearance with blonde hair and grey eyes, did not distinguish her from the English natives. From the very first week she enrolled in a night class for foreigners and began lessons. Katerina was not at all interested in following her.

From the other women in the factory, she learned that many worked from home, that is, they took the cut fabrics and samples and sewed whenever they could and as much as they could. In this way they earned more, because they avoided some taxes and deductions that were mandatory in the factory. At the same time, they took care of the house and their children. She thought about it at first but decided she was not interested in working in that way. She first must have her own sewing machine, which even if she bought it second-hand, would be worth a lot for her meager finances. The money her grandmother had given her she was determined to keep it, for now.

Then there was something else. She did not like this way of sewing. What always interested her in this trade, was layering the fabric on the client’s body, creating cuts, frames and pleats that would hide any imperfections, so that it would fit in the best way on the woman who would wear it. That was the challenge for her, not how many dresses to finish in the least amount of time! Talking to a girl at the factory one day, she learned that there were other types of factories that worked in a different way. These were mostly owned by English owners, and they made clothes for the aristocrats and the rich. In fact, she told her, they pay the workers much more. But to be taken there you need to speak English and sew impeccably.

Kalliroe therefore set this goal: To quickly learn the language and find out which these factories are. She certainly would not be staying in that dark factory of Mr. Costas’ in Camden Town. She knew that she was the best of them all in the quality of the result, and she had also increased her speed somewhat, but that was not enough. She was not paid any more for quality, rather she was made to sew the more difficult models, which took longer to complete, so she got less pay.

She talked a little with Katerina about it, but she was not interested. It was clear that she expected her aunt to find her a groom, which was not at all difficult, with so many Cypriot immigrants in London, and to follow the path her aunt had followed. She had no dreams about her professional future.

The truth was that she was getting very tired herself. In the morning at the factory, then in the evening classes to learn the English language. Most of the time when she came home tired and especially on the days she did not go to the night school, she cooked for everyone because Katerina’s aunt’s cooking was horrible, and everyone preferred the food Kalliroe cooked. And herself, of course. But in this way she did not rest at all.

Kalliroe was thinking intensely about something else. She wanted to get out of where she was staying. She generally did not like this family and their habits at all. But the worst thing was Katerina’s almost always drunk uncle and the lustful glances he gave her. She remembered her mother’s words about men. But even if her mother had not spoken to her, this man disgusted her.

But how to leave? It was not easy. Her finances were meager and her connections in London non-existent. As much as she tried to act bravely and determined, deep down she was scared. Such a large city, with such crowds, unknown habits, and unknown dangers. If she left Katerina’s aunt’s house, she would necessarily have to stay in another house, with another Cypriot family, which would not guarantee her any freedom. To rent her own apartment, impossible. The money she had left was very little.

Every Sunday they went, along with Katerina’s aunt’s family, to the Orthodox Cathedral, “Ayion Panton” (All saints), in Camden Town. Most of the local Cypriots frequented there and the girls could socialize a bit. To Kalliroe’s great joy, one Sunday she met Elpida there, the friend she made on the ship when they arrived in London. The excitement of both was indescribable. They decided after the church service to stay a while in the area, walk and talk. They would return by bus.

Katerina’s aunt did not like this, but neither did Elpida’s relatives. As conservative Cypriots, they did not approve of the girls’ independence, but the two friends were adamant. Katerina’s aunt forbade her to stay with them, but she could not do much with Kalliroe. The way she looked at her with her cold, grey eyes, and the dynamism they hid, she was somewhat afraid of her. Elpida’s relatives relented after her insistence, but it was clear that they disagreed with this type of independent behavior.

That day was for Kalliroe, the happiest day since she had arrived in London. They walked in the nearby park, ate something in a cafe, but mostly talked. And when they spoke there was such an identity of opinion, that they continually exclaimed:

-Me too!

But they both recognized that it would not be easy to leave the place they stayed. Besides the financial problem, it was the unfamiliar environment. Where should they go? What dangers will they encounter? And if they don’t make it? Either way, they were both raised in an environment that dictated that women had to be cared for by a man to be safe. It took courage to overcome this belief. Of course, Kalliroe and her mother were always alone, and this gave her more determination. Elpida, on the other hand, faced the additional problem of staying with relatives and it would be even more difficult to justify her escape.

But despite the difficulties, they decided: They would leave and rent a place to live together. The two of them would make it. Strength in unity!

From that day they began to have frequent communication trying to coordinate, to organize their lives in such a way that when they were left alone they would have the means to survive.

At first, and with the advice of some other girls, they opened a bank account and put in whatever they had left over every week. Kalliroe also deposited the money her grandmother had given her. So, she did not have to carry them with her every day and risked losing them. She did not even think of leaving them in the house she was staying. There was the greater risk of them disappearing.

During that time Kalliroe also overheard a conversation between Katerina and her aunt which strengthened her decision to leave as soon as possible. The aunt promised Katerina that she would soon find a groom for her, and it would be better if she did not spend too much time with Kalliroe because she could lure her to bad ways.

-She is not the kind who cares for a family, she concluded. Don’t see you her wanting to go around on her own? And what does she want the English lessons,? We have been living here for so many years without knowing English. Who knows where she goes and with whom she spends her time!

These words hurt Kalliroe a lot. She knew that once she left this house she would never look back.

So, they sped up their efforts with Elpida to find a place to stay. A girl in the factory told them about a cheap apartment that an uncle of hers had above his restaurant that sold fish and chips, “fishiadiko”, in the anglicized Greek of the English Cypriots. One Sunday after church they went to see it. It had its share of bad things, but the worst part was that it smelled awful, since all the smells from the fried fish ended up in it. It was also dirty and neglected. However, they could pay the rent that the owner demanded. It was furnished with some old furniture, and though it was not at all satisfactory, they could have been accommodated initially.

Making the breakthrough of their lives they decided to take it. Elpida did not want to stay longer with her uncles either, she could not stand the environment. When she told them she was leaving, there was a big fight. They threatened to tell her parents in Cyprus, who would force her to go back. They predicted that she would be destroyed and many other things. But she was determined to give herself a chance. Her determination forced them to accept it. Besides, there was nothing else they could do. Elpida was now an adult. She had turned eighteen.

Things with Kalliroe were no better. Despite hearing Katerina’s aunt vilify her and not want her to hang out with her niece, she did not like it at all when Kalliroe told her she was leaving. She would lose the rent she paid her, which she now took for granted. It had already been five months since the girls had come to London. She spoke to her very badly, called her ungrateful, even called her a prostitute. But Kalliroe remembered her mother’s words:

-Don’t cry, my girl and never show your feelings to others. Don’t give them such joy.

She did not say anything, just gathered her few belongings and put them in the old suitcase. The last act of humiliation on the aunt’s part was her action of searching Kalliroe’s suitcase before she left in case she had stolen something from the house.

Kalliroe put her jumbled clothes back in the suitcase, opened the door and left. Stepping out into the street she felt the cold air on her face. Breathing deeply, filled with relief and with an air of freedom, she quickened her pace to catch the bus.

When she arrived at the apartment, Elpida was already there. Their first action was to make the two beds that were there and lie on top of them with their clothes on. Staring at the ceiling, they began to list the many tasks that would have to be done to make this miserable apartment look like a home. Kalliroe took a piece of paper and began to write them down:

-Cleaning the cupboards, cleaning the kitchen, cleaning the floors, waxing the wooden surfaces, painting the walls, buying heavy curtains (they could of course get them second hand to be cheaper), maybe they will be able to reduce the smells coming from the “fishiadiko” on the ground floor and many more tasks.

At some point they got tired and fell asleep. Even though the apartment was cold and smelled bad, the two enjoyed a blissful sleep full of dreams and hopes for the future. A future that they expected to build with their own two hands and the strength that their friendship gave them and their courage to fight.

 

Chapter 3

Two and cherished

Kalliroe stopped reminiscing for a moment and got up to make some tea. She was waiting for the younger Kalliroe to have it together, but since it was getting late she decided to prepare hers now and later, the two of them would have something else.

Holding the warm tea in her palms, she sat back in her chair and fondly remembered those years she and Elpida lived in that flat above the “fishadiko” in that poor part of London. They were tiring but very happy years.

It took them a long time to clean the apartment. It was so dirty one could think it had never been cleaned since it was built. They used to come back in the evenings tired from work and for at least two hours they cleaned. When they managed to get it in an acceptable state of cleanliness, they started painting the walls and waxing the wooden surfaces. Then they bought curtains from a thrift store and covered much of the fish smell outside their home. The result was impressive! If the apartment had a tongue, it would say thank you.

But the one who had a tongue and was dazzled when he visited them to collect the rent, was their landlord, Mr. Christos. He could not believe his eyes. He could not recognize that what he was seeing was his own miserable apartment.

-Girls, what you did is incredible, he told them. I don’t know how many workers I should have brought and how much I should have paid for such a result. I won’t charge you for rent for two months. I’ll get someone to fix the heating for you too. Thank you very much!

Thus began a very friendly relationship between the girls, Mr. Christos and his wife, Mrs. Cleo. This couple were very good people and they worked hard to make some money, to educate their children and when they got old to go back to their village, to die in Cyprus, their homeland. Every expatriate’s dream. But in the end very few did it. They continued to live in the foreign land because their children and grandchildren lived there and were buried in a cemetery in this country, to which they had come to find their fortune, but in the end they gave their lives for it.

Mr. Christos and Mrs. Cleo, apart from being their landlords, had also become their friends. They no longer felt alone in a foreign country. They had someone with whom to discuss their problems and questions. They had a family.

When they finished the hard work in the apartment, they started to explore this cosmopolitan city. On Saturday nights they used to go to the cinema and on Sundays they went out to the parks, went down to central London to window shop in expensive department stores. When the weather was nice – not often though – they would take the train and go to seaside resorts like Blackpool, Bournemouth, and others. They enjoyed those excursions very much and felt a strength emerging from within them, which they did not know they had. The power of freedom and independence, the power of being able to shape their lives with their own hands.

-Happy years recalled Kalliroi. The youth! How much energy the youth have! Only the youth have the drive to change the world!

When they got organized in the apartment, they invited Elpida’s uncles for lunch one Sunday. They also called their hosts for coffee because these people had no time for visits. Elpida’s uncles found that their niece now had an acceptable apartment and was living a decent life. Mr. Christos and his wife praised the girls in front of them, said that they were worthy and well-meaning girls, so they stopped worrying, at least for now.

One day and completely unexpectedly, Katerina visited them. Kalliroe was very surprised about this visit. She knew the aunt’s feelings for her, and she also knew Katerina’s blind obedience to the aunt. She considered Katerina’s daring a very brave venture.

Katerina was a bit anxious and nervous at first. She was rubbing her hands together, looking around awkwardly as if searching for something.

-You did very well, she said at the end. This is how I would like to make my house! Very nice, she repeated.

The girls prepared tea and waited patiently to find out the reason for this sudden visit.

-I’m getting married, she told them suddenly.

-When? They both asked in unison.

-Next Sunday, she answered. But I won’t invite you. My aunt won’t let me. I would like to invite you.

-It doesn’t matter, Kalliroe told her. Is he a good man? Do you love him?

-What does love has to do with marriage? Katerina said mechanically. My aunt says he is a good groom. He has his own business. This is the destiny of women. To marry and have children. The rest are fairy tales.

It was Kalliroe’s and Elpida’s turn to feel uncomfortable. The image that Katerina presented of her marriage scared them. Surely it was the aunt’s work, but the idea of ​​a marriage, under such circumstances, made them shudder. They did not ask much so as not to put Katerina in a more difficult position. They wished her well and kissed her. As she reached the door to leave, she turned, looked at them and asked anxiously:

  • Will you girls get married?
  • Well, when the right one is found, Elpida said laughing.

Then she was silent because she thought, maybe in this way she offended Katerina. Kalliroe said nothing. The subject of marriage had a very dark and uncertain picture in her mind. However, Katerina was never seen again after that day. Nor did they learn anything about her.

Those years, Kalliroe thought, how many could they have been? Three, four, five? She could not remember. They were happy years. Not because their lives were easy. Not even because they had a lot of money. But there were two of them. Ever since her mother died, she has always been one. And by now, at eighty-three years old, one she was. In those years there were two. Two and cherished.

-Strength in unity, she whispered.

She remembered that was the time she relaxed, perhaps for the first time in her life, and from her grey eyes came a glow and a light that made her look beautiful. She could tell by the way men looked at her, and the strange thing was that she almost was not scared. She had forgotten her mother’s words for a while.

