Zenovia’s secret (Chapter 9)

Posted by: Maria Atalanti

Published on: 31/07/2022

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

Melbourne – Australia, May – September 2020

The global lock down continued in the months that followed. Getting used to confinement is not easy for any human being. At first everyone saw it as an opportunity to rest, but as time went on, the desire to move around, to be free again, began to become an obsession. It was the first time that humanity lived such an experience.

Internationally, pharmaceutical companies were competing which one would first manufacture the vaccine that would prevent the transmission of the virus and heavy hospitalization. At the same time, it became mandatory for everyone to wear a mask, use antiseptic, and keep a two-meter distance, in the rare times people went out, to get food or medicine. Hugs, kisses and even handshakes were forbidden. An additional reason people were allowed to go out was to take their pet for a walk, or for personal exercise. For those who violated the regulations there were hefty fines. When cases were reduced the prohibitions were relaxed, but with the first increase in cases, they started again. Those coming from abroad would have to go into mandatory quarantine in hotels for a week or two depending on the country.

Zena and Alexis, experiencing the beginning of their love, and having both their occupations, went through it almost painlessly. They had each other – at least they manage to get together, before the lock down – they had the opportunity to get to know each other better and learn about each other’s past. At the same time, Zena was studying the Greek language and was excited about the progress she made. Alexis continued online Greek language lessons for adults. They both had their goals, and they were active.

At the same time, Zena met Alexis’ family because they often had online communication, via skype. Of course, the conversation revolved around the lock- down, the concerns of the people, but also funny stories of the situation.

Zena laughed a lot when she was told a story about a young man who was riding his motorcycle while it was prohibited to circulate. When he was stopped by the police, he justified himself by saying:

-I’m taking out my pet!

-And where is your pet? He was asked by the policeman

-Don’t you see it, here?

And he showed him a fishbowl with a fish, he was carrying on his motorcycle!

The excuses people found to get around and fool the police were unbelievable. Just as unbelievable as the unprecedented situation that prevailed.

In these conversations they tried at first to speak in Greek, but it was very difficult for Zena to follow. They spoke quickly in the Cypriot dialect, which made it almost impossible for her to understand what was being said. So, they turned it to English and sometimes half of the one language and half on the other, but they communicated, anyway. The strange thing was, that Zena sought this contact more than Alexis. It was for her a new world, very interesting.

Among the relatives of Alexis, whom she had met in these conversations, was Eleni. Eleni was a cousin of Alexis, an architect, around 35-38, who lived by herself. Thus, she sought contact with other people, in these peculiar circumstances. She was a slender girl with short black hair and scintillating eyes. She looked more like a tomboy, and Zena liked her as soon as she met her.

They chatted frequently, and Zena felt she could trust her. She told her about her family and the letter her father had left her. Eleni suggested that he send her the title deeds and when the trafficking would be allowed she would go to Paphos to see the plots and send her photos. Zena did not hesitate at all. She passed on to her the scanned documents she had given to her lawyer and waited for the circumstances to allow Eleni to visit Paphos.

At the same time, she often contacted her lawyer, who assured her that they were progressing well. He had already assigned the case to a law firm in Paphos, which, depending on the evolution of the restrictions on the operation of public services, would handle it, transferring the property to Cyprus in her name. The documents in Arabic had been translated and certified by the Embassy of Egypt in Melbourne. Her father was right. Among them were the birth certificates of her grandfather and father, as well as a certificate that her grandfather was the only heir of Demetrios and Zenovia Vassilopoulos. Another certificate concerned her father and that he was the only child of Evangelos and Antigone Vassilopoulos. Everything was in order.

-The way is open, Zena thought. It seems like a very easy task. Let’s see how things will turn out.

Her role now was to read the letter left by her grandfather, Evangelos, to her father. It was a very long text that seemed to have been written at various times depending on Evangelos’ desire to speak to his son.

Reading the letters was not an easy task for Zena. She used dictionaries, asked Alexis, took notes, read them, and re-read them to make sure she understood the text. But she saw the whole project as a challenge, which gave her the driving force and enthusiasm to move forward.

