Maria (Chapter 19)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 09/01/2022Back to Blog
(This story is the product of fiction, and all characters are fictional; the historical elements included are real)
Nicosia, spring 1927
In the morning, although Maria woke up with a headache, she felt her soul light as if she had met her loved ones, as if a window had opened and the sun filled the dark room with light. To her surprise, she was humming. She did not even believe in her reaction, after the tragic events she had learned the day before.
Everyone else was asleep and so, after preparing her tea, she opened the window of her office for the spring morning sunshine to enter. She smelled the roses and basil she had on the porch and sat in her armchair, trying to reflect on where this pleasant mood came from. She was sure that the change had come during her sleep.
Furthermore, she remembered that when she was staying in India a guru had told her that when people sleep their soul travels to other dimensions and meets the supreme knowledge. There they meet people who have passed through their lives. We almost always forget these contacts, but sometimes the effect on our soul is so intense that we transfer to the material world the quality of the feelings we have experienced.
She did not remember what had happened during her sleep, not even as a dream, but she was sure that she was surrounded by the love of her parents and especially Eleonora’s. She felt that she had met them and that somehow their souls were vindicated, that their only child knew their existence and could pronounce their names. Now they could continue their journey into the endless world of good spirits.
She got up and opened the cupboard where she had kept her teacher’s letters. She took the letter dated December 8, 1907 and sat down again in her armchair. She held it for a while in her hands and then began to read:
My beloved Maria
My greatest wish, before I leave life, is for this box to reach your hands. Then you will be able to read the facts about your origins, so that you and your parents will be vindicated.
A few days ago, I visited your mother’s house in Nicosia, in the hope that I could learn something about you, so that I could send you the information I had found. Unfortunately, I also failed this time. As the maid had told me, your mother had left for London early in September, to meet you there. You would bring your daughter to study, and you wanted her to stay with her, because you would leave again for India. I was very sorry that I did not learn that in time. I would have come to London to meet you. Unfortunately, as many times in the past I had visited your mother to learn about you, she was very cautious, not to say negative, and so I did not have the courage to go there often.
Be that as it may, the way things came, I will not be able to see you again before I die. Nevertheless, the fact that I have met you and have been able to contribute in one way or another to the course of your life, has given value and meaning to my existence. All I want and wish from the bottom of my heart is that you are happy.
Beyond the story of your origin, as described by Mother Ayşe, I bequeath to you all my work, to use it as you think best. You are my spiritual child and the best person in the world to understand my thoughts.
What is included in the thick notebook, which I suppose you will read first, is recorded as it was narrated by Mother Ayşe and so you have her actual words, without additions or alterations. It is not a pleasant story, but it is the truth, and surely that is what you would like to know.
That summer, after the narration of Mother Ayşe, I went to Paphos to visit the villages mentioned in her story. This district has no transportation and so, to be able to travel, I rented a donkey from the inn I stayed in Ktima, the city of Paphos.
I first went to Emba, the village where your mother, Eleonora, came from. It is located west of Ktima, relatively close to the sea and is lowland. All the inhabitants of Paphos are engaged in farming to live. The fields of Emba are more fertile than those of the mountainous areas, and so its inhabitants are less poor than the inhabitants of the mountains. Perhaps for this reason, it was a fief during the Frankish rule. On the other hand, it is also close to Ktima, and it is easy for the villagers to sell their products. It is one of the few villages in Cyprus, which from the mid-19th century, had teachers to teach children. The time of me being there, it had about 400 inhabitants.
I stayed a few days in the village and tried to find out a little more about your mother’s family. Unfortunately, I have not been able to learn much. The villagers either did not know or did not want to say. It seems that as much of your grandfather’s property was not sold, they divided it among themselves, and it was not in their interest to admit the existence of the Frankish family, lest there be descendants and heirs. However, it is a very beautiful village that is worth visiting, if you ever can.
