The letters (Scene 3)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 12/02/2024Back to Blog
SCENE 3 (in the couple’s living room, after Wednesday night’s dinner)
ZENOVIA: The children are asleep. Now that we’re more comfortable here in the living room, let’s talk over tea about the letters my mother received in 1980. How do you take your tea, Mr. Orestis?
ORESTIS: With a little milk, no sugar, thank you.
ZENOVIA: I imagine you’re anxious to know more about the letters.
ORESTIS: Indeed, I am curious. I’ve been thinking about it constantly. I’ve come up with a theory about their origin, which might have an indirect connection to me, but let’s hear what Eurydice had to say.
(Sound of teacups and pouring tea)
ZENOVIA: Here’s your tea.
ORESTIS: Thank you.
ZENOVIA: Let me read you an excerpt from my mother’s diary. I think it will help us understand her surprise at the letter and her confusion about Suleyman Gunes’ actions. By the way, his name was Suleyman Gunes. I’ll read:
January 25, 1980
Today, I had the biggest surprise of my life! I opened our house mailbox and found a letter from Turkey, specifically from Constantinople, addressed to me! I opened it almost with fear, and inside was a card depicting two birds (perhaps partridges) in a tender pose. What surprised me even more was the content of the card. The text was in English. It said the following:
Christmas greetings to the one I love. I wish you the wonderful enchantment that Christmas brings each year, is wished for you, the one I love. With all its joys, so dear, and may you be happy as you deserve to be, because knowing that you’re happy means all the world to me!
Followed by the address of a bank in Constantinople.
PETROS: Can you believe it, Mr. Orestis? Poor Eurydice had no idea who Suleyman Gunes was, where he found her address, or how he had the courage to write such romantic words to her. She was utterly bewildered.
ORESTIS: Yes, her surprise is entirely understandable, but I feel that all of this also hides a tragic irony. Whoever this gentleman was, he was expressing sentiments to her that I might have wanted to convey at that time, not in such grandiose words, of course, but that would be the essence. How did she connect this to me?
ZENOVIA: Let me read you another excerpt from my mother’s diary:
January 28, 1980
Throughout the past weekend, we discussed with my mother and sister about the card I received. None of us could understand its origin. At some point, my mother suggested that it might be related to a missing person trying to send a message. In Turkey, there is a dictatorship. The radio says they even censor correspondence. Surely, they would censor a letter addressed to someone in free Cyprus. My mind immediately went to Orestis. My dear friend Orestis, lost in the war. How much I wished it were him! How much I wished he were alive and well!
Oh, Mr. Orestis, you’re tearing up. I don’t want to upset you!
ORESTIS: You’re not upsetting me, my child! You’re moving me. It’s different. Please continue.
ZENOVIA: She writes further:
“After carefully studying the envelope, trying to understand something, I realized that my address was written not in the way I write it in English, but as if it were translated from Greek. I had given my address in the past to the Pen Pal organization, a service that connects young people from all over the world to correspond, but I didn’t write it like that. And it certainly wasn’t among the countries I chose to correspond with, Turkey. I’m sure it has nothing to do with this.
Then I did a little research. I initially went to the post office and showed them the envelope. The stamp is Turkish and instead of having a seal, it has a line with a pen, like a monogram. The employee there told me that we do not have direct postal connection with Turkey and this letter must have come through Greece.
Then I visited the bank and asked them about the name of the bank listed on the card and on the address of the Turkish sender. They told me that it does exist, and it is indeed one of the largest banks in Turkey.
I am still at an impasse. This information did not enlighten me at all. But I do not forget what my mother said: It might be a disguised message from someone missing. It might be Orestis. I need to investigate further. I will write to this person, but I will not send the letter directly from Cyprus. I will send it to my friend Anna in Paris and tell her to mail it from there. I will tell him that I moved to Paris. That way he won’t fear censorship so much. If he has something to tell me, he will. His reply – if he replies – will be sent to me by Anna in a sealed envelope.
ORESTIS: So, what happened? Did she send the letter through her friend in Paris? Her anxiety for me moves me, but also her resourcefulness.
