Zenovia’s secret (Chapter 24)

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 13/11/2022

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This text is the product of fiction. None of the characters described are real.

Cyprus – Summer 2021 (Paphos)

It did not take long for them to get to Zenovia’s house. Zena stayed in the car so as not to tire her leg further and only Alexis got off.

Entering the collapsed house, he quickly spotted the hole on the floor created by Zena’s leg. It was indeed a crypt next to the wall. He knelt and put his hand inside. It was very well built and protected from the elements. As it was closed from above with the plate that broke, only by chance could one discover it. And it seems that for a hundred years, this random moment has been waiting for Zena. He felt a shiver from the coincidences that led them so far.

He searched the crypt well but found nothing. The sunlight was so bright that it stripped everything naked. If there was something he would see it. He got up and returned to the car.

-There is nothing, he told Zena who was waiting anxiously. We’ll have to go to the locksmith. And it’s natural. Zenovia would keep the box in one place and the key elsewhere. Don’t forget that her house would be filled with women engaged in weaving and trade. She wouldn’t risk her secret.

-You’re right. Zenovia was a very proactive, intelligent, and organized woman. She left nothing to chance.

-And yet it is in luck that she trusted her secret and it is luck that handed it to you now!

-If you put it that way, you’re right. Who can interpret the coincidences that led us here?

-That’s what I thought too. Let’s go straight to the hospital now!

The doctor who examined Zena in the First Aid department was young and pleasant. He found that, even though Alexis had washed the wound, some impurities had remained inside, and they did well to visit the hospital. He cleaned the wound again and put a strong antiseptic that stung her a lot. He even gave her antibiotics so as not to cause infection.

Zena lame out where Alexis was waiting for her. She got into the car, and they set off for the locksmith. They had no difficulty in finding him and explaining to him the reason of their visit.

The locksmith was impressed by the construction of the box.

-I’ve never seen a more masterful build, he told them. The old craftsmen were real masters. Do you see the sides how they fit perfectly, with almost no gaps created? It’s unbelievable.

And turning to Alexis, who had asked him a few questions earlier, he added:

-It is not made of olive wood, but of wild olive wood. The hardest there is. As for the lock, it is indeed silver. We are talking about a masterpiece. I will try to open it without doing any damage.

-Please, Zena told him. Could you make another key so it can be locked again?

-I’ll try it. It’s hard of course to be silver because I’m not a goldsmith, but I’ll see what can be done.

Then he fell silent for a while, took a tool, and put it in the keyhole. It did not take long for him to open the lock, and the first who looked inside, perhaps expecting to see precious jewelry, was him. When he realized that all it contained was a velvet cloth wrapping a pile of written pages, he lost interest.

But for Zena, it was so touching that tears came out from her eyes. She took in her hands the velvet cloth, which besides being dusty was relatively in good condition, and opened it with care. Inside were several written pages, with the handwriting of Zenovia, as she remembered it from the letters to her son. The ink had faded but you could read comfortably what it was written.

-It’s because the box was so tightly closed, the locksmith explained to her. That is why neither the fabric nor the paper ware destroyed.

-It’s like a miracle, Zena whispered. This box has not been opened for a hundred years. I can’t imagine how it wasn’t destroyed.

-It’s the wood, said the locksmith. It is the strongest wood there is. And the construction! Excellent build!

-We will leave you the box to make another key, Zena told him, because she wanted to leave to read the writings of Zenovia.

-Come in a couple of days, said the locksmith. I’ll see what I can do with the key. Maybe I’ll work with a goldsmith, and I’ll make it silver for you.

Leaving the locksmith, Alexis warned Zena not to open the pages in sunlight.

-They may be destroyed he told her. When we go to the hotel I will photograph them, and we will have them in an electronic archive. In this way you will be able to read at your leisure the secret of Zenovia. These should be stored, perhaps back in the box that protected them for so many years. It would even be good to ask a specialist about the ways of their maintenance.

-Alexis, what has happened is magical. It’s like in a fairy tale.

-And what is a fairy tale Zena? Life condensed into puzzles. To enchant young children and prepare them to understand the mysteries of life.

-You’ve said your wisdom again! What a nice interpretation Alexis!

By the time they arrived at the hotel it was noon. They ordered lunch in their room and Zena lay down. As time passed her leg hurt more.

