Maria (Chapter 11)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 14/11/2021Back to Blog
(This story is the product of fiction, and all characters are fictional; the historical elements included are real)
Nicosia, 1896 – 1910
After Antonio’s attempt to learn Mother Ayşe’s secret failed, he began to torture his mind to find a way to approach her again. It was not easy at all. At the same time, he watched the old lady, who was sitting in the garden of her house, and it was obvious that her health was not good at all. This worried him greatly because this woman was his only hope of learning the truth.
A few months passed with this uncertainty and anguish for Antonios. One day while he was sitting in the yard of his house, watching from the hole in the fence Mother Ayşe sitting relatively calm and watching the hens grazing under the trees, he suddenly heard her voice saying to him:
-Antonios, come here. Don’t just watch me through the hole. Let’s talk.
Antonios was surprised. He could not understand how she had perceived him. But immediately he replied:
-I am coming, Mother Ayşe. I am coming in a minute.
He ran into his room and took paper and a pencil. He was determined to record everything that Mother Ayşe would tell him to accurately convey it to Maria.
For the first time in his life, Antonios passed through the hole in the fence in the house next door. Mother Ayşe sat calmly in a chair and invited him to sit next to her.
-Don’t worry, she told him. They all have gone to Paphos. Fatma’s father died, and they went to the funeral. They wanted to leave Eminé with me, but I convinced them to take her with them so that she could see her parents. They will be away for a few days, and so we can talk at our leisure.
-If you don’t mind Mother Ayşe I will record what you tell me to inform Maria when I meet her.
-I don’t mind, my son, you are writing what I will tell you. Another thing worries me. The secret I am going to tell you is great, and I am afraid that it will harm my son if it is learned. I want you to promise me that as long as my son lives, the secret will remain hidden.
-You put me in a very difficult position, Antonios replied. Maria is probably in India now, and I have neither her address nor do I know when I will meet her, if I meet her, during my life. It is very unlikely that your words will be able to harm your son. On the other hand, the truth will lighten your son’s position before God when that time comes. The lie will weigh him down more. And your own soul, Mother Ayşe, will meet God lighter if you talk about this secret.
She remained silent for a while. It was a big step she had to take. She knew the time of her death was approaching, and she did not want to leave without justifying Maria. She sighed deeply and said to Antonios:
-Write my son. I’ll tell you the secret. Allah is my witness that I do it because I believe this is the right thing to do. I hope Allah will forgive my son and not punish him any more. For, my son, Antonios, has suffered greatly for his actions.
And Mother Ayşe began her narration:
-I, my son, was born a Christian. My village was Vretsia in Paphos. My name was Eleni. Our whole family ware Christians. Times were tough. People were very poor, and Christians had to pay unbearable taxes. One year, my father mortgaged his fields to a Turk to give him wheat to sow. That year we had a drought, and my father didn’t manage to fulfil his promise to pay him back. We would be taken everything away from us, and we would die of hunger. Then they suggested to my father that if he became a Muslim, they shall give him the debt. Difficult decision, but he had no choice. He accepted. In secret, we were Christians and in the openly Muslims. All our relatives hated us. No one was talking to us any more. They called us Linobambakous (Of two natures: Linen and Cotton).
-I was very young then, around ten. I remember that at the back of our house we had a room with icons and every night we prayed to Christ. We had overcome the risk of poverty, but we had been left alone. We started hanging out with the Turks. When I was fifteen, a Turk saw me and longed for me. He became my husband. My father couldn’t refuse. My husband was rich, but I didn’t love him. I only had one child with him, my son Suleiman. Then he took another wife.
-I’ve had spoiled my son a lot. Very bad thing, spoiling the children. It makes them selfish, and they always want all their desires to be fulfilled. When they grow up they remain the same, they cannot change. And that’s dangerous, my son.
Antonios recorded what she was saying and did not interrupt her, because he was afraid that she would not endure for long. She had begun to cough, and emotionally she was very upset. Tears were coming out of her eyes non-stop, just as she remembered her life and the turn it took because of her family’s poverty.
Mother Ayşe did not talk for much longer. She could not. She was exhausted.
-Tomorrow my son, she told him. Tomorrow we continue. I can’t talk any more.
The next day, Mother Ayşe continued in the same way. On the one hand the bitterness for her own life, on the other hand her reluctance to talk about her son’s actions, delayed her narration about Maria.
-When the English came, my son, my people wanted to return to the Church, but they were not accepted. So, they stayed forever Muslims. And they hated Christians. I have aged, my son, and I have known both Christ and Allah. God is a good spirit. What does his name matter? I have never understood this hatred that people have for the sake of God. How is it possible to love God and at the same time hate the other who gives him a different name? I will die, and I will not know the reason.
Antonios was recording and not commenting. He knew about the tragic fate of the Linobambakous, those who became Muslims during the Ottoman rule, to avoid the heavy taxation imposed only on Christians. When the English came, and they asked to return to the Church, they were not accepted. Each side had its arguments, but Antonios knew that what was growing was the Muslim population of Cyprus, with unpredictable consequences for the future of the country.
So almost a week passed, and Antonios was writing and writing the narration of Mother Ayşe. His hand was hurting, but he did not stop writing. It was for her something of a confession, an overflow of memories of her life and a testimony to God and people before she met her end. Through her words she was trying to soothe her son’s responsibility and take on the greatest burden, because of the upbringing she gave him, because of the favours she did to him when he was a child.
