Hieroglyphs in the Sun – Chapter 1

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 13/05/2024

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 The Journey Begins

Mrs. Sophia glanced fleetingly at herself in the mirror. She was already seventy-four years old, her hair had turned white, and her face was filled with wrinkles.

-Nothing nice to look at, she thought. I wonder why I still have a mirror at home. To frighten myself seeing my reflection?

Stepping away from the mirror, she dismissed her negative thoughts, unwilling to bother with such things. With her mind made up, the trip to Egypt beckoned. Much contemplation had gone into this decision, knowing that the time for departure from life drew near. Either gradually and painfully or suddenly and abruptly.

-No one knows the end of one’s life, she whispered. But when I go to face my God and he asks me what I did in my life, I would like to tell him about my adventures and experiences. Not my good and bad deeds. My late husband will tell him about those.

-But I don’t have any important experiences, she reconsidered. My life was so insignificant and dull that I will be ashamed in front of my God! I need to create experiences. And I don’t have much time on my hands! That’s why I must take this trip. For others, a journey may be nothing. But I will turn it into a life experience. I will shake off the weariness of 74 years!

And she entered her room to pack her suitcase. They would leave in two days. She needed to have everything in order and since she had never traveled before, she needed proper planning not to forget anything. She took out the list she had prepared and started putting her clothes in the suitcase. Whatever she put in, she crossed off the list and moved on to the next. She had always been methodical and planned. Especially now!

Mrs. Sophia, or Sophia Lampropoulou for her students, was an elementary school teacher all her life. She grew up in a lower to middle class family, graduated from the Pedagogical Academy, as the school for teachers was called back then, and was immediately appointed to an elementary school in the countryside. There she met her future husband, Kyriakos Lampropoulos, who was also a young teacher at the time. She hadn’t even fallen in love with him when he asked her to marry him. She thought very little before saying yes. She believed that this way the puzzle of her life would be completed, and she would follow a straight path, with family and children.

Kyriakos was a good man but uninteresting and incredibly conservative. He was fanatically religious, performed duties as a cantor, read the holy scriptures and the newspaper devoutly, and did not accept any modernization in their lives. At first, Sophia was frightened. She was a young girl full of dreams, wanting to enjoy life to the fullest, to travel, to have children, but the only excursion Kyriakos approved of was a pilgrimage to a monastery. Then she thought that when they had children, he would soften, but they couldn’t have children.

The alternatives suggested by doctors found him strongly opposed and he wouldn’t even discuss them.

-This is what God wants for us, he would say. We cannot disobey His command.

So, Sophia confined herself to the children she taught, and this made her a very good teacher. She generously gave love and the children reciprocated. It was also a compensation for her dreary life. The great difficulty was when she retired and lost contact with the children. It had cost her a lot at first. She cried daily and Kyriakos looked at her critically, muttering:

-This is what God wants for us. It’s a sin to cry and question God’s choices!

Thus, she got used to her indifferent life with him. She read a lot and despite Kyriakos’s objections, watched television. So, she lived through the experiences of others, her own life. Until last year, when Kyriakos suddenly passed away from a heart attack. At first, she felt lost. It wasn’t that they shared anything while he was alive. But he was a steady point in her life. For fifty years he was the only thing she knew. She felt his absence and regretted criticizing him while he lived.

Slowly but surely, she began to take on the responsibilities that he had always had, such as their finances. Then she realized that with the modest life they led and Kiriakos’s strict management, they had managed to accumulate a tidy sum. A sum that, when she passed away, would be scattered to the winds.

-No, she thought, I will enjoy this money. I have deprived myself of everything in my life. Now it’s time for me to start living!

Her first task was to make some renovations to the house and buy a new TV and mobile phone. She bought some clothes too, but sparingly because it was a big step for her, who had always dressed like a nun. When she felt that she had enough material goods, she decided it was time to travel.

On one hand, she was excited about her new decisions, but on the other hand, she was scared like a fifteen-year-old going out alone for the first time at night. She was so inexperienced! Then she looked at herself in the mirror, saw her gray hair, and said:

-There’s no room for hesitation, Sophia. It’s now or never!

For her first destination, she chose Egypt because she had always been fascinated by the history of that country. She had also seen countless documentaries about the latest archaeological discoveries and wanted to see them up close. There’s a difference between what you feel from watching television and experiencing it in person. Besides, she wanted to be original. Everyone else was going to Greece. She would go to Egypt. So, she booked this trip, with some fear in her heart, mixed with anticipation and excitement.

And now the time had finally come for her to turn the page in her life. Her suitcase was ready, she had notified the taxi to pick her up from her house and take her to Larnaca airport, and all she had left to do was pray and hope that everything would go well.

Before the taxi arrived, she went to her neighbor, Mrs. Elpida, gave her the key to her house, and asked her to water her plants. Mrs. Elpida promised she would do it and wished her a good trip. But deep down, she wondered if Sophia had gone crazy to decide to wander around the Egyptian desert at her age just to see ancient ruins. However, she didn’t say anything.

