Zenovia’s secret (Chapter 11)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 14/08/2022Back to Blog
This text is the product of fiction. None of the characters described are real.
Melbourne – Australia, May – September 2020
Zena woke up the next morning before the sun even rose. She wanted to continue reading the text that grandfather Evangelos had written to her father. It took a lot of effort to understand it and so she preferred the silence the morning has.
Alexis was still asleep. She prepared her tea and sat in her favorite armchair opposite the window facing the Yarra River. The sun had just begun to rise, and she saw on the horizon a faint light spreading and coloring the sky.
-How sweet is this morning time! She thought. It’s the most wonderful time of the day. I am lucky to be able to see the world from above, having in front of me an unobstructed view. Let thank the river for that.
She settled in her armchair, took a dictionary in her hand and grandfather Evangelos’ letter, and continued from where she had stopped the day before. She re-read the last paragraph and continued:
While I was in this delusion of emotions and doubts, Hakim reappeared in my life. One night, in one of the nightclubs I frequented, I saw him. At first he was wary but seeing me being friendly and not mentioning that episode with my mother at all, he calmed down. And this was a crucial moment in my life, my son.
That night he was discreet and left early. But he reappeared the next day and the day after. He was asking what had happened to my parents and seemed to be upset that they were not near me. I never understood if he was pretending or if he was honest. Probably he was pretending.
Not to mention all the details to you, my son, in a few days he asked me for a job. He told me that he had no money at all and had to work. As I was giving him my answer, I heard in my head the voice of my mother saying “No”, while I was saying, “Yes.” I was ashamed to say “No” to an old friend. You must learn to say “No” in your life, my son! This “No” can save you from a lot of suffering.
It is not enough that I gave him a job, while he had given signs of his unreliability in the past, I put him next to the trusted employees of my parents, Mahmud, and Ahmed. I didn’t want him to feel disadvantaged!
I remember Mahmud looking at me with disbelief, but he said nothing. Thus, the three of them were cooperating with the local producers and I with the European merchants. This suited me and I was not particularly involved in their own work.
Hakim and I continued to behave like friends, to go out together, to have fun. I forgot what had happened in the past and began to trust him again.
The months passed and little by little Hakim began to vilify Mahmud and Ahmed. He was telling me that they paid less to the producers and charged the company more. Unfortunately, I was so stupid that I believed him!
So. I called these trusted people and told them that I wouldn’t need them anymore because Hakim would take over all the work on his own. I was ashamed to tell them what he told me, because, maybe deep inside, I knew it wasn’t true. Mahmud looked at me with an ironic gaze, but he said nothing. Fortunately, they quickly found a job because all the cotton traders knew their abilities and they were in demand.
I was still having Hakim in the most pivotal position of my business and in the evenings enjoying my life with him. The great irony is that all the expenses were paid by me, as the richer of the two!
It’s been four years since my mother left. I had never told her, in the correspondence we had, about my actions. On the contrary, I was telling her that everything was fine. But little by little I saw the producers abandoning us and the companies abroad buying from elsewhere.
One day the bank manager, and friend of my father, called me and said:
-Dear Evangelos, unfortunately you cannot have any more credit. Already things are very bad and perhaps you should consider the possibility of going bankrupt. You were warned a long time ago and you did nothing to correct the situation. If you don’t declare bankruptcy, you risk going to jail for debts.
That day I left the bank a mental tatter. To my great surprise outside the principal’s office, I met Hakim. It was as if he was waiting for me.
-What’s going on buddy? He asked me.
I replied to him, and he had the audacity to propose to me to buy the business for a trivial amount. Hakim, the supposedly poor friend, had money to buy my business and I didn’t have a penny! I didn’t even answer him. I pushed him and got out of the bank.
I began to walk the streets like a loser. I arrived at the port and proceeded to some rocks, where it is said that the lighthouse of Alexandria stood in the old days. I was left staring at the sea, that it was moaning angrily, and an idea began to form in my mind. To fall into the water to be killed. I didn’t see any other solution. I was so ashamed of my downfall!
Suddenly, and to my great surprise, I saw Mahmud approaching me. I don’t know how he caught up with me before I jumped off the rocks. His presence increased the feeling of shame and disgust of myself. He took me by the hand and had me sit down. Tears ran from my eyes non-stop. Mahmud was silent. Besides, he was not a person who talked a lot. Some time passed and then he clenched my hand saying:
-Do not be afraid, everything will be fine. Your mother knows it all. She will send money to the bank to stop the lawsuit against you. She has already notified the manager by telegram. Of course, the money she will send is not enough, but it will be a start. And then you will have to work hard. No more Hakim. I will help you, as I can.
Another wave of shame overwhelmed me. My mother knows it all!
-Who informed my mother? I asked. You? Why?
-Because when she left she asked me to take care of you. She knew you drove us away. She also knew about Hakim. But with a heavy heart she wanted to pull it to the end. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to learn.
Leaving the port that day, I can’t say I felt better. I was a mental tatter. But I had decided to try. I remembered the mythical bird, the phoenix, reborn from its ashes. Maybe I could do it too.
Hakim had proved to be the worst friend a man could have. He had consciously destroyed the business. He bought cheaply and charged the business dearly. We lost the good producers and at the same time we lost the good customers. He was profiting from the difference. According to my calculations, he had pocketed tens of thousands of English pounds. And I didn’t have a penny. Only debts.