When he wrote the last sentence from Mother Ayşe’s narration, she looked at him tearfully and told him:
-My son, now I can die and meet my God, up there in heaven. If he is called Christ or Allah, it doesn’t matter. He will be good, I know, because God is only goodness. God has no hatred. I hope he is also forgiveness. To forgive me and my son. I don’t know if Maria will ever forgive us. We took everything from her, but it seems that God gave it back to her, in another way. Ask her, my son, to forgive us! If she can do it…
Antonios was touched by the pain of the old woman. Her apology was sincere, and as much as her son’s actions toward Mary were criminal, he felt that it was God who would judge. Only He knows how the games of fate are played in every person’s life and how circumstances determine the future. Antonios remembered the ancient Greek tragedies and the interpretation given of the Gods’ intervention in the fate of men by influencing their actions.
Not many days had passed after the residents of the next house returned from Paphos and Mother Ayşe left for heaven. Her son was inconsolable. Antonios could hear his sobs all the way to his house. Even his wives experienced great sorrow. This woman was the strength and cohesion of their home. It was now certain that the disintegration of the family would follow.
It took Antonios a long time to copy carefully in a notebook with a thick cover what he was recording when Mother Ayşe was speaking. Outside he wrote:
For Maria – The story of her life as narrated by Mother Ayşe.
He waited for the summer when the schools were closed for a while and set off for Paphos to look for further evidence that emerged from the words of Mother Ayşe. He visited the villages of Emba, Vretsia and Statos. He did not find anything special. Many years had passed, the people who knew had died and no one remembered anything. However, he recorded in the notebook for Maria, what he found and what he did not find. She could search for herself if she wished, when this information would reach her.
In 1898, when he had the information ready and could have given it to Maria, if there was a way to meet her, he went to visit Evelyn McCain. She was his only choice and his only connection with Maria.
Mrs. McCain was not very happy to see him but was typically polite. This did not particularly care Antonios. What he cared about was learning details about Maria, where she was, what she was doing, etc. Of course, he had no intention of informing Mrs. McCain of his inquisition. He justified his visit by saying that he would like to know Maria’s news.
-My dear Antonios, Mary is very well. She had a wonderful wedding; you can’t imagine the luxury. My Mary was the most beautiful bride ever existed! Everyone admired her and commented that Michael got the most beautiful woman in the world. I was so proud! My husband was constantly tearing from emotion. I told her that I saw you, and you send your wishes for her wedding. She was very pleased.
-Now, our Mary is Lady Mary William Moore. But the most important thing is that last year she had a little girl, Alexandra. Now all three are in India and unfortunately for me they will stay there for many years, as it seems. My son-in-law, although he is a lord, he does not give up military life.
Here, Evelyn McCain, was completely honest. The whole situation, them staying in India, was very distressing to her, but what she could do. An attempt by Antonios to ask for Maria’s address fell on deaf ears.
-She has no address, Evelyn McCain told him. Only military correspondence can be received.
And this is where the discussion and the visit ended.
Antonios was at first very disappointed. He did not know how he could communicate with Maria. It was obvious that Evelyn McCain had no intention of giving any information about her address. Then he decided to think positively. Life had shown that Maria had care that came beyond this world. Some way would be found to learn the truth about her past. It is enough that the data were recorded.
However, he visited Mrs. Evelyn McCain twice more, in 1900 and 1903, but the same scene was repeated. He did not get any substantial information that could bring him into contact with Maria, but he learned general information about her life. And that was fine. This was a consolation for Antonios.
The last time he visited the McCain house was in 1907. This time he did not find Evelyn McCain. As the maid he met informed him, Mrs. Evelyn McCain had gone to London. Mary had asked her to go there to be close to Alexandra, who had been in a boarding school for young misses. Mary had to return to India to be with her husband, and she did not want her daughter to be alone in London.
Antonios left very disappointed. If he knew it in time, he would have gone to London himself to meet Maria. But now it was too late. Lately he felt quite weak. He was now sixty-seven years old. The bitterness of his life had left their marks on his health. He often coughed and felt bites on the side of the heart. He had to find a solution.
That night he did not sleep at all. He was thinking. During the morning hours, one thought illuminated his mind: that is what he should do. Only in this way he would ensure that Maria, in one way or in the other, would receive the information he wanted to give her.
As soon as the first light shown, he got up. He found a small wooden box, and he put inside the notebook with the story that Mother Ayşe had told him. He put the rest of the evidence he found when he went to Paphos, which was not much. Then he searched and found all the letters he wrote to Maria from time to time and could not send them to her and put them in. He did not seal the box, in case he might want to but something else in it.
Then he went out into the courtyard and sat next to the fig tree. He pondered his life. There was much more bitterness than joys. Was it worth his course, or was everything in vain? Despite all the pessimistic mood he had, a voice in the depths of his mind whispered to him:
-If it were not for you, Antonios, Maria’s wretched life would continue up to her death. God has designated you to play this role.
He smiled bitterly.
-And my father instructed me to educate the children of Cyprus, he thought.
He knew he did not have a long time to live. He wanted before leaving life to be sure that he performed the role it was given to him on this earth. And if the two above goals were the trust of his life, he did everything he could to complete them as good as possible.
These thoughts brought him peace. He got up, ready to start his day, with a hope that his life had not been wasted.