Alexis closed the curtains to darken the room and began to photograph the pages. He then created an electronic file that he sent to Zena’s e-mail address. He wrapped the pages back in the velvet cloth, which he dusted off as best he could and locked them in the safe of their room.

-People keep jewels here; we keep the writings of Zenovia! Zena commented cheerfully.

They hurriedly took their meal and Zena settled as best she could on the bed, placing pillows on her back. She turned on the laptop, put it at her legs and began reading. The text was written in the form of a letter and was addressed to Evangelos, Zenovia’s son.

So, Zenovia wrote, a hundred years earlier:

My dear child Evangelos,

I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again and you know how much I care and worry about you. Your father and I raised you like a prince, but I sometimes I think that real life is not made for princes, but for hard-pressed people. And whether I like it or not, the time will come when you too will be tested hard to find your way.

But my son, there is a story you should know about and no matter how your life will evolve and what you will meet, I must tell you. Whether you will call it a fairy tale or harsh reality, it has stigmatized you, without you knowing it. In my own soul, however, it works between dream and reality. Most of the time I don’t know which of the two is.

You remember me telling you that I was poor and orphaned by a father, at a cruel time, when life was merciless for the underprivileged, who made up most of the people. No one had the slightest surplus to give to his neighbor.

My mother, through the insecurity caused by the condition of her widowhood, was harsh to me and forced me to wear black clothes and a headscarf on my head that I lowered, so that no one could see my face.

Until I was fifteen years old, I had not left my village. The only time she let me go to Ktima at Uncle Onoufrios’ house, Aunt Elpiniki sewed for me a nice dress and for the first time I showed myself like a girl.  Your father, who was an associate of Uncle Onoufrios, was in Cyprus at the time and happened to see me. I don’t know if it was intentional by the uncle, but in this meeting your father fell in love with me.

I, then at the age of fifteen, like any girl of my age, dreamed of marrying a young man from my village or even from our region. I could not imagine this gentleman with the gray hair and mustache as a future groom, even if he was very presentable, with his upright body and expensive clothes. I saw him as a grandfather and with the age difference we had, he could have been my grandfather!

So, not only did I not accept when the uncle suggested it to me, but I also was also crying all the time. My mother then came, took me back to the village and made me to wear my black clothes again. I think it would be mid-April.

This incident caused me great insecurity because then I realized that my fate, due to poverty, would have the same or even a similar course. So, I fell into depression. My mother, despite her strictness, withered to see me like this.

At the end of April, beginning of May, a group from our village, every year, started on foot and went to the plain of Messaria for the reaping. You see, we in Paphos were the poorest. We lived in mountainous areas that did not have fertile fields. So it was for many an extra income, to go to the plain, to reap and get paid. The same did people from other villages in the area, up to Tylliria, the most remote area of Paphos.

On the other hand, the villages of Messaria had many fertile fields to sow and at the time of harvesting they wanted help. So, this habit continued for dozens of years, serving both categories of farmers. Men and women participated in these excursions. Men to reap and women to help.

From our village, that year, ten men and six women would go. Among them was my friend Eurydice with her mother, Vassilia, who was my mother’s cousin. I don’t know how, but Aunt Vassilia convinced my mother to let me go with them too. She assured her that there was no danger, that she would watch over me, and in the end I would have a sure amount for my dowry. Our leader would be Mr. Kostas, a mature man from our village, who had gone many times and knew both the route and the masters for whom we would work.

The route would take several days because we would do it on foot. We would climb the Troodos mountains and descend towards the plain of Messaria. We had with us a cart pulled by a horse and a donkey. On them we loaded the few things we carried, food, olives, halloumi and bread and a few clothes to lie down at night. The day we left my mother urged me to be careful and not to approach the men. She was telling me that I might be spoiled and unable to get married. My son, I must confess to you that I did not understand exactly what my mother meant by this threat, but I was determined to obey.

Here Zena stopped and asked Alexis:

-Do you read it too?

-Of course not, he replied. It’s a secret of your family. Read it yourself first and we’ll see if you want me to read it.

-We are also now a family. Read it too because that’s how I could comment on it with you. Grandma Zenovia had the gift of writing. She transports me to her time, a time not at all flattering for women. I understand why she wanted to help the women of her country. She herself lived in misery in her youth.

-All right. Give me some time and I’ll reach you. How is your leg?