Leaving Emba I went up to Vretsia, which is located at a higher altitude and adjoins the forest of Paphos. The inhabitants are mainly Turkish Cypriots because the Greek Cypriot inhabitants of the village were forced to become Linobambakous, like Mother Ayşe. They converted to Islam, that is, to escape the heavy taxes. I did not stay there for long. All I learned is that Suleiman’s family is one of the richest and most powerful families in the village. In this village, livestock farming is relatively developed. They have many sheep and goats, and this makes it a relatively rich village by Paphos standards. It had, at the time I visited it, around 300 inhabitants.
From Vretsia, I followed the road to Statos. I was directed by the villagers, and I went to the monastery of Panagia Chrysorrogiatissa. The monks there hosted me, and so I was able to stay more days in the area.
Statos is not far from the monastery. Of the three villages I visited, it is located at a higher altitude, with an inclination from east to west. Here, too, the inhabitants are engaged in farming and are very poor, like most rural dwellers. They work hard, both men and women, to survive, provided it rains well that year. Otherwise, they are charged to moneylenders and often lose their properties. Women are aged young, from constant exposure to the sun and hard work in the fields.
Of course, it was not easy to ask many questions, knowing your English mother’s desire not to make your origin known. So as many times as I visited the village, I talked generally with the villagers, asking them about the history of the village and things like that. I did not get much information from there. But I was able to locate the house of your mother, Eleonora’s, which was in a high spot, abandoned and deserted. They simply told me that the owners of the house either have died or have gone abroad after losing their daughter. Tragic story concluded the old man who reported the facts to me.
More details I learned from an elderly monk in the monastery. He knew your mother because she used to go there often and pray. To him, I have spoken clearly about the reason for my visit. I trusted him because he seemed to be a holy man and discreet. His name was Father Eleftherios, although I do not think he lives any more. He was quite old in 1896, when I visited the monastery.
So, Father Eleftherios told me that your mother often went to the monastery and talked to him. She had shared with him the story of her life and the reasons that forced her to come to Statos. Although she was very happy with her husband, Alexandros, she nevertheless had a bitterness in her because she had lost her village and her way of life. Here she was forced to work hard, like the other women of the village, but since she was not used to, it seemed very heavy to her. She was sorry that her daughter would have to follow the same life and said that she would educate her, in the hope that she would have a better future.
Your mother had a great weakness for you and never left you alone, unlike the other women, whose children toured the streets of the village all day, without supervision. Some of them used to work in the fields from the age of five to help their families. On that cursed day when Suleiman took you, you were crying and wanted to play with the little girl next door. Your mother had to go to the fountain to bring water and with great hesitation, she agreed to leave you, urging the neighbour to take care of you.
This village has two fountains: the upper fountain and the lower fountain. All residents must carry their water from these two fountains located on the two edges of the village. Your mother used a donkey for this job, but there were other women carrying the jugs on the shoulder. Due to the distance from the village, this work took some time.
The neighbour of course was not used to having her mind on the children and quickly forgot her promise. By the time your mother returned, you had disappeared. The whole village was looking for you, but in vain. The other little girl, you were playing with, could not say how you got lost.
Your mother, of course, had immediately figured out who the kidnapper was, but they could not find him anywhere. He had disappeared, along with his family. What killed Eleonora was her remorse because she left you alone. Your father was about to go crazy. He had lost his daughter, and at the same time he saw his wife melting like wax. He was looking for Suleiman to kill him. But he was nowhere to be found.
As mother Ayşe told us, Alexander got on a boat and perished after Eleonora had died. He, the mountainous lad, left the mountains he was born in and went to the sea he had never seen before! He may have thought that this other world would ease his pain and erase his bitter memories.
The old monk was crying as he recounted the story to me. This event had shocked all the surrounding villages, and he was very pleased when I told him about you and the luck you had.
-You see, my son, he told me. The unjust are not blessed. God does not allow it. Let the soul of the late Eleonora to be at rest. In the end, her daughter got what she dreamed of for her.
After the narration of the old monk, I stayed a few more days in the monastery, more to get to know the place where you were born. It is a very beautiful village. It is surrounded by the mountains of Paphos, and it looks green because of the fields, that are cultivated by its inhabitants. People are very poor, and most are indebted to moneylenders. However, they are hospitable and will offer you everything they can from their shortfall.
