Zenovia’s secret (Chapter 25)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 20/11/2022Back to Blog
This text is the product of fiction. None of the characters described are real.
Cyprus – Summer 2021 (Paphos)
The next morning, when Alexis woke up, he saw Zena sitting in front of the computer and reading.
-Good morning, he told her. How are you today?
-I would have slept more than ten hours last night. My leg still hurts, but luckily it didn’t break. It’s just a wound that will take its days to heal. Yesterday, it seems that while you were reading, I was sleeping because I don’t remember anything from where I had stopped on my own.
-Yes, you had fallen asleep. I ‘ve read to where they set off for Marathovounos. I am amazed at the coincidences that this story has in store.
-I noticed it too. Life cycles seem to repeat themselves and intersect. If I didn’t try to find the secret of Zenovia we would never discover this connection with the past. How many such things happen in our lives, and we never learn of them?
-As I get ready to go down to breakfast, read on. Or maybe you don’t want us to go down and ask for something to be brought here.
-We’d better go. I don’t want to feel disabled. I’m fine! So, I read below:
We walked all day to get to the village. We passed through Kaimakli, Mia Milia and other villages that I don’t remember now. On our left was the Pentadactylos, a mountain range lower than the Troodos mountain range, which we had left behind. The sun was hot and there were no trees. Just a few olive trees now and then, but they were not enough to give us a little coolness. Everywhere was sown grain, dancing at the slightest gust of wind. On the edges of the fields were red poppies, yellow daisies, and colorful wildflowers. Flocks grazed everywhere, much larger in number than the few goats that we had in our village.
For us, however, the mountainous, the vastness of the plain gave an impression of monotony but also of vastness. The people here were certainly better off than us, in the poor villages of Paphos, but there the scenery was more beautiful. At least I thought so.
In the afternoon we arrived at Marathovounos. Mr. Kostas asked us to wait a little outside the village and went to find the master. The houses here were built with plinths (mudbricks), as in Nicosia. Many of them were two-story. I thought the people here would be rich. The church seemed to dominate a hill in the center of the village. And while I was trying to understand how different this landscape was from what I knew, Mr. Kostas returned with the master. What I saw I had never expected in my life!
The master was young, very handsome and sitting on a white horse. His body was unusually tall compared to the people I knew. His hair was blonde, and his eyes were blue. Immediately the teacher who was talking about the gods of Olympus came to mind.
-He must be Apollo, I thought. Surely he is a god. It cannot be otherwise. I have never seen such a man in my life!
The women who were with us, and especially the young ones, were left with their mouths open. Eroticism was playing on their gaze, but he didn’t even turn to look at us.
He started riding in front, imperious, and we followed him on foot. We arrived outside the village, in an area that was only fields with crops. Next to it was a field with a few olive trees and that’s it. There was also a hut beyond, but this was for the master. We couldn’t stay there. He showed us a place under the olive trees that we could sleep in. There was also a makeshift construction of reeds and grasses that in case of rain we could hide underneath. A little further on there was a pit-well from where we could draw water. He left us enough loaves of bread, olives, halloumi, and tomatoes to dine, spurred his horse and left.
-Tomorrow morning, we will start work from four o’clock, Mr. Kostas told us. Before the sun comes out and the crops dry out. They are cut more easily when they are damp. Wash, eat and sleep.
We pulled water from the well and washed ourselves as much as possible, especially us, women. There wasn’t much we could do. A little bit our face, a little bit our hands, a little bit our legs. How to wash yourself while wearing all your clothes? But even that, was also something. Someone lit a small fire. We sat around and ate the food left to us by the master. Then we spread our clothes and slept under the olive trees. Separately men, separately women. Like all evenings.
I thought I had just closed my eyes when I heard Mr. Kostas voice, calling us to get up.
-Quickly, quickly you lazy he cried. The sun will come out in soon.
The master with the white horse was already there. We got up in a hurry, poured some water on our faces and started from the adjacent field. When the master gave the signal, the harvest began.
The men took their scythes and Mr. Kostas, who was the master worker, grabbed his own and started first, drawing a line between the grain. The others followed, reaping in parallel lines. The last in line was called “raaris” (which mean the last one). We women, followed, we were called “angalarkies” which mean the ones who gathered the harvested grain and tied it in bales. Each reaper had to have an “angalarka” behind him. Boys would come and go carrying water for us to drink and help, picking up the bales and transporting them to a point to be moved later to the threshing floor.