On the way to the airport, she looked out of the taxi at the beauty prevailing in nature. It was February, and the land of Cyprus was green, full of wildflowers. The sky was clear, a sweet blue with white clouds traveling lightly, like white strokes on the landscape.

-My homeland sends me a joyful farewell,” she thought. “Everything will be fine.”

When she arrived at the airport, fortunately, she found the trip organizer waiting for her because she was completely lost, as it was her first time traveling, and she was not familiar with the process at all. After handing over her suitcase, she mingled with other people in the group and followed them through the controls successfully, even though she found everything very tiring and complicated.

Finally, when they reached the boarding gate, she sat in a chair and began to observe her fellow travelers. She couldn’t tell exactly who was in their group, but she definitely noticed some couples and some ladies traveling alone. They all seemed retired but probably younger than her. She immediately noticed the difference in her dress compared to the other ladies. Most of them wore bright colors and looked generally youthful. She, on the other hand, although she dared to buy two pairs of trousers and wore one for the trip, limited herself to dark colors like brown, gray, and blue. This made her feel old, but she decided not to think about it.

-It’s the soul that counts, she concluded. And I will enjoy this trip like a young girl.

Just when everything seemed settled with her impression of her fellow travelers, a somewhat delayed arrival caught her attention: a lady with a young man who was probably her son. Their arrival caused a sensation, and everyone turned to look at them. Both were very different from the other people in the group. She was a slender, tall lady, around forty, elegant, with a swan-like neck, impressively beautiful. Sophia had a vague impression that she had seen her somewhere before. Her son, a young man around seventeen or eighteen, quite dark-haired, with large almond-shaped eyes, but he seemed to have some kind of disability and limped slightly. He held a cane, which was probably why they were delayed. Before they could sit down, the boarding announcement was made, and everyone proceeded to the departure gate.

Sophia carefully watched the others to avoid making any mistakes, but everything went smoothly. By the time they boarded the plane, she had struck up a conversation with another lady from their group named Maria, and they had gotten to know each other somewhat. When the flight attendant showed her to her seat, she was pleased to see that she was seated next to the impressive lady and her son. She was glad about this coincidence because it would give her a chance to get to know them. They had intrigued her from the moment she saw them, just like everyone else.

-Hello, she greeted them. It seems we’re in the same group. My name is Sophia.

-Hello Mrs. Sophia. My name is Nefeli, and my son is Hans.

Nefeli offered her hand, and Hans greeted her with his gaze. Sofia was intrigued by the name of the young man, but she felt too embarrassed to ask.

-I’ll find out later, she thought.

After the crew provided the necessary safety instructions, the takeoff process began. Sofia was somewhat anxious, as it was her first time traveling. She tried not to show it, but Nefeli understood. She took her hand and reassured her:

-Don’t be afraid, everything will go smoothly.

Sofia felt a sense of calm in her heart upon hearing Nefeli’s voice. She was so peaceful and tender. She looked at her and smiled. She had forgotten how much of a difference a genuine human voice can make in a difficult moment. Immediately, she felt secure.

-Thank you, she whispered with some hesitation. You see, it’s my first time traveling, and everything makes me feel uneasy.

-Really? Nefeli was surprised. Don’t worry. It’s nothing. I’ll be by your side until we arrive.

On one hand, Sofia felt embarrassed, but on the other hand, she felt grateful for this encounter and Nefeli’s willingness. At that moment, Hans, Nefeli’s son, asked her something in a language that seemed to Sofia to be German. She answered him in the same language and then turned to Sofia to explain:

-You know, we live in Germany, and my son only speaks German. He understands Greek, but he doesn’t speak it or doesn’t want to.

Her son looked at her somewhat fiercely, and she laughed.

-He doesn’t like it when I say he knows Greek but doesn’t speak it. Isn’t that right, my friend? She asked him.

Hans looked angrily out the window.

Sofia was a very discreet person and rarely asked for information about something the other person didn’t say, but she felt so comfortable with Nefeli that she didn’t hesitate to ask.

-How did you decide, since you live in Germany, to come to Egypt with a group from Cyprus?

-It’s a long story, but basically, we’ve been living in Cyprus for the past few months, and because Hans wanted so much to visit Egypt, we decided to take this trip.

Sofia didn’t ask more, sure that the story would unfold in the days to come.

The journey was short from Larnaca to Cairo, and before long, the pilot announced the beginning of the landing process. Despite not sitting near the window, Sofia could see Cairo appearing beneath the airplane. She noticed the lights of the streets, but she was surprised that most buildings were minimally lit. It was early in the night; people shouldn’t be asleep. She asked Nefeli if this was common.

-No, in Europe where you travel, cities are brightly lit, but don’t forget that we’re landing in a country where most of the population is poor, and who knows, they may not have the money to pay high electricity bills.

Sofia felt a tightening in her heart.

-A big country with a huge culture and poor people, she thought. Sometimes, however, happiness has nothing to do with wealth. Who knows?

At that moment, the plane landed, and Sofia felt a strong jolt. Acting completely reflexively, she grabbed Nefeli’s hand. She laughed:

-Our adventure begins, Mrs. Sofia, she said happily.

-Yes, I understand! Let’s have a good time!

 

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