Zenovia’s secret (Chapter 8)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 24/07/2022Back to Blog
This text is the product of fiction. None of the characters described are real. In this chapter, Penelope Delta and Ion Dragoumis are real, historical figures. Their connection with the characters of the novel is fantastic.
Alexandria 1911 – 1912
Zenovia’s life, now, was devoted to her husband and son. She was happy, even without worldliness in the salons of Alexandria,. Although she had enjoyed the glamour of the Greek community in the first years of her life there, she did not care that she had closed the door behind her. The warmth of her home and the company of her husband was enough for her.
Evangelos had almost entirely taken over the business, but Zenovia was discreetly on his side. There were various issues that worried her. The first was Evangelos’ unbridled need for fun. He was enchanted by his fascination and the successes he had with women. They all wanted him, with all of them he flirted but with none committed himself, despite the exhortations of Zenovia.
But this was not Zenovia’s main problem. In one way or another she kept him in a balance in relation to this weakness. She also had Demetrios telling her:
-Don’t worry, he’s a young man. Let him rejoice. Let him also rejoice for us too that we didn’t enjoy our youth. The principles you planted in his soul will work when the need arises.
Something else was torturing her. Something much more sensitive and subtle. Evangelos from his childhood, had met a little Egyptian, Hakim was called, with whom he became friend. This child was alone in life, so it seemed at least, and Evangelos had taken him under his protection. He gave him his clothes, his toys, Demetrios paid the fees for him to go to the Arab school to be educated. But Zenovia could see in his gaze something that frightened her. Behind his wide smile, darkness was hidden.
One day when he was discussing the matter with Demetrios, she told him:
-Don’t think I’m worried because he’s an Arab. Far from it. Our best employees are Arabs. It does not matter what the breed of a person is. He has darkness in his gaze. Something scares me. I don’t know exactly what, but I’ll find out.
Hakim came to their house almost daily. Evangelos had him as his brother. He was giving him everything. One day when Evangelos was away, Zenovia saw Hakim arriving and entering through the kitchen door. She went to meet him to tell him that his friend is out, but she stopped. Hakim proceeded cautiously looking if anyone was seeing him. He entered Evangelos’ room, opened his wardrobe, took from inside some clothes, the watch that had been given to him on his birthday, hid them under his robe and quietly slipped through the kitchen door. No one else had seen him. Zenovia took a shawl, wrapped herself, hiding her face, and followed him.
Hakim was advancing through the narrow Arab streets of Alexandria, and Zenovia followed behind him. They reached some neighborhoods that she herself had never been to. Hakim went down to a basement and began to speak in Arabic with someone. Zenovia, with the few Arabic she knew, understood that he was negotiating the price. It seems they did not agree because they were both shouting. Zenovia remained on the street and waited to see what would happen.
At some point, Hakim came out of the basement, still holding the clothes in his hands. As soon as he saw Zenovia, he pulled out a scream, threw the clothes down and began to run. Several passers-by gathered and the fence came out of his basement. Zenovia was frightened because everyone was shouting and she herself did not understand what they were saying. Nevertheless, she picked up the clothes, crushed them with her gaze and left.
When she arrived at home she was ready to faint. As soon as she explained to Demetrios what had happened, he almost missed having a heart attack.
-Do you know where you went? He told her, for the first time in his life, angrily. The whole underworld of Alexandria is there. Every day there are murders and stabbings. It’s a miracle that you came back alive! And this, for some clothes.
-It’s not the value of clothes, she replied. It is the quality of the man with whom our son hangs out. Evangelos has him as a brother!
In the night, when Evangelos returned and was told the story, he did not seem to be particularly surprised.
-It’s not the first time, he told them. It had happened on other occasions. I figured it out because I lost a lot of my stuff. But I didn’t want to believe it. I was saying, it might be one of the servants.
-Why didn’t you talk to us? Demetrios asked him.
-Maybe, because deep down I knew who it was. And he’s a childhood friend I love. I’m afraid he’s gambling. He sometimes had asked me for money. But I didn’t have so much money he wanted. And he found this way. Don’t worry. I don’t think he will come back.
But Demetrios and Zenovia did not rest. Neither did they sleep at all that night, nor in the evenings that followed. They decided to be careful and constantly advised Evangelos never to trust Hakim again, and always to be wary of everyone. You never know what people are hiding in their hearts.
-Keep your clothes to have half of them, my mother used to say, Zenovia told him. And in this case it fits perfectly.
In the months that followed, Demetrios’ health began to deteriorate. Perhaps the horror he got with Zenovia’s adventure also played a role. Nobody knows. They all focused on the illness and forgot about Hakim. Besides, he did not reappear. In any case, however, they changed all the locks and instructed the servants not to let anyone enter the house without their permission.
Zenovia’s correspondence with Penelope continued. Her friend was still writing and soon sent her, her second book, “In the Time of the Bulgar-Slayer” and in 1911 “A Fairytale without a name”. Ion Dragoumis was now a couple with Marika Kotopouli and in Penelope’s heart remained the bitterness of a love that was never completed. Through her fictional heroes, one could see this erotic pain looming and finding no vindication.
But that was not the main message of her books. The historical details described through the plot, provided the reader with the opportunity to get acquainted with Greek history, and for Zenovia these were a valuable source of information. Through the eyes of her friend, she identified with a glorious historical past of Greece and the vision of the Great Idea. Penelope had been nurtured within these ideas, and Zenovia was ecstatically following her friend’s lessons.
