Maria (Chapter 10)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 07/11/2021Back to Blog
(This story is the product of fiction, and all characters are fictional; the historical elements included are real)
Nicosia Autumn 1926
After a few days, Maria decided to visit Mrs. Aydan to see if she had any information about Eminé. Mrs. Aydan greeted her cheerfully and offered her the typical coffee. She told her that she had asked about Eminé, but no one in the neighbourhood seemed to have known anything about her fate. She disappeared as soon as the last resident of the house died. She had probably gone to Paphos, but no one knew for sure.
Maria left disappointed and started walking through the streets of Nicosia, without having any destination. She remembered the teacher and felt guilty that she had not searched for him yet. As she walked so aimlessly, her steps led her out of the walls of the city and a piece of information, she had recently learned, came to her mind. To the south of Nicosia was the cemetery of Agios Spyridon. There were buried since the last century the Greek Cypriot inhabitants of Nicosia. She would go and search among the graves in case she might discover the tomb of her teacher.
She proceeded for a quarter of an hour and the cemetery, along with the small church of Agios Spyridon, appeared. Cypress trees had been planted and shaded the tombs, giving the impression of an oasis. She entered the church, and the priest was sitting there, as if he was waiting for her.
-My Father, she said, I am called Lady Mary William Moore. I have lived my childhood in Cyprus, and I had a teacher, a Greek Cypriot, who was called Antonios Philippou. I believe he is dead, and I would love to find his grave.
-Do you know my daughter when your teacher died?
-No, my father, I have been away from Cyprus for many years, and I came recently. This teacher was very important to me, and I would like to honour his memory. As far as I know he had no family and probably his grave is not cared after. I don’t even know if he has a cross with his name on it. From the facts that I have in mind, although very vague, I think he would have died some fifteen years ago. But I’m not at all sure.
-Come and let us look in the book of the church, he told her.
He looked at some older books and confirmed to her that a teacher, named Antonios Philippou, had died in 1910 and had been buried in this cemetery.
-Come with me to look at the graves, he told her. According to the date he died, I can calculate where he has been buried.
-As they walked among the tombs and read the names on the crosses, the priest began to tell her the story of the cemetery.
-At the time of the Turkish occupation, my daughter, it was a big problem to bury your dead. Turkish law forbade Christians to have cemeteries in the city or outside the walls. So, whenever people had a dead person they must carry them on foot, in the coffin, to the cemetery of Pallouriotissa or up to Strovolos, that is, long distances. The discomfort, especially in the hot summer months and in the cold of winter, was unimaginable! After the English came, the Christians held a fundraiser, and were able to buy this field and make the first Cristian cemetery of Nicosia.
Suddenly Maria stopped. She noticed a wooden cross, crookedly placed, that read on: Antonios Philippou, Teacher, Died June 22, 1910.
Before she thought about it and could restrain herself, she knelt in front of the grave and began to cry. The priest was taken aback. He did not expect such sentimentalities from an English Lady!
-You know, she told him to justify herself, he was a very important man to me. He taught me almost everything and gave me the foundations to continue my studies in London. Tell me what I need to do to place here a marble grave, as he deserves.
-I will take care of everything. Don’t worry, he told her. Tell me what you want, and I will do it for you.
-I would like a marble tomb with a cross, simple, not sophisticated. On the cross I would like to be written, in addition to what is already mentioned in the wooden cross, the following: “The man who taught the children of Cyprus, the knowledge and wisdom of their ancestors. Let his memory be in eternity.”
The priest noted the words that Maria told him and assured her that he would order what she asked him to do, to the best marble worker in Nicosia. Maria promised that she would come the next day, bringing a deposit to be given to the marble worker and flowers for the tomb.
As she was leaving, her feelings were mixed. She was glad to find even one clue for her beloved teacher, but the bitterness that had followed her since she was seventeen years old, when she had lost all contact with him, flared up in her heart. She could not restrain herself from not reproaching her mother for it. Within her, however, she also felt guilty that she never had the courage to trample on the false world that had been imposed on her and to seek him out. She knew that deep down; we all have a responsibility for our choices. We must not justify ourselves by blaming others.
By the time she arrived at her house, it was lunchtime. Mrs. Vassilia was waiting for her with a traditional food: koupepia (stuffed vine-yard leaves) with kolokasi (a Cyprus vegetable). Although Maria was crazy about this food, she did not have much appetite to eat.