The men sang and teased the one who stayed behind or left unharvested punches of grain. When they stopped singing, the women started. It was a hard job, but it seemed like a celebration. There was fun and teamwork. Everything was determined how it would happen, and no one wondered what to do. At noon the master’s mother and his sisters would come and would bring food for everyone. It was usually pilaf bulgur with pieces of animal fat, bread, halloumi, and olives. The workers had to eat well, to work well.
As we progressed I listened to the other girls who commented on how handsome the master was and joy to her who would marry him. They consumed him with their own eyes, but he didn’t give them a single look. He was seemingly accustomed to being the center of attention. I didn’t say anything, nor did I look at him, because the way I was dressed in black, I looked like an old woman and there was no chance of him noticing me.
We began work before the sun rose, until sunset. When the first day passed, I was exhausted from fatigue. But what bothered me the most was that I smelled like manure and had itchy all over my body. It seems I had been teased by the straw of the wheat which, as it dissolved into small pieces, had penetrated my clothes, and irritated my skin. I said it to Aunt Vassilia, but she didn’t pay any attention to me.
-Let it, it will pass, she told me. You’ll get used to it.
But the itching was getting more and more. Then an idea came to me. While everyone was eating, I went to the well and took out a bucket of water. I hid it behind an olive tree and continued eating with the others. The master ate with us and then rode his horse and left. It didn’t take long for everyone to fall asleep. They were, after all, exhausted by fatigue.
I made sure no one was awake from their snoring and got up slowly – slowly. I went behind the olive tree that I had left the bucket of water and started trying to wash myself, lest the itching stop. But it was very difficult without taking off my clothes. I did not dare though to undress, even if everyone was asleep, because I was afraid that someone would wake up. But the itching did not stop. I wanted to scratch myself all the time.
Then an idea came to me. I looked at the empty hut and thought:
-Since the master has left why not go and wash me in the hut? No one will see me there and I will be able to take off all my clothes.
So, I took the bucket and slowly reached the hut. I initially looked inside carefully, made sure there was no one, turned back and counted those who were sleeping, and only then entered. At first it was very dark but little by little my eyes got used to it.
I first took off my “sayia”(outer dress) and shook it so that the haystacks would fall. Then, trembling with fear, I took off the “sarka” (a cotton inner shirt that reached down to the feet) and began to wash myself. The relief was immediate. I was about to take off my “vradji” (long cotton underwear like pants) when I heard a horse squealing. I turned in terror and saw the master standing at the entrance. I was there, in the middle of the hut, half-naked, with my hair unbraided and he was looking at me without speaking. I immediately fainted out of shame.
When I recovered I was lying on the floor of the hut, half covered with my clothes, and he was sitting and looking at me. I was about to scream in fear, but he closed my mouth with his hand.
-Don’t, he told me. They will listen to you, and it will be worse. Don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you. Why did you come here?
With a trembling voice and stuttering I explained to him that I wanted to wash myself and it was the only place I could hide, without anyone seeing me. Tears were coming out of my eyes incessantly, constantly asking him to forgive me.
He didn’t say anything. Only he got up and went to his horse. When he returned, he brought a small bottle with him. He lifted the clothes over me and began to anoint me with oil. My body was shaking, terrified.
-Don’t be afraid. That will relieve you, he told me.
I had stopped talking. What was happening was beyond all reality that my poor mind could imagine. When he finished he said to me:
-Get dressed now and go to sleep. Will you come tomorrow? I’ll wait for you. If you don’t want to come, don’t come, I won’t get angry. But if you come, I will make you mine.
Continuing to tremble, I put on my clothes and ran away. I found it difficult to fall asleep, and my sleep was restless. I could see the god Apollo coming down from Mount Olympus to take me with him. I let out a scream and woke up.
-What has happened to you? Eurydice asked me. Why are you screaming?
-A bad dream, I answered.
All day I acted like a ghost. Two phrases were constantly buzzing in my mind. My mother telling me:
-Don’t go near men. They will spoil you!
And the master saying:
-I’ll wait for you. If you don’t want to come, don’t come, I won’t get angry. But if you come, I will make you mine.
Without being entirely sure what exactly these two meant, I knew they meant the same thing.
In the evening the master brought plenty of wine to the workers. He also encouraged the women to drink. I understood his purpose. He wanted to make them sleep heavily. Then he left on his horse.
I wasn’t sleeping. Without deciding what to do, when the time came, I got up and went to the hut as if something unknown was pulling me by the hand.
