The letters (Scene 2)

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 08/02/2024

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Scene 2

(In the house of Zenovia and Petros, on the day of Eurydice’s memorial. The noise of many people talking can be heard.)

ZENOVIA: (Speaking in a hushed tone) Petros, please take Mr. Orestis to your office, pretending to show him something, because everyone is talking to him at once and they will drive him crazy. He already looks quite confused.

PETROS: Ugh, alright. And what am I supposed to talk to him about? I don’t even know him.

ZENOVIA: Don’t worry. He’s a very interesting person. You’ll find something to talk about.

PETROS: Whatever! (Loudly) Mr. Orestis, would you come with me for a moment, I want to show you something.

ORESTIS: Certainly, Petros.

PETROS: Please, come in. This is my office. Do sit here; I find this armchair more comfortable.

ORESTIS: Thank you. What would you like to show me, Petros? According to what Zenovia told me, our professions are related. You are, what do they call it in Greek, a quantity surveyor.

PETROS: That’s correct. It’s called “Επιμετρητής Ποσοτήτων” in Greek. But to be honest, I don’t have anything specific to ask you. It was Zenovia’s idea to distract you from the questions of relatives. She thinks they might overwhelm you.

ORESTIS: (a small laugh is heard) Your wife, Petros, has the sensitivity and nurturing spirit of her mother. She cares about the people around her and tries to do good for them. You’re very lucky to have her!

PETROS: Yes, I have no complaints about that. She’s an exceptional wife. A bit more compassionate than usual, but we have a happy family. The loss of her parents hit her hard, but she’s better now. She’s even thinking of returning to her work.

ORESTIS: That will surely help her. By the way, what does Zenovia do? I didn’t have a chance to ask her.

PETROS: She’s a kindergarten teacher. Her involvement with children, I hope, will help her.

ORESTIS: That’s for sure. Everyone must move on in life. Problems never end, and certainly death has no return. I experienced it myself with the death of my wife. Separating from a loved one, especially when you know it’s permanent, is incredibly painful. But perhaps it’s an opportunity to bring new people into your life or to focus on other matters… Difficult, very difficult, but necessary.

PETROS: You’re right. I think Zenovia understands that now. She was deeply connected to her parents, and the blow was immense. But let’s leave all that behind. As you said, we can’t change anything. I was wondering, why haven’t you returned to Cyprus all these years in Australia? It’s strange because Cypriots are usually very attached to their homeland.

ORESTIS: It’s a long story. You’re young, and you might not know the atmosphere that prevailed in the place before 1974. There was a polarization, and some cultivated the idea that people were divided into those inclined towards Greece, while considering others anti-Greek. This, of course, in very simplified terms, as it certainly wasn’t the case. There was just a distorted view of love for the homeland and Hellenism. Don’t forget that in Greece at that time, there was the junta with the slogan: Religion, Fatherland, Family, which actually expressed a nationalistic, sterile view of these ideals. But people like me, in adolescence then, were easily trapped and swayed by such slogans. I was one of them. This is where I disagreed with Eurydice, Zenovia’s mother. She had a clearer understanding of things; I was blind. Very blind. So, when the coup happened on July 15, 1974, I was happy because I thought the time had come to unite with Greece, and all the ideals I believed in would come true. However, a few days later, on July 20, 1974, the Turkish invasion resulted in the occupation of half of Cyprus. I was then, as a reservist, on the front line in Kyrenia, and I saw with my own eyes the betrayal: the coastal guard posts unmanned, lack of weaponry, complete disorganization. That’s when I realized the magnitude of the betrayal and the abandonment of my homeland by the “motherland.” We ran back from the shores of Kyrenia to save ourselves.

PETROS: Yes, I’ve heard all this. It was a premeditated betrayal, but of course, it’s very difficult to understand your feelings. It must have been terrifying.

ORESTIS: Yes, I fell into deep depression. I was ashamed to meet Eurydice. I felt that it was my fault for what had happened. I felt like I was carrying the weight of the invasion and the destruction of my homeland on my shoulders. My parents panicked. They feared I might commit suicide. As soon as conditions allowed, we left by ship for Piraeus and then by plane to Melbourne, Australia, where my uncle, my mother’s brother, lived. I left without saying goodbye to Eurydice. I wanted to calm down and write to her from Australia.

PETROS: Yes, for years she thought you were a missing person because you had disappeared.

ORESTIS: Rightfully so since I was lost. I planned to write to her, but the events of my life deprived me of that opportunity. I don’t know how, but I lost my wallet, along with the address and photo of Eurydice. I was very upset, not so much for the money—although I didn’t have much at the time—but more for the loss of Eurydice’s details.