-It has gone numb. I’ll get up to walk a little bit, until you progress reading to the point where I did.

So, Zena got up and walked limping towards the balcony. The sun was still high, and she could see in the distance the sea shimmering from its rays. She sat down for a while, enjoying the brightness of the light, and then returned to the room.

Alexis had gone on to read and they agreed that he would read the sequel aloud so that she could lie down and rest better. So, Alexis continued reading:

This trip was a great experience for me. Initially we walked in the forest of Paphos heading towards the monastery of Kykkos. I can’t describe to you, my son, how beautiful this forest is. Dense, with tall trees that hid sunlight. In the evening we lay in the open air under the stars. Everyone slept deeply from fatigue, but I lay awake for a long time, admiring the beauty of the sky that was endless, full of flickering lights. 

During the day, the girls who were with us would sing and the men would tell stories, especially from other trips they had made to Messaria. In some parts of the road, one could see from afar the sea, the bay of Chrysochous and the bay of Morphou. It was shown to us, but I couldn’t tell it apart from the blueof the sky. I could only see the coastline forming in the hazy landscape. But all this was magical for me. An unknown world where people seemed more carefree and happier.

When we arrived at the monastery of Kykkos we met people from other villages who went to Messaria to harvest. So, we became a great team and moved forward together. Among them was an older man who was called teacher. He was telling stories about some ancient gods that I was hearing for the first time. So, I walked behind him to listen. He was talking about the twelve gods of Olympus, about Zeus who slept with the wives of men and had children, about Aphrodite who was born in Paphos, about Athena who was wise and about everyone else. But the god that impressed me the most was Apollo, the god of light and music. I imagined him shining golden and beautiful.

Aunt Vassilia was calling at me to come back to her, but I could not resist the magic of the teacher’s words and I disobeyed. I, the so obedient and submissive until that moment, girl! That trip taught me that the world is much bigger than the pastures of my village and can hide magic and secrets that every person deserves to learn.

Little by little we turned over the Troodos mountains and started heading towards Nicosia, “Chora” as it was called. The road was now downhill, and the pine trees had begun to thin out. It did not take long for us to see the vast plain that stretched out before us. For the first time in my life, I had seen so much vastness. A flat place, yellow from the crops that had now matured and in the background a mountain range, Pentadactylos was called, I was told.

-The world has many facets, I thought. Here it doesn’t look like my village at all. It’s a completely different landscape.

Little by little, the teams of each village stood out and began to move forward with a different step. Most of them would go to Chora and wait for the masters from Messaria to come and take them to their work. Our own team led by Mr. Kostas would go directly to our own master. Every year people from our village would go to the same village and work with the same family.

However, we also passed through Chora. It struck me so that it was surrounded by the walls and around it a large ditch grazing sheep. To get inside you had to go through the Doors, as they called the entrances to the city. In the evening they were closed, and no one could get in or out. The houses were different from those in my village. They were not built with the stone of the mountain but with mudbricks and whitewashed with plaster. Some, the richest, were built with squared. yellow stones. These were very impressive. It also had a big bazaar, the biggest I had seen up to that point in my life.

All the women and girls went to the bazaar. I also went with them even though I had no money to buy anything. There were so many things there! Embroidery, kilims, clay pots, women’s clothes, breeches, and anything you can imagine. Aunt Vassilia bought Eurydice a white shawl with black fringes and colorful flowers to wear to the church.

-When we get paid from the work we’re going to do you’ll be able to buy one too, she told me.

-What to do with it auntie? I answered her. Since my mother won’t let me wear it.

In Chora we went as a group to a shoemaker, and he put soles on our boots that had melted from walking. Mr. Kostas paid for me, with the promise to pay him back when I get paid.

When we finished from Chora, Mr. Kostas gave the command:

-Let’s start now for Marathovounos, he said. Tomorrow we start work.

Here Alexis stopped. He was amazed by the name of the village. He turned to Zena surprised:

-How many coincidences Zena! This is the name of my parents’ village. What is finally happening here?

But Zena had fallen asleep. The fact that she had not slept the night before, the constant emotions of the day and the relief that she finally held the secret of Zenovia in her hands, relaxed her and she surrendered to sleep.

Alexis covered her and went out on the balcony. The time of sunset was approaching. The sun had begun to descent and soon it would redden the sea and the sky.

-It’s getting more interesting, he whispered.


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