Zenovia’s secret (Chapter 7)

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 17/07/2022

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

Melbourne – Australia, December 2019 – April 2020

Zena had a great time that Christmas. Perhaps it was the most beautiful Christmas of her life. Not perhaps, for sure. It was the ice that broke with Alexis and opened the prospect of a new life and perhaps a great love. But that was not all.

The old lady who welcomed her when she arrived at Jacob Papadopoulos’ house, did not leave her for a minute. She constantly spoke to her in Greek, in the Cypriot dialect in fact, and held her hand. Zena almost did not understand a word. She concluded that she was talking to her about her village in Cyprus, Rizokarpaso. What moved her was that for the first time in her life she felt the concept of family. The presence of someone who might call “grandmother.” This world was unknown to her. And perhaps deep down, she would long for it.

When, late at night, they got up to leave, after consuming an incredible amount of food and sweets, since their lunch ended in dinner, everyone hugged Zena excitedly. She was for them the fairy of a fairy tale, who with her magic wand turned their dreams into reality.

Inside the car, Zena was silent. When she spoke, her voice was broken:

-You know, Alexis, I’ve always had only one person of my own: my father. I thought that was enough. I didn’t need anyone else. But today I realized that my life was incredibly limited and incomplete. That old lady who was talking to me, was the first person to look me in the eyes, hold my hand and wanted to share her memories with me. I didn’t understand what she was saying to me. But I knew what she wanted to say. And this is so valuable. Most likely those who have it, they do not appreciate it, as is the case with everything we have in life.

-You’re right. I grew up in a similar family environment

-and I never thought it was something important. Through your eyes though, I can appreciate it for the first time.

-I will try harder with the Greek language. I must read those letters. I must find my roots!

-Don’t worry. I’ll help you with that too.

-Thanks Alexis. I accept your help in terms of language learning. But I must read the letters myself. My father was right. It’s a family affair.

When they arrived at Zena’s house, it was nearing midnight. Zena invited Alexis to her apartment, and he stayed there all night. It was their first night together.

-This Christmas I am starting a new life, Zena thought. Everything looks different. Will actually be different, or will the power of routine make it one of the same? Time will tell…

A few days passed and everything seemed to go smoothly. They were both so in love that they did not pay attention in what was going on around them. They spent the New Year’s eve together, circulating around the city center, watching with the crowd the fireworks, which seemed to spring up from the roofs of the skyscrapers and explode brightly, filling the dark sky with colors.

-We could see them from my apartment as well, Zena said, but this mixing with the crowd gives me so much joy! These cries of excitement make me love them all!

-God what do I say! She added. This is not me. It’s some else!

-It’s you, Alexis told her. You, and you are happy.

And he kissed her.

Yes, indeed Zena was happy. She felt full. It was like her heart could not fit any more joy.

-Long live 2020, she cried. A number so uniform and stable. What can this year bring to us?

-The best! Alexis replied.

January passed all in this dreamy way. Zena was studying the Greek language, Alexis was teaching the Greek language to adults, and no cloud was seen in the sky of their happiness.

Until at some point they could not ignore the news spreading at the speed of light in the world. In the city of Wuhan in China, since December 2019, an epidemic has begun, called Covid -19. This epidemic was raging and, unfortunately, many of the cases were dying or becoming very seriously ill. The fear of a pandemic was visible.

The Australian government had begun to take measures, initially with travel restrictions for travelers from China, but slowly – slowly the restrictions were including many other countries, such as Italy, Korea, etc.

By the end of March, the whole world was in a panic. They could see on television, Italy unable to manage its patients and dead. There were not enough ventilators for everyone and so doctors had to make the macabre decision to whom to provide oxygen and who let to die. A dilemma that was in front of them every day.

In the United States, which was slow to act, excavators opened mass graves in parks and buried the countless dead, who died alone, anonymous, without a funeral. The spectacle was horrible.

Fortunately, in Australia the situation was manageable. The government had taken timely restrictive measures and cases and deaths were in smaller numbers.

April found the whole world in quarantine. People were locked in their homes, visits, gatherings, and even attendance at work were forbidden, unless it was necessary. Teleworking had been inaugurated everywhere and the only businesses operating were food stores and pharmacies. Even the diagnoses by a doctor were made by telephone interview. For the first time, the whole humanity was locked up in their homes.

Catholic Easter on April 12, 2020, found all the major capitals of the world, dead and empty. Everyone was in quarantine. Touching was the prayer sung by the tenor Andrea Bocelli, on April 13, first in the empty Duomo cathedral and then in the empty square in the center of Milan. Milan, which a few days ago was one of the busiest cities in the world. A prayer that wanted to give courage to humanity, which was on its knees in the face of the pandemic.

Orthodox Easter was on April 19. The same situation. As Alexis learned from his family in Cyprus, everyone was in quarantine. No one could visit anyone. Those who were a family and lived in the same house, could at least celebrate together. Those who were alone should be left alone. The phone was the only communication. On Holy Saturday night, the churches celebrated mass empty of believers. At twelve o’clock at midnight, people went out to their balconies and terraces, with lit candles in their hands to wish each other, “Christ is Risen”, even from afar.

Alexis managed, before the traffic was completely banned, to move to Zena’s apartment. At least that’s how they could both be together. They watched in amazement what was happening. A humanity that until recently was running to catch up with itself, suddenly stopped moving. Only the earth was still spinning around the sun. Doctors and nurses became the heroes of the time. Governments have constantly announced ways of strengthening businesses that have ceased to operate. But until when?

The saying “no evil without good” worked in this case as well. To Zena’s great joy, this shrinkage of human activity brought a good thing: Carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere were reduced. For the first time!