It didn’t take long for him to arrive too.
-Come on, take off your clothes, he told me. I brought water for you to wash and a better oil that will ease your pain from the haystacks.
I took off my clothes as if hypnotized and began to wash. He looked at me and then started smearing me with oil and kissing me at the same time. All resistance was lost.
He was telling me that I am beautiful, that my skin shines under the moonlight, that I am like a fairy. I had no sense of what was going on around me. I let myself in his hands and became his, ignoring all the voices buzzing in my head and struggling to stop me. In the end they all fell silent. Another world was born for me.
In Marathovounos we stayed over a month, until we reaped all the fields of the master and transported all the bales to the threshing floor with the cattle wagons. All the nights that followed, I slept in the master’s arms, in the small hut. No one had understood of what was going on. The wine they drank every night, and the fatigue of the day plunged them into a deep sleep, like lethargy. I would wake up before dawn and run and lie down next to Eurydice and her mother.
Constantly the master was telling me how beautiful I am, something that I did not know until that moment, since I had never seen myself in a mirror. The black clothes that my mother made me wear, prevented everyone else from expressing any admiration. So, I listened to his words in amazement. I told him about my mother and my fear that she would kill me when she was going to find out what had happened at the harvest. But I didn’t care because I had known love and happiness. Let me die!
But he would look me in the eye, caress my hair and promise me that he would come to my village to ask my mother to marry me.
-I can’t talk to my parents now, he said. I will wait for you to leave, and I will talk to my father first. He is more open-minded. His name is Nicolas. Then I have a commitment with a girl from the village that I must end. Don’t worry I’ll be coming soon. Until you go on foot, I will come on horseback and reach you.
When I asked him about this girl in the village, he said:
-It was a big mistake. I never wanted to. She is the one who insisted that we mingle. But now it will end.
His eyes darkened as he spoke about her. In the black night I could always see his gaze glow under the light of the stars. But with her in his mind, the glow was lost. He seemed to have been very tormented by this story.
Despite the fatigue and exhaustion, the euphoria I felt made this month the happiest month of my life. I did not know that a person could experience so much happiness!
At that moment, a knock was heard on the door. Zena seemed as if she was awakened from another world. Surprised, they both realized that the time had passed, and they had missed breakfast. At the door was the maid who came to clean the room. So, they gathered their things and went down to the pool.
They ordered coffee and a snack and started commenting on what they had read.
-Today, when eroticism and sex monopolize the media and even the books, the little, ignorant Zenovia comes to captivate us, without even describing a single erotic scene!
-Because Alexis, love is not a show, it is a feeling. Somewhere we have confused them in our own time.
-Do you think grandfather Evangelos is the son of the master and not of Demetrios?
-Who knows? These guys were having sex for one month! On the other hand, Demetrios adored Evangelos. He had more weakness for him than Zenovia, so at least I understood from the letters. At that time, it was not easy for someone to accept a child of someone else as his own. Unless of course he didn’t know it! There is also this possibility. Zenobia fooled him. But I think that wasn’t her character.
-What is certain, however, is that she did not marry the master. He probably forgot about her when she left.
-There is another possibility: that Zenobia had a child with the master and gave it up for adoption. But again, in such wretched poverty, who would adopt a child?
-You know, my grandmother used to tell me that the fate of the illegitimate children, the bastards as they called them, was miserable. People despised and mocked them. Their mothers suffered a worse fate. Everyone avoided them as if they had a miasma. Many women, who were not married and became pregnant, killed their children as soon as they were born to escape the outcry and contempt of society.
-Stop Alexis! I’m going to get sick. What are you telling me?
-Do you think today these things do not happen? In closed communities, in Muslim societies, same and worse are happening.
-You’re right. Now I understand more about Zenovia’s effort to support women! She wanted to help others not to experience what she had suffered, although we’re not sure yet exactly how the story unfolded.
-We’ll find out soon. To keep it for so many years and hide it from everyone, it was something that marked her deeply.
-In the end, however, she was lucky. She seemed to have been happy with Demetrios, even though he was older than her forty years. I am very glad that it was my fate to learn the secret of Zenovia first. As a woman, I understand better her psyche and the feelings that led her steps.
-And now something irrelevant: Will you marry me?
-I’m going to marry you, silly! Now that I see what happened to poor women who didn’t have a husband, I want you to make an honest woman of me!
They both laughed happily.