Maria (Chapter 13)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 28/11/2021Back to Blog
(This story is the product of fiction, and all characters are fictional; the historical elements included are real)
Nicosia autumn 1926
The next day, Maria woke up with a strong headache. However, she got up and dressed, trying to relax. The emotions of the previous day had charged her and no matter how much she tried to see things from their positive side, she felt tired.
Demetrios’ words, “Maria has come, Antonios. She has come, my friend,” echoed in her ears all night. For the first time, she had realized how big mistake it was not to try to break the establishment and the protocols earlier and search for her teacher. But she could not change the past. She had to give all her energy to find as many clues as she could, now.
As soon as Mrs. Vassilia came, she asked her if she had heard of a lawyer named Eleftherios Constantinou.
-No, Mrs. Vassilia replied. I’ve never heard of him before. But my sister’s son is a lawyer. He is called Georgios Antoniou, and he has an office in Makrydromos, Ledra street. If there is a lawyer with this name in Nicosia, he will know him.
-Can you please give me his address? I would like to ask him because it is very important for me to learn everything I can about this man.
Mrs. Vassilia, very discreetly, asked nothing, just wrote on a piece of paper the address of Georgios Antoniou.
Kristian came around 10:00 as they had agreed. Maria told him of the information he got from Mrs. Vassilia and the two of them agreed it was best to visit him immediately. In this way, they would clarify the information if Eleftherios Constantinou were in Nicosia.
The distances in Nicosia within the walls are so small that one can move within a few minutes from one point to another. In five minutes, they were outside the office of Georgios Antoniou, knocking on the door. They heard from inside the lawyer’s voice calling “Enter” and they went in, hoping to find an edge in their search.
Georgios Antoniou was a young lawyer, around the age of 35. He was quite handsome, and he greeted them with a wide smile, asking how he could be useful to them.
-My name is Lady Mary William Moore, and this is the archaeologist Kristian Hubertus. I had lived my childhood in Cyprus, and I had a teacher named Antonios Philippou. I am searching for information about my teacher, and I was told that probably a gentleman named Eleftherios Constantinou, who is probably a lawyer, may be able to help me. We came to you hoping that you would know him. We were sent by your aunt, Mrs. Vassilia.
-So, you are the English Lady for whom my aunt works. She has told me the best about you. Admiringly, you are fluent in Greek.
-Whatever I know I owe to my teacher Antonios Philippou, and it is very important for me to find the information I am looking for. Could we speak in English so that Kristian can understand?
-But of course, we can speak English! I knew Antonios Philippou. He was also my teacher. Excellent man. All his students loved him. It seems that in his life he had lost all his loved ones and was always sad. But in the classroom, his eyes shone while teaching. From his lips’ knowledge flew like gurgling water and there was no way that a student would not assimilate his teaching.
-He was even unusually realistic about the events in our country. He believed that we should take advantage of the presence of the British on our island and reap as many benefits as we could. Likewise, he did not agree with the patriotic paeans that others were uttering. In one way or in the other the British will leave, he used to say. Now we must force them to organize us as a state, because they have a tradition in this area, while we do not. The liberation struggles are for later. The British are insidious and if they leave now, they will divide us. Do not forget the Turkish population! But no one was listening to him. Some even called him anti-Greek. The man who not only dedicated his life to the teaching of Greek culture, also infused hundreds of children with those ideals!
-Big words always inspire the people, he concluded. Realism does not excite the crowds.
Maria was glad that Kristian heard from someone else how extraordinary, special her teacher was. However, she asked Georgios Antoniou again:
-Do you know where I can find Eleftherios Constantinou?
-Oh yes, I have forgotten about Eleftherios. I knew him. He was my classmate. He had lost his parents as a child, and Antonios Philippou had found him wandering aimlessly and took him under his protection. Eleftherios lived with his grandparents, but it was Antonios who took care of him. He had him as his son. As far as I know, he left him money to study. Excellent student. He left for London, just before the war, to study. But to be honest, I don’t know what happened next. As far as I know, he did not return to Cyprus.
-Could his grandparents know? Maria suggested.