-I have not seen a person with a greater aptitude for learning the Greek language, Alexis teased her. You’ve learned more in a few months than my students have all learned, all together, in two years!

-Your students learn the language for their pleasure. I learned it to get to know myself and my family, she replied.

Thus, she began to read this text as well, like an explorer who enters a dark cave and does not know what he will encounter, but that is what captivates him.

Grandfather Evangelos wrote:

August 22, 1937

My beloved child, Demetrios,

Today you turned six years old. I feel deeply moved that you grew up so much and that I have managed, after my so fickle and frivolous life, to leave even one descendant.

You are still young to understand what I would like to tell you and that is why I am writing it. I don’t know how many more years I will live or when you grow up you will be interested in knowing the history of the family and my own course in life. I wouldn’t have been interested in my youth. A written text, however, remains and someone can read it when one is ready to appreciate it.

My parents, Demetrios and Zenovia Vassilopoulos, did not come from Alexandria but from Cyprus. My father from Limassol and my mother from a village in Paphos, called Statos. My father had been orphaned since he was a child and at the age of about ten he got on a boat and arrived in Alexandria. Here he worked with a great cotton merchant, Emilios Vassilopoulos, who left him his property and his name. You see “Vassilopoulos” is not the real name of our family. No one knows what my father’s last name was.

My mother, Zenovia, was very poor and fatherless. That’s why she seems to have agreed to marry my father who was forty years older than her. Despite the age difference, however, they were the most beloved couple I have met in my life.  You can’t imagine how close they were!

My father, Demetrios, was an extremely kind and loving man. He never denied me a favor, and this often irritated my mother. I was, you see, an only child and he had an incredible weakness for me. Perhaps he wanted to give me what he was deprived of. Who knows? I loved him very much. Close to him I felt so secure and happy that I thought it would never end.

My mother was much stricter, and we often had our conflicts. As much as my father pampered me, so more, she wanted to impose discipline and order on me. Now, I know she was right. But then, I was very angry with her We often clashed and although she managed in her own way to smooth things over in the end, I was wary of her, for better or for worse. My mother’s great achievement, however, was that, although she was an uneducated girl from a village in Paphos, she managed to get an education and to run our business together with my father. She was a phenomenon for that time.

Thus, I was a well-bred child with all the good things of the world at my feet. I grew up and was educated in a city, where the Greek population was thriving. I was a handsome young man, rich, educated and all the beautiful Greek girls of Alexandria were at my feet. But I never took advantage of any of them. I flirted with all but that’s it. Zenobia held my reins tight. She was like a dragon in this matter. I also loved having fun, having a lot of friends, going out and staying up late. Working in the family business was a bit boring for me, but I felt obliged to contribute. Unfortunately, I did not understand, for many years, that it was also my responsibility.

Among the friends I had, was an Arab named Hakim. Hakim played a big role in my life, and I should tell you about him. I met him when we were kids. I had everything in the world, and he was a poor child, who had nothing of his own. We became friends and I used to give him my clothes, my toys, I often took him home for lunch and my father paid for him to go to the Arab school. I don’t know if he had a family. He never took me home or where he lived. But my own family gave him so much as few Arab children had at the time.

I had realized since we were children, that many times he sold the toys I gave him to get money. I didn’t care. I had a lot. I considered it normal. Hakim was for me the friend who took me to suspicious night clubs with him, he introduced me to the paid love and tried to involve me in the world of gambling. But here he failed. Zenovia had implanted in me such principles that in some matters I could resist. Of course, my parents were not aware of all this, even though my mother was suspicious.

When my father fell ill and my mother stayed almost permanently with him, the burden of the business fell on me. Then Hakim urged me many times to take money from the company to have fun together. I confess that sometimes he had almost succeeded, but I knew that Zenovia was monitoring the company’s finances and would understand it. That’s how I held back.

At that time, I had begun to lose some of clothes and valuables from my room. I suspected Hakim, but I didn’t say anything. Until one day my mother saw him and followed him. When Hakim realized that his plan was revealed, he disappeared. Hakim, despite his faults, respected my mother very much.

