Maria (Chapter 12)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 21/11/2021Back to Blog
(This story is the product of fiction, and all characters are fictional; the historical elements included are real)
Kyrenia – Nicosia, autumn 1926
Maria woke up as soon as the car stopped at the port of Kyrenia.
As she opened her eyes, she saw the incredible picturesqueness of that small harbour and exclaimed:
-No matter how many times I say it, it will not be an exaggeration. What a wonderful place my homeland is! Homeland, she repeated, what a nice word!. For the first time, I can say it out loud.
-I agree, Kristian replied. While you were sleeping, I couldn’t get enough of admiring the scenery. It is a beautiful place, your homeland!
They sat in a small café overlooking the fishing boats and on their right the castle of Kyrenia. The air was cool and with a smell of the sea. When the owner approached them, dressed traditionally with his breeches, Maria asked him in Greek if they could eat there.
Good (of course), replied, the owner. The fishermen just got fresh, mullah. Do you want me to fry some for you? I’ll make you a frying of potatoes, salad, olives, halloumi, and anything else you want.
-Perfect, Maria agreed. Bring us some wine, from what is produced here in the place.
Until the food was ready, the owner brought them olives, halloumi, tomatoes, and bread to begin with.
Maria and Kristian began to talk about the issue that was burning her. How to locate data and information about Antonios Philippou.
-Be sure, that this man has found the story of your past, and somewhere he would have left you the information. We need to find out where he lived, how he died, what assets he had and where they are, Kristian told her.
-As far as I know, Maria replied, he taught at the Pancyprian Gymnasium. Of course, it’s been 16 years since his death, and I don’t know if he is remembered by those who are there now. But you’re right, that’s where we must start. As for where he lived, I don’t know. I know he initially stayed at the house next to the Turkish mansion, but then, when he was teaching me, he left from there. I don’t know where he lived.
-It doesn’t matter, Kristian told her. We may visit the lady you met, Aydan, if I am not mistaken, and we will ask her. Any information is valuable. The city of Nicosia is small, someone will remember something.
By the time they finished their conversation, the owner came with the food. He deposited the fish that smelled beautifully on the table, brought the potatoes, the wine, the salad, and Maria asked him if he had time to sit and talk to them about the city of Kyrenia.
-I can sit my daughter, he replied to her, but I am illiterate. The teacher sitting over there will explain you better.
And before they could answer, he shouted:
-Teacher, these strangers want to know about our country. Come and talk to them, you who are educated.
And turning to them, he added:
-He is very well-educated, our teacher, Mr. Kranidiotis. He speaks English also.
Mr. Kranidiotis, around fifty, tall, dressed in European clothes, with a suit, beige colour, and a corresponding hat, approached them and stretched out his hand in a warm handshake. And he continued in impeccable English:
-My name is Eleftherios Kranidiotis, and I am a teacher. I am at your disposal. You can ask anything you want.
-Please sit down and have lunch with us, they invited him and asked the owner to bring another dish.
Mr. Kranidiotis sat down, and after the recommendations were made, he began to talk to them about the city of Kyrenia. He spoke slowly and through his words you could discern his erudition, but also his love for his homeland.
-Our city, our Kyrenia, is a proof of the colonization of the place by the Achaeans. A city of the same name existed in the Peloponnese, as well as a river. According to Lycophron, an ancient writer, the city must have been founded by Cepheus, a strategist of the Vouraians, a city in the Peloponnese, near the ancient city of Kyrenia. Cepheus was co-ruler of Praxandrous who founded Lapithos, which in ancient times was a more important city than Kyrenia.
-Kyrenia was seized, like the whole of Cyprus, by many conquerors: Phoenicians, Persians, was occupied by Alexander the Great, passed to his successors, was a Roman district, then belonged to the eastern Roman Empire, namely Byzantium, where the castle you see was built. Of course, the Lusignans followed, the Genoese besieged it, experienced the Venetian rule and in 1570 it passed, like the entire of Cyprus, to the Ottomans.
-Dark years during the Ottoman rule. The Greeks, residents of the city, moved to Thermia and only the Turks remained in the city. Nothing reminded of the old bloom of the place. During the late 18th and 19th centuries, the Greek inhabitants began to return and buy houses and property from the Turks. Then trade flourished, and the city began to find its former glory. At this time, the people of Kyrenia had many commercial relations with Greece. Many Greek captains came and settled here. You can understand it from the many Greek surnames: Skopelidis (from Skopelos). Chalkidis (from Halki), Chiotelis (from Chios), Vrachas (from the Ionian Islands) and me, Kranidiotis, from Kranidi, Peloponnese.
