Maria (Chapter 20)

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 16/01/2022

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(This story is the product of fiction, and all characters are fictional; the historical elements included are real)

Famagusta Port, June 1927

Alexandra was standing on the deck of the ship, holding Eleonora-Maria in her arms, staring at the dock. Next to her stood James, silent and visibly moved. He was moving his hand in a  farewell. They saw her mother, hanging from Kristian’s arm, saying goodbye to them with tears in her eyes. It was the end of a wonderful three-month stay in Cyprus, full of the emotion of separation.

As the ship had already started and was moving away from the port, the figures of Maria and Kristian were lost. However, Alexandra stayed there still looking, as if trying to reduce the distance with the power of her vision. James took the child out of her arms and set off for their cabin. He understood that for Alexandra the present moment was almost sacred, and so he left her alone to experience it.

From the memory of Alexandra passed all the moments from her arrival on this island, until now that she was leaving. She could say without hesitation that these three months were the happiest months of her life. After the shocking events of the first days, when everyone learned the truth about her mother’s dark past, Maria tried to offer them everything she could to get to know her homeland.

The next day, when the whole story had been revealed, her mother had written to Kristian and informed him about everything. She waited for his reply in two or three weeks or so – so to get the letters from England to reach Cyprus. Instead of a letter though, in a week’s time, she got a telegram saying:

“I arrive in Cyprus in two weeks. I want to meet your daughter. I became a member of the Swedish Mission. If you want, we can get married.”

The surprise and joy of her mother were indescribable. Alexandra had no objection to this marriage. On the contrary, she was happy that her mother would no longer be alone in Cyprus. She would have a companion. At first, Maria thought of getting married in St. Antonio’s Church next to her house, but eventually they realized that this would not be possible. Neither of them was a Christian Orthodox. Although, Maria should have been baptized when she was a child. So, they had decided to have a civil marriage, which had been established in England, by law, since 1836.

Until Kristian’s arrival, Maria guided them to the city of Nicosia. Alexandra was surprised that this small and poor town was closing in so much history. Behind the bastions of the walls, hid the Frankish knights and the Venetian rulers. The icons, in the small churches of Nicosia, testified to the Byzantine culture, the palm trees, the minarets and the voice of muezzin every noon, the onslaught of the Ottomans. In the Pancyprian Gymnasium, she learned about Archbishop Kyprianos and the other bishops that the Turks killed in 1821, before the Greeks of this place dared to revolt. The house of the governor, the English flags and the soldiers declared the presence of the British. Endless conquerors and all left behind their seal.

They organized a simple wedding and in this they were helped by her mother’s friend, the wife of the military commander of Nicosia, Mrs. Jennifer Thomson. She arranged for all the necessary permits to be issued quickly, and the marriage was performed by her husband. There were very few guests. In addition to the Thomson family and her own family, Mrs. Vassilia with her family, the lawyer Georgios Antoniou with his wife were also invited and to everyone’s surprise, Demetrios Demetriou with his daughter were present. Kristian had also invited some members of the Swedish mission.

After the ceremony, they all went to her mother’s house for dinner, except for Mr. Demetriou with his daughter. It would be impossible to keep him in control for a longer period. However, during the wedding ceremony, Demetrios was moved and whispered all the time:

-Antonios, my friend, this is a great time. Our Maria is getting married!

They had a wonderful time at dinner. Mrs. Vassilia’s food was excellent, and everyone fully enjoys it. After eating, Kristian sang wedding songs of his country. Alexandra noticed that he had a remarkable voice. Towards the end, and when everyone was almost drunk, Mrs. Vassilia stood up and began to sing the Cypriot song of marriage:

Good time, golden time, time of blessing

this event that has just started, let it become steady

She was accompanied by Georgios Antoniou with his wife as well as her daughters. When they explained the words to the non-Greek speakers, they found that the lyrics expressed a very substantial wish for every young couple.

The celebration ended with dancing. They started with a tango that Maria danced with Kristian. The room was filled with the music played by the phonographer that her mother had brought with her, from London. All of them applauded excitedly. They were such a fitting couple! They continued with contemporary dances, and in the end the Cypriots danced Cypriot dances.

Alexandra at one point remembered her father. What would this marriage look like to him? How would he react? What would he say? He would probably find it foolish that his wife had sacrificed titles and riches to marry a Swedish archaeologist. Alexandra smiled.

