Zenovia’s secret (Chapter 2)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 12/06/2022Back to Blog
This text is the product of fiction. None of the characters described are real.
Zenovia looked at herself in the mirror and was once more surprised by her image. She, Zenovia, who was born in Statos, Paphos, who grew up in poverty, with a mother who forced her to wear only black clothes to look like an old woman, lest men fall in love with her and “spoil” her, as she used to say, stood here, beautiful, with the most elegant clothes that existed.
-How extraordinary life is! She thought.
She remembered her life in the village. She was born in 1874 in Statos, Paphos. Her mother was called Eleni and her father Kostis. She spent her first years, as far as she could remember, in the mountains of Paphos grazing goats with her other friends. They were happy in those years. In 1885, at the age of eleven, her father died. The blackness of mourning that covered her mother and herself could not be described. Her mother was constantly lamenting, and that was justified. On the one hand poverty, on the other hand the lack of a protector to take care of them, seemed in her eyes like a future without hope.
The only close relative they had was her father’s brother Onoufrios who lived in Ktima, the largest city of Paphos. He was involved in trade and whenever he could, and this was not often, he would come to the village to see if they needed something to help them. Her mother placed all her hopes in him so that she could marry her only daughter as she was: without a dowry.
Growing up, Zenovia became beautiful. Her mother, instead of rejoicing, was terrified. A feeling of insecurity possessed her that someone would “spoil” her before the wedding. She forced her to wear black clothes and a scarf on her head so that her face would not be visible. On the other hand, she was pushing Onoufrios to find her husband as soon as Zenovia turned fifteen.
So Onoufrios took her to Ktima to stay a few days with him and his wife. They themselves had no children and it was their pleasure to have Zenovia. Her aunt, Elpiniki, made sure a nice dress was prepared for her, so that she would not be presented with the miserable clothes that her mother forced her to wear. There, she was also seen by Demetrios Vassilopoulos, a merchant from Alexandria, who had dealings with her uncle. He fell in love with her immediately and asked her uncle to marry her.
Demetrios Vassilopoulos was over fifty, while Zenovia was only fifteen. Despite his age, he was well-built and quite presentable. He was tall, with a fit body, gray hair, grey mustache, and brown eyes No matter how much Onoufrios tried to convince Zenovia and her mother that, in addition to being wealthy, he was also an extremely good person, both refused.
Her mother took Zenovia back to the village and make her ware her black clothes again. The events that followed, however, and their wretched poverty, forced Zenovia to accept, and in 1890 they got married and left for Alexandria. This wedding looked like a funeral for the mother and daughter.
Throughout the journey, Zenovia was crying. She did not know if she could ever see the mother and her village again. Demetrios was kind and loving with her and assured her that they would come and visit her mother and she could come and stay with them if she wished.
When they arrived in Alexandria and Zenobia saw their house, she was stunned. She had never seen anything more beautiful and bigger. It was a two-storey, stone-built house, with a garden, four bedrooms, two living rooms, a library, a dining room, a kitchen, toilets, warehouses, stables for the horses and rooms for the servants.
-It’s a palace, she thought.
But what impressed her the most was the love and kindness of her husband. Close to him she had begun to feel security, which slowly turned into gratitude, happiness and then into deep, constant love.
With the birth of their son in early 1891, her happiness was fulfilled. They named him Evangelos, at Zenovia’s wish. It was then that she realized that she was very uneducated and clumsy in relation to the aristocratic society of Alexandria, with which she interacted. So, she asked her husband to help her get educated, to learn how to dress and behave.
At that time, the Greek community, which numbered around 60,000 inhabitants, flourished in Alexandria. It was an organized community, holding the economy of the city in its hands. They had established banks, hospitals, schools, theatres, controlled industry, and commerce. The social gatherings of Alexandria had nothing to envy from those of the most important cities of Europe. An uneducated girl from the mountains of Paphos, did not fit in this environment.
Demetrios did not hesitate for a minute. He brought home the best teachers. Soon Zenovia learned to read and write, while at the same time she indulged in the world of fashion and savoir vivre of the time.
The unpolished village girl who grazed goats in the mountains of Paphos, became an elegant Alexandrian, worthy of her husband’s place in society. But what pleased Zenovia most of all, was when in the evenings they both sat in the living room and Demetrios talked to her about his day and the problems he faced. Through the conversation she always tried to help him make the right decisions. These hours, which brought them closer together, were for both the real happiness.
One such evening, Demetrios talked to her about his life. He was not always the wealthy Alexandrian businessman. In fact, he was not even an Alexandrian. He was born in Limassol, Cyprus, mid-1830s. He did not know exactly when. His parents had died when he was at a very young age, probably from malaria. The mistreatment he received from his relatives and his almost permanent hunger, forced him at the age of about ten to sneak into a ship that was in the harbor. This ship brought him to Alexandria. He did not know where he was, but he did not care. He was simply far from the crappy life he lived.
He initially managed to get a job for a Greek merchant, as the child for the errands. He slept on the floor of the shop and ate only the leftovers of his boss. That was his reward. Slowly, slowly, as he was carrying out the merchant’s orders, he met various Greek businessmen and accepted better offers. Everyone liked him because he was polite and hardworking. He learned on his own how to read and write, so as not to be disadvantaged compared to other children of his age. After passing by various bosses, he ended up at the age of 16 to ask for a job from the cotton merchant, Emilios Vassilopoulos.