In 1912, my father passed away, calm and happy in my mother’s arms. I was deeply in pain at his death. It was then, I had realized how much I loved him. My world became a big void, and I didn’t know if I would make it to life without his silent support.

My mother, despite her great sadness, took over the management of the business with determination. She corrected my mistakes and omissions when I had been running the company, but at the same time she was trying to train me so that I could take it all on my own. Besides, she wanted to leave Alexandria and stay in Cyprus.

Unfortunately, my son, I had never understood this woman’s anxiety to give me the maximum skills to be able to manage my life properly. On the one hand I resented her and on the other hand I relied on the fact that everything would go well with her presence. I went to business every day, and in the evenings I had fun with my friends. I could not realize that overnight everything could collapse like a house of cards.

In 1916, my mother got a telegram from her uncle Onoufrios, that her mother was sick and if she wanted to catch up with her alive she would have to leave for Cyprus. It was the first time I saw in her eyes the anguish. She was afraid to go and leave me alone, but she knew she would have to return to Cyprus. And she knew that, most likely, she would never come back again.

She was crying a lot when she left. I had never seen her crying so much. Not even at my father’s funeral. She was afraid for me. I reassured her that everything would be fine. That I was able to handle my life and that we would communicate.

My feelings, when she got on the boat, were mixed. On the one hand, an air of freedom filled my world, on the other hand I was afraid. My mother was the person who solved all my problems. Would I have made it without her?

While I was in this delusion of emotions and doubts, Hakim reappeared in my life. One night, in one of the nightclubs I frequented, I saw him. At first he was wary but seeing me being friendly and not mentioning that episode with my mother at all, he calmed down. And this was a crucial moment in my life, my son.

-Will you leave studying and go for a walk? Alexis interrupted her. The curfew will begin shortly. We will not catch up.

-You cut me off on top of the best, but it doesn’t matter. I’m already quite tired.

They put on their masks and went out into the street. Very few people walked, all wearing their masks and keeping their distance. The world was living under the threat of a deadly pandemic.

Melbourne is the city of the winds. Now, in June, early in winter, a bitter wind was blowing and froze them. Changes in temperature during the day are frequent, and so now, even though all day the weather was mild, it was cold. They walked along the Yarra River quickly, to warm up.

-For the first time in my life, I have realized what a great gift it is to be able to walk freely, Zena said. Things that were natural until yesterday, now are a luxury item. Who would have thought of it a few months ago?

-Life is full of twists and turns, we often say it, but we do not understand what it means. This pandemic has changed everything. I hope that the vaccine will be discovered soon, so that we can circulate freely and get our lives back.

They continued to walk silently, feeling the cold air on their faces. Zena looked at the clouds in the sky moving with speed, adrift by the strong winds. The river was unusually silent and empty. A city, a big city, dead, bowing in front of an invisible virus, which with its presence brought the world to its knees.

-Just as the wind blows and sweeps the clouds, let the wind blow, and drive this pandemic away, Zena wished aloud.

-Rejoice that it is not a war, Alexis told her. The greatest of the evils that plague humanity, is war. And you better never live a war! Now governments are trying to manage the situation. In a war, there is chaos, and worst of all, all the evils of human nature come to the surface. People become inferior to animals!

-You’d better never know the war!

Zena looked at him, slightly surprised at this outburst. Alexis had not experienced the war, but his own family were refugees, and they would certainly have talked to him about it. She took his hand and said to him tenderly:

-Time to go back. The time of our physical exercise is over. Be sure, no one wants to live a war.

-There are also those who provoke wars, he replied. And you better know this: never the reasons they invoke are the real ones. There are no justified Everything is done for the power and authority of the few. Never, for the happiness of the many!

They continued to march towards the house in silence. Zena saw opposite her another couple walking with faces covered with masks.

-Who would have thought that we would ever live in the constellation of the masks! She said, trying to lighten the atmosphere. But dear Alexis, we have each other. And this is happiness! Let us enjoy it, as long as it exists. The wind blowing may scatter it. Let’s live the moment!



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