-Father, she thought, mom is happy and that’s what counts. Be happy for her, too. She deserves it!

After the wedding, Kristian managed to be away from the archaeological expedition for a few days. So, they all went together for holiday to Troodos, the highest mountain range in Cyprus. The height of the top of Troodos reaches 1951 meters. There they stayed in one of the houses that the British had built to take their holiday. It was a wedding gift from Mrs. Jennifer Thomson to the couple. She also gave them her car and driver to take them there, who then returned to Nicosia.

Here Alexandra got to know a completely different side of Cyprus. It was already late May, early June, and the first summer heats had made their appearance in Nicosia. At least during the day, they felt discomfort, since all of them were used to colder climates. The crops had begun to turn yellow and even though there were beautiful wildflowers everywhere, Cyprus had begun to take on its yellowish summer colour.

In the mountains the weather was cool, in the evenings a bit chilly and the scenery amazing, everywhere all green. The house that was granted to them was in the forest, and around stood towering pine trees. Alexandra was surprised that the top of the trees was flat. They explained to her that here in winter it snows, the snow weighs down the trees and causes this phenomenon.

They took daily walks and enjoyed the refreshing purity of the air, enriched with the smell of pine trees. A fragrance they had never encountered in their own forests.  Eleonora-Maria was growing up impressively, and her cheeks had become rosy from health. All of them were crazy about her. They consumed large quantities of fruits, cherries, apples, and anything else they could get from the villagers of the surrounding areas. They drank gurgling water from the spring and ate fresh village eggs, halloumi olives and village bread. It was as if they lived in a paradise, far from civilization.

One day Kristian left with an Englishman who was also staying in the area, and when he returned in the evening he brought a car with him. He was greeted by all with cries of excitement. Now they could also visit the villages of the region.

From the very next day, the journeys by car began. They travelled to many villages in the area, such as Prodromos, Pedoulas, Moutoulas, Kalopanagiotis, the monastery of Kykkos and of course the beautiful Platres village. The roads were miserable and often had to get off to push the car, but that too was part of their fun – an adventure in the mountains of Cyprus.

Alexandra for the first time in her life heard the nightingales singing in Platres, and she was enchanted. They saw gurgling waters fall, they enjoyed the beautiful unspoiled nature and the hospitality of the poor peasants.  It was an unprecedented experience for everyone.

Kristian was clearly in love with her mother. In the sunsets they used to go for walks in the forest, by themselves, and found a thousand topics to discuss. The two of them had so much in common! Alexandra remembered that her mother and her father did not talk much to each other, except for the necessary family matters. It was wonderful that even now her mother found a partner to share her thoughts and opinions.

On the other hand, she had noticed that Kristian had infinite knowledge.  On the nights that Eleonora-Maria went to sleep, everyone sat in the living room and Kristian talked to them about the ancient history of Cyprus. The most impressive thing, however, was that his knowledge extended to other topics, apart from history and archaeology. He described to them how Cyprus had emerged from the bottom of the sea and that the geology of Troodos presents the stratifications of the seabed. Many scientists come to study Troodos to learn about the oceanic crust of the earth.

In this way, two weeks went by. They had to interrupt their holidays so that Kristian could return to the Swedish mission and themselves get ready for London. They said goodbye to the mountains of Cyprus, reluctantly. How much they would like to stay longer! Fortunately, they had taken several photos to remember the place and their experiences.

As soon as they arrived in Nicosia, Kristian left by car to meet the other archaeologists. They themselves began to be prepared for their return trip. They did not know how to manage to fit in their luggage the infinite items they bought, or the gifts Maria had given them.

At that time, Alexandra realized she was pregnant again. She felt the new being moving inside her and confided it to her mother. Maria spontaneously told her:

-If he’s a boy, name him Antonios.

But she immediately regretted it, because she remembered that James also had the right to name his child. He also had his own parents. Alexandra, however, reassured her:

-James would have no objection to naming our child Antonios. He is very moved by this man’s self-sacrifice, and I am sure he would like to honour him. Besides, in England, we can give more than one name to each child. And don’t forget. We would like to have many children and honour all the people who contributed to James’ life and to our own lives. There are also your English parents and my father. Everyone deserves to keep their memory.

