Maria (Chapter 17)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 26/12/2021Back to Blog
(This story is the product of fiction, and all characters are fictional; the historical elements included are real)
Nicosia, spring 1927
Even though Maria’s sleep was agitated, and she often woke up, she felt surrounded by a hug and faintly watched her mother’s face project. Her characteristics were not obvious, but the sense of her presence was clear.
As she woke up completely, she remembered something she had learned when she was staying in Egypt. An archaeologist had explained to her, that the ancient Egyptians believed that the soul of a person consists of five elements, which are necessary for them to exist after death. One of them is the name of each person. If you do not have a name, you get lost in nothingness.
It seems that speaking aloud her mother’s name after so many years, brought her existence to life and gave her form.
Could my mother live? She wondered. Very unlikely. Should I have siblings? I must read the sequel to the narration of Mother Ayşe.
And without further ado she entered the living room, took the thick notebook, and came back. No one noticed her. Mrs. Vassilia was in the kitchen and the others in their room.
She sat on her bed and continued reading:
-In the evening I took the child with me, to sleep in my bed. She was crying, poor child, and she was terrified. All night I didn’t sleep. I made my decisions and in the morning I announced them to my son and my daughter-in-law:
-You should get the child back to her family, I said. Your wife doesn’t want her, and what you did is a crime. God will punish you. You must take the child back to her parents.
-I can’t, my son told me. Her father will kill me. He’s very strong. Besides, I want her as our daughter. She – and she showed Fatma – doesn’t have children. I want children. We will change her name, and no one will know that it is not ours.
-Fatma again began screaming and threatening to kill her. I remember that I got up and gave a slap to my son and another one to Fatma. First time in my life, I beat a person. My son looked at me in amazement. I should have given him this slap years ago! Fatma stopped screaming and began to cry silently.
-Don’t you dare, I told them to change her name! She was baptized Maria and will remain Maria. I will curse you both and my curse will burn your soul! Deep inside, I had my own wound when my name was changed from Eleni to Ayşe. I would never wish I was the cause to do this to another human being.
-We won’t change her name, but I won’t take her back! Do you want your son to be killed? He asked me. And you, she asked Fatma, do you want to be left without a husband? What do you want? Maria will stay here until we see what happens.
-And so, Maria stayed. To protect her from Fatma and not to be seen by others, we had her in the garden to take care of the animals. Slowly-slowly, she forgot the Greek she knew and spoke only Turkish. As she grew older, she became more beautiful. My son was seeing Eleonora in her face, and his ill love for this woman began to be addressed to the child. I was horrified and disgusted by what was going to come.
-Every night I prayed, once to Allah and once to Christ, to find a way to save the little girl. And then you came, my son, and you brought the English lady, and Maria was saved. I am grateful to you, my son, for that.
-When Maria left the house, my son had at first become furious, but slowly he calmed down and began to reflect on what he had done. He often talked to me about his thoughts, and never before had we come closer. He suffered for his actions, but now it was too late. Nothing could be corrected.
-As time went by, we all relaxed and started to have contacts with our relatives in Paphos. I tried to find out then what happened to Maria’s parents. It wasn’t easy because I didn’t want to raise suspicions. Luckily, however, one day a relative of ours came from the village and on the conversation she began to talk to me about a Frankish lady whose daughter was kidnapped and she, from her languish, died. Her husband had become wild from anger and grief. He searched for the person responsible, but he could not find anyone, Disheartened and desperate, he got on a ship and left. No one has seen him since.
-I don’t know, my son, if it’s true, but I couldn’t learn anything else. I don’t have any good news for Maria. But I told you everything I knew. I hid nothing
-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. Maria, I don’t know if she 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…
This is where the narration of Mother Ayşe ended. Maria leaned back and cried silently. At some point, her bedroom door opened, and her daughter walked in to see how she was doing. She was horrified to see her in such a state. But Maria nodded to her.
-Don’t worry, she told her. They are the tears of redemption. I have read the whole narration of Mother Ayşe. I cry for my parents, those people who both perished after my own disappearance. My mother seems to have died, and my father left Cyprus forever. For this reason, you should give your daughter her name. To let her have a right to existence. You have my father’s name.
At this point, she recounted to her what she had learned in Egypt, about the name of each person.
-We have already named her Eleonora – Maria. And it seems that she likes it, every time we call her like that. She smiles and responds. We will do anything to honour the memory of your parents.
And she repeated emphatically:
-Everything! Come, I have asked Mrs. Vassilia to return home. I have prepared tea, and we have a bunch of sweets from yesterday. We will sit down to have our tea, and you will tell us what happened next.
Maria got up and washed her face. When she looked in the mirror, she was horrified by her appearance. She tried to relax and smiled faintly, to show that everything was alright.
As they were taking their afternoon tea, Maria recounted to them the continuation of Mother Ayşe’s narration. Alexandra was crying non-stop. She was shocked by this tragic story. James was not talking, but it was obvious that he was very moved.
-This story, Maria concluded, in addition to the pain caused to me by the details I have learned, it also brought me a redemption. Now I know what had happened. The most tragic figures are my parents, and I can’t imagine what I could do to justify their existence on earth.