-Happy years, she thought again. It was then that I had that thought: I don’t want anything else in my life, my God. I’m happy.

But such statements stir up winds and give birth to storms that violently invade the lives of the naive and shatter their complacency. Because life is a struggle and a journey forward. Such moments are moments of respite from the long competitive course of life. Those who were lucky enough to experience them should not mourn them later but celebrate them. It is for these moments that we should rejoice at the end of our lives.

Kalliroe rose from her chair again.

-Why is Kalliroe late? she thought again.

Then she smiled. Such is youth. Full of activities and meetings. An old woman like herself has nothing else to expect except a visit from a young woman. But how much does the young woman have to do? How many to see and how many to talk to? Visiting her old aunt can wait.

So Kalliroe sank back into her thoughts. They were having a great time with Elpida. How well matched the two were! How they enjoyed their excursions! Kalliroe had almost forgotten her dreams of professional advancement. She just worked in the factory to earn money and enjoy life. They had managed with Elpida to make a small bank deposit for each of them and now they had some financial security. They were not the frightened girls who had come from Cyprus to the unknown county of the rich conquerors of their homeland.

Kalliroe, all these years, continued to correspond with her friend Eleni from Cyprus and that is how she learned the news. For the struggle of EOKA for independence, for the rebellion of the Turkish Cypriots, for the riots of 1963. She knew everything and was sorry for everything. But she was far away in another country, this country that was the cause of the suffering in her own homeland. Homelands get involved, she thought, politicians say and do their own thing, and everyday people get killed. Everyday people, like her, always pay the price.

She returned to her thoughts again. There came a time when Elpida often visited her uncles. Alone, she did not invite Kalliroe to accompany her. One day, after her return, she announced to Kalliroe:

-I’ll get married. My uncles found me a young man from Cyprus, and I will take him.

Kalliroe was startled at first. She was completely unprepared for this development. Elpida had not said anything to her before, as if she was afraid of her reaction.

-How, when did you meet him? Is he a good man; Do you love him?

-He seems like a good guy. Originally from Paphos and now living in Manchester. He is a tailor. We will be able to work together. I saw him a few times at my uncles house, and we talked. I want to have a family I want to have children. We’re both having a good time, but for how long? We will grow old, and I want children.

-But do you love him? Kalliroe asked again.

-I don’t know him enough to love him, replied Elpida, after a short pause. Even if it doesn’t turn out well, I can divorce him. The important thing is to have children. I want children of my own, Kalliroe.

So Elpida married the young man from Paphos and left for Manchester. At first they corresponded, calling each other now and then, but little by little Elpida fell silent. Maybe because she had a lot of work – she had also given birth to a daughter – maybe because she was not happy and did not want Kalliroe to know.

She, on the other hand, suddenly lost her confidence, she felt so alone. At night she locked and double-locked the doors, she was afraid of losing her wallet, she did not recognize herself. It was then that she concluded that one should not base their happiness on others. Everyone leaves at a point and never comes back. She should find a way to be happy on her own.

She began to remember her original dreams when she first came to London. To find a job in another factory, where they cared about the quality of the clothes, to be able to fit the fabric to the customer’s body, make frames and pleats and see the result and be happy. To enjoy the result of her own work.

She now bought newspapers every day and looked in the classifieds for factories that wanted raptors of this type. Such advertisements were not common. Everything was now industrialized, and the Cypriots were very active in this sector. But that was not what she was looking for. One day she saw an ad that she thought might meet her expectations. But this factory was very far from where she lived, it was in south London. It would take an hour to get there by subway. She would try though.

That day she did not go to work at the factory where she worked. She started early, studied the route on the map several times and each time forgot it. She understood that she was confused and afraid. But she would do it. The time had come for her to face life all alone.

She arrived in the area on time and thus had the comfort of finding the factory she was looking for. She went inside and told the girl at the reception the purpose of her visit. She thought that in their own factory they had no one at the reception. The girl led her to a room where four more ladies were waiting. In a little while, a tall and slender Englishwoman entered, wearing a strict grey suit and bone-framed glasses in white. Her hair was grey and tied in a bun at the back of her head. She was one of those English women who scared you.

She looked at them coldly and told them to follow her. She took them into a room full of sewing machines and gave each of them a jacket of white satin, with pleats and cuts. Then she gave them cloth cut and told them to make one of the same. Kalliroe had never seen such a difficult design. She was shaking and felt sweat on her face.

She sat on the machine, took the jacket in her hands, and began to study it. The garment slipped through her fingers, as if it had a will of its own, as if it were alive. Kalliroe treated it with tenderness and caressed it. As soon as she came into contact with it, she forgot her fear, forgot her insecurity, forgot the English lady who was silently watching them. The garment began to obey her, bending and forming into a jacket. She did not pay attention to the time; she did not care if she was late. She wanted to give this unruly fabric life.

When she finished she realized that the English lady was still standing over her. She took the jacket from her hands, took off hers and put it on. The fabric flowed over her body, giving her an airy look. As if it even lit up her stern face. She then thanked all the ladies and told them she would let them know about the job.

Kalliroe was about to leave when the lady called her into her office. She gave her a seat, offered her tea, and asked her details about her life, how she learned to sew, etc. She was even surprised that Kalliroe was not English since she spoke English so well and looked English.

All this seemed very strange to Kalliroe. Then she spoke to her clearly and sternly:

In addition to workers for the factory, we are looking for a personal assistant for me. We must sew the wedding dress of a Lord’s daughter. This wedding dress is quite elaborate and difficult. I need an assistant because I cannot constantly deal with only one subject. I think you do us. You look very good and from what you told me you know how to try out the clothes to the clients. We’ll give you forty pounds per week to begin with, and if you’re as good as you show we’ll soon make it fifty. We will sign related contracts of course.

Kalliroi was impressed by the salary, but without knowing how, she found the courage to express her concerns to the lady.

-You know, she said, the salary is very good, and I like the job very much. But I live in Camden Town, and it took me an hour in the morning to get here. As you know the underground is expensive and I won’t have enough money left. On the other hand, this area seems very expensive, and I can’t rent a room here.

The lady fell silent for a while and then said:

-I don’t often say this, but you’re very good and I want you. We have a room in the attic that we can give you initially, for what you pay where you live. It has a kitchenette and bathroom. Let me show it to you.

The room was small and smelled musty, but it looked like a small palace compared to her own apartment. Kalliroe could get comfortable until she found something better. As for the smell, there would be a way to vent it to get rid of the mold. So, she agreed with Mrs. Jones, as she learned her name was.

She returned in the evening to the apartment and spoke to Mr. Christos and Mrs. Cleo. They encouraged her and gave her their blessings. She left all the things they had bought with Elpida in the apartment.. She had nowhere to store them. They could now rent the apartment for three times the price. That is how much it had been upgraded.

The next day she packed her clothes, put them in the old suitcase and made her way to her new job. Some kitchen utensils she would take with her, she would return to get them later.

 

Chapter 4

The fabrics

Kalliroe the youngest entered like a tornado, holding a packet of sweets in her hand.

-Hello Aunt Kallie, sorry I’m late. You see jobs! I brought sweets to accompany our coffee. I’m going to get it ready. Instead, would you like some tea?

Kalliroe laughed at this girl’s fury.

-It doesn’t matter! She replied This is how youth should be. All life and energy. I have always said that only young people can change the world. I’ll have coffee with you, thanks. I ‘ve just got my tea.

Kalliroe, the youngest, did not take long to bring the coffee and the sweets. They both sat on the veranda facing the view towards the sea. The girl stared for a while at the old woman sitting next to her. She looked so classy; ​​one would think she was born into wealth. No one could have imagined that she was the most despised and poor child of this village, many, many years ago.

-Tell me Aunt Kalli about your life in London, Kalliroe the younger pleaded. I really like these stories. You tell them so well that I think I’ve lived in that era too.

-I don’t know how you handle me and I’m telling you all this! I’ve never talked to anyone but you.

Kalliroe the youngest gave her a sly wink and looked at her sweetly. So, Aunt Kalli succumbed to her charm and began to speak:

-Before you came I was reflecting on my life. I will pick up where I left off with my thoughts. I have told you about my friend Elpida, who at some stage got married and left. Then I was really alone in the vastness of London. At first I was terribly scared and insecure, until I got that job that changed my life.

-From the first day Mrs. Jones, the head of my new job, took me by her side and we began together to study the wedding dress we were going to sew. She showed me the patterns and the fabric. I had never seen anything more beautiful in my life. A simple yet beautiful design, with a collar that rose high at the back of the neck and ended in a V shape near the neck. It accentuated the waist and ended in a long tail. The sleeves again ended in a V shape and covered the upper part of the hand ending in a nipple that passed over the middle finger. The base of the wedding dress was made of satin fabric and was completely covered with lace.

-From what you tell me, it looks like the wedding dress you sewed for my mother for her wedding, commented Kalliroe the youngest.

-Yes, I will tell you about it later. What impressed me the most was the lace. It was very delicate, and between the threads, passed a very fine gold thread, which was actually only visible when the light fell on it and gave the wedding dress a glow that seemed to emanate from the body of the woman who wore it. It wasn’t anything intense or flashy. So many years in fashion and I’ve never seen anything like it.

-Mrs Jones explained to me that this family, who had been lords for many years, somehow had lace as their emblem and so all the brides wore wedding dresses made of lace. It was some family tradition, so to speak.

-At first we cut the wedding dress in cheaper fabric. Only the final result would be cut from the very expensive materials that would make it up. When it was time to visit the bride-to-be to try on the bridal gown, Mrs. Jones looked me from top to bottom and left the room for a while. When she returned she brought me a dress from the ones they sewed in their own factory, in light blue.

Wear this tomorrow, she told me.

-I can’t buy it, I answered her. It is too expensive for me.

-You won’t buy it, she told me. I will give it to you. And something else. From tomorrow I will introduce you as Kalli Michelle, the last name with a French accent, she pointed out.

-From that moment I was called Kalli Michelle and with that name I lived the rest of my life. A more elegant name, according to Mrs. Jones, that suggested a mysterious origin. The evening when I tried the dress on in my room, I noticed that its light blue color reflected in my eyes and made them look brighter and less gray. At that time, I was very closed, and my gaze was frozen, trying to hide my feelings and the insecurity I felt. The blue dress took all my anti-social defenses away and brought out the young girl I was back then.

-From the first time I had encountered the fabrics, then with Mrs. Penelope, I had felt a special connection with them. But that day I realized that they have a magical power to project or hide people’s feelings and if you know how to handle them correctly you can transform the ugly duckling into a swan.

-The next day a car came from the family house, if I remember correctly their name was Raffiel or something like that and picked up Mrs. Jones and me. I was wearing the blue dress and I was holding a big box with the wedding dress sample, and everything related. We traveled for about an hour and arrived at a very large house, just outside of London. The first time in my life I had seen such a big house. It was a three-story mansion of the kind you see in the English countryside, probably Victorian. All around it had gardens with lovely flowers and even further outside it was surrounded by a private forest. It was like entering the world of fairy tales. We were greeted by the housekeeper and led to a room that seems to have been used exclusively for sewing. Until we got there, however, I was looking around with my mouth open. For the first time in my life, I had seen so much luxury. I didn’t even know such a thing could exist in the world. Everywhere plush furniture, Persian carpets, paintings, chandeliers, and everything shining with cleanliness and order.

-As soon as we entered the sewing room, Mrs. Jones told me to open the box and take out the makeshift wedding dress. Soon the bride-to-be came with her mother. They greeted Mrs. Jones, and she introduced me as her assistant, Kalli Michelle, emphasizing the French pronunciation of my last name.

-The girl’s name was Alison, and she wasn’t particularly pretty. You could probably call her colorless. I couldn’t think of how the gorgeous wedding dress would look on her. Mrs. Jones suggested that she undress behind the screen, which was there, and gave her, to put on the makeshift wedding dress.

-When Mrs. Jones started fitting the dress, I was helping her and watching carefully. Her hands moved over the fabric, finding the weak spots on Alison’s body, and she skillfully created cuts and pleats, accentuating the waist, and counteracting the somewhat bloated tummy. She paid special attention to the raised collar, so that the girl’s neck was projected and appeared thin and long. Everything she did was aimed not only at fitting the dress as best as possible, but mostly at flattering Alison.