-Unfortunately, in 1922, with the Asia Minor disaster for the Greeks, the commercial activity of the inhabitants was destroyed. What was never lost was the beauty of Kyrenia. Nowhere else in Cyprus, you have a green mountain in the north and a blue sea in the south to mingle and give a cool climate and an unparalleled view.
-Now with the English, things are better. We have started to have travellers. In 1922 Kostas Katsellis founded the first European type hotel in our city, and we hope to slowly develop in this new fashion of the time: Receive tourists.
Maria and Kristian were impressed by Mr. Kranidiotis’ knowledge and continued the conversation with him to learn more details about the fate of the place. When it was time for them to leave, and they went to pay the owner, there was almost a battle with Mr. Kranidiotis who insisted on paying for lunch, even if they were the ones who invited him. In the end, Kristian managed to pay and Mr. Kranidiotis was left very disappointed.
-We will come back, said Kristian, to comfort him. And then you will pay.
-The people of this place are really descended from the Achaeans, Kristian added, as if they got into the car. The Xenios (for the visitors) Zeus is for good rooted in their hearts!
-Yes, said Mary with pride. They are the people of my homeland!
The trip to Nicosia was pleasant. Despite the emotional charge of the morning, the rest of the day helped to relieve Maria and a sweet happiness began to fill her. She was herself for the first time and that was wonderful!
Before Kristian left her at her house in the evening, they agreed to meet the next day to visit the Pancyprian Gymnasium.
The next day, in the morning, Kristian knocked on Maria’s door around 10 a.m. The weather was dull and rainy, unlike the day before, and so they took an umbrella with them.
-At last, Kristian commented, something reminiscent of autumn!
The Pancyprian Gymnasium was only five minutes away from Maria’s house and so the rain, that fell gently, was no problem. On the contrary, it was like a promise of catharsis, like a cleaning of the past and a new beginning.
As they arrived at the entrance of the Gymnasium, Maria took a deep breath before they went inside. They asked for the manager’s office, and an ageing cleaning woman led them to a big door in the background and told them:
-That’s it. Our director is Mr. Andreas Georgiadis.
They discreetly knocked on the door and after hearing the invitation “Come in” they went through.
Mr. Georgiadis was a short, fatty gentleman, around fifty, with a small moustache, glasses, and an unsmiling style. After they were introduced they told him the reason for their visit. They wanted to know about an old teacher at the school, Mr. Antonios Philippou, who died in 1910.
Mr. Georgiadis did not seem very willing to help them.
-I’ve only been here for ten years, he told them. I didn’t know the person you’re talking about.
-Are there other older teachers who may have known him?
-I don’t know. Most of them here are young. I don’t know when everyone came to this school!
With these words, he leaned over his books and began to read something, showing them that they had to leave.
They came out very disappointed. Maria was ready to cry. Suddenly she felt someone tap her at the arm. She turned and saw the cleaning woman who had accompanied them before, who whispered to her in Greek:
-I knew the late Antonios Philippou. Come with me and I’ll to tell you.
She led them to an empty class and began to talk to them:
-The late Mr. Antonios was a very good man, and everyone loved him at school. His students adored him. What do you want to know?
-He was my teacher when I lived in Cyprus during my childhood. I loved him very much and would like to honor his memory in every possible way. I am even thinking of writing a book about his work and action. That’s why I’d like to know if he left anything behind, books, writings, etc. Do you know where he lived in his last years?
-I think he lived next to the Turkish mansion. But the one who will know more is his student, Eleftherios Constantinou. The late, Mr. Antonios loved him very much. He had him as his son.
-Do you know where I can find him?
-I don’t know, unfortunately. He had also gone away when Antonios died. I think he left him money to study in London. Doctor? Lawyer? I don’t really remember. But surely everything he had, it was left to him.
-Do you know someone else who may know more? asked Maria.
-There was another professor with whom they were friends. He is called Demetrios Demetriou. As far as I know, though, he is very ill. He grew old and lost his sanity. He lives in the district of Agios Kassianos. If you find him, he might remember something.
They thanked the woman, and before they left, Maria gave her five pounds. The woman was surprised and did not want to take the money.
-Please take them, said Maria with tears in her eyes. You don’t know what a gift this information is for me! Besides, I know that you don’t get paid much, and you need the money.
On the way back, Maria translated her conversation with the cleaning woman to Kristian. When they arrived at Maria’s house, while having their tea and eating from the cake prepared by Mrs. Bassilia, they began to devise their plans:
First they would search and find Professor Demetrios Demetriou, in Agios Kassianos.
-It’s very close from here, Maria said. Only a few minutes. You may stay for lunch, and we will go in the afternoon.