When the door just knocked on, Mrs. Vassilia told her that a boy had brought a note. As soon as Maria opened it and read it, she was excited. It was from Kristian Hubertus, who informed her that he had arrived in Nicosia and would come in the afternoon to visit her
Immediately, before the boy left, she prepared a note of her own and gave him. She invited Kristian Hubertus to extend his afternoon visit until the evening, for dinner.
The arrival of her Swedish friend somewhat lightened her soul and formed a smile on her lips. She asked Mrs. Vassilia l to prepare roasted potatoes, alongside the koupepia with the kolokasi, which had remained almost intact, before leaving for her home. She assured her also that she could serve the dinner herself to her guest and she did not have to stay.
Ιn the afternoon, she prepared herself with diligence and finesse to welcome Kristian Hubertus. After the arrival of the Swedish, they had their coffee – Cyprus coffee had become a habit for both – and then Maria suggested taking a walk to see the surrounding area.
They first visited the church of Agios. Antonios, which was next to Maria’s house, and then she showed to him the Mansion of the Hatzigiorgakis family, which was located fifty meters away from the Church. The church and the Mansion had been built in the 18th century and Hatzigiorgakis had undertaken with his own funding the decoration of the Church, which, in a way, his family had under their protection. Hatzigiorgakis Kornesios had been a dragoman of Cyprus, during the Ottoman rule, i.e., an interpreter and responsible for collecting taxes and handing them over to the Sultan. These activities brought him many enemies, and as a result he was executed in Constantinople by the Sultan in 1809.
The Mansion of Hatzigiorgakis was an impressive building of the 18th century, two-story, in the shape of a Π. At its entrance it bore a coat of arms, probably of an older house of the Lusignan and above the entrance it had an impressive gazebo. The interior could not be seen, because the house was inhabited by the descendants of Hatzigiorgakis, but from a glance they threw from the window, it looked very rich.
Kristian liked the tour very much. He found the city of Nicosia very interesting, despite the poverty that prevailed in various neighbourhoods. Society, as he observed, especially the Greek Cypriots, had a tendency towards Europeanization and progress, as shown by the activities in the hotel where he was staying.
When they returned home and Maria served the dinner prepared by Mrs. Vassilia, Kristian Hubertus was thrilled. He also found the Cypriot cuisine very tasty. He had become accustomed to it and would miss it when he would leave.
Later, after sitting in the living room to have their tea, Kristian talked to her about his mission. He had visited many sites with possible antiquities from Larnaca, to Lapithos and Karavas, in the district of Kyrenia. His report, about the realization of the Swedish archaeological mission in Cyprus the following year, to the prince of his country, was positive. He also recorded his suggestions on the places from which they could begin their intricacies. Einar Gjerstad would again be in charge. Kristian clarified that Prince Gustav Adolf was himself an archaeologist. Many donors had been found for the mission, and the Swedish State would also contribute financially where needed.
Last he left the most pleasant announcement: Mr. Pierides had lent him his car, and so he suggested to Maria to visit next day the area of Kyrenia. Maria was thrilled with the idea. She had never travelled outside Nicosia, and this would have been a wonderful opportunity.
So, they agreed to pick her up in the morning, around 8.00 a.m. and after they passed by the cemetery to leave money to the priest and flowers to her teacher’s grave, to set off for their journey. As he was leaving, he held her hand for a while after the warm handshake and told her:
-I was very pleased to see you, Mary!
Maria smiled broadly at him and replied in the same tone:
-And I was glad to see you, Kristian! Have a good night and a let us both have a good waking up, as they say here in Cyprus.
The next day, Maria prepared herself early in the morning, made a bouquet of the fragrant roses brought to her by Mrs. Vassilia and waited for Kristian. As soon as the car arrived, she got in, and they set off. They made a short stop at the cemetery of Agios. Spyridon, where Mary left the flowers by the tomb of her teacher and the money to the priest and began their journey.
It was autumn, but the autumn time in Cyprus is sweet and mild. The weather was wonderful and as the windows were open a cool breeze caressed their faces.
-What a wonderful place, Kristian said. I have never experienced such autumn in my life before. In my homeland now probably, there is snow and certainly in your homeland, Mary, cold.
Maria felt uncomfortable that Kristian called England her homeland.
-I grew up here, she told him. This, for me, is my homeland!
-Well, you don’t have to get angry! Kristian told her with a laugh. By the way, why did you tell me that your name is Maria, when you were on the train in Famagusta?
At that moment, Maria decided:. She would tell him the truth about her life. Her realization yesterday that her insistence on remaining true to the lie that had been imposed on her, kept her away from her beloved teacher, made her want to stop this untruthful story. At least among her own people.
-Listen Kristian, she told him. In the next village that we will stop, I will tell you a story that I did not tell anyone, except my daughter and my son-in-law.