-I had never seen such dexterity, the way her hands moved with such mastery and speed, you thought they were magical. I can’t tell you how much I learned from Mrs. Jones, may God rest her soul where she is!

-Aunt Kalli, with your descriptions you make sewing seem like a very wonderful art.

-It’s my child! A well-tailored garment that fits you can change your life, as strange as it may seem. Unfortunately, this industrialization, where all clothes are sewn the same for everyone, has nullified this ability.

-It’s not exactly like that! Now clothes are cheaper, and you can choose what suits you!

-Maybe, but the magic is gone.

-And what happened next?

-By the time the wedding dress was over, I had fallen in love with it. If I ever get married I thought, I would like to wear such a wedding dress. And then I decided to copy the drawing and keep it. It wasn’t that difficult. Everything was in my hands. I knew of course that I could never buy such an expensive fabric, but that wouldn’t be a problem. With the association I had with fabrics, I would find something similar, cheaper and the result would be if not the same, just as good.

-Well, our obligation was not only to sew the wedding dress, but also to prepare clothes for the wedding, for all the women in the family. So, visiting the house lasted several weeks. All the clothes we sewed, however, in one way or another had something of lace in them, so that the family tradition was followed. And this was done with great skill and grace. In one of the women the blouse, under the suit, was made of lace, in the other it was on the bodice of the dress or even a collar. In the meantime, I had gained such experience in dress rehearsals that I often went by myself, without Mrs. Jones.

-That’s when I met Lady Raffiel, the oldest lady in the family. She was Alison’s grandmother and would have been the age I am today. She was also a very beautiful lady, with white hair held in a bun high on her head and always wearing something made of lace. Her manners were very classy and at the same time she was incredibly accommodating and friendly. She knew how to stay aloof, as befits her position, but at the same time she would open channels to welcome you into her world if she deemed you worthy as a human being. She measured a person by ones quality, not by ones origin.

-Meanwhile on the day of the wedding, Mrs. Jones and I would go over to the Raffiels’ house in case the bride or any other lady needed a last-minute touch-up on her dress. So, for the first time I saw the house decorated for a wedding. Flower arrangements everywhere, even the staircase from which the bride would descend was decorated with flowers. They had prepared a large hall where the couple would receive their guests and next to it was the dining room where dinner would be served. Flowers everywhere, porcelain, silver cutlery, and crystal glasses. The luxury was fabulous for me. The wedding ceremony would take place in a chapel located within the confines of the mansion.

-Of course, we were not among the guests, but that did not prevent us from enjoying the luxury and beauty that prevailed. The wedding cake was three-tiered, decorated with sculptural pink roses, made of fondant, and topped with a sugar effigy of the couple. Much to my surprise the sugar wedding dress looked like the real thing!

-We ended up in the room where the bride would get dressed and helped her. There was also the hairdresser who combed her hair into a high bun to highlight her neck and the make-up artist who took care of her make-up. This piece really impressed me. I saw how masterfully she used the various cosmetics to correct any imperfections and add color to her pale skin, without exaggeration, but with discretion so that the result looked completely natural, while Alison was already transformed into an incredibly beautiful bride. When her father came to escort her, she looked like a fairytale princess.

-The question, Aunt Kalli, is whether they also lived a fairytale life. Not only would one day of their lives be a fairytale!

-I do not know that. What stayed with me was a beautiful day, in a lovely house, perfectly decorated. This of course was the impression I got, what I learned was the mastery with which one can make up to project the beauty hidden inside. And believe me, I used this knowledge later in my life.

-What I may not have explained to you was that the factory I worked for at the time had two departments. One sewed clothes for expensive London shops and the other bespoke clothes for wealthy families. I was working in the second department. So, my daily work brought me into contact with these rich and aristocratic English people.

-Most of them were indifferent for me, but I kept watching them and learning from their habits and ways. You shouldn’t believe that because they were aristocrats, they were also superior people. Far from it. Many of them were arrogant, gossipy, petty, and stingy. But there were people cultured, refined, radiated nobility and superiority. One such lady was Lady Raffiel, about whom I spoke to you earlier. My relationship with her did not end with the consummation of Alison’s marriage. I still went to their house and prepared dresses for them.

-One day I was told to wait for the Lady in the library. Unconsciously, while waiting, I began to read the titles of the books that were on the shelves next to me. I hadn’t read many books before, nor did I have any inclination for reading. Besides, life itself had not left me much room for such activities.

-When the Lady came in and saw me looking at the books, she asked me if I liked reading. I was really embarrassed when I told her that I have hardly read any books in my life. The Lady then took a book off the shelf and gave it to me. It was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

-If you like it, she told me, I’ll give you more books to read. Books can help you in two ways. Learn about the world around you, from when it was created until today, and learn about the world hidden in your own heart.

-I doubtfully took the book in my hands and thanked the Lady. When I read it later, I identified so much with the heroine, I was moved and cried so much, even though I couldn’t tell whether I was crying for her suffering or for my own life.

At that moment, the mobile phone of Kalliroe the younger rang and she walked away for a while to answer it. Aunt Kalli waited patiently and when she returned she said apologetically.

-I’m sorry auntie but I must go. But I will come back soon. I want to know the continuation of this story! I find your path through life very interesting.

And she got into her car and way away. Kalliroe gathered the cups and sweets and went inside. She washed them and tidied them up. She sat on the couch for a while and listened to the silence of her home. She had traveled a lot in the past today.

-Enough, she thought. Let me turn on the TV and travel for a while in other people’s lives. It’s redemptive at times.

 

Chapter 5

The words

The next morning, as Kalliroe woke up, she felt a strange feeling come over her. The memories of the previous day carried with them all the emotions of that time, not all of which were pleasant but often permeated by anxiety, insecurity, and uncertainty.

Indeed, her work was for her a driving force that gave purpose and impetus to her daily life, but the environment around her was not rosy. Mrs. Jones, while she was the best sewing teacher she ever had, was an awkward woman, who the other girls at work avoided and called cranky.

Kalliroe, however, as her personal assistant, had to be with her constantly and tolerate all her whims. Many times, she shouted for no reason and made unfair remarks, but Kalliroe endured her because she knew that she would never find anyone who knew the art of sewing so well to teach her. She was just trying to ignore her – which was hard a lot of the time.

One day, the owner of the company they worked for called her to her office and said:

-I know it’s hard to work with Mrs. Jones, but please be patient. No one can teach you what she knows. In a few years she will have retired and if you stay on the job you will take her place. Both we and the customers are very happy with you. You realize of course that your salary will skyrocket.

So Kalliroe had another incentive to be patient. But she missed Elpida immensely. In this part of London where she lived now, there were not many Cypriots and if there were any, she did not know them. At first, on Sundays, she used to go and visit her old landowners in Camden Town. Gradually, though she stopped because those people were always very busy and had little time to receive visitors.

Then she started hanging out with the girls from the factory. They were almost all English. At first she went with them to the cinema but little by little they pressured her and took her a few times to the pubs they frequented. Kalliroe did not like the environment there. Everybody smoked and drank heavily until they lost control. Then they could not distinguish whom they knew and whom they did not know. They mingled with groups of boys who were equally drunk and either they ended up in their beds or kissing in the streets outside the pub. In most cases they were never seen each other again.

Kalliroe of course did not participate, she felt awful in this environment and wanted to leave. One day a young man grabbed her by the waist, leaned her against the wall of the pub and started kissing her. With difficulty she managed to push him and run away. As soon as she got home she ran into the bathroom and threw up. She took off her clothes and bathed to get rid of his stench, which she unfortunately felt inside her until the next day.

That night she cried a lot. She remembered Elpida and wondered many times if Elpida was right to marry the young man from Cyprus. At least she has never been in this situation, she thought. She decided that she would certainly not go out with the girls from the factory again. She wanted nothing to do with either them or the colorless English youths who frequented the pubs. Her mother’s words were often repeated within her and shaped her relationships with people, especially with men:

-Never, ever trust men and the words of love they say. Never give them your body before marriage. They will abandon you!

The events of that time and the decisions she made led her to absolute loneliness, which she had to find some way to deal with. Her work was her first channel. It was at that time that she began to copy the models she sewed for rich ladies and make clothes for herself. Because those models were often unique and she did not want to be accused of replicating, she shaped them in her own way, used different fabrics and often the result was better than the original.

But she had nowhere to wear those clothes. They were too classy for her own environment. At work she wore elegant but strict suits, like Mrs. Jones, and on her few outings she wore the fashionable clothes of the time, which were miniskirts and dresses. The wonderful models she sewed stayed in her closet.

At that time, too, she took pleasure in her visits to the Raffiel home and meetings with the elderly Lady. Their relations became more and more friendly, and the Lady advised her in various fields. One day she asked her:

-My dear Kalli, I would not like to interfere in your personal affairs, but if you want, I could advise you on how to manage your finances. Do you have any money deposited? And if so, how do you leverage them?

Kalliroe told her that she had a bank account that holds her savings and nothing else. She had no idea how to manage her money. Then the Lady suggested that she could invest an amount, stressing to her that she should never invest all her money in stocks because they always have a risk.

-You should invest only a part of your money, she told her, because while there are prospects for them to increase, there is also the possibility of losing an amount. So, you must be very careful. But this is a good way to increase your income and be able to buy your own apartment. One of my sons is a stockbroker and if you want it too I could ask him to help you in this area.

Kalliroe thought a lot before deciding something like this. She was quite conservative in her choices in these matters but had great confidence in the Lady and her advice. It was with trepidation, one might say, that she agreed to invest £1,000 of her hard-earned savings. These included the hundred English pounds that her grandmother had given her before she left Cyprus.

Lady Raffiel’s son was just as kind and serious as his mother. He managed Kalliroe’s small amount of money wisely and managed to secure her a permanent extra income, which depending on the ups and downs of the market could sometimes skyrocket, sometimes remain stable and sometimes temporarily decrease. This small investment, however, took Kalliroe out of the category of hard-working girls with no future and gave her the prospect of a modest financial comfort. To this day, at the age of eighty-three, Kalliroe had an amount that she invested in the same company and received its profits every year.

At that moment the bell rang and snapped Kalliroe out of her thoughts.

-It will be Mrs. Niki; she thought and came to take care of the house.

It was really Mrs. Niki who came twice a week and took care of her house. She could no longer do many things on her own. So, this good woman helped her to keep her house clean, as she always had in her life.

Before starting her work, Mrs. Niki and Kalliroe had breakfast and coffee together. Their relationship was very friendly and Kalliroe helped this woman as much as she could with the financial needs of her family. So, Mrs. Niki took care of her as if she were her mother or grandmother.

While Mrs. Niki was cleaning the house, Kalliroi went out into the garden. It was spring and the rose bushes were beginning to bloom. Kalliroe tended them, pruned them, and cut off anything dry or diseased she saw on their branches. She might not be able to do heavy work anymore, but she did not stop being as active as she could. She believed that work keeps a person healthy and strong.

When she finished tending the roses, she sat on the porch and began reading a book. Lady Raffiel came to her mind again. It was this woman who introduced her to the world of books and made her life interesting in the lonely reality she was experiencing at the time. She remembered that then her gaze had become hard and grey again, hiding her own world deep within her soul and keeping the people around her at a distance. She was afraid that they would desecrate her with their callous actions and indifferent attitudes.

Through the world of books, Kalliroe had begun to discover the magic of words. At the same time, she began to identify the mastery that each writer used, combining words with each other to create images and evoke emotions. She even made associations with the subject she knew so well: fabrics. By themselves they may say little, but with the right combinations of texture and color one could create masterpieces. The same with words. The right combinations between them could captivate the reader, and even soften her own grey eyes, which often teared up while reading.

At first she only read English books; the ones Lady Raffiel gave her. Little by little, however, she realized that she hardly remembered her mother tongue at all. She still corresponded with her friend Eleni from Cyprus and many times it was almost impossible to find the right words to write what she wanted. In fact, she did not speak any Greek where she lived now. When she realized this, she was really scared. She felt that she was a person without identity and origin, and she did not want this at all.

She sat down and began to think about who she really was and what she was doing in this country. She knew her father was English. His identity was reflected in her face, but her soul was Cyprus. She had been born in that beautiful village on the slope of the Troodos mountain range and every morning she woke up, she could face the sea in the distance. Although she had been hurt so much in her childhood and youth, she loved that place. She felt it more hers than the foggy landscape of London.

-Then why did I come here? She wondered.