-These atrocities were not rare during the Turkish occupation. Very often they took the beautiful girls for the harems of the pashas, and for the boys they applied the child mass to integrate them into the body of the janissaries. The janissaries were an elite part of the army of the Ottoman Empire and consisted mainly of children of the Greek enslaved. They were Islamized, had harsh discipline, received excellent military training, and often developed hatred for the Christians.
-Ever since people began to organize themselves into groups and create societies, the law of the possible has always prevailed. Only with civilization, humanity can put justice and universal principles above their personal desires and animal instincts. And still through culture and laws, we find ways to blackmail our self-interest, James commented. Do not forget about the recent war. It was made between “civilized nations.”
-You’re right, James, Maria added. When man has an unaccountable power in his hands, he becomes brutal, cruel, and heartless. Animals kill only to feed themselves, which is a natural necessity of existence. People are happy to kill and torture for satisfaction.
-Another piece of information I did not expect is that my mother came from the Frankish conquerors of Cyprus. She seems to have been a lady, that is why I had a golden cross. It would be interesting to learn about this family of John Denores. I imagine the library of the British Museum may have information about families of Frankish aristocrats, although they may have been Venetians too. We don’t really know. I will search in the library of the Pancyprian Gymnasium and the Library of Phaneromeni.
-I will visit the British Museum when I return, promised Alexandra. Likewise, I would like to know about our ancestors.
-I feel as if my life has included the history of Cyprus for the last five hundred years, Maria concluded. I come from the Franks and Greeks of Cyprus, I was stolen by Turks, and I lived with them for a few years, and I was raised by an English family. All this could create a vague identity for me, but I feel deeply Cypriot, and the history of my country is intertwined with my life.
-Does your teacher write something else other than the narration of Mother Ayşe? Alexandra asked.
-I’ll have to look in the letters contained in the box. I’m sure he would have investigated it more. My teacher wouldn’t leave it that way. Perhaps he found some clues about my parents that are not included in Mother Ayşe’s narration.
At that moment, Eleonora – Maria was heard crying. Alexandra ran and brought her. The presence of the child dried their eyes from tears and filled their faces with smiles. It was the rebirth of life and in her, all three, saw the revival and atonement of the tragic figure of Eleonora.
-All the misery and barbarities of this world are washed away only by the creation of new life. I promise to teach my daughter, but also to as many other children as I may have, that respecting each other’s happiness is more important than fulfilling our own self-centred desires.
-This is what Mother Ayşe was trying to say, with her simplicity, Maria added. She constantly blames herself for her son’s crimes because she did not teach him to respect other people, but only satisfied all his desires.
Eleonora – Maria started crying again, and it was obvious that she was hungry. So, Alexandra went to her room to breastfeed her, and James began to take the dishes from the table to the kitchen.
Maria was left alone in the dining room and took the wooden box back in her hands. She spread the contents of the box on the table and tried to sort the yellowed letters and the multipage speeches of her teacher. There were letters written since 1888 when she herself left Cyprus, which of course were never sent. All were addressed to Mary McCain, but none of them had a mail address. The last letter was dated December 8, 1907. She understood that any additional information about her life would be recorded in it. But she did not open it.
She began to put the remaining letters in order, based on the date they were written, and then she sorted in the same order and the speeches. She brought two new smaller boxes and carefully put the letters in one and the speeches in the other. Furthermore, she kept them in a cabinet in her library, which she then locked.
The night had already fallen, and it was a big surprise for her when she heard a knock at the door. Surprised, she opened it and saw a woman standing in front of her, dressed in Turkish attire. She was not wearing a ferret, and she could see her face, scratched by wrinkles. She was looking at her in amazement when the woman spoke in Turkish and said:
-I am Eminé. Aydan told me that you are asking about me. You are, definitely, Maria.
Maria’s surprise was indescribable. She could not recognize her old acquaintance at all. She was so old! Not only that, but she seemed many years older than her, but she might have been older, three or four years. She also could not overlook her gaze, which was full of bitterness and denial.
However, she invited her inside and had her sit in the living room. At that moment, Alexandra came in and looked at the unexpected visitor in surprise.
-It’s Eminé, Maria explained to her.
And turning to Eminé she continued:
-She is my daughter, Alexandra.
After a typical handshake, Alexandra left.
They both remained silent, looking at each other. Their short, distant, common past passed lightning fast from their memory. They had never been very connected, but now Eminé could be holding some very important information about her life, Maria thought.
She herself had been through a very charged day and felt exhausted. But she would have to handle this moment as best she could. For two reasons:
Surely this old woman opposite her was able to clarify her past more, but at the same time, she felt the need to ease somehow the bitterness she saw in her eyes. At the time, Maria felt as if she was the strongest of the two of them, and it was her obligation to give Eminé something positive, a hope.
She assembled her strength and looked her in the eyes, smiling. Their lives had once met. On the fabric of space-time, there were wefts that were common and indivisible. They could now offer each other something of the truth they carried or acquired during life. Two different women, with different experiences, but who had something to share.
Maria decided to lead the conversation. Now was the time.
Great Cyprus Encyclopaedia
Photo: (Turkish Cyriots)