Hieroglyphs in the sun – Chapter 9

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 02/07/2024

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 The Story of Nepheli

The arrival of the police complicated things even more instead of helping the situation. The police officers didn’t speak English, so one of the crew members had to act as a translator. The fact that they were talking to two women, who in a Muslim country didn’t have much status, was also a negative factor. They asked what happened, asked Hans’s age, examined his cabin, found nothing to suggest a violent struggle, and concluded that Hans left voluntarily. They said they would check departures at the airports to see if he left with the group of Americans and then departed.

While Nepheli was talking to the police officers, Sophia sat in a small room with two armchairs and a coffee table overlooking the river. It seemed intended for people who wanted some privacy to study or talk. She looked outside, uncertain about her thoughts and decisions. The whole scene seemed surreal to her. Hans’s disappearance, the police, herself on a riverboat on the Nile, and so many unexplained mysteries.

-Am I dreaming? she thought. Will I wake up and find this is all a nightmare? This can’t be happening to me! Nepheli hasn’t spoken to me yet to help me understand even a little of what’s going on. On the other hand, she is very calm. Any other mother would be crying, screaming, or breaking down. She stands like a rock, trying to handle things without drama, despite the difficulties. This doesn’t help with the Egyptian police, who look at her with suspicion. Could it be that Hans indeed left voluntarily and she knows it?

With the departure of the police, Nepheli seemed lost for the first time. She didn’t know how to proceed. At that moment, her mobile phone rang. It was from the Cypriot embassy in Cairo. The trip organizer had notified them, and they called to help. Nepheli talked with them for a while and then turned to Sophia:

-They advised us to return to Cairo. They believe the police here won’t do anything more since they have already concluded that Hans left voluntarily and it’s not an abduction. Moreover, Hans doesn’t necessarily have to be in Aswan. Once he left the boat, he could be anywhere, even outside Egypt. In Cairo, they will connect me with higher police authorities, and maybe I can get more help to find out what happened. If necessary, we’ll return here again.

Sophia agreed; she couldn’t have a different opinion anyway. She still felt completely in the dark. Their suitcases were already packed; they had unloaded them from the bus in the morning before the rest of the group left for the airport. They called a taxi and soon were on their way to the Aswan airport. The shipping company had arranged seats for them on the next flight to Cairo.

Once they were seated in the taxi and started the journey, Sophia felt it was time to ask:

-Everything has happened so quickly that I personally don’t understand anything. Do you think Hans left voluntarily or was he abducted?

Nepheli thought for a moment before answering:

-You are right. Everything seems very strange. I need to tell you a long story to give you some context. As for your question, I honestly don’t know. What I am sure of is that if Hans wanted to leave with them, he would have informed me, left a note. There was nothing in his cabin. I was the first to enter when the steward opened it. I looked for a note. I found nothing. For me, this is the biggest sign that his disappearance is not natural.

-Did you tell the police that?

-I did, but you understand that communication was not easy with the translation and all. Besides, they weren’t very willing to listen. They wanted to finish quickly and leave.

Nepheli was nervously clasping one hand with the other. It was obvious she was anxious despite her apparent self-control. Sophia took her hands in hers and held them gently.

-Don’t be afraid, Nepheli. We will find Hans. If he was indeed taken against his will, he will find a way to notify you. But to help you, you need to explain what’s going on.

-You are absolutely right. But it’s difficult for me to talk about all this. On the flight to Cairo, when we are quieter, I will tell you my story.

-Okay, I’ll wait.

After enduring the “painful” for Sophia, airport security checks, and finally sitting in their seats on the plane, Nepheli, without preamble, began to speak:

-I was born in a mountain village in Cyprus. My grandfather was the village priest. I grew up with strict principles, and my role models were young girls from another era. When I finished school, I wanted to study and with great difficulty convinced my parents to send me to Germany to study archaeology. Why Germany? I don’t know. I think it was because they didn’t require exams or something like that.

-For a girl with my background, Germany seemed like another planet. Everything was so different from what I knew. Initially, I was dedicated solely to my studies, but gradually, I began to loosen up, go out with my classmates, and have fun. It was then that I met Gonzalez. He was a student from Mexico, very unconventional and fun. Nothing like me. I fell madly in love with him.

-Naturally, Gonzalez wanted us to live together; the romantic love I had in mind was not in his vocabulary or choices. I knew that if I refused, I would lose him. And there were many who surrounded him.

-So, we started living together. Of course, my parents knew nothing. Things were very difficult for me at first. Gonzalez did not study regularly, often we stayed up late, and I had started to fall behind in my studies. In Germany, yes, they accept you without exams, but if you don’t pass your courses, they expel you. I was on the verge of expulsion when I decided to study and not follow Gonzalez in his nightlife. Thus, I managed to pass the first year. He, despite his chaotic life, managed to pass his third year. How he did it? I honestly don’t know.

-Such types have their ways, Sophia replied. And they are usually not very clean. Go on.

-The second year started with the same conditions. I had started to get tired. The love I had for this heartthrob seemed to be fading. I felt that our relationship was one-sided. I gave him my love, and he used me to satisfy his sexual desires. And I was not at all sure that only I was satisfying them.

-I was seriously thinking of leaving him and focusing on my studies when I discovered I was pregnant. The shock was huge. I walked the streets aimlessly, and if I didn’t think about my parents and the principles I was raised with, I would have considered suicide. But that was out of the question. When I told him, he looked quite annoyed and told me not to worry. He would find money for me to terminate the pregnancy.