ZENOVIA: Mr. Orestis, it was a very difficult time. The missing persons were a huge issue of that era. There was faith and hope that they would return. And while there was deep darkness about their fate, their wives, mothers, sisters, and children were running even to sorcerers to find out where they were and if they were alive.
PETROS: For months, for years, their mothers stood at the Ledra Palace checkpoint, from where the United Nations soldiers came through to our side and held a photo of their missing person with the hope that someone might have seen him and recognized him. Do you think Eurydice wouldn’t have made this simple move to send the letter to Paris, with a blind hope of learning something?
ORESTIS: I think how cowardly I was to leave far away…
ZENOVIA: Don’t judge yourself harshly, Mr. Orestis. Everyone fought for their survival. After all, it is our obligation as humans to survive. You harmed no one, you weren’t a deserter. You were just hurt and betrayed.
ORESTIS: Thank you for the comforting words. But the truth is that I left. I didn’t stay here to share the drama of the others. But tell me what happened next? Did Suleiman reply?
ZENOVIA: Due to the complexity of the letter route, Suleiman sent another card on August 28, 1980. He didn’t answer any of her questions, nor tell her where he found her address, nor why he was writing to her. He continued his violin with yet another love poem. It is certain that Suleiman was educated and knew English well. So, he wrote to her on the second card among other things:
I love only you in the whole world.
I found you in my spirit.
I think of you from somewhere
You are like the sun in my dark night.
If I read a book, on its pages
I see you
If I close my eyes
you come to my mind..
My mother was outraged by what she read. She couldn’t make any sense of it.
PETROS: What could these words be? A coded message or a tasteless joke? There is no meaning. What could a Turk expect from a Greek Cypriot at that time? They couldn’t even have a phone call. And to carefully avoid answering the question of how he got the address and why he was writing to her, surely the way he came into possession of it was not so clean.
ZENOVIA: We speak of these things today with a distance of almost fifty years, sitting in our living room and drinking tea, but back then, under those circumstances, people hoped for a message from the dark world of those who were lost.
ORESTIS: Since the Sunday we met until today, I’ve been constantly thinking about the story with the letters. I might have a possible explanation. When I was at university in Melbourne, we had people from many countries around the world. I remember we had Turks too. I don’t know their names, nor did I have any relation with them. The wounds from the invasion were still fresh, and for me, these people represented the country that destroyed my homeland. However, it’s around that time that I lost my wallet with Eurydice’s address and photo. It’s possible that one of them found it, or even stole it. No one knows. Of course, all these are speculations, but it’s a possible explanation.
PETROS: When did you lose your wallet, Mr. Orestis? I assume it was earlier; the first card came in 1980.
ORESTIS: I must have lost it around 1975, early 1976. But the card didn’t come from Australia; it came from Constantinople. It’s possible that whoever had the information returned to Turkey and then, for some unknown reason, decided to send that card.
PETROS: That’s a possible explanation. But don’t forget how many Turkish soldiers were in occupied Cyprus in 1974 and even later. Entire villages were plundered. Maybe someone found her address in a house there.
ZENOVIA: That’s something my mother had thought of, but she didn’t believe that anyone in occupied Cyprus had her address because she never corresponded with anyone from there. Mr. Orestis’s explanation seems more likely to me. Besides, to write to her, he must have had an indication of her age. He must have seen her photo. Otherwise, the romantic words wouldn’t make sense.
ORESTIS: Do we have any indication of how old he was?
ZENOVIA: There was a third letter. Much later. This time the date is March 9, 1982. My mother seems to have responded to the second card, persistently asking him to explain how he found her address and why he was writing to her. At this stage, I think she was no longer hoping for information about the missing persons, but she wanted to solve the mystery. He took a long time to respond this time. This time the letter was written on a bank letterhead, not on a card. In this letter, he says he’s 27 years old. That age matches someone who was a soldier in Cyprus in 1974 or a student in Melbourne. Of course, no one knows if he was telling the truth.
ORESTIS: And what does he say in this letter, Zenovia?