-I don’t think his grandparents live, but I can ask if you want. I have some old classmates who may know more.
-Thank you very much. Any information would be useful. For anything that concerns one of the two or both.
They thanked Georgios Antoniou and left. Maria proposed walking to the church of Phaneromeni and see the new building of the Phaneromeni Girls’ School that had been completed recently, with the sponsorship of the church of Phaneromeni.
While they were walking, Maria explained to Kristian about the Girls’ School of Phaneromeni, which was founded in 1859 by Archbishop Makarios A’.
-At the time of the Ottoman rule on the island, there were almost no educational institutions. Only the church could take some initiatives because the Ottomans were not interested in educating the inhabitants. Cypriots are generally very studious, and they could understand that with education their children would have better prospects in life. The first schools founded at this time simply taught the basics, reading, writing, elementary mathematics and subjects related to religion. But these were sufficient, under the circumstances, for people to be able to read a document or a book that would come to their attention. Since a Girls’ School was founded, it seems that some girls were also educated, at least in elementary terms.
As they arrived at the church of Phaneromeni, Maria suggested that they could visit it. There they found the priest, who informed them that the church was built in 1872 on the ruins of an older church. It is said that this church was the one that in 1857 the Turks allowed its bell to ring, for the first time in the whole of Cyprus, after 300 years.
-Here are kept, he explained to them, and the relics of Archbishop Kyprianos and the other bishops who were killed by the Turks in 1821 to prevent and stop a revolt of the Greeks of Cyprus against them, as an outcome of the Greek Revolution.
The church of Phaneromeni is the largest church in the city of Nicosia within the walls. Entering, Kristian and Maria felt an uplift of their souls with the magnificence emitted by the space and the architecture of the church. In the dome, in the centre of the church, the Father Pantocrator (All mighty) is painted, in the western style.
Coming out they saw, at the back side of the church, the Girls’ School of Phaneromeni. A majestic, neoclassical, two-story building in the shape of a Π, built with porous limestone. Having columns and a pediment at the entrance, it dominated the small square – street, which separated it from the church. It was a very beautiful corner of the city. Kristian took his camera and took a picture. He also asked Maria to stand at the imposing entrance of the school and photographed her against the background of the building.
-Very picturesque point, he commented.
Maria led him to a small patisserie nearby. They sat down to have a cup of coffee and comment on the information they got from Mr. George Antoniou. Along with the coffees, they also asked for baklava from the boy who came to take the order.
-Although we have not been led to Eleftherios Constantinou yet, I believe that we have begun to unravel the ball of thread and that little by little we will reach the edge, Maria commented.
Kristian remained silent and somewhat abstract, mechanically eating his syrupy baklava.
-Is something wrong Kristian? Maria asked him. You’re unusually silent today. Are you ill?
-No, no Kristian replied. I got a telegram this morning that made me sad.
-Did someone of your family has a problem? Maria asked him again.
-No, luckily, they’re all well. The telegram is from the University of Oxford. I need to go back as soon as possible. This saddens me unimaginably, on the one hand because I have promised you that I would stay with you until you find what you are looking for and on the other hand because I do not want to lose your company.
-I will miss you too, Kristian, I will really miss you but that is no reason to be upset. I will manage on my own. I’m not a weak little child. And you have seen it. The people here are very friendly and cooperative.
-Perhaps I haven’t spoken clearly. But everything inside me is clear: I have fallen in love with you, Maria and I would like to take you with me. To be together forever!
Maria did not expect this. She had realized that Kristian had some feelings for her. He was always so loving and protective towards her, but she did not expect this moment, in the small pâtisserie, a love confession. She was completely unprepared.
-You say you’ve fallen in love with me. As strange as it may seem to you, I have never fallen in love. I chose my husband for reasons unrelated to love, and I received in my life what I had chosen. A husband who treaded me as a trophy. A woman next to him that all men admired, but she was his own. He was not jealous in the usual sense of the term, because he knew that I would never cheat on him, but he enjoyed the jealousy of other men who did not have me. I’ll tell you a thought of mine that I didn’t tell anyone, nor am I going to say. I am afraid that his insistence on sending our daughter to London was an innermost desire for him to enjoy me alone, as a trophy, and for no one to distract me. For the same reason, he didn’t want us to have other children. This decision was his choice.