-Vainly I tried to explain to him that this was out of the question. My principles did not allow me to kill a life. It was then that he told me he would leave for Mexico in a few months. ‘You will be on your own in this,’ he concluded. ‘I will not ruin my career for a pregnancy!’

-I wanted so much to leave him, but my finances were not good enough to rent another house. The doctor I was visiting told me that the pregnancy seemed difficult, and I should be careful, not overwork, and not worry. I did exactly the opposite. I stopped attending university and started working. I had to save money. I hadn’t told my parents anything and didn’t know how to manage that part. I felt a creature growing inside me, and that filled me with awe. It was the only good thing I had during that period in my life.

-So, Hans is Gonzalez’s son? asked Sophia.

-No, no, Hans is not Gonzalez’s son!”

-Because you had told me that after giving birth you couldn’t have other children.

-I will explain. It’s a rather complicated story. So, we stayed in the same house with Gonzalez, but we hardly spoke. He lived his life and just let me use his house.

-The pregnancy progressed, and the doctor was very concerned. He recommended I give birth in a specialized center if the baby was to survive. The center he recommended was quite expensive, and I didn’t have enough money. So, I worked more and more.

-And what jobs did you do?

-Whatever I found. Babysitting, typing texts, answering phones, substituting secretaries who were away, translating letters from Greek to German, even cleaning.

-And he was completely indifferent?

-Something like that. Maybe he showed me some respect at that time. To cut a long story short, I managed to save the amount for the clinic. For later, I didn’t have a dime, but I said God is great.

-A few days before I gave birth, Gonzalez came one night and sat with me. He was strangely serious. ‘You know, I will leave for Mexico next week,’ he said. ‘I respect what you are doing and admire you, but I can’t participate. It was your decision to keep the baby.’ And he took 500 euros out of his pocket and gave them to me. ‘This is from me, for the birth. The rent for the house is paid for another two months. You can stay here until you see what you will do.’

-I wanted to throw the money in his face, but I needed it so much that I took it and even thanked him. He gave me his address and phone number in Mexico, in case I needed to contact him. Three days later, he left without saying goodbye. Maybe he was ashamed, who knows.

-All these emotions, insecurities, and fears brought birth earlier than expected. I went alone, by taxi, to the clinic. No one was with me. I don’t remember much about the horrible hours that followed. I just remember that they told me my child couldn’t survive the difficult birth. It was a little girl.

Nefeli’s eyes were streaming continuously. Sophia held her hands and waited for her to recover.

-I’m sorry for making you remember all of this, she said.

-No, no. It’s good for me. This is the first time I’m telling someone. The first time I’m letting it out. It’s a cleansing for me

After a while, when Nefeli had somewhat regained her composure, she continued her story:

-So, I was in my room, crying inconsolably. I didn’t know what I was crying for the most: losing my child, being completely alone and penniless in a foreign country, what I would tell my parents, or all of it combined, I don’t know. But I was crying non-stop. I was only 21 years old, Sophia!

Now Sophia’s eyes were streaming as well. She couldn’t even herself  distinguish why she was crying: for the drama her friend had lived through and was describing to her, or for the motherhood she herself had never experienced. Despite this, Nefeli continued resolutely. She wanted to finish her story:

-As I was in that wretched state, the door to my room opened, and a man walked in. He was around 40, tall, well-built, blond, with green eyes. He was undoubtedly sad. I thought he was a doctor who came to inform me about my condition and when I should leave the clinic. But this man came closer, sat next to me on the bed, took my hands in his, and said, ‘Don’t cry, my girl. There’s already too much pain in this clinic today. Let’s try to use it constructively.’

-I looked at him in surprise, not understanding what he meant. But what left me speechless was his aura. It covered me like a warm blanket, enveloping my frozen soul and soothing my wounds. I don’t know how to describe it. He made me feel a sweet sense of security. It was a completely new feeling for me. And I needed it so much at that moment!

-He told me his name was Otto Eberhardt and that he had just lost his wife in the next room. But before she died, she had given birth to a baby boy. A very weak and sickly baby boy. His chances of survival would increase if he nursed, even for a few days, on breast milk. And I was the only one who could offer it to him. Before I could process what he was saying, the door opened, and the doctor came in. When he saw him with me, he got angry. ‘What are you doing here? I told you to let us talk to her first!’ he said.

-And they started an intense conversation. I wasn’t even following them. Otto’s proposal stunned me. Without even realizing how, I heard my voice say:

-Bring me the child so I can nurse him!

-And that’s how I became Hans’s mother, giving him colostrum, my love, and life.

-My God,’ said Sophia. How poetically you put it! So, Hans isn’t your son!

-I don’t know if he isn’t my son. To me, he is my son. I held him in my arms as soon as he was born, fed him with my milk, and you know what: I think his mother entrusted him to me. Surely his father placed him in my hands when his mother passed away.

The two women remained silent for a while. Sophia felt an incredible respect for the story life had written, protecting the child from almost certain death.

-God decided then that Hans should live,’ she said to her friend. ‘And He entrusted him to you. Don’t be afraid. You’ll find him!’

Before Nefeli could respond, they both felt the jolt of the plane landing. They had arrived in Cairo. They hadn’t realized how time had passed. Now they had to disembark. The conversation stopped here.


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