I worked for some years with several Greek families, so I got to know them quite well .. One doesn’t get regular work with some people unless they trust you … it’s funny that way. I got to know the teller of this story quite well over a few years. It happened so many years ago now. He told it to me and now I will pass it on to you …
It went like this:
“Kyrie eleison!” Aunty gasped wearily,”So help me God, you’ll be the death of me, Yani!”
“YANI!” mama caught hold of my ear and twisted it cruelly, “What do you mean by giving cheek to Aunty, have you no respect?”
“Ahh! leave off the child, Elene, its not his fault, you can’t expect more from a healthy boy, its just these old bones are not up to catching him no more … or I’d deal with him myself!”
“It’s not the point, Aunty, when we are working in the fields he should be helping you here, not making a nuisance of himself.”
So I got the regulation clip-behind-the-ear and smack-on-the-arse as I scooted out of reach, though I knew I was Aunty’s favourite.
“Ah I tell you Ele’, its not just Yani, it’s just that I’m getting too old for looking after the children … I’m nearly seventy five now!”
“Why that’s a fib, Aunty … you’re only seventy three!”
Aunty sat in a chair, her fore-arms on her thighs and hands between her knees.
“Seventy five, seventy three … what’s the difference? At the end of the day I feel one hundred and eight!”
“Yani! you see how you make Aunty feel,” and mama shook her fist at me.
“Leave the boy alone, Ele’, he’s alright”.
“Just you wait till Papa comes home, he’ll straighten you out heh! … yes!” she nodded and hummed threateningly “Then you’ll know how to run! … hoom, yes!” and she nodded again and pointed her flickering finger at me.
“Where is Mihali?” Aunty asked.
“He is gone to the post-office to see if our visas have come through, today is the last day. I hope we hear one way or the other, its the waiting and not knowing ”
“Ahh! … the rest I will have if you go!“ said Aunty, “And then I can get into planting out my garden … ” Aunty lifted her hands up flat and shook them like that generation do .
“Ha ha! … won’t you be the queen of the castle if that happens,” mama laughed, ” No-one to look after but yourself! … how I will envy you.”
“Oh don’t you worry, Ele’, I’ve got plans that will keep me on my toes!”
“You don’t think you will miss chasing after the children?” (a laugh).
“The little blighters! … oh, I suppose there will be times but as I said before, my bones are getting too old for scurrying after the little rabbits! (a laugh also). And as for Yani! …” she caught me trying to sneak past and grabbed and tickled me, how I squealed and squirmed!” There, that’ll show you that cunning out-foxes youth any day!” And she released me so I scampered away out the door.
“Papa’s coming!” I called … ”With Tomas!”
“Ah! … let’s see now …” said mama wiping her hands with a cloth and peering over Aunty and out the door. ”How’s he walking? I can tell his mood from his stride.” and she wiped her hands while she concentrated. “Oh dear … it doesn’t look like good news … ”
“Slower, Tomas, walk slower she can tell what mood I’m in from our walk!”
“Ah, yer can’t fool women, Mihali, they’ve spent too much time studying men!”
“Just for the moment will do, I don’t want to fool them all the time … hang your head a little … pretend you owe Spiros money and he is after you for it!”
“What is that parcel they have, Elena?”, Aunty asked.
“Some cheese from Tasso … I said to pick some up while he was there.”
Papa and Tomas trudged through the door with downcast faces, mama plonked her hands on her hips.
“No good eh?” she sighed, then flicked the towel she was holding and spoke in a contrived, brave voice; “Well, we’ll just have to wait till the next quarter and bite the bullet!” … and she went to move past the table over to the sink. Just as she was abreast of papa, he nonchalantly pulled out a bundle of papers, yawned exaggeratedly and placed them on the table in front of mama … she stopped, frowned, picked up one of the pieces of paper and read.