-I came for a better future, she answered herself. The poverty I experienced then, and the lack of my own people did not keep me there. But now deep inside I feel my place calling me. The soul of everyone has its roots where one was born. Of course, what I found here, work, knowledge, and opportunities, I would never have found in my village. But I’ve been more alone since then.

The next time she visited the Raffiel home, when Lady Raffiel suggested they take tea together, Kalliroe told her, her thoughts. This good lady, whom Kalliroe was blessing every day of her life, said to her then:

-My child, for no reason should you forget your mother tongue. Not even the country you were born in. You yourself will have to define your identity. And surely this, whether you like it or not, includes your place, your language, and your origin. I know that in central London there is a bookstore that has Greek books. I will find out the address and give it to you. You should start reading in Greek too.

Indeed, the Lady found the address of the bookstore and gave it to her. It did not take long for Kalliroe to visit it. The first thing she bought was an English-Greek dictionary because she knew better English than Greek. The bookseller tried very hard to help her and suggested her books by Venezis, Myrivilis and other authors of the time.

At first it was very difficult for her to read them because there were so many unknown words. She had the desire to leave the Greek books and return to the English ones, but she resisted. Little by little she began to enjoy this language which may have been her mother tongue but which she had never learned well. When she was able to read without difficulty, she found that there was a magic and a dance in the words and sounds that made the English language very poor by comparison.

In this way, Kalliroe was able to speak and write perfectly in two languages. This made her very proud, especially knowing that the Cypriots of London spoke a worn mixture of both languages.

She thought again fondly of Lady Raffiel. How much she owed to this woman who stood by her, like a mother, like a sister, even like a friend. She never considered her humble origins and never kept a distance between them, even though they were separated by so much. She was the guardian angel of her life, she was her good fairy, at a time when she was completely alone in the vastness of London.

Another subject she had discussed with her was her ancestry. For the first and only time in her life she spoke about her English father.

-That’s why you look so much like an Englishwoman, she exclaimed, when she found out. Do you know your father’s name my child? We could look for him. There are records of the soldiers who served in Cyprus at that time.

-No, all I know is that his name was Michael. That’s why I was given that last name too. In Cyprus it is customary for children to take their father’s first name as their last name. My mother didn’t want to talk about it so I had never pushed her. I don’t think there’s any chance we’ll find him. And on the other hand, what’s the point anymore? When I needed him, he was never there.

-But it would be good for you to find and meet your siblings. I know how lonely you are. Tell me a few details: date, location, and anything else you know.

Unfortunately, she did not know much herself. She only told her the date of her birth and the town of Limassol. The Lady never came back on the matter, however. Maybe she did not find anything, maybe if she did, her family did not want to meet her. However, nothing changed in her life after this conversation.

At that moment she heard Mrs. Niki calling her. Someone was asking for her on the phone. She returned home and of course it was her beloved Kalliroe.

-Aunt Kalli, tomorrow at noon I will come to pick you up, let’s go down to the sea for lunch. Put on your beautiful clothes, so that I can show off next to you.

-Well crazy girl, she answered, I’ll be ready around one o clock.

-My good new angel, she thought. And she smiled tenderly.

 

Chapter 6

The theatre

Aunt Kalli and Kalliroe the youngest sat at a small table in a beach restaurant. The tourists who were there as well as the locals turned to look at them. They presented an impressive sight. Aunt Kalli dressed as an English Lady and Kalliroe shining with youth, vitality, smiles, and eroticism. It was a rare image for the beach restaurant.

As soon as they sat down Aunt Kallie detected the smell of fish coming from the kitchen. She immediately remembered the flat she and Elpida had above a fish and chips restaurant in Camden Town in London. The difference was that there that smell was so bad that you wanted to get rid of it, while here, by the sea, it seems so perfect!

-You know my dear Kalliroe, my friend Elpida and I once lived in an apartment above a fish and chip shop and the biggest problem we had was the smell of the fried fish. Here the same smell whets your appetite. Even smells have their time and place. Like everything in life.

-Really, you’ve talked to me about this friend of yours many times. Have you kept in touch with her?

-Unfortunately, not. When Elpida got married and left for Manchester we corresponded for a while, but then she stopped. She had also had a daughter in the meantime and maybe she didn’t have time, I don’t know the real reason. When I left Camden Town, at a time when I was lonely and missed her a lot, I wrote to her again. But the letter came back marked “Unknown”. She probably changed address, who knows?

-Have you ever looked for her again?

-But how?I had no clue where she lived.

Would you like to see her again?

-Of course, I would. But I can’t imagine how I could find her.

-Aunt Kalli, we live in the digital age! Everything is possible! Give me some info and I’ll look for her.

-What can I tell you; I don’t know many things. Her name was Elpida, Elias I think was her last name, she came from Larnaca. Her husband’s name was, if I remember correctly, Yiannis and he came from Paphos. I don’t remember his last name, but neither the name of his village.

Kalliroe, meanwhile, was writing down, in the notebook of her mobile phone, the information that Kalli was giving her.

-When was she born? What was her daughter’s name? Do you remember her parents’ names?

-We must have been about the same age, that is, she must have been born around 1940. Ah! now I remember, I think her birthday was December 25, 1940, 1941 or 1939. Somewhere around there. She named her daughter Maria, as her mother was called, and her father must have been called Elias. I don’t remember anything else.

-When you say she came from Larnaca, do you mean the city or any village?

-Not from the city of Larnaca, Skala. But you don’t tell me, how are you going to find her? Are you going to put an ad in the newspaper?

-Of course not! Today there is Facebook! You can find everyone there.

-And do you think that Elpida has a Facebook?

-It doesn’t matter if Elpida has a Facebook, chances are her children or grandchildren do. Someone who knows her after all!

-I hope you find her, my child. I don’t know what to say.

At that moment the food they ordered was brought and Kalliroe, the aunt, smelled the fresh fish once more. How different it felt to her now from then in Mr. Christos’s fish and chips restaurant! They began to enjoy their food, continuing their conversation.

-Tell me Aunt Kalli, the day before yesterday at your house you started talking to me about your life when you got the new job in that factory and sewed a wedding dress and clothes for that aristocratic wedding. What happened next;

-Yes, then my life completely changed. My job was very interesting, and I loved it, but I was alone, I had no friends to match and the only person I trusted was Alison’s grandmother – the bride for whom we sewed the wedding dress for – Lady Raffiel.

-So, this woman helped me to organize my finances, she introduced me to her son who was a stockbroker and with his help I started to invest part of my money, earning a good income, in addition to my salary. Meanwhile my salary was increasing year by year because my bosses didn’t want to lose me at all. Around 1967-68, Mrs. Jones also retired and so I took her place.

-With the help and acquaintances of Lady Raffiel, I managed to buy a flat in a very good area of London, which today is worth a fortune. Back then of course it was much cheaper. At the same time, while I was sewing clothes for rich English women, I copied the models and sewing similar clothes for myself, with some changes so that they wouldn’t look the same and I would be accused of copying. But I had nowhere to wear them.

-Well aunty, didn’t you have any girlfriends? Weren’t you going out?

-No, my child. I was very alone, I worked, I read a lot, I went sometimes to the cinema, I walked in London parks, but I couldn’t wear those clothes there. My only friend at the time was Lady Raffiel, as strange as that may sound.

-We actually had something in common. She was also alone. Her husband had died a long time ago. Her children and grandchildren were so absorbed in their own pursuits and social lives that no one had time to deal with her. She herself was a very spiritual person and the social habits of her environment did not particularly interest her. To her I was an unformed dough that she could shape into a lady of the aristocracy. And this she did as best she could.

-On the other hand, I was thirsty for learning, thirsty for knowledge, almost begging for guidance. So, the two of us got along really well. The only thing we didn’t calculate, neither of us, was that no matter what, inside my own heart was the seed that had been planted in my childhood: that I was inferior to others. And I paid for that later in life. Very expensive indeed.

-But let’s put things in order. First our meetings took place whenever I was sent from my work to prepare some dress for the ladies of the family. Later the Lady would invite me every now and then to have tea together and chat. These visits pleased me very much. She was always willing to teach, and I was willing to learn.

-One day she suggested that we go to the theater together to watch a play. I was excited. I had never been to the theater! Of course, I immediately accepted. It would be a Shakespeare play. If I’m not mistaken it was “Romeo and Juliet”. She even gave me a text to read so I could follow it without difficulty.

-On the day we were going, I tried on all the clothes that I had sewn and had never worn, until I chose the right one, I put on make-up, as I saw the professionals put on the ladies of the aristocracy, and I became unrecognizable. I was even impressed by the result!

-When they came with her chauffeur to pick me up, they were both pleasantly surprised by my appearance. I looked like an English aristocrat. I saw in the Lady’s eyes the approval and I was very happy.

-My first impression of the theater was of the building itself. It was an old building, with velvet seats, balconies, galleries, wood-carved decoration, and generally a magnificence that I had never seen before. When we sat down and I found that there were little binoculars in the front seat so we could see the actors up close, I was excited like child. I got them and watched almost the entire show through them.

-The tragedy of the show’s story moved me, and I cried so much at the end that I almost ruined my make-up. This is how my journey into the world of entertainment and culture began. A journey that lasted many years.

-So, did you go to the theater with Lady again?

-Of course, we went. I had become her constant companion. We went everywhere together. At the theater, at the opera, at classical music concerts. At least once a week we attended performances of all kinds. It was a very happy period of my life.

-Well, didn’t you prefer going out with your peers, going to discos, clubs, etc.?

-I preferred going out with the Lady. On the one hand I liked those kinds of shows, but also the Lady’s presence provided me with a veil of safety from all dangers. I’ve never had anything like this in my life. The feeling that I was protected from the malice and criticism of society was unprecedented for me. I had grown up with a mother scorned and her lesson was always:

-Never show your feelings to others. Don’t give them such pleasure.

-Since then, my eyes had frozen, and behind their grey color they closed the door of my soul.

-With the Lady things were completely different. At first, by the way I dressed and behaved, no one could guess that I was just a seamstress in a factory. On the other hand, when we met Lady’s acquaintances, she would introduce me as Kalli Michele, making a vague reference to the fact that I was active in the field of fashion.

-Many times, we laughed later, when the various ladies, accustomed to pretending to remember whoever spoke to them, making vague references to past meetings, which never happened, did the same with me.

-Oh yes, they said, I remember you from such and such a fashion show. How are you? Are you well? The outfit you are wearing is wonderful. Where did you get it from?

-And I then answered full of mystery: it was custom made especially for me.

-But if we met a smarter lady, who would not be satisfied with such vague answers, the Lady would immediately find an excuse and we would leave. So, I felt safe with her. I knew I couldn’t be exposed.

-I was beginning to like this game of pretending to be an aristocrat. I realized then that all people are equally insecure and flawed. These do not change with social class, wealth, or education. The only difference is that the poor often have an inferiority complex and the rich often have a superiority complex. However, in both cases it is a complex.

Kalliroe the younger laughed at the older lady’s remark.

-You put it wisely, Aunt Kalli! The point is that one should not have a complex! Like your friend, the Lady. She must have been a great woman as you describe her to me.

-Yes, she was the most wonderful woman I met in my life. And I’m very lucky that she came on my way.

-Are you saying, aunt, that all this is by chance? In other words, do all the people we meet in our life who influence us come by chance or are we destined to meet them?

-I was never good at such answers, my dear Kalliroe. What I know for sure is that life took a lot from me in my childhood and maybe it owed me something later. On the other hand, it is also a matter of choice. When I met Lady Raffiel, I had also met the girls from the factory who frequented the pubs and discos. I – despite my young age – chose to hang out with the Lady. I could have chosen the opposite. What would be the result in this case, no one knows.

-You’re right. When we take a path in life, we never know where the one we didn’t take would lead us.

And she happily added:

-But you see aunt that I chose you too, instead of my noisy friends.

-You keep balance. You go out with your friends, but you also hang out with me. Maybe that’s for the best. I acted one-dimensionally.

-Really, in all these years that you are describing to me, have you ever visited Cyprus? You never mentioned anything like that to me.

-I always corresponded with your grandmother and learned the news of Cyprus. With the situation here, with the internal conflicts between the inhabitants – Makarians and Grivians – if you know whom I mean, I was not in any mood to come back. Besides, no one was waiting for me here. I didn’t even have a place to stay. The house where I lived with my mother, due to years of neglect, had become uninhabitable. I visited Cyprus for the first time in 1980.

-Many years since you left!

-Yes, more than twenty.

-And how did you decide that?