They ate the wonderful meal prepared by Mrs. Bassilia and started early in the afternoon for Agios Kassianos. The rain had stopped and the wet, refreshing smell that pervades the atmosphere, after the first rains, filled their nostrils.
They originally passed by the church of Agios Kassianos. The church is a stone building with the characteristic porous lime stone of Cyprus. It has double aisle and was built in the 19th century. It is surrounded by narrow streets and houses with internal courtyards. Some of them are majestic, two-story, while others are humble single-story houses. But everything is built in continuous construction, making this district of Nicosia very picturesque. In the courtyard of the church, they found the priest, whom they asked if he knows where the house of Professor Demetrios Demetriou is.
The priest looked at them in amazed.
-What would you do with poor Demetriοs? He asked. The man is not well.
-We want to ask him about another professor. Antonios Philippou. If he can’t speak, we won’t force him.
-There is the house of Demetrios. He stays with his daughter.
And he showed them a house outside the churchyard with a green door. They went ahead and knocked on the robe on the door that had the shape of a closed female hand. A tired young woman opened the small door window and looked at them in surprise, behind the decorative railings.
-What do you want? She asked.
-Excuse us for the inconvenience. My name is Lady Mary William Moore, and he is the archaeologist Kristian Hubertus. I have lived my childhood in Cyprus, and I had a teacher named Antonios Philippou. I’ve come back from London, and I’m looking for information about him. From what I have learned, Mr. Demetrios Demetriou was his friend, and maybe he knows something. We will be very much obliged if you let us see him for a few minutes. We’ve learned he’s ill, but he may remember something.
Before the young woman could answer, a voice was heard from the background:
-Antonios, Antonios, has Antonios come?
-No, father. He’s not Antonios. Some strangers want to ask something.
In the back of the room appeared an old man, unshaven with a distraught gaze, dressed in his pyjamas.
-Come, come, he invited them. Antonios is my friend.
So, the young woman was forced to open the door.
-Do not tire him, warned them, and left the room annoyed.
The furnishings of the room were some old armchairs and a coffee table that had some photos on it. It was generally sloppy, expressing the bad situation that prevailed in the house.
-Have a seat, have a seat, Demetrios repeat.
As soon as they sat down, he looked closely at Maria and his gaze changed. As if a glimpse pierced his spirit, his face was lit up, and he exclaimed:
-You are Maria! I have recognized you. He was always talking about you. He loved you dearly.
Approaching Maria, he knelt, took her hands in his and kissed them.
Tears were coming out from his eyes, and he kept repeating:
-Maria has come, Antonios. She came my friend.
Maria could not hold back her tears. It was a very emotional moment. But she formed herself, hugged Demetrios and helped him get up. He sat it in a chair, and she caressed his hands. Slowly – slowly the old gentleman calmed down.
-Please tell me, Mr. Demetrios, did Antonios Philippou leave something for me? Did he say anything to you about me?
Demetrios’ voice sounded calm. He was no longer the ill man, who did not have his senses:
-Antonios was always talking about you, how beautiful you are, how smart you are, how studious you are. He loved you very much. But he didn’t say details. As if he were trying to keep a secret of your own. He wanted so much to find you, but he didn’t know where you were. The last few years before he died, he told me one day that you are in India. Is it true? Were you in India?
-Yes, Mr. Demetrios. I was in India. That’s why I couldn’t come earlier. But it’s important to know if he left anything for me.
-My daughter, I don’t know if he left anything for you. Whatever he had, he left it to Eleftherios Constantinou, a boy he had as his son. He also left him money to study in London. He always said he was a very smart boy, but not like his Maria. If there’s anything, he’ll have it.
-Do you know where I can find Eleftherios Constantinou?
-Not my daughter, I don’t know. Eleftherios left for London after Antonios death. I think he would be studying as a lawyer. I haven’t seen him since.
At that time, the door opened, and Demetrios’ daughter returned, giving them a message that they should leave.
When they got up and headed to the door, Demetrios told them:
-Do come back again. Come back Maria!
But his daughter’s gaze said otherwise. They thanked and greeted them and left.
As they took to the streets, Maria explained to Kristian exactly what was said and added:
-I can’t take any more emotions for today. You cannot know how thankful I am for you being with me today! But I will have to go back home to calm down. What do you think? Should we meet tomorrow around 10 a.m. to think about what we will do next?
Kristian agreed. They said good night to each other, and Maria continued her way through the wet sunset. How much this moisture matched her muddy heart, she thought. However, she knew that the ball of thread of her life had begun to unravel, like the process of giving birth. Before, there is pain, there are tears, and then comes the joy of a new life. That is what she wanted to hope for and expect.