PETROS: It’s hard to understand the games life plays with us, but who knows, maybe there’s a plan we can’t comprehend.

ORESTIS: Just as you say, it is. In Melbourne, my parents took me to a psychologist because I couldn’t overcome what I experienced in Cyprus in 1974. You know, Australia is a multicultural country, and inevitably, people must accept each other. That was a big lesson for me. With the encouragement of the psychologist, I started reading about ancient Greek civilization, but also about other ancient civilizations. So, I saw the paths from which modern civilization descended, and certainly, not all started from Greece. There were roots elsewhere, and it’s hard to distinguish the avenues when everything is intertwined.

PETROS: I completely agree with you, Mr. Orestis. We should be proud of ancient Greek civilization, but we must not forget that it was the result of the free thinking of those who lived then, not us. We boast about the work of others, and even fanatically so, but what have we done ourselves?

ORESTIS: You’re right, Petros. So, I started reading and, at the same time, getting to know people with different backgrounds and cultures. First and foremost, I understood that Greek culture was not dogmatic, and the ancient philosophers didn’t aim to prove their superiority but to understand life and the universe. They were, above all, scientists expressing wonder like children in the face of the grandeur of the world and the cosmos. Equally important ancient civilizations were Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, the Sumerians, and many others. What impressed me and left me speechless, though, is how significant Islamic civilization was. Of course, it doesn’t go as far back in time as the previous civilizations, but when medieval Europe prevailed, cities like Baghdad thrived in sciences and arts.

PETROS: What are you telling me, Mr. Orestis? I didn’t know all of this!

ORESTIS: In the 9th century, there was the “House of Wisdom” in Baghdad, something like a university, where young people studied works of ancient writers and philosophers from various cultures. They translated the works of Aristotle, Euclid, Galen, and others, which later reached Spain when it was conquered by Islam. There, these works were translated from Arabic to Spanish, significantly contributing to their preservation until today. During that time, Islam had developed in all sciences, such as philosophy, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, and more. The algorithms used extensively in technology today are discoveries of Islamic mathematicians.

In a significant saying attributed to Al-Kindi, a scholar of that time: “We should not be ashamed to recognize truth from whatever source it comes to us, even if it is brought to us by former generations and foreign peoples. For him who seeks the truth, there is nothing of higher value than truth itself.” He was also a mathematician, geometer, musician, astronomer, and astrologer.

PETROS: Honestly, I am impressed. I didn’t know all of this!

ORESTIS: I could tell you much more, but that’s not my aim. What I want to say is that every nation and every culture deserves our respect. In my opinion, it’s not egotistical for a nation or an individual to think they are important. We are all important. What is egotistical and condemnable is considering others inferior.

PETROS: But you can’t deny that today Islamists behave like terrorists and try to destroy Western civilization. Don’t forget the suicide attacks that killed so many innocent people without reason.

ORESTIS: Perhaps it’s difficult to understand their beliefs and perspectives. We might not even be able to because we lack the knowledge and understanding of history in depth. However, I would like to conclude somewhere else: The great enemy of every nation and every individual is fanaticism. Don’t forget that I, as a teenager in 1974, ideologically joined the violent imposition of my beliefs. And that cost my homeland dearly from these empty ideas they were feeding us. What do you think happens with the Muslims? They take their children, teenagers, implant them with intolerant ideas and fanaticism, and send them coldly to kill and be killed.

PETROS: Of course, some benefit from it.

ORESTIS: Indeed, some benefit. That’s the goal! Those who benefit, neither are in danger nor get killed. Haven’t you noticed that all those who carry out suicide attacks are young, poor, and somehow oppressed? Have you heard of an old, rich person strapping bombs and going to get killed? They use the others to impose their plans, when they always stay immune.

PETROS: I must admit you’ve got me thinking. You have a different perspective on the world.

ORESTIS: Fanaticism is the worst advisor for human spiritual health. Look at what the fanatic followers of football teams do. For a football team! Not for their homeland!

PETROS: From which, of course, some make millions.

ORESTIS: Yes, some amass wealth, some become idols, and some fall much lower than their human dignity. Incredibly lower! They simply belong to a disposable, anonymous crowd, skillfully used by some.

(Zenovia enters the room.)

ZENOVIA: Our guests have left, and I came to see what you’re up to.

PETROS: (laughing) We’re doing fine. We started philosophical discussions about the violence plaguing the world and its source!

ZENOVIA: And where did you end up? If you’ve solved this problem, congratulations!