-A big milestone in my life was the coup and the Turkish invasion in Cyprus in 1974. I can’t tell you how much these two events tore my heart apart. Suddenly I started to have other priorities. I went to Camden Town again, met people from the Cypriot community and became active in supporting the Cypriot refugees arriving in London every day. We collected clothes, food, tried to find them housing, jobs, helped them with the procedures of the British who didn’t want them to stay, organized concerts to collect money and everything you can imagine.

-During this turmoil, I had forgotten my problems and my insecurities.

-For some time, in fact, I hosted a young couple from Kyrenia in my home. The girl was pregnant and gave birth to her first child there. You cannot imagine my joy at the birth of this child. This couple often talked to me about the homeland, and I too began to feel that I was a stranger in the country where I lived. So, in 1980 I decided to go back for the first time.

-How I would like you to talk to me about all this! But we should have our coffee and leave. I have a job in the afternoon. If all goes well, I’ll have a surprise for you.

-What a surprise;

-If I tell you, it won’t be a surprise.

Thus, the two women, the old and the young, who were both called Kalliroe, finished their meal and rose to leave. The other diners looked at them. They could not decide which of the two was the more impressive. Both radiated light and power.

 

Chapter 7

 The Internet

A few days had passed since the two women named Kalliroe had their meal at the beach restaurant, and Kalliroe the younger had not communicated with the older one at all. Aunt Kallie was sitting in the garden, holding a book in her hands, and thinking about her young friend. She understood that it would not be possible for the girl to deal with her all the time. But inside she felt a dependence on the energy she emitted. Now, at eighty-three years old, her own strength had weakened, and she needed young people around her. She also took something of the vitality of their souls.

She sighed and turned back to the pages of her book, though she was abstract enough to concentrate on reading. She began to reminisce about the first time she had returned to Cyprus in 1980, after an absence of about twenty-two years. She had booked a room in a hotel in Limassol since she had nowhere to stay in the village. Either out of vanity, or out of a thirst for justice, she had brought with her all the wonderful models she had sewn for herself and worn them on all her visits to the village.

Initially, she only visited her friend Eleni, with whom she corresponded during all the years she was away. So soon after the 1974 Turkish invasion, most people in Cyprus were poor and thousands were refugees, living in camps. So, she herself, so well dressed and chic, made a great impression. Sometimes she felt uncomfortable, as if she wanted to provoke, but the result surprised even her. Her fellow villagers welcomed her and spoke to her very friendly when they saw her on the street, even though she was the same person they so openly despised in the old days.

But her biggest surprise was that some of her cousins, who had never spoken to her when they were little, now welcomed her warmly and invited her to their house for lunch. In fact, they insisted so much that she was forced to go. The truth is that inside she felt a triumph over all of this, even if she knew that the only thing that had changed about her was the clothes she was wearing. She had once again confirmed that what wins people over is the image and not the real person. Ironic, but a reality.

The culmination of all the change that took place was when they began to matchmaking her. Her cousins, when they invited her for a meal, supposedly randomly invited a man they knew, who was either a widower or had not get married, like her, trying to match them. This made Kalliroe sometimes to laugh, sometimes to get angry.

-Maybe they think I’m rich, she had concluded.

And she remembered her grandmother’s words on the last day she left the village:

Since you have decided to leave my daughter, I wish you the best. Here in our village no one is going to marry you. There, that nobody knows, you might find someone to have you.

-And yet now, she thought, many from this village would like to have me.

But she herself was not interested in those match makings. They were mostly bothering her. She was happy with her life in London. She was well established in her field, had a good salary, and was making some money from the investments she had made in the past – blessed be the Lady Raffiel who had guided her. Recently, in fact, the owners of the company where she was working had proposed to give her 10% of the shares, so that they were sure that she would not leave their side. Thus, she was in no mood to be locked into a conventional marriage.

That first trip to Cyprus was what made her decide to build her own house in the village so she would have somewhere to live when she came here. The truth was that she had not been seduced by the friendly attitudes of her fellow villagers. Apart from the satisfaction she felt, which admittedly had an element of triumph, they meant nothing to her. There were other reasons that made her want to come to Cyprus.

Despite her professional successes in London, she had no person of her own there. All her acquaintances, even her outings, had to do with her work. She had also lost all contact with Elpida, who was the only real friend she had, so she had only her friend Eleni and her family left in the world. She wanted to bond more with them, so she could feel that she too belonged somewhere.

On the other hand, she was missing the landscape of her village, the view of the sea, the sun that can burn your face, but at the same time warm your heart. She wanted to be a part of this world, which she wanted to call homeland. That couple from Kyrenia who she had hosted in 1974, taught her that it is important for a person to have a homeland and to love it.

So, she commissioned Eleni’s husband, who was a mason, to build a house where the house she had lived with her mother was. He found the architect, he got the permits, he built it. Kalliroe simply sent him money whenever he asked. This poor man, barely making ends meet in those hard times, kept all the evidence of what he paid, lest Kalliroe think he was trying to take advantage of her.

-The poor have more sense of dignity, she thought. It’s the rich or rather the would-be rich who are trying to take advantage of you.

At that moment, the phone rang and brought her out of the stream of her memories. When she answered it, she heard the happy voice of Kalliroe:

-Aunt Kalli, will you be home this afternoon? Can I drop by to see you? I have a surprise for you.

-Of course, I’ll be at home. I look forward to the surprise!

In the afternoon Kalliroi came, holding her laptop.

-Let’s sit here in the living room, she said to Aunt Kalli. I want you to see something.

The old lady followed her and Kalliroe placed the laptop on a small table and two chairs opposite. In one she told Aunt Kallis to sit and in the other she sat down herself.

Aunt Kallie obeyed, anxiously waiting to see where this whole process would lead. She herself had never dealt with this modern way of communication and information. On the one hand she admired it and on the other she feared it. She could see that there was unlimited potential but on the other hand it transcended man and the world that for centuries defined the space in which he could move. It seemed as if it had invaded in a spiritual dimension and brought before you all the knowledge collected, but it acted promiscuously, without inhibitions. It was, in her opinion, a dangerous game.

Kalliroe the younger. was moving her fingers deftly on the keyboard and the computer screen was rapidly changing images. In a little while Aunt Kallie heard a noise like a bell ringing. Immediately a girl appeared in front of them and greeted Kalliroe in English:

-Hello Kalliroe! Glad to see you again!

Kalliroe the younger greeted her just as friendly and asked her:

-Is your grandmother there?

-Say hello grandmother.

An old lady appeared on the screen looking as surprised as Aunt Kalli at the faces she saw in front of her. It was obvious that she had no idea what was going on either. Suddenly Kalliroe, the aunt, recognized behind the wrinkled eyes and aged face her friend, Elpida.

-My God, how old she looks! She thought. Am I better? Almost sixty years have passed since then!

But loudly she exclaimed:

-Elpida, you are Elpida, aren’t you? My dear Elpida, my heart will break with the joy of seeing you!

But Elpida could not speak. Tears flowed from her eyes non-stop and with her hands she tried to touch the screen of the computer, thinking she could hug her friend. Kalliroe was equally excited, but she was trying to contain herself. She wanted so much to talk to Elpida, to shorten the sixty years that separated them.

She turned anxiously and asked Kalliroe the younger:

-For how long can we talk?

-As long as you want. I’ll go to the kitchen to make tea and you may talk. We’ll call her again, don’t worry. As many times as needed.

When the two old friends began to talk, a flood of words and information was exchanged between them that was difficult to digest. But what was impressive was that the distance of sixty years had been annihilated, as well as the kilometers that separated them. The same love and understanding connected them again through the computer screen.

Kalliroe the youngest brought tea to her aunt and let her talk to her friend for at least an hour. It was obvious that by the end they were both exhausted. With the promise that they would resume communication next week, the two friends agreed to say goodbye.

Aunt Kalli did not know how to thank Kalliroe for this communication.

-It’s the best gift I have ever been given in my life! Thank you very much! How did you find her?

-With the information you gave me I found her granddaughter and we agreed to organize this communication. Do you see where technology is useful?

-First time I realized how very useful it is! God bless you my daughter! Thank you a thousand times.

-Next week we will call her again. Do not worry. Now that you’ve found her, you won’t lose her.

As soon as Kalliroe the younger left, the old lady let her tears flow unmolested. She cried silently for a long time and thought about what Elpida had told her.

At first they talked about the precious memories they both had of living above the Fish and Chips restaurant in Camden Town. You remember this, you remember that they said to each other and laughed happily. It had been a long time since Kalliroe had laughed so much.

But then they inevitably talked about their lives when they parted ways. Elpida admitted that she had stopped their correspondence then, not because she did not have time, but because she was so unhappy that she did not want to talk to anyone. Especially to Kalliroe who had somehow warned her about her decision to marry an almost stranger.

-Those years we lived together, she had told her, made me understand the power I had as a woman and my ability to manage my life. My husband was not a bad person, but this is how he was taught in his parents’ house: the man is the master of the house, and the woman is somehow an obedient servant. At this point we had terrible fights. Many times, I wonder if I did well to live independently and experience freedom. Maybe if I hadn’t had these experiences I would have accepted my husband as he was. Who knows?

-On the other hand, those years we lived together were the happiest years of my life. I never regret them. How much power we had! How much we dared! Do you remember when we said: Strength in unity?

-If I remember? answered Kalliroe. They were also the happiest years of my life. But tell me what happened to your marriage? Did you break up?

-Yes, after five years of marriage and two children, two beautiful girls, we decided to divorce. He went his way, and I went mine. I don’t know about him, but my own path was full of difficulties and problems. After the breakup he disappeared from our lives. It seemed very strange to me at first, because he loved our children. No one knew what had happened to him. Many years had passed before we heard from him, when the girls grew up and sought him out. His life had been ruined after our breakup, and I am truly very sorry for that.

-My own life, until I raised my daughters, was hard. I worked sixteen hours a day on the machine to make a good living that they would not lack for anything. My legs and arms became stiff from long hours of the same position, for years. Today I can hardly walk. But I raised them, educated them, got them married, they gave me grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The girl you saw today is my youngest granddaughter. Her name is Elpida, after me. What did you do with your life after we separated?

-I must admit that first your absence cost me a lot. But soon I looked for a new job, creative, interesting, as I had always wanted. Luckily I found one in a factory in south London. We were making clothes for rich ladies, and I was working in the department of tailored clothes, as a rehearsal manager. At first I was an assistant but in the end I became a manager and now I have shares in this business. In this environment I met very interesting people. I’ve never married, but I feel like I’ve lived a full life. But if I knew what you were going through, I wouldn’t leave you alone. I would bring you with me, I would give you a more interesting job, you would be paid better, we would raise your daughters together. Oh, my God, if I only knew!

-I once tried to find you. I called Mr. Christos at the Fish and Chips restaurant but they told me that you were gone and that they had lost track of you.

-I once wrote to you too, but the letter came back marked “Unknown”.

-Yes, we changed house when I divorced. Perhaps we were not destined to meet then. Perhaps each of us should walk our own path and bear our own sufferings. But now that we have met, as long as we live, we will keep in touch.

-Yes, dear Elpida, as long as we live, we must keep in touch.

Tears still flowed from Kalliroe’s eyes as she remembered her conversation with Elpida. As she grew older she became more and more emotional. The tears she held back in her youth found an outlet now in her old age. She felt very exhausted. The alternation of emotions of the past day had absorbed all her energy. With difficulty she was able to prepare a cup of tea and go to bed.

As sleep weighed down her eyelids, she made a promise to herself:

-I will bring Elpida to Cyprus, to my home. She can stay as long as she wishes but I will bring her. We shall live once more together, as we did then.

 

Chapter 8

The performance

It was already summer. Demetra Kalliroe’s the younger mother, was in the kitchen of her house preparing the food for the dinner. Aunt Kalli and her friend Elpida would come to dine with them. She was also waiting for her daughter, Kalliroe, to come to help her but she was late, and Demetra was starting to get impatient.

Just as she was about to get angry, the doorbell rang. Kalliroe rushed in like a tornado, did not even let her mother speak, put on a kitchen apron, and asked:

-What do you want me to do mom? Sorry I’m late, I was very busy working.

-Working or did you spend the night with your friends again? Anyway. Start peeling the potatoes because I’m wrapping the stuffed vine leaves and I can’t do it.

As the two women sat side by side at the table, one peeling the potatoes and the other wrapping the stuffed vine leaves they began to chat. Demetra wanted to know more about Aunt Kalli and her friend Elpida. She herself lived in Limassol and did not have many contacts with them, but she knew that her daughter saw them almost every day.