Nevertheless, like everyone else, they tried to adapt to the new situation and make the best use of it. Alexis continued teaching online and Zena was constantly studying the Greek language. With Alexis by her side, answering her questions, everything was easier. She often classified the letters and title deeds left to her by her father, trying to understand, to form an insight into her family’s past.

-You will have to send the title deeds to your lawyer, Alexis told her one day. The process of this property coming into your possession will not be an easy task. I understand that there are title deeds in Cyprus and Alexandria. He will have to cooperate with similar offices in Cyprus and Alexandria. Give him instructions to start now that everything is at a halt. Thus, he will have more time to deal with them.

Zena agreed and after scanning all the documents, she sent them by mail to her lawyer with the instruction to investigate how this property could come into her possession. For what was written in Arabic, he should ensure a certified translation. The title deeds of Cyprus were in English, because at that time Cyprus was a colony of the British.

She knew that she would definitely have to read the letters now. Surely she would need identification data and through them, perhaps she could substantiate the fact that she was the only heir.

One day she took the courage and opened the letter that her father wrote to her. Asking Alexis to confirm the meaning of a few words and phrases, she began to read:

My beloved Zena

If you read this letter it means that two things have happened. Firstly, that I have passed away and secondly that you have learned Greek. I hope, that’s the case and you haven’t given the letters for translation.

-How much you know me, father, Zena thought. If I didn’t meet Alexis, that’s definitely what I would do.

You have never had the patience or the mood to hear about the history of our family. To be honest, I had never been interested in the past either. The fever of the business we had in Alexandria and my struggle to create myself professionally in Australia, were of complete concern to me and I did not believe that it was worth the past at all. In recent years, however, I began to read the letters that were in the box that my father had left me.

I realized then that I was carrying inside me, my grandfather Demetrios and grandma Zenovia, but above all I was the executor of the legacy they left.

Grandma Zenovia a few years, after the death of grandfather Demetrios, had left Alexandria and lived in Paphos, Cyprus. From the correspondence between my grandmother and my father it is clear that they never met again, before her death.  When you read the letters yourself you will realize that Zenovia had a secret that she wanted to tell her son Evangelos but did not have the chance. It seems that she had written this secret somewhere, but my father had never found it.

You’ll tell me it’s been almost 100 years since then and if your grandfather didn’t find it, how are you going to find it? I would had said the same thing if I were at your age. But the years that have passed and the experiences I have lived have made me understand that life cycles do not usually close within the same generation but can be kept incomplete for many generations. I believe, my Zena, that it is up to you to close the cycle of Grandma Zenovia’s life. A woman with a strong personality and willpower. You are very similar to her!

I, my Zena, have never visited either Paphos or Cyprus, nor did I meet Grandma Zenovia. Reading the letters though, I realized that she was the most important woman who influenced my life. It’s your turn to discover it.

Now, I would like to tell you a few words about my parents. My father, Evangelos, was a very handsome man. He was tall, blonde, with an athletic body and exerted unparalleled charm on women. In his youth he was a heartthrob. But when he married my mother, at the age of 40, he became a perfect husband.

My mother, Antigone, was nothing special, but she was what one would call “a very good woman, a very good wife and mother”. After so many successes, my father, chose this woman as his wife, because she gathered all the grace that would ensure him a calm and happy family life.

Unfortunately, both my parents were killed in a car accident in 1951, as they were going from Alexandria to Cairo. That’s why my father’s letter to me is unfinished. I was only 20 years old at the time and I had to take over the entire family business. This did not last for long. With the nationalist revolution of 1952 in Egypt, soon our business was nationalized, and I left for Australia.

I know your love for your job, and I wouldn’t want you to consider that this duty will distract you from your work. It falls perfectly within the role of the journalist to solve mysteries, and, even more, when these mysteries make up one’s own life.

In the box with the letters there are also the title deeds. They concern the house in the city of Paphos and some small pieces of land in the village of Statos where the grandmother came from. Although almost 100 years have passed since then, I believe that they cannot be lost. As for the title deeds of Alexandria, I don’t think it’s worth it to look for. Apart from our business, which was nationalized by the Egyptian Government, the rest I sold when I left for Australia. I don’t think there is any property in Alexandria. But you will judge how you manage the situation there.

Among the Arabic documents there are also the birth certificates of my father and me as well as other documents, proving that we are the only descendants and heirs of Demetrios and Zenovia Vassilopoulos. I believe that these will help you in your search. I’m sure you’ll know how to capitalize on them. Our lawyer, John Peterson, can help you with the legal process.

Finally, my beloved Zena, I would like to confess to you that you have been the most precious person I have had in my life, and if my course on this earth was worth anything, it was because I was able to give birth to you. Think seriously about leaving children behind, even if you are a traveler of life, like your mother was. Think about it, to look for your mother. Half of your existence comes from her.

You know for sure this is the last time I’m talking to you. I don’t know what’s there after death. But whatever there is, I will be by your side, in eternity.

I have loved you and I will love you forever.

Your father

Demetrios E. Vassilopoulos

Zena’s tears ran non-stop. Nor did she try to stop them. It was as if they were cleansing her soul. It was like a gift of gratitude to her father. This father, who gave her so much and still gives her.

She had made her decision. She would devote as much time as she needed to complete her father’s last wish, which had become her own goal, if not an obsession.

The conditions of life now with the pandemic seemed ideal, on the one hand to learn the Greek language and on the other hand to study ways of approaching her search.

She stood up resolutely. She looked out on her balcony at the Yarra River that flowed silently and steadily. This river has always given her strength.

-Grandma Zenovia, I’m coming. And no one will be able to stop me!


Andrea Bocelli


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