ORESTIS: I initiated the discussion based on my own experiences. The basic theory is that the powerful and opportunistic on Earth exploit gullibility, even the ideals of the young, fanaticizing them on an idea, whether it’s religion, patriotism, or even a football team or a political party. They use them for their own purposes and benefits.

ZENOVIA:: You’re not wrong about that! It’s horrifying to think about it! I suppose, Mr. Orestis, it all stems from your experiences in 1974 and extends in all directions.

ORESTIS: Yes, my child. All crimes, throughout time, have the same infallible recipe. Fanaticize the youth and exploit them.

ZENOVIA:: That’s why I want to teach the little ones I educate to have an opinion and free thinking. You might say they’re just kids, what do they understand? But these kids will be the ones governing the world tomorrow. Oh, Petros, I must return to my work soon! I miss it so much!

PETROS: I completely agree. I’m with you. Start searching tomorrow. I’ll do what I can.

ORESTIS: I really enjoy listening to you, so beloved and understanding with each other. Oh, my children, may you always be like this and always well!

PETROS: Thank you, Mr. Orestis. We wish the same for you. Be well and continue to interpret the world.

ORESTIS: I do try to interpret the world through my own experiences and sufferings. However, the essential thing is for someone to try and manage to change the world for the better. Zenovia’s work provides such an opportunity. Go, my child, back to your work and fight for a fairer world, shaping the souls of children to love peace and truth.

PETROS: You’re all right, but let’s leave that aside. Changing the world isn’t done with emotions or that easily. Let’s talk about why you came to Cyprus and were searching for Eurydice.

ORESTIS: As I told Zenovia, Eurydice was my first teenage love. Don’t think it was a passion like those portrayed in movies today. It was something simple, romantic, more like a deep friendship. But the level of communication was so profound that it felt like I was talking to myself. Even when we disagreed, as I’ve already told you. The fact that I left under those circumstances and never managed to communicate with her again left an unfulfilled desire, a void within me.

ZENOVIA:: You know, it seems like my mother was thinking about you, or at least you were a concern in her life. When she received those letters, she immediately associated them with you. You see, she thought you were a missing person.

ORESTIS: I beg your pardon; what letters are you talking about? I never sent her any letters!

ZENOVIA:: You’re right. I haven’t told you about the letters. I understand that you left Cyprus after 1974. In January 1980, my mother, a young girl back then, opened her mailbox one day and found a letter addressed to her from Istanbul, Turkey. She had talked to us many times about her surprise and the mystery that filled her, unable to think of any explanation or find any meaning. At that time, Turkey was a forbidden subject for the Cypriots. The whole situation seemed like receiving a letter from Mars.

ORESTIS: And what did that letter say?

ZENOVIA: From what I remember, it was a card with Christmas wishes, in a deeply romantic tone. When you come back, for you will surely come back, I will find it to show you. I will also read you an excerpt from my mother’s diary that describes those days, how she reacted, and the actions she took. I think you’ll find it very interesting.

ORESTIS: You’ve left me speechless! I don’t know what to say. And how did she connect it to me?

ZENOVIA:: As I’ve already told you, my mother believed, I don’t know exactly why, that you were a missing person. At that time, this issue was very hot in Cypriot society. People were expecting, in some miraculous way, for the missing persons to return. Everyone was trying in every possible way to gather information. So, she thought it might be some disguised message from you and tried to continue communication with the unknown writer, hoping to learn something.

PETROS: Mr. Orestis, you may have left and taken your pain and drama with you, but here people were searching for hopes, that never came, among the ruins.

ORESTIS: I’m sorry, truly sorry! I still feel guilty for leaving.

ZENOVIA: No, no, that’s not the point! Almost half a century has passed. There’s no point in lamenting what happened back then. I’ll show you the letters only to reconnect with my mother. Can you promise that you’ll come on Wednesday night for dinner? Is Wednesday okay for you, my love?

PETROS: Yes, I’ll make sure to finish work early.

ORESTIS: I can’t say no. This story has piqued my interest. I’d like to learn more.

ZENOVIA: So, we’ll be expecting you on Wednesday at 8 in the evening.

ORESTIS: Goodbye then, my children. I’m so glad to have met you. You are wonderful people.

ZENOVIA: And we’re glad to have met you, Mr. Orestis. You’re a wonderful person from my mother’s past. And that makes you a friend.

PETROS: Have a good afternoon, Mr. Orestis. We’ll see you on Wednesday night.

ORESTIS: Good afternoon, my children!

 

Continuous…

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