Comparing this village to Emba, your mother’s village, I was reminded of the words of a read professor I had once met. So, he had told me:
-People who are born in the plain or near the sea, have more open horizons than those who are born in the mountains. From the moment they are born they know that the world extends far beyond their village, while those who are born in the mountains see a limit towards them and this makes them more conservative and closed.
So did Eleonora. She was born in the plain and near the sea. Her horizons were endless. The narrowness of a mountain landscape, who knows? Perhaps it was pushing her.
However, I loved your village, my dear Maria. As the sun rises behind the mountains, the sky turns rose and the surrounding landscape takes on a gray-blue colour. You may not see the depth of the horizon, but you know that behind the ridges there is another world that calls you.
Near the village is the forest of Paphos, which is perhaps the most beautiful and densest in Cyprus. Paphos, in general, is a beautiful district, with alternating landscape. It is worth visiting the village where you were born if you can.
Leaving Paphos, I thought a lot. I saw the world we live in as a mosaic, consisting of millions of tesserae, and each tessera is a human being. Most of us do not stand out within the whole picture, and our role is to complement the endless design. There are some tesserae though that shine, and these should be placed in a prominent position. The creator takes them with his forceps and places them where he thinks they will adorn his work.
So do you, my Maria. No matter how cruel and inhumane it was what had happened to you, no matter how criminally Suleiman acted, you were placed in the position you deserved. I am sure that you shone with your presence during life and enlightened the people around you. This is a vindication for you and a retaliation for the drama your parents had experienced.
My beloved Maria, all my life I have tried to understand the structure of the world and give meaning to the tragedies we all experience. It is not easy. Often our pain blurs our vision and puts curtains on the truth. I never understood why I lost my wife and my daughter. Maybe to meet and take care of you. Who knows? But if one can see from a distance the mosaic of the world, one will find it perfect, despite the personal tragedies of the people.
It would be an immense joy for me to meet you at this older age and see how your spirit and soul have been matured. I will not make it, though. Many times, I blame your English mother, but deep down I also understand her own role in the mosaic of life. She was always afraid of losing exclusivity in your life, but at the same time she was terrified of the reception that English society would have for you, if they knew your true origins. She did what she thought best.
It does not matter now, any more. The mosaic is completed. I deliver to you that I had promised you when you left for London, and I wish the creator would make sure it reaches your hands. I will hand it over to my other spiritual child, Eleftherios Constantinou, who will go to London to study. Furthermore, I think at some point you will return to England, and he will be able to find you to give you the box with its contents.
I feel, my Maria, that my role in your life has come to an end. It is up to you how you handle all this information, whom you forgive and whom you do not. What I would like is that the life you have lived was complete and happy. These all-black pages, just to shed light on the course that brought you here, and not to be a cause of misery and mourning.
I greet you, in every sense of this expression. I personally feel that I have completed the task assigned to me in this life, and I can go and meet the spirits of my wife and daughter.
My beloved Maria, I leave you with this last sentence:
Love life and our homeland, our Cyprus.
Your spiritual father.
When Alexandra got up, she found her mother sitting in the armchair of her office, motionless, with the letter in her hand and tears coming out from her eyes.
-What does the teacher write? She asked her.
-He just confirms the correctness of Mother Ayşe’s narration, adding some information about my parents. It’s not about that I cry. It is for him, this wonderful man, who did so much for me, without even being able to reciprocate it, even with a word of love.
-I am sure that you will find a way to honour him and preserve his memory. Your love for your teacher is pervasive every time you refer to him. And love is a feeling beyond matter and the physical world. He will certainly be able to collect it. Just as I felt your love, when I was in London, and you were in India.
-I am surprised by your philosophical treatment of life! Maria replied
-I got something from you also. Not only my father’s explosive temperament, Alexandra replied with a smile. Come now to take our breakfast and tell us what your teacher writes.
Alexandra’s relaxed treatment discharged the atmosphere and Maria got up. She had already decided how to proceed. After breakfast, she would write to Kristian. Life should take its normal rhythms. Her daughter’s family had come on holiday to Cyprus. And that would be offered to them from now on. The past cannot change the future. Life goes on.
Photograph: Paphos forest