-Ever since I brought them into contact, they have wanted to meet again. Aunt Kalli kept inviting Elpida to come to Cyprus, but she was afraid to travel alone because she has a problem with her legs. On the other hand – between us – I think that at times she loses touch with the environment and gets confused. She’s not like Aunt Kalli whose mind is a razor’s edge. She is much more tired and troubled by life.

-Well, how did she finally come?

-She came with her granddaughter for a month. Her granddaughter, also called Elpida, stays in Larnaca with some relatives and her grandmother with Aunt Kalli.

-And what are the two of them doing alone in that house?

-Don’t say it like that! You can’t imagine how much Aunt Kalli takes care of her friend! Every day they take a taxi and go to the beach. The sand, the sea and the sun have helped Elpida a lot with her legs. She almost walks completely normally. On the other hand, I think it has also helped her spiritually. She is happier and more focused. So, they have lunch on the beach, in a restaurant, and in the early afternoon they return. They rest for a while and then talk, talk for endless hours.

-And what do they say?

-They talk about their lives and tell each other their innermost secrets. Aunt Kalli, who hardly tells you anything about her past, she tells everything to Elpida.

-And how do you know that?

-Oh, sometimes when I go to visit them, they have the entrance open, and they sit on the veranda and talk. I sometimes hide and listen to their conversations without being seen. So, I’ve learned a lot of things.

-Shame on you! Is this how I raised you? To eavesdrop on other people’s conversations!

-Don’t worry, I’ll only use them for good. In any case, what I learned, Aunt Kalli would not have revealed to me on her own. Did you know what aunt did after Lady Raffiel had died?

-I, my child, do not know who Lady Raffiel is, and I will know what aunt did next! You tell me.

-No, I won’t tell you. You didn’t raise me to reveal other people’s secrets!

-So ready and so cunning, I don’t know where you got it from!

-From my grandmother Persephone, my father’s mother!

-Fortunately, you didn’t take from her malice!

-Why, what did she do to you?

-What didn’t she do to me? If it wasn’t for Aunt Kalli, I don’t think I would have married your father. Your grandmother didn’t want me because I was both poor and a village girl, according to her. You see, your father was a lawyer from Limassol, and I was a secretary from a village. My own father was a builder and his own lawyer. Persephone had big fights then with her son. She didn’t want me at all. That’s why I love your father so much. He put me above everyone else. He didn’t listen to his mother!

-Your grandmother Eleni wrote all this to her friend Kalli, and she immediately replied: Don’t worry about anything. I am coming to Cyprus on the first plane. I will take care of everyone’s outfit. Don’t buy anything.

-When she came she brought everything with her. A suit for your grandfather, so well made that he had never seen one before, and certainly not in the future. For my mother she brought fabric to sew the dress herself. But the magic was that big box she carried, with the fabric for my wedding dress. She opened it carefully and told us:

-This wedding dress design was the first one I had sewn for a very rich girl. I liked it so much that I saved the drawings. In case I ever got married, I would like to sew one for myself as well.. Of course, I never got married, so I will sew an identical wedding dress for Demetra. The lace is not the same as the original wedding dress, but the result will be just as good.

-You know, answered Kalliroe, she told me about this wedding dress. It must have been very beautiful.

-Only beautiful? Princely. When Prince William of England was married, his bride wore a very similar one. The main similarity was in the collar and cut at the neck. Not to tell you that mine was even better. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the wedding on TV. But it wasn’t just the design but the fabric too. In both cases, lace dominated.

-Aunt Kalli was a great seamstress. You can’t imagine how she applied it to my body, how she knew the way to hide all the imperfections and emphasize the good points. But the pinnacle of her skill was the dress she made for your grandmother, Eleni. Your grandmother’s body was spoiled by the hard life, lack of exercise and indifference to her appearance. Well, Aunt Kalli worked her magic, hid her swollen belly, and highlighted her waist, which to be honest, was almost non-existent due to the fat. When she finished the dress she told her to put it on, she also asked my father to wear the suit she brought him and asked them to walk.

-Do not believe it! And what did they do? Did they accept?

-At first they refused, but when she told them that they should not allow Persephone to belittle them, they accepted.

Kalliroe could not help but laugh when she thought of her grandmother and grandfather walking the catwalk in front of Aunt Kalli to learn how to walk like aristocrats.

-Do not laugh! Aunt Kalli had a great influence on them. She kept saying to them:

-Be proud of who you are! Keep your body upright to show others that they should respect you. And keep smiling. To appear friendly, not rigid, and uncomfortable.

-And what happened? Did they succeed?

-They succeeded so well that when we got to the church, everyone was whispering in admiration, and your grandmother Persephone dropped her jaw. It was the biggest performance my parents ever put on. Naturally the first and the last. But my mother never again allowed Persephone to underestimate her.

-And what was Grandma Eleni’s dress like?

-Aunt Kalli brought her a silver fabric with gray shades, which combined with your grandmother’s gray hair, looked like she was wearing a silver crown on her head. She also gave her a pearl necklace, which matched perfectly. She was very impressive. See my wedding photos. You will understand.

-Now that I know all this, I will definitely see them again!

-The only thing I forgot to tell you was that she also did our makeup. And you can’t imagine how well she did it. Like a professional.

-I see Aunt Kalli played a big role in your wedding. She was your good fairy!

-I owe her a lot. That’s why I named you Kalliroe. To honor her. We must always take care of her. She also took care of us when we needed her. But with the conversation we forgot the food. Stop peeling potatoes. You have peeled enough. Now go and set the table. We will eat on the terrace, facing the sea. We will be able to see the lights from the harbor as well as the city lights. It is very beautiful there.

-Do you remember that Elpida’s granddaughter, the other Elpida, will be with them?

-Yes, of course I remember. Your sister will also come from Nicosia. There will be a total of seven of us.

Around seven in the afternoon the guests began to arrive. First to arrive was Persephone, Demeter’s other daughter who was a philologist and worked at a school in Nicosia. Then came the two old ladies together with the young Elpida and finally Demetra’s husband, Nikos, arrived from work.

Persephone was more brunette than Kalliroe and more serious. Her eyes were dark and full of intelligence. She paid great attention to the two ladies and chatted with them while her mother and sister carried the food to the table. She mainly asked Elpida if she was having a good time, if she liked Cyprus and various other things like that.

-You can’t imagine how glad I am to be here. I thought that I would never see Kalliroe, Kalli as you call her, again in my life. Sometimes I think I’m living a dream. May the girls who brought us together be well. I thank God for this meeting, every moment. My soul will go away happy.

-I tell her to stay with me, as long as she wants, but she will go back with her granddaughter, said Aunt Kalli with a complaint.

-Really, why don’t you stay here? Persephone asked as well. You look so happy.

-I am my child, I am very happy, but every person’s homeland is where the people one love is. I love Kalliroe very much, but I also love my children and my grandchildren. That’s where my heart is. On the other hand, my health is not very good. We are both elderly. If my condition worsens who will look after me?

She was silent for a while and then added:

-May God helps me to come again. At our age, you know, nothing is certain…

The atmosphere was heavy with this conversation and Persephone immediately changed the subject to lift the spirits of the two ladies.

-Aunt Kalli, do you know where your name comes from?

-No, I do not know. Tell us, you are the philologist!

-Kalliroe, means beauty and flow. It is an ancient Greek name. Various divinities related to the waters, such as the daughter of Oceanus, the daughter of the river Achelous and others, were so named. It means the one characterized by good flow, by abundant water.

Aunt Kallie laughed.

-That’s why since I was little I loved looking at the sea so much, she commented. The liquid element is in my nature.

-And your name, Mrs. Elpida, is ancient Greek. Elpis was the daughter of Zeus and represented what the name says: Hope. Be proud of your names. They come from the depths of the ages.

At that moment Demetra asked everyone to sit down at the table. Dinner was served.

The atmosphere at the dinner was extremely pleasant. The two ladies were telling stories from the time they lived together, their first years in London and the many blunders they suffered, until they learned the life and habits of the English people. Everyone was laughing, especially at the flowing way Aunt Kalli was telling them.

Then Demetra, who had a very beautiful voice, began to sing. Her voice lured the others to join her, and the merriment ignited. In a moment Aunt Kalli rose from her chair and approached the porch railing. She looked towards the sea and a wish was born in her heart:

-God, she whispered, if happiness has a substance, take the energy of this happy moment, and distribute it to the people who are unhappy.

Then she discreetly wiped a tear that fell from her eyes and returned to her seat smiling. The happy mood of the company continued until late. Only Aunt Kalli saw a cloud, like a mist, hovering over the company and dissipating into the atmosphere carrying seeds of joy and bestowing them where there was need.

 

Chapter 9

The lace shoe

Kalliroe was sitting on her veranda, gazing at the sea from afar. Her friend Elpida had returned to England, and she was alone again. The events of recent times, her reconnection with Elpida, gatherings with family friends brought to life heartbeats and feelings of her youth. Somewhere the tranquility of this age period was disturbed and while all the events were pleasant and filled her with joy, they also reminded her of what she had lost during her lifetime.

Her friend Elpida was initially not the person she met in her youth. She did not remind her of that young girl who powerfully wanted to conquer the world. She was tired, very tired, she had no dreams, she was just waiting for death to free her from the pains of life. She was naturally tired herself. But her reaction was different. In the carefree life she lived she enjoyed the beauty of nature and the people around her.

-Maybe I’m being unfair to her, she whispered. She too enjoys and loves the company of her children and grandchildren. But she mourns a great loss, which she probably doesn’t remember what it is and doesn’t want to look for it either. We all mourn losses in life! I have never managed to start a family. And one thing is certain. Life never turns back!

She got up from the chair and started to walk in her garden among the rose bushes. Their fragrance pleasantly stimulated her sense of smell, and their beauty sweetened her gaze, which flickered from the strong light around her. The summer sun burned her face and reminded her that every heartbeat begins with a small pain.

She returned to her chair. Her mind left Elpida and flew to Lady Raffiel. The other real friend she met in her life. The Lady who had changed her perspective of the world and introduced her to an aspect of life that she would never have known if the Lady had not offered her this opportunity.

She remembered with nostalgia when the Lady and she used to go out every week, to theatres, to concerts, even for tea in the luxury hotels of London. She would come with her driver and pick her up from home and when they got off at their destination no one could guess that this elegant girl who accompanied the Lady was just a dressmaker. It was not just the outward appearance. With Lady’s advice, and the breadth of knowledge she gained from the many books she read, she behaved like a cultured aristocrat.

And deep down she loved this role. It was a balm to the deep wounds of her soul from her childhood. She felt that she deserved it and that she could move equally among princes and lords, she, who was the most despised child in her village. What she never got over was that it was all an image. Deep down she was identified with that despised child. That child was the seamstress who worked in a factory. The beautiful lady who circulated among high society had no real substance. She was a vision. That’s how she experienced it.

She remembered how many times men looked at her with admiration and she was flattered. But up to this point. She did not want them to get any closer to her because she knew deep down that underneath the attractive image was a scared, insecure little girl. It was a strange combination that fortunately for her the people around her did not suspect.

Lady Raffiel might have understood something, for she always tried to protect her from prying questions and at the same time to give her courage to identify her inner world with her image. She wept at the thought of her beloved Lady.

-When I die, she thought, I will have two joys. One when I will meet my mother and one with Lady. These two women are the most important persons I had in my life. And there are both inside me. One circulates in my genes and the other keeps me company in my soul.

The association with the Lady lasted three to four years. At first they had an intense social life in all the cultural events of London. They had become a recognizable duo in the aristocratic circles although they diligently preserved the mystery of their relationship.. No one knew who Kalli Michelle really was and how she was connected to the Lady. No matter how much they commented on it at first, they slowly accepted it and stopped bothering. It had already become a given.

As the years passed the Lady’s strength began to wane and it became increasingly difficult for her to move around. But that did not stop Kalli from visiting her every week at her house and sitting with her, taking their tea together, and chatting. When she could no longer get out of bed, Kalli would sit by her side and read to her. And when she could not follow, she held her hand and talked to her. She was much more than her daughter.

When Lady’s death came Kalliroe was plunged into the same chaos she had plunged into when she lost her mother. At the funeral, the Lady’s children and grandchildren followed gravely, typically wiping away perhaps a single tear here and there, but Kalliroe wept inconsolably. The loss of Lady had devastated her.