The first question that Vassilopoulos asked him was:
-What is your name and surname?
-My name is Demetrios, I don’t have a surname, he replied.
-A child without a surname, anonymous in the crowd, Vassilopoulos commented philosophically. Your life has no value in this phony society my child.
-It has value for God, who brought me into the world, Demetrios courageously replied.
This phrase impressed Vassilopoulos, who not only hired Demetrius, but he also began to trust him for his personal matters. So little by little as the years went by, Demetrius entered deeper into the cotton business and in the end Vassilopoulos, who had no children, named him his heir, with the only condition to keep his name. Thus, the child from Limassol, without identity, inherited the glamour, the name, and the property of a merchant from Alexandria, originating from Constantinople.
At first when he took over the business on his own, things weren’t that good.
-I worked hard to bring it to where it is today, Demetrios added. And I am so glad that that I can shared it with you and our son. Since I did not get married while I was young, I was afraid at some point that Vassilopoulos’ fortune would be extinguished. But now, I have both a child and an excellent partner by my side!
He looked at her with adoration and took her hand to his. Zenovia felt a tear in her heart. How much she loved this man!
At home, Zenovia had servants and very little she needed to do herself, other than to run the household. This gave her time to read, to be very involved with her son and his education, and whenever she could she went to her husband’s business. Demetrios greatly appreciated this, although it was not a common occurrence in their time. He informed her about his transactions, he met her to his associates and soon Zenovia proved to be a very smart businesswoman. Her opinion mattered and Demetrios trusted her. He himself, even an experienced businessman, as a particularly good person, sometimes could not suspect the danger. Zenovia, however, taught by her mother that all people are potentially dangerous, was more careful and protected her husband from pitfalls.
She found the involvement with business interesting. It was a challenge that gave her the opportunity to develop skills she never knew she had. On the other hand, it helped her keep her thoughts away from her homeland and her mother. No matter how well she spent her life in Alexandria, nostalgia was a wound in her heart.
Demetrios, aware of this deprivation, he bought an area, just outside Ktima, overlooking the sea and had a house built there. Of course, it was not as luxurious as their home in Alexandria, but there they could spend their summers and Zenovia see her mother. Zenovia loved this house very much. The beautiful view it had and its size, which was to the extent that she knew, made her feel it more her own than the mansion in Alexandria.
In this way Zenovia and Evangelos spent all their summers in Paphos. When his work allowed it, Demetrios joint them.
During the cold months of winter, when there was snow in the mountains of Paphos, her mother came and stayed in the house in Ktima, where the climate was mild and sweet. She had brought with her some goats and hens and Evangelos enjoyed rural life when he came to Cyprus. At the same time, her mother cultivated various seasonal vegetables and had planted fruit trees, such as apple trees and fig trees. So, the house in Ktima had been transformed into a normal farm with all the good things for Zenovia and her son and at the same time it was the paradise of her once so destitute mother.
Ten years have passed since Zenobia had married Demetrios and left for Alexandria. Her life had changed drastically. She had never dreamed of such luck for her and her mother. She was only 26 years old and gorgeous. Her hair was brown and her eyes wide and black. Her skin, now that she lived in Alexandria, away from daily exposure to the sun, shone alabaster, with rose cheeks and red lips. She was aware of her beauty. She could see it in her mirror, but above all she could see it in the eyes of the men who were looking at her erotically. Some even had the audacity to flirt with her, believing that having an old husband she would be ready for adventures. Those she put angrily in their place. The education she had received and her affinity with the world and society had opened other horizons that she did not even know existed. Zenovia was happy. And she was complete.
Her involvement with her husband’s business was another chapter in her life, which like salt and pepper made her everyday life spicy. She found women’s gatherings and gossip meaningless and thought about how unfair it was for women not to work when they had that fluency. Oh yes, Zenovia did not want anything else in her life.
However, there was a thorn that preoccupied her and at times it tarnished this fullness that she was experiencing. Her husband showed great weakness to their son to the extent that he was not able to impose any discipline on him. Evangelos knew it and knew that when he wanted something extravagant, Dad was the right person to ask for it. Demetrios adored Evangelos and tried to offer him all that he never had in his childhood. This worried Zenovia, who grew up with an absurdly strict mother.
-Don’t worry, Demetrios told her. Love never harmed anyone.
The truth was that their Evangelos was a very handsome, intelligent, and capable boy. In his lessons he was very good and if he did not have so many demands and if he did not ask for so many favors from his father, Zenovia would have no complaints. But he grew up knowing that he might have whatever he asked for, and that was what worried Zenobia. The complete ignorance of the possibility of not satisfying all his desires, simply put him in a very fragile position. What if at some point he did not have the means, nor the favorable conditions to satisfy his desires?
Zenovia, unable to prevent her husband’s unstoppable offer to their son, at least tried to admonish him, talking to him about the lack of goods and poverty in the world.
-I know, Mom, he replied one day. Many times, I donate the gifts that dad buys me to the kids on the street, who have nothing. I’ve made a lot of friends like that. What should I make so many gifts for?
Zenovia was stunned. Maybe Demetrios is right, she thought. Maybe a lot of love doesn’t hurt anyone. But she was still careful and talking to her son. Life is not just about laughing and pleasure. It’s full of twists and turns. She knew this very well. And she wanted her son to be prepared for all eventualities in life. A life that no one knew how it will be developed.