ZENOVIA: After apologizing for the delay in responding, he talks about the beauties of Turkey and Greek-Turkish relations, suggesting that the two countries are neighbors and could have better relations and not be enemies. However, the way he speaks seems like he either doesn’t know or doesn’t want to acknowledge that Cyprus is a separate country and not in the Aegean Sea. At that time, Greece and Turkey had intense differences over the territorial waters and the sovereignty of the Greek islands. In the end, he gets to his favorite topic: Starting from the beauties of the Bosphorus and the tulips that bloom there, he describes the couples falling in love under the moonlight. At this point, and in his excessive effort to emphasize the romantic atmosphere, he says something inconsistent: “It’s very beautiful under the moonlight, as the sun shines.” I laughed a lot when I read that. Swept away by his poetic frenzy, he wrote whatever came to mind.
PETROS: From this, you should understand that the man had no specific purpose; he simply wrote incongruities, thinking it would be romantic towards a girl he didn’t know. Now, how could he imagine he would gain anything from this, I don’t understand. At that time, of course, there were no social media platforms, no telephone connection to Turkey, nor could anyone with a Cypriot passport go to Turkey or vice versa. It makes no sense. He could express himself in this way to any other girl who had even a slight hope of meeting! There was absolutely no chance for him to ever meet Eurydice.
ZENOVIA: Now that you mentioned social media, I remembered that a few years ago, when my mother was alive, we thought about searching through Facebook to find him. The name Suleiman Gunes seems so common in Turkey that it brought up thousands with the same name. It was impossible to locate him. It didn’t matter much, of course. It was a moment when my mother remembered this story again, a story that remained unresolved. It was the last attempt to solve the puzzle. Without result, of course.
PETROS: And with that amazing phrase, “under the moonlight, when the sun shines,” or something similar, he would finish the letter?
ZENOVIA: No, that was the prelude to segue into his own romantic fantasy. So, he said verbatim:
“Or you can see others among the tulips caressing their loved ones. Love is very different in the Bosphorus. If you were there, at such moments you would let me kiss your beautiful red lips, taking your body into my arms?”
PETROS: Suleiman turned out to be quite romantic! I’m sure all of this didn’t sit well with Eurydice.
ZENOVIA: Not only did she not like it, but it also angered her. My mother was a very proud person. To receive romantic advances from a stranger, who ultimately belonged to the nation that destroyed her homeland, was at least unacceptable for her. And the fact that this stranger insisted boldly not to reveal where he found her address and why he wrote to her but dared to express himself in this way, surpassed her. Let me read you another excerpt from her diary:
March 30, 1982
Yesterday I met Eleni, Orestis’ cousin. I told her about the letters and the secret hope I had that they were a message from him. Eleni was astonished. “There’s no chance,” she told me. “Orestis went with his parents to Australia after the war. He was never a missing person.” I was glad that Orestis was safe in Australia. I was wrong to think he was missing. I don’t remember who put this idea in my head. Perhaps because after the war he disappeared from my life, he just vanished.
Finally! Now I will never need to write to Suleiman again, trying to find the words to make him answer my questions and he responding with silly romanticism. But why didn’t Orestis write to me? We were always such good friends! Why did he forget about me like this?
PETROS: Oh, Mr. Orestis, we’re making you tear up again. We better stop this conversation since it upsets you so.
ORESTIS: No, no, my child. On the contrary, her words are an answer to my own feelings for her. I always loved her. From the time we were children and played together. She was my best friend, she was my girl, even if I never said it clearly to her, even if I didn’t dare to utter the romantic words that this stranger wrote to her with such ease. Somewhere deep inside me, I wished I had told her those words myself. And the fact that in some way she associated me with him, even if it was because she thought I was missing, is a consolation for me.
ZENOVIA: You’ve moved me as well now, Mr. Orestis. How much my mother would rejoice to see you! How much I wish she were with us now!
PETROS: Don’t dwell on those thoughts again. We’ve said death is the most definitive event there is. And Mr. Orestis’ presence here has revived your mother in such a romantic way! There’s no reason to spoil it.
ZENOVIA: I’m glad Mr. Orestis is here. Through these memories, I feel my mother’s presence again. Don’t worry, my dear Petros. I won’t fall into depression again. That’s in the past. I ‘ve just expressed a wish.