Suddenly, Alexandra came to reality and realized that the boat had moved so far away from the land that she could not see either her mother or the shores of Cyprus. She decided to return to their cabin and deal with their daughter. However, going down the stairs, she began to think about whether she could live the rest of her life in Cyprus.

She could not deny it. She loved life in London. Furthermore, she had grown up living in luxury. She enjoyed her home, the wonderful furniture, the expensive paintings, the rich social life, the theatres of London. It was a different, comfortable life. It certainly could not be compared with the simplistic way people lived in Cyprus. But here, there was the light, there was joy, here was her mother! She quickly pulled that thought out of her mind. She was not alone. There was James, and London is where his job was. If her mother stayed here, they would come to see her, but only that.

But her heart was telling her other things…

When Alexandra came into the cabin, James went down to the ship’s living room to find an English newspaper to read the latest news. Carried away by the carefree life of the holidays, they had forgotten the rest of the world and its intrigues, which determined the fate of the nations.

On a coffee table was thrown an old newspaper of the Times of London. It was at least a week old. But it did not matter. His own news update on the world was at least three months older. He took it in his hands, ordered a cup of tea and began to read. What caught his attention was an article by a reputable English journalist about the latest political developments in Germany.

James had served as a doctor in the last war from 1914 to 1918 and had lived through all the wretchedness and barbarism. The toll: 8,500,000 dead soldiers and 14,500,000 civilians. He himself never believed that there is a war with an ideological background. Perhaps some liberation movements, but for them too, another way of claiming could probably be found.

So, this journalist wrote about some up-and-coming German politician named Adolf Hitler. He was described as an ideologue, a fanatic, and a nationalist. A lethal combination, thought James. As an ideologue, he may inspire the crowds because he talks to them about some great values, that can carry them away. As a fanatic he has no room for conciliation, but what is worse, as a nationalist he supports all the positive and all the interests concerning his own race, ignoring the rights of other nations. Such are the people who cause the wars. And right now, he is addressing a nation, who are poor, who have been defeated, and humiliated. It certainly finds plenty of space for resonance among the crowds.

And the reporter continued. Adolf Hitler tried in 1923 a failed coup in Munich, for which he was sentenced to five years in prison and executed only one. This is a proof that the authorities tolerate such ideologies. In prison, he wrote the first volume of his book, which he published in 1925 under the title “Mein Kampf”, (My Struggle). Then in 1926 he published the second book with the same title. In both books, he clearly explains his political goals and the ideology of National Socialism. In 1925, he played a leading role in the reconstruction of the Nazi party. He was well into politics, and it seems that his goals are high.

Concluding, the columnist expressed his concerns about the future of Europe by focusing on a possible second war that would come from the defeated and humiliated Germany. Leaders with Hitler’s rhetorical gifts and fanaticism could inspire the crowds and challenge the war.

James was horrified. He was in no mood to live in a second great war. Above all now that he had a family. Alexandra was pregnant with their second child. No, he whispered. If the nations of Europe wanted to kill each other again, he would not be involved in this dissonance.

And then for the first time an idea shone in his mind. He would take the courses of events and if it seemed that the drums of war would sound again, they would leave London. He felt they had a place to live. Furthermore, he had loved this island. Yes, this island could become a second homeland for James and his family.

Of course, it would not be easy to leave London and their lives there, but he would not allow his family to live in a second world war. Four years on the front line of the war, in makeshift hospitals, mutilating people and seeing young men die, alone, away from their loved ones, was enough. He had offered his homeland his fair share.

He remembered his years in university, the idealism that infused his dreams at the time, and gave strength to his soul. Not only that, but he wanted to study as a doctor to offer to the poor and weak. Cyprus was a poor country and certainly needed doctors. He was sure that his services here would be much more significant than in London.

Of course, he should not be in a hurry to make such a decision. But it was a serious choice in case Europe would be drawn into war again. And he was sure, the whole family would be happy on this island. A very high-level English school, Newham, had been established in Nicosia, so his children would not be deprived of an education. These were serious arguments that would weaken any opposing view. Yet he smiled.

-Hasty thoughts, he said. I am influenced by the sadness of separation and end up thinking about leaving London. These are not serious things!

He got up and set off for his cabin, leaving the newspaper on the table, determined not to think about it again. But this possibility had taken a place in the back of his mind and waited to appear when circumstances would allow it.

 

Troodos

Photo: A residence, build by the British, in Troodos

 

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