For the first time after Lady’s death, she had sunk into depression. It took a lot of effort to find herself again. Her words kept ringing in her mind:

-Always be a lady in your life. A lady never collapses. She holds her head up high and knows that she has all the strength within her to face everything.

Words that sounded like her mother’s but had a subtle difference. Her mother’s words were meant to protect their wounded dignity from the malice of the world. The Lady’s words were intended to prove to the world, but above all to themselves, the undeniable strength of their souls. A soul that did not bend before anything. Because she was a lion soul.

So, little by little, Kalliroe found herself. Because first in her life she was a good student. Especially if she had a Lady Raffiel as a teacher.

At that moment the phone rang and brought Kalliroe out of her thoughts and the trip to the past. When she answered it she heard the happy voice of Kalliroe the younger greeting her.

-Good morning Aunt Kalli! How are you today; How are you doing now that your friend is gone?

-It is a great loss, but I am comforted by the thought that you will not leave me like this. We will talk online. Isn’t that so?

-Of course, my aunt! At least once a week, we will put you in touch. We have agreed with Elpida, the granddaughter. Tell me, on Saturday afternoon will you be home?

-Of course, I will be. It’s not easy to move anywhere without someone like you picking me up in their car. Shall we arrange a communication with Elpida?

-This time I want something else from you. I want to introduce you to some of my friends.

-Well, how about that? You will bring your friends here for the first time.

-These are very special friends, and I would very much like you to meet them. But I want you to become very beautiful. To wear those emerald earrings and the necklace that Lady Raffiel left you in her will and that beautiful blue-emerald dress with matching shoes.

-And why all this? Will you present me as a bride to be? It’s your turn to get married. I lost my turn many years ago.

-Why such comments? Aren’t you the one who taught me that a woman should always look pretty, because that’s how she honors her very nature?

-Yes, I was telling you all this. The student passed the teacher!

-So, will you be pretty for my friends?

-I’ll do my best, don’t worry. But now it’s a little difficult to be beautiful. Beauty has long passed me by.

-Do not say that. Very few women your age have the grace and charm that you have.

Aunt Kalli laughed at Kalliroe’s clever quips.

-Do not worry! I will do my best for your friends, she told her. Bring some sweets to treat them! I have nothing at home.

-I will bring treats, I will also bring Demetra, my mother. I want her to be present too when you meet them. Of course, if all goes well, we can all go out to dinner later.

When they hung up, Aunt Kalli could not help but think:

-This crazy girl seems to want to introduce us to a future groom, since she will bring her mother along. Let’s see what is troubling her to want me to be present. Perhaps she is afraid that it will be difficult for Demetra to accept it. I wonder whom she chose and she had to organize this scene.

On Saturday afternoon Kalliroe got ready and put on the clothes that Kalliroe the younger asked her to wear. When she took the earrings in her hands she remembered Lady Raffiel again. After her death, she had the biggest surprise of her life when the Lady’s lawyer invited her to the opening of the will. She was greatly embarrassed when in front of all the Lady’s relatives it was heard that she was leaving some of her jewels to her. These earrings, a matching necklace, and a few others of lesser value.

The Lady’s son, the stockbroker, who understood her embarrassment, approached her, and said:

-You deserve these and maybe more. What you offered to our mother we have not offered all her children and grandchildren together.

So, in her jewelry box these very expensive jewels were added. And every time she wore them she remembered with emotion this wonderful woman who had changed her life.

But it was no time for emotions. Today was the day of Kalliroe the youngest. Today she dressed up for her. For her, she would wear her best smile to welcome the chosen one of her heart. She did not want to disappoint this girl in any way.

It was not long before she heard Kalliroe’s car pull up in the yard. She came out happy and all smiles and saw the girl greeting her in her usual enthusiastic way. An elderly gentleman and a young man also got out of the car.

-This will be Kalliroe’s groom to be, she thought. He looks very nice and aristocratic. And his father, his grandfather – I don’t know who exactly he is – is very impressive for his age. I don’t understand why she had arranged this whole scene.

Demetra also stopped behind Kalliroe with her own car. She also got down and was looking curiously at her daughter and her entourage. It was obvious that she did not know what was coming next, either.

Aunt Kalli was waiting for them at the entrance of her house, smiling. She watched them as they approached. Kalliroe was holding a packet of sweets and the old gentleman was also holding a packet. Demetra looked curious, as if she wanted to ask her daughter who they were, but she was reluctant.

When they were close enough to make out their faces, Aunt Kalli began to feel a strange feeling, as if someone had punched her in the stomach, but she could not figure out why. She was held at the door for a moment, and as soon as Kalliroe saw her movement, she gave the sweets to her mother and ran to her.

She helped her to sit on the sofa, meanwhile the others arrived. The most confused of all of them was Demetra who was now looking at her daughter in anger.

The old gentleman sat down next to Aunt Kalli and took her hand. Then he asked her in English:

-Don’t you remember me Kalli? I am Diego Gonzales.

And he opened the box he was holding and showed it to her. As soon as Aunt Kallie saw the contents of the box, she fainted. Kalliroe ran to the kitchen to get water Diego Gonzales was rubbing her hands and the young man had raised her legs. Only Demetra, unable to bear not understanding what was happening, took in her hands the box that Mr. Diego Gonzales had opened, to finally see what it contained. Her surprise and confusion grew when she saw that inside the box was a lace shoe with a broken heel.

At that time, Aunt Kalli was beginning to come to her senses. She sat down on the couch and asked for some tea.

-I will prepare for everyone, said Kalliroe and ran to the kitchen to escape her mother’s angry look.

Soon she returned with the tea and sweets. She treated everyone and sat down in an armchair, as far away from her mother as possible.

-How did you know? Aunt Kalli asked Kalliroe.

-I overheard you one day talking to Elpida and telling her what you did after Lady Raffiel had died. It wasn’t hard to understand. I searched, found him, and brought him to you.

-At last, shouted Demetra in irritation, will someone tell me who Lady Raffiel is?

The somewhat irrelevant question for the moment, broke the tension and made them all laugh.

-I will tell you everything, Demetra, Aunt Kalli replied. I see your daughter didn’t inform you about anything. And me, dear Kalliroe, you didn’t think that I could have a heart attack from the surprise. I am not so young to endure such emotions.

-I’m sorry, I hadn’t thought of that. You got it much better with Elpida. I thought you would just be happy.

-I was happy but my heart almost broke. You don’t know how much I’ve been hurt by this story, Not even Diego knows the truth about what had happened then. I thought it was a secret I would take with me. But before I begin narrating, help me Kalliroe to my room. I want to bring something.

Kalliroe helped her and soon they returned with another box. Aunt Kalli opened it and took out another lace shoe from inside. It was the match of what Mr. Diego Gonzales brought. Except this one didn’t have a broken heel.

-For the sake of the truth, said Aunt Kalli.

And turning to Kalliroe, she asked:

-Please introduce us to the young man.

-He is my grandson, also Diego Gonzales and also an architect.

-The young man made a small bow, took Aunt Kallis’s hand, and kissed it.

They finished their tea in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. As soon as Aunt Kalli put her cup down on the coffee table, she turned around, looked at them all and said:

-Everyone sits back. It is a long story, and I will tell you all of it. It is the time of purification. I’m glad I won’t take this secret to my grave.

 

Chapter 10

Cinderella

Aunt Kalli closed her eyes for a few seconds. It was difficult for her to look back on that stage of her life that she had been trying to forget and put aside for years now. She never expected the present moment to come and if in the early years she had a secret hope that something magical would fix things, it had died over time.

She started speaking in English of course, so that everyone could understand and Kalliroi the youngest sat next to her mother to explain possible unknown words to her.

-To answer to you first, Demetra, Lady Raffiel, was an English aristocratic lady whom I met in London and who was a mother, a friend, and a teacher to me. For a few years, maybe three or four, in the mid-1960s, I accompanied her every week on an outing, to theatres, concerts, operas and luxury hotels in London, where I learned to live a lavish life like an aristocrat myself.

At that moment she was interrupted by Diego Gonzales, who was still holding her hand.

-I remember Lady Raffiel. I was staying at the Rosewood Hotel, and you used to come for tea. I had noticed you since then and had asked about you. Everyone knew the Lady, but you were a mystery to everyone. And even today you remain a mystery to me… But go on, I’d like to know the whole story too.

-Well, I don’t remember noticing you then. But not to enumerate, the Lady was old, and after an illness of a few months she died. My world was shattered by her death. I felt so alone and so abandoned in the vastness of London. I didn’t know how to make the most of my life. One day I decided to overcome my insecurities and continue to enjoy the endless opportunities this city could offer me.

-But I was used to living like an aristocrat. And I loved this image. I liked that Lady’s driver would stop outside the theaters and hotels and the porters would open the door for us to get off. I loved that everyone was looking at us and whispering admiringly. I didn’t want to be one of the crowds. Now I say, it was a foolish vanity of youth, but at the time that desire guided my decisions and actions.

-So, I thought of a theatrical way to continue this kind of living. I would book a seat at the theater and on the day of the performance I would dress in the wonderful models I had sewn for myself. I would take the London Underground from the station near my house and get off at the busier stations Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and others depending on where I was going. From there I would take a taxi and arrive at the theater or hotel like an aristocratic lady. In the same way I left the theater or the hotel where I went to have tea. At that time, however, the London Underground stopped operating at 12 midnight, so I would have to be at the station before 12 to catch the last train.

-Like Cinderella, Demetra said in surprise.

-Yes, like Cinderella. And the continuation of the story is so similar, but without the happy ending.

-And turning to Diego, she added:

-What, Diego, I never wanted you or anyone else to discover was that I was just a seamstress in a London factory. The only education I had was in primary school and I was the illegitimate child of a poor Cypriot woman and an English soldier. This was the legacy I brought with me and everything else that characterized me was acquired from my many personal efforts to gain knowledge and become better.

-Do you really think I would care about that? Oh my God, so much pain, so much disappointment, so many questions, because you were ashamed of who you were! I cannot believe it! Do you think I was a rich person? On the contrary! I was a poor kid from Spain who studied architecture with a thousand difficulties, but I managed to excel in my field by doing what you did: reading and learning from those who were better than me.

-At the time I was working for a large company in Madrid that had won a tender to build a skyscraper in London. I came often because I was supervising the project and the hotel I stayed in was paid for by the company I worked for. I fell in love with you from the first time I saw you. Then, when you were coming with the Lady, but I dared not speak to you. You see, I had my inhibitions too! If I had talked to you then, maybe the Lady wouldn’t have let you act so foolishly and disappear into the night, like Cinderella.

-Really, tell us exactly what had happened, asked Dimitra who was enchanted by the story.

-Aunt Kalli’s eyes were watery. It was difficult for her to manage the emotions flooding her and she asked for a glass of water. Kalliroi ran to bring it to her. She took a few sips and continued, still holding hands with Diego:

-When I started going out on my own, I found that I had a great success with men. Many approached me, asked to buy me a drink, others invited me to dinner, and to my great surprise, I flirted with them. I, who as Kalliroi Michael, was so shy that I did not dare to flirt with anyone, as Kalli Michele, I enjoyed this game, like any charming woman. But I always arrived by taxi and left by taxi before 12 midnight, even if my companion insisted I stay or had other appetites. I have always been very careful not to give false hopes or expectations to anyone. It was just a game I enjoyed.

-Of course, this didn’t happen every time I went out, but when I did accept an invitation I chose guests in London who stayed in expensive hotels and wouldn’t be interested in looking for me again. They had a beautiful escort to a restaurant, and I was having fun playing the role of an aristocratic English lady, with no strings attached. It was a dangerous game, I know, but it gave a spicy interest to my life.

-Until the day I met Diego. Do you remember Diego, that first day we talked?

-Of course, I remember. Only I had noticed you a lot before. You just noticed me that day too. My stay in London was not permanent. I came and went depending on the demands of the project I was attending. The last time I saw you, you were with Lady Raffiel, and as I have already told you, I did not have the courage to speak to you. That day I saw you enter the hotel alone, sit in the dining room and order afternoon tea, with scones. You were so elegant and imperious that I thought you must be some kind of countess or famous actress. You were the most impressive woman I had ever seen in my life.

-So, I approached you and said: My name is Diego Gonzales, and I am a Spanish architect. Would you mind if I sat with you?

Aunt Kalli looked into his eyes and smiled sweetly:

-I answered you too: My name is Kalli Michele. Please do sit down. And with the first words we exchanged, there was deep communication, an identification of opinions, an intimacy that one rarely encounters in one’s life.