1912, was a fateful year for Zenobia and her family. Demetrios left calmly and quietly as he had lived, at least in the last years of his life. Zenovia was by his side holding his hand, until his last breath. He smiled happily, because although he lived for many years in solitude, since he got married he has known so much love and affection that very few people have the happiness to experience in their lives.
His funeral was attended by almost the entire Greek community of Alexandria. Demetrios was very loved and respected by all. Although his death was to be expected, Zenovia felt incredible loneliness and abandonment when she lost him. From the age of sixteen this man had her under his wings, he gave her everything, that she had never dreamed of in her village and in her miserable childhood.
She herself was only thirty-eight years old, very beautiful and dynamic. She could remarry, after all, Demetrios suggested it many times. But she was not interested in marriage. She felt that she took her share in life and what fate owed her in this chapter, gave it to her. She wanted to move on in another way. One day when they were discussing the matter with Demetrios she had told him:
-In relation to marriage and love, I have lived whatever I wanted to live. I’ve gotten so much love from you and all I’d like to do, is to give back to society. That, I believe, is my role now.
-What do you mean? Demetrios asked her.
-When you married me, Demetrios, I was just a girl who knew absolutely nothing about the way the world works today. The longest trip I had made in my life was to Ktima, when I was hosted by Uncle Onoufrios, where you had seen me first. Many girls in my place live in this way and even worse. They have no dreams, they do not know that they could work, they do not know that they have skills.
-The best thing that happened to me when I came here, was that I found out who I was and what position I could claim in this world. I didn’t know, Demetrios, that there is a place for me in the world! And almost all girls in Cyprus do not know that.
-I would like you to live, as long as I will live. Whatever the circumstances are, I am absolutely happy with you. I don’t care about riches, I don’t care about secular life, if we can share our thoughts and try to understand the world around us. This is happiness for me.
-But if you leave before me, I will go to Cyprus and try to teach the women of my country that they have rights to life. You have left me a very considerable sum of money, which I intend to allocate in this course. I will first make sure that our son has stood on his feet and then I will leave. I’m sure I have a lot to do there.
Demetrios looked at her with admiration. He did not know what to say about this woman.
-Do you think that women born in Alexandria – and I am referring to Greek women – do know their place in the world? They are simply more educated and have better manners. Even your friend, Penelope, never dared to oppose her family. Neither her education, nor her intelligence, nor her dynamism managed to defeat the establishment.
-I don’t know if you know it, dear Zenovia, but in Europe there is, today, a movement that demands vote for the women. As we speak, women are demonstrating, being tortured, imprisoned for a woman’s right to obtain a vote. They are called suffragettes. Are you also a suffragette? He told her with a smile.
-No, dear Demetrios, I don’t know who they are. Nor do I aim for so big things. I just want to tell the women of my country that they have rights in life. That they have abilities. And if some stronger than me manage to change the world and give women the right to vote, well done! It’s about time!
-There is no need to repeat to you once again, my dear Zenovia, how happy I am with you and how much I would like us to live together forever, because I know it: my biological clock will soon stop beating. It is good to be realistic and admitting the truth. You are a unique person and wherever you are and whatever you do, you will bring happiness. Blessed will be those who will live beside you, he said with a sigh.
Zenovia remembered all this and wept in the evenings when she was left alone. In the mornings she went to the factory with her son. This was a great consolation for her. In every corner, in every person she met, she saw Demetrios and the influence that his presence had everywhere. In all areas and in all their partners. She herself acted in a way that she believed would make Demetrios proud and give justification to him. Each of her decisions had a single goal: to successfully continue the work of her husband. And to give this message to her son.
The long-standing absence of herself and Demetrios from the business had left its marks. Now that she was present every day, she was able to discern that many things were now working automatically and could soon collapse if someone did not put everything in order. Her dynamic personality took the reins and left some would-be usurpers, empty-handed. At the same time, she advised Evangelos and explained to him how various astute, either collaborators or competitors, tried to erode them.
Evangelos was left with his mouth open with his mother’s insight and intelligence. He felt that they were all fooling him and that he proved once again, naïve, and gullible. He was trying to learn, but at the same time he was resting on the security provided by his mother’s presence. And this worried Zenovia.
-My son, I will shortly leave, she was telling him often. You must learn to read the meaning behind the words, especially the beautiful words. You must look not only at the smile on people’s faces, but also at their gaze. It is difficult for the deceitful to have a clear look.
Evangelos tried, but he also liked his feasts and his partying friends. And surely they did not belong to the category of hardworking and honest people.
On the other hand, a new category of “friends” was brought to the fore. They were the would-be lovers of the beautiful and wealthy widow. Zenovia wanted to throw them in the face that the property was not hers but Evangelos’s, but she was restrained. Her son was not at all ready to manage all those crows who would besiege him to seize their business. Thus, she left them in their delusion. And she fooled them, until they got tired and left.
Zenovia spent her evenings, alone in the living room, chatting mentally with Demetrios. She recounted to him her daily problems and heard in her mind his voice answering back. It may seem macabre, but this fantastic conversation relieved her and helped her put her thoughts in order. The “other” voice was the voice of reason and moderation. In this way Zenovia maintained her strength and good sense. Demetrios was by her side during these difficult times, and it was sure that he would be by her side forever. This beloved guardian angel in her life, would never abandon her!