ORESTIS: Despite the emotions I feel, I must admit I am happy. I started this journey from Australia with a vague idea of what I was coming to Cyprus to do. Deep down, perhaps I knew I was coming to see Eurydice. Yet the chances of finding her and her remembering me after my disappearance would have been minimal. So maybe I didn’t even admit to myself the real reason for my trip.
All these years I had no correspondence or relationship with my relatives here. I wasn’t very interested in seeing them. On the other hand, Cyprus, my homeland, was an open wound for me… I didn’t want to scratch it. And yet, this trip was ultimately redemptive. Because I met you, I learned that Eurydice thought of me and cared for me, and as weird as it may seem, a stranger told her, in a very romantic way, the words I would have liked to tell her. It was as if he indirectly represented me…
PETROS: I’m glad you see it that way. It’s also an outlet for the unanswered questions that these letters left behind and a vindication for Eurydice’s efforts to find you.
ZENOVIA: And what do you plan to do now, Mr. Orestis? Will you return to Australia? Will you stay here? We would be very happy to continue seeing you.
PETROS: That’s true. Despite our short acquaintance, it feels like we’ve known you for years. You would also be like a grandfather to our children.
ORESTIS: Your words truly touch me deeply. I never expected to be treated like this! Perhaps it’s Eurydice’s presence that fills our hearts with love. But I cannot stay. I also have children and grandchildren. We may not live in the same city, but when I’m in Australia, I can see them from time to time. I don’t want to be far away from my loved ones again.
ZENOVIA: You’re right. It’s unreasonable for us to expect to keep you close to us. But we would love for you to come back. We share the same love for my mother. It’s like she comes alive again when we talk to you.
ORESTIS: My dear friend, thank you. But I don’t know if I want to come back. The love that brought me here was Eurydice. The other was my homeland. Cyprus. Those accounts that were opened in 1974 have not been settled yet. As I told you the first day I met you, one must walk by the Green Line, down in old Nicosia, to feel that the worm eating the land has not died. And for some strange reason, the inhabitants of this island do not see it. I’ve been away for almost fifty years and coming back I found a homeland with a nice shell but with a heart eaten away. I feel things are worse than when I left in 1974.
ZENOVIA: No, no, Mr. Orestis! I refuse to believe that!
PETROS: Yes, I feel you’re being somewhat extreme too. A solution, Mr. Orestis, does not depend only on us. There is a huge country called Turkey with its own interests, and there are powerful people in the world who pull the strings. We make mistakes too, I admit, but we’re not to blame for everything.
ORESTIS: Perhaps you’re right. I shouldn’t spoil this beautiful evening with such thoughts. I apologize.
ZENOVIA: Don’t apologize, Mr. Orestis. You’re just expressing what you’ve gained from the place. But it would be better if you were a little more optimistic. Trust me. We will fight for a better tomorrow!
ORESTIS: I hope so, my child. But whatever you do, remember that we must fight fanaticism. It’s the cause of many evils.
PETROS: You’re absolutely right about that.
ORESTIS: Well, it’s time for me to go. Thank you for the wonderful evening, and I’m sorry if I spoiled it with my negative thoughts.
ZENOVIA: Don’t worry, Mr. Orestis. Nothing can ruin the joy you gave me by talking about my mother, and especially by finding an answer to the origin of those 1980 letters.
PETROS: Please come back to see us before you leave. We truly would like to see you again.
ORESTIS: I will definitely come to bid you farewell.
ZENOVIA: And come back to Cyprus again. We will fight to find a solution to our national problem. Maybe then you’ll stop feeling so betrayed. And from my side, I’ll do what I can to teach the children in my class to have free thinking and free opinion.
PETROS: Goodnight, Mr. Orestis.
ORESTIS: Goodnight, and who knows, perhaps Suleiman was right when he said: “It’s very beautiful under the moonlight, as the sun shines.” Look at the sky! It’s bright in the darkness.
ZENOVIA: Yes, you’re right. Through the darkness, light can emerge. Goodnight.