-If what I feel with you, the security, the happiness, the desire to see you every moment is love, then I too am in love with you. But now, I’m afraid, it’s not a good time. And that saddens me immensely because I would like us always to be together. It is the archetypal desire of every person to find our mate and live our whole life with him. And I think you’re my mate, Kristian.
Kristian took her hands in his own:
-Maria, my sweet Maria, I know you are my mate. I met many women and would call myself a man with a past. But what I feel for you is not the simple erotic attraction, what Freud describes. It is as if your presence fills my existence with gurgling water, which quenches all my needs and raises my soul to another level.
Suddenly they realized that everyone in the pâtisserie, from the customers, the owner, and the young employee, were standing and looking at them. They felt so uncomfortable that they got up and left.
On the way back, they were both silent. Suddenly Maria asked:
-When should you leave?
-As soon as possible. In fact, tomorrow because there is a boat departing from the port of Famagusta. If you want, though, I can delay my departure for a few days and say I lost the boat.
-No, Maria replied. The delay will make things even more difficult. You know, Kristian, that I must accomplish what I have started. You do understand this, don’t you?
-Unfortunately, I understand that. But someday this quest will end. And you will find the truth about your life and about your teacher. I will wait for you, no matter how long it takes. That’s not a figure of speech. I mean it.
-I know you mean it. But let us not commit ourselves to promises that we may not keep. Trust me, after the resurrection I had when I met the teacher and the birth of my daughter, you are the most beautiful thing that has been in my life.
Then they both fell silent. As they reached the point where their ways were parting, Maria’s for her house and Kristian’s for his hotel, they stopped suddenly and in front of the surprised eyes of passers-by, they embraced. They stayed that way for a few minutes, and then Kristian told her:
-I’ll write to you, Maria. Good luck with your quest!
-Have a nice trip, Kristian. We will meet again!
Kristian opened his step so that Maria would not see the tears that filled his eyes and got lost in the narrow streets of Nicosia.
Maria continued for her home. When Mrs. Vassilia went to her house and she was left alone, she could not hold back her sobs. The most important man of her life, after her teacher, had gone away. Is it my fate, she thought, to lose those I love?
But she soon formed herself. Melodrama was never her choice. She tried to put her thoughts in order. For the first time in her life, she had three paths ahead of her to choose:
The first path was to continue her search. It was certain that she was going to do so, but the question was where she would stop. Even if she soon found the evidence she wanted, it would lead her to other questions and new searches. The Gordian knot of her past was not easy to be solved. And then did she want to leave Cyprus? Now that she has found her homeland, how ready was she to lose it?
Her second choice was to return to London to be close to her daughter and grandchildren, she would soon have. Perhaps deep down she owed this to her daughter. It was definitely a good choice, which would give her fullness and happiness.
Kristian’s proposal was the most beautiful proposal she had received in her life. It was a promise of a calm and happy life with the man she loved, assuming, of course, that she would abandon her two previous choices. How ready was she to do that?
Maria got dizzy by thinking. What a tragic irony! She thought. All my life others have been making decisions for me and now that I can decide for myself, I don’t know what I want!
She closed her eyes for a while, and then she realized that she did not need to decide now. Life would lead her steps to where she should go, regardless of her own complex connotations. Isn’t this the case now? Doesn’t life lead her steps?
Despite her worries, Maria slept that night calmly. As much as her breakup with Kristian brought grief to her heart, his love confession filled all the needs of her soul. His words:
… It is as if your presence fills my existence with gurgling water, which quenches all my needs and raises my soul to another level,
recurred like music in her mind and lulled her sweetly. Her life had turned to another page.
Bibliography: Agnes Michaelides: “Chora”, the old Nicosia
Photo: Phaneromeni School for Girls https://www.kathimerini.com.cy/gr/kypros/paideia/1-pws-i-faneromeni-metatrapike-se-kommati-istorias