I leased my family house, and the money went to the bank, for the debt. I slept in the company’s offices. Mahmud had found me some new producers and I bought from them small quantities of cotton, which I sold in small factories abroad. My father’s great clientele was lost. I worked endless hours. I was the manager, the secretary, the accountant, and even the worker. I didn’t have to pay anyone. Mahmud initially helped me only advisory, but in a year’s time, when I could provide him with a salary, he came to work for me.
He advised me from the beginning to go and report Hakim to the police.
-And what good will that do? I asked him. No one will accuse him for anything.
-I agree with you, he told me. But with the connections he has, he will learn it and be afraid. Hakim is a brazen. He will leave Alexandria, before doing any more damage.
And so, it happened. Hakim disappeared. I don’t know if he left Alexandria, but he certainly left my life.
In the years that followed, I worked very hard. Day and night. I had forgotten both the feasts and the women, everything. Only work, work, work. Strange as it may seem to you, I would like to confide something here. This period of my life, the poor, the lonely, the one without amusements, was the most fruitful if not the fullest of all the years I have lived. Under those circumstances I had to create. And when man discovers in himself that power of creation, it is as if he knows God. It’s something that grabs you and overwhelms you in the heavens. And the greater the deprivation, the greater the power. And I owe this to my mother and her own distinction to recognize that this would be my medicine. I know how much this choice of hers would hurt her!
My mother begged me in her letters to go see her, but I couldn’t leave. I constantly postponed it. At first with some allusions, but slowly – slowly, she started talking to me about some secret that she wanted to reveal to me before she died. I don’t know what secret my mother could have, but for me it was impossible to leave. In her last letters she informed me that she had written about this secret and had kept her writings in a safe place, only for me. Unfortunately, son, I’ve never found these writings.
At that time Alexis got up.
-Good morning. What are you doing? He asked Zena. I see you’re still reading your grandfather’s letter! Well done! You have made great progress.
-Good morning Alexis. You can’t imagine how interesting this story has become! It looks like a novel. The grandfather’s friend, Hakim, destroyed him financially, and after the shock, he managed to get back on his feet. Grandma Zenovia had a secret she wanted to reveal to her son, but he never found out. Very interesting I tell you!
-You know, I don’t think anyone can write a novel, which can’t be done in life. Isn’t life the inspiration of every writer? The same, with the history of your family. If you didn’t find these letters and all the facts gathered in a few pages, you would never know how the wefts of life got entangled and created the fabric of reality. It is the condensation that makes them so interesting. Now that you read about them, the pain is very limited. Back, when people lived the facts, the pain was unbearable.
-How nice you express it, Alexis! You sometimes impress me how deeply you see in the facts. Come, let’s have breakfast now and later it’s worthwhile reading the letter too.
They began to prepare the breakfast together, rusks, cheese, fruits, jam, and coffee. Alexis was humming a Greek song and Zena followed rocking her body rhythmically. They both felt happy, especially under these conditions of confinement, which, for many people, brought anxiety and insecurity.
In this pleasant atmosphere, Zena heard the characteristic sound on her cell phone, notifying her that an e-mail had come. She took it in her hands and began to read.
-It is from the law firm in Cyprus, she told Alexis. They sent it to my lawyer and forwarded it to me as well. They say that the estate in Paphos is in a tourist area and is of great value. They refer to €3,000,000 up to €5,000,000! They even suggest, that under the current circumstances, which made it very difficult for someone to travel, we should authorize the office with a power of attorney to undertake the sale and deposit the money with me.
-Would you like that? Alexis asked.
-No, I want to go to Cyprus, to get to know the place and see with my own eyes the house of Grandma Zenovia. It waited for so many years, let it still wait a little longer. When the vaccines are released I could get vaccinated and travel. I will reply in the negative.
-Wait until my cousin Eleni goes and see it and send us pictures. It is worth listening to her own assessment as well. As large as the amount they propose may seem to us, it can be underestimated.
-You’re right. I will answer in the negative. My decision to go to Cyprus myself is irrevocable.
They finished their breakfast and Zena gave the text to Alexis to read, up to the point where she had read herself.
-I am impressed by your grandmother’s move to let her son collapse completely and then intervene although she had so much weakness for him. Hard nut your grandmother! What a power!
-Yes, it was very dangerous. If Mahmud hadn’t caught up with him, he could have been killed.
-Are you saying Mahmud was following him?
-If he had colluded with Grandma Zenovia and knew the banker’s intentions, he would know the dangers of such a desperate moment. Now I understand why my father was so insistent on selling his business to his good partners, even at our expense! He carried within him the gratitude of Grandfather Evangelos to Mahmud. And I am sure that grandfather Evangelos, too, rewarded the faithful Mahmud in some way.
-This story reminds me how rare, but also how valuable a real friendship is. We usually call friends, those with whom we share some moments, some joys and especially hours of fun. But friends are only those who, when the time of need comes, put their personal interest in second place and offer. Which is rare, very rare!
After this analysis of the events, Zena sat down at her computer and wrote to Eleni:
The law firm that took over the case of the transfer of my property to Paphos informed me that the value of the estate amounts to the astronomical amount of €3,000,000 to €5,000,000! I would also like your opinion on this. They suggest to me to sell it, but I have no such intention. My hidden dream is to rebuild Grandma Zenobia’s house and spend a part of my life there. I don’t know if that’s possible. I assign you, as an architect, to consider the possibility and tell me your opinion. I don’t know if there are any traces of the residence that once stood there, but if there are, please list them. Even if they are ruins, it is still my grandmother’s house.
With friendly greetings
She re-read it once more and press send. The message was gone. There was no going back anymore. She had recorded her innermost desires.