Kristian was surprised by Maria’s serious tone and respected her request. They continued to the village of Lapithos. Kristian, who had studied the history of the village for the report he prepared, informed Maria:
– It is an ancient village, which has existed for thousands of years. It will be one of the places where excavations will be carried out by my country’s mission. It is believed that the ancient city was built by Praxandrous, a hero of the Trojan War from Laconia. Likewise, it took its name from mount Lapethis of Laconia from where its settlers came from. I believe that we will find interesting remains here because this city flourished in antiquity.
As they arrived in the village, Maria exclaimed at the sight of it.
-Oh my God, what a beautiful place!
The village spread on the northern outskirts of Pentadactylous mountain, all green, among lemon trees and in the background sparkling the blue of the sea. Its houses, perched on the slope of the mountain, white, looked like bird nests. The architecture of the houses was very interesting. Many were made of stone with carved vaulted gates and tall walls, all with lush gardens. It was obvious that it was a very rich and large village, by the standards of Cyprus.
-Here there is a lot of water, which flows from the mountain, Kristian told her, who had previously visited the village, and so they can cultivate everything. They also make wonderful clay pots and vases. It is worth buying something before we leave.
-I have never seen a nicer place in my life, Maria whispered.
They sat in a café overlooking the sea. They chose a distant corner, not because the villagers, who were sitting there having their coffee, would understand what they would say, but for Maria, to feel more comfortable talking.
Meanwhile, they ordered their coffees and sweet walnuts (a traditional Cyprus sweet) to the smiley shopkeeper, with the big moustache and bright eyes. When everything was served, Maria spoke to Kristian about her life memories.
Tears flowed from her eyes, and often her chest was jerked by a sob that she was trying to hold back. The years of silence had created within her a beast that was looking for a way to come out and be freed. Kristian listened to her carefully and held her hands between his. It was a very tender scene, which the villagers could not fail to notice. Many, although they did not understand what was happening, were moved.
Kristian did not interrupt her at all, during the narration. He listened to her silently. When she finished, he spoke to her calmly and quietly:
-Maria, the tragedy in your life is due to your possible theft from your mother’s lap. Your adoption by the English family was a blessing to you, and no matter how many flaws your mother had, all mothers have flaws. You have lived an exciting life with incredible opportunities and experiences. Your alienation from your teacher was a big mistake, and I believe that this is what torments you the most. As I listened to you talking, I decided to delay my departure from Nicosia, if it takes, to help you find clues about the teacher along with the truth about your past. Tomorrow I will telegraph to my university.
Kristian’s words brought more tears to Maria. She could not believe she would have someone next to her, in her up to now, dead-end quest. She would like to tell him that there is no need to make such a sacrifice, but she wanted his presence so much, that she could not speak.
-Thank you, whispered. It is the greatest gift that someone can give me!
When they got up to leave, a surprise awaited them. The shopkeeper did not accept to be paid!
-No visitor pays when he comes to our village, he explained to Maria, who spoke Greek. The mukhtar (community leader), who sits there – and showed a smiling gentleman in the background – paid for your coffees and sweets.
Maria approached the mukhtar to thank him, and he insisted on taking them to his house for lunch. With great difficulty they managed to avoid the invitation of these friendly peasants, who adhered, for centuries now, to the ancient Greek customs of hospitality.
Then they visited a workshop that manufactured clay pots, next to the café, and bought a vase for each one. Maria’s was decorated like a dark seabed. Against a deep green, almost black background, incised fish of various sizes swam. At the base and on the rim of the jar, flowers and plants were engraved on a brown background. Kristian insisted and managed to pay for her own vase, like a commemorative gift for their trip.
They then boarded on the car and continued their route through a beautiful landscape, having on the right the mountain of Pentadactylous, green and on the other hand the sea moving like a living being, glimmering blue and glamouring.
Tired of the charge of the confession and relaxed by the tranquillity and beauty of the landscape, Maria closed her eyes and fell asleep. She sank into a calm sleep, feeling for the first time that she was not alone.
Agnes Michaelides: “Chora”, the old Nicosia
Photo from the Internet:https://www.google.com/search?q=%CE%9B%CE%AC%CF%80%CE%B7%CE%B8%CE%BF%CF%82&sxsrf=AOaemvJ_TH0alVl9lMSZeZRrbM93D-x6ow:1635252963448&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiG4YOAkOjzAhUOoRQKHRtmACQQ_AUoAXoECAEQAw&biw=1920&bih=937&dpr=1#imgrc=nIIOeEX4C4DdgM