-From the very first day I told you a lot about my life, about my work, about my origin. When I asked you about yourself, you simply replied that you are active in the field of fashion. Nothing more.

-I understood from the first moment how high you had placed me and unfortunately I did not want to get off that podium. I regretted it a thousand times later, but that image held me captive. I didn’t want you to know the truth at all. I had grown up in this village as the most despised child and this stigma had followed me almost all my life. It was only when I came back here and saw that because I was dressed in classy clothes that people changed their behavior towards me, I realized how wrong I was. But it was too late. I had lost you forever or so I thought.

-How did your relationship develop? Demetra asked. Was your meeting only once?

-It would be good, dear Demetra, if it was only once. That way he would be a passer-by like all the others whose names and faces I no longer remember. From the very first moment I felt that I was connected to this man by a cable that carried the energy of his soul and electrified my own soul, illuminating my existence and the whole world around me. I went the next day and the next and all the ones that followed. I couldn’t stop myself. And I knew that would lead me to disaster. Because there was absolutely no way I was going to tell him who I really was.

-I, said Diego, had a great desire to tell me about herself, but I was so in love that I did not press her. I was saying that time will come when she tells me, and I was patient.

-At some stage I understood, continued Aunt Kalli, that the danger involved in this game, was not the appetites of other men, but my own love for a man. And when that happened, I was a prisoner of my own tentacles.

-That coming and going and our meetings, which always ended before 12 midnight, lasted for a month, until it was time for Diego to return to his country. On the last day that I knew I was going to meet him, I dressed myself more carefully, put on those lace shoes, which were then fashionable, and went to meet him.

-Yes, I remember that day. I saw you get out of the taxi and proceed to the entrance of the hotel. You were so glamorous and imperious, walking lightly, like a cute gazelle, that my heart broke. I wanted so badly to make you mine!

-Yes, I remember seeing it in your eyes. And I was scared because I knew I would have to leave. You took me to an expensive restaurant and had the violins play a waltz for me. We danced in each other’s arms, and you whispered to me that you would like me to stay with you for the night. At that moment I panicked. My heart was in pieces. I wanted everything to be smooth and real so we could go down the path of love, but the scorned little girl in me wanted to run away. She was so ashamed of who I really was or thought I was. So, at the moment, when you went to freshen up, I asked them to call me a taxi to disappear.

-As soon as I got out and was told that you had left, I immediately ran and found another taxi and told him to follow you. I didn’t even pay for the restaurant at that time. Luckily people knew who I was.

-That night I was thinking of going all the way home by taxi, but when I realized you were following us, I told the driver to drop me off at Piccadilly Circus. I wanted to get lost in the crowd, I didn’t want you to find me. How many times have I regretted this decision? How many times have I cried…

-When I got off at the station, I took out a shawl from my bag and covered my head and shoulders. So, you wouldn’t be able to spot me from afar. Then I started running. It was then that my heel caught on the iron grating of a manhole and broke. I left it there, while at the same time I took out the other one and kept running. I pushed through the crowd, stood in front of a burly guy on the escalator, not looking behind me. When I got on the train and looked out the window, you were gone.

-I followed you to the station and saw you put the shawl on your head. I was able to be behind you until the moment you broke your heel. I then said to myself, “now I will reach her,” but when I bent down to pick up your shoe, you were lost in the crowd. And I never found you again.

-I returned home crying uncontrollably. People would see me on the street walking barefoot and crying. A lady asked me if I needed help. I thanked her for her interest and continued until I got home. My legs were bleeding, and my head was going to explode. I had already regretted my panic, my flight, my cowardice.

-But Aunt Kalli, asked Kalliroi why did you have the impression that you were just a seamstress in a factory? It wasn’t exactly like that. You had a responsible position and you also had shares in this factory. Why did you underestimate yourself so much?

-At that time, I was not yet a shareholder. But that wasn’t it. I was afraid of rejection. Those were different times then. Origin played a role, and I had nothing to be proud of. He was a successful architect who thought he had met and fallen in love with an illustrious lady. I was not who I appeared to be. And I was very ashamed of it and of all the deception…

-Even now I’m angry about the reason you left, said Diego suddenly. You could have told me the truth and let me decide if I wanted you or not. What you did was very hard on both of us. Do you know how much I suffered to lose you?

-Whatever you say, you’re right. I paid too dearly for my escape that night. You know, later I went back to the hotel to see if I could find you and at least apologize for my behavior, but you weren’t there.

-It took many years to get back to London. I thought you might be a married woman with an unhappy marriage. But even in this case I did not excuse you. If you would talk to me we could find a solution together. Especially since you left for such a trivial reason!

-I’m so sorry. I do not know what to say! Now that I see it from a distance it seems so silly. At that moment, however, it presented itself as an insurmountable obstacle. And you, my dear Kalliroi, how did you find him?

-I heard you that day when you were talking to Elpida, of course I didn’t understand the details you described today, just the name, the profession and Madrid. I put the information together and found him. There is an architectural office in Madrid named after him, which is now run by his son and grandson, Diego.

At that moment they all turned and looked at the young man who was sitting silently watching. His eyes were teary.

-I didn’t know, grandpa, that you had experienced such a great love in your youth. You and Grandma were always loved, but to keep Mrs. Kalli’s shoe for so many years means you loved her very much!

-Yes, I loved this crazy girl very much, said Diego with a small sob and tenderly caressed her hair. But I am very angry with her!

-Aunt Kallis’ eyes were watering non-stop. From joy, from sadness, from deep repentance for that day.

-You know, she said turning to Diego, later I traveled a lot and on one of my trips I visited Madrid. I thought about looking for you then, but logic stopped me. And for the best. You would be married, and my presence would only create problems.

-What do you think? Shall we all go for dinner together? Kalliroi suddenly asked.

-You go, said Aunt Kalli. I am very tired. I’ll stay here.

-I will stay with you too, said Diego. We have a lot to talk about. Fifty years have already passed since our last meeting.

The remaining three got up and walked towards the exit. The old couple was still sitting holding each other’s hand.

-We will pass later, said Kalliroi.

And she gently closed the door.

 

Epilogue

Eros (Love)

Here the story could have been completed with the standard phrase: “they lived happily ever after”. But neither the stories, nor the fairy tales simply present moments from the endless cycles of life, which are lost in time. Instead, they are captures of these moments and their projection into eternity.

Eros (Love) is a form of human expression that has been studied, praised, mocked, cursed since the beginning of human civilization, and remains a cause of controversy to this day. But uninfluenced he determines the relationships of people and despite the laws and restrictions that societies and religions put in place from time to time to rein him in, he always found a way to come out victorious.

In our time, when at least Western societies tend to liberate him, while at the same time degrading him, he regulates, in his own way, the flow and quality of human relationships.

Throughout the course of civilization there have always been people who had enough wisdom and insight to understand the source and meaning of such fundamental principles as Love. They may be great philosophers, they may be poets, they may be writers. They leave signs on their way, that if we follow them, we can trace the truth that is hidden behind this important expression of human behavior.

Plato with his work “Symposium” examines Eros extensively and reaches specific conclusions that are still studied and analyzed by intellectuals and lovers of wisdom to better understand the projection of his words in the field of worldly knowledge. The Symposium is basically a conversation about Eros, which takes place between the participants of a gathering, with Socrates, Plato’s teacher, as the main speaker.

But among those present who develop their own theory about Eros is the comic poet Aristophanes, who gives his own opinion. Certainly, this is not the view that Plato supports in his work, but the interpretation given can be better identified with the way people experience love. A summary of what he says is the following text:

Before starting his monologue, Aristophanes warns that what he will say is more strange than funny. His reason is an explanation for the phenomenon of lovers who say they feel “whole” when they find their partner. He first explains that you must understand human nature before trying to express the origin of love and how it affects us. Love stems from the fact that people once had double bodies with two faces and instead of two sexes there were three: men, women and androgynous (man and woman). The first two had the same gender on both sides of their form, while the androgynous had a man’s body on one side and a woman’s on the other. Men originated from the sun, women from the Earth and androgynous from the Moon. These people were particularly strong and because of their great strength they tried to conquer Olympus and the gods themselves. Zeus initially thought of smashing, but he did not want the gods to lose the sacrifices they offered, so he decided to cut them in two, resulting in the separation of the two bodies. Since then, people have been looking for their other half or basically their match. Men who were separated from another man are the homosexuals. While the women are the lesbians. Heterosexuals are the result of the intersection of “androgynous”. According to Aristophanes, the intense desire felt by the sexes for reunion is called Eros. Love has the power to unite human beings, not only to survive and multiply but also to reproduce morally. Aristophanes also mentions that when two soul mates find each other they never wish to be separated again.

Let us keep the last sentence and refer to what another great Greek, the Nobel prize-winning poet Odysseus Elytis, says about Love, through a poem set to music by Linos Kokotos and sung by Rena Koumiotis in 1972.

Thus, Elytis says among other things:

Once in a thousand years

the nightingales chirp otherwise.

They neither laugh nor cry,

they only say they only say.

 

Once in a thousand years

love becomes eternal.

Be lucky, be lucky

and may this year be for you.

If we accept what Elytis says as a fact, that is “once in a thousand years, love becomes eternal”, it seems that people compromise in life with something less than their “other half”, as they did in our story Katerina and Elpida. The first one to keep up with the accepted society values and the second to have children. And since according to Elytis eternal love is something very rare, almost all people settle in one way or another, without having met the real Eros. Is this bad? Probably not. It is a way for society to evolve.

Almost all writers from ancient times to today have written about Eros. We will refer to a very great writer, the Nobel laureate for literature Colombian – Gabriel García Márquez, and his novel “Love in the years of cholera”. In this novel, the two protagonists come together to enjoy their love fifty years after they fell in love. About the same age as Kalliroe and Diego Gonzales. Is it possible for a love to last fifty years? It seems to be holding up. The mystics of mankind say so.

This realization of love in a bygone age certainly did not give the lovers a previous happy life. They lived with the absence of their “other half”. But it seems that this luck, which occurs “every thousand years” has its price, which is very expensive. Maybe because nothing in life is free.

On the other hand, there is the tale of Cinderella. A classic tale that has been repeated many times in world literature in one way or another. In our time, we might call these reruns cheaply romantic, but we watch them because through their plot we somehow find the vindication and happiness of the wronged. And this satisfies our own tired mental world.

But what does this fairy tale tell us? It begins with a happy family, then comes the death of the mother, the marriage of the father to the evil stepmother and the fall of the daughter into a servant of her house, living in the kitchen and collecting the ashes from the fireplace. When the local prince invites all the maidens to a ball to choose his bride-to-be, Cinderella is ordered by her stepmother not to go. Besides, she does not have the right clothes. Only the stepmother’s two daughters will attend the dance.

A scene of gross injustice, which is repeated in the daily life of many people in one way or another. And here is the time of choice. Cinderella dares, despite the facts of her life, to wish to go to the ball. And then the whole creation advocates for her to get the right dress, and the right means of transport to look like a princess. On one condition: To return before 12 midnight. Otherwise, the magic will be lost, and everyone will see her misery. Cinderella obeys but as she leaves she loses her glass slipper, which is collected by the prince, who has already fallen in love with her.

When he starts going around the houses in the area to find the girl who wore the slipper and marry her, Cinderella dares again. Despite her wretched appearance and her stepmother’s threats she appears before the prince again and tries on the shoe. The prince recognizes her, marries her and they live happily ever after.

It is important to realize that the prince chooses her even when she appears before him in the wretched clothes of a maid. He had truly grown to love the person behind the beautiful princess image. Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the fact that he initially noticed her because he was attracted by her image. Otherwise, he might never have fallen in love with her. This is also part of the game of attraction between the two sexes.

Many messages in this fairy tale: we must follow our dreams and desires even when everything around us says otherwise. We must dare and we must claim happiness. Otherwise, it will pass us by, and we will be left forever to collect the ashes of our lives.

The story does not tell us how Kalliroe and Diego Gonzales got on. It does not matter. The plot of this story brought them together and it will be their decision whether they continue to exist in the world of ideas or fade into non-existence. The feelings of the readers of the story may empower them to exist as powerful spirits that will inspire people to love eternally, or they will dissolve into the infinite universe as if they never existed. But whatever happens Gabriel García Márquez’s conclusion will give hope to all people:

Because they had lived long enough to understand that love is love at any time and in any place, but it became more intense when they were close to death.

 

 

THE END

 

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