“OHHH! Mihali, these are … ” her eyes all wide with excitement. “Oh … you tricked me .. you tricked us both … oh didn’t he Aunty (a little cry of delight) our visa’s! they’ve come through! oh how you fooled me, I was watching you as you came up the road … and you Tomas! oh!” … and we were all jumping around the table all excited and mama read the immigration papers piece by piece, some out loud, some to herself, her lips moving as she concentrated and lifting the towel to her lips every now and then till her eyes became watery and she slumped down in a chair and wept with the release of tension and papa fell onto her neck and consoled her with joking words and wet, sloppy kisses. Tomas opened the parcel and took out a bottle of wine and a cheer went up from the adults and Aunty clinked and chinked some glasses from the shelf and papa slopped wine into each glass, talking all the while and leaning over mama at the same time and with all the celebration we didn’t get to bed till after midnight! … I wished we got visa’s every day! … anyway, at least mama forgot to tell on me to papa! …
And so we all got permission to immigrate, all our family and Papa’s two brothers and their families, even yaya and papu (gran and granpa) all except Aunty, but she didn’t want to go anyway! … besides, she wasn’t really our aunty, oh, she was some distant relation, from over the other side of the island. She came to live with us before I was even born and spent all her time looking after us kids while the adults were working in the fields or the orchards. Sometimes she’d sit on the wicker chair outside in the fine summer days and do the olives or the cobs of corn, with us kids crawling around her feet or she’d have us helping her. She’d keep up a running stream of admonitions against us if we got too rowdy and she’d get us lunch or drink and be forever picking up a baby that was crying and would cradle it on her lap between her still working arms and start crooning some ancient lullaby just to break in the middle to chastise one of us for squabbling then have to “choo! choo! choo!” the baby all over again and get up and walk around in circles quietening the little brat …
“Ahh!” she’d say, “If fate was kinder to me I’d have my own kiddies and not be here refereeing you lot! … Ahh … fate!”
So we got the feeling over the years that she was only looking after us as a duty. Oh we were fond of her, no mistake, how could you spend so much time as a child with someone and not become attached? and she likewise, but she always finished off the day with a groan about her “weary old bones” so that papa and mama spoke quietly some nights about immigrating to Australia and how wonderful it would be for Aunty to be released from looking after all the children. Then sometimes papa would sigh and say it was such bad fortune that had fell upon her and Petro with the war, and if things had of been otherwise so that I suspect that Petro was someone in Aunty’s past who was not there now.
Well. our family was the first to leave, then the brothers would follow in a months’ time and lastly; yaya and papu, who wanted to stay till the wine was vintaged to make sure a good job was done as you couldn’t trust Tomas to be thorough in the preparation etc, etc. Papa just rolled his eyes and said “whatever”, anyhow there was plenty to do once they were in the new country to prepare the way for the others and maybe it was best that the old couple were not under their feet what with the strangeness of it all (the last bit was spoken quietly and out of earshot of granpapa!).
So within three months, from working out in the fields and Aunty bustling about with armfulls of kiddies, we were all gone to Australia and Aunty had no-one to worry about but herself. And that, I suppose, is one of the worst things that can happen to a body! I remember the day we left, down on the wharf with all our luggage and the sea-breeze lifting the ladies skirts so they were pushing them back down with an impatient gesture and the scarves floating gracefully from their hair.
All the odd-size bags and cases and boxes cramped together on the deck with sheets of blue plastic thrown over to protect them from the water and the endless kisses and embracing and pinching and backslapping and shaking “to be a good boy for your mama and papa” till it was a relief when the ferry pushed off and we broke free of the island, our home. It was then the wailing started in earnest and it seemed at least one or two people would fall overboard, but they didn’t!
“Andio, andio sus andio, yassu!” cried Aunty. “Look for me when you round the bluff, I will wave my scarf!”… and she waved her bright red scarf to demonstrate, then scurried off to make it to the bluff as the ferry rounded the island to head to Rhodes where the airport was.
The ferry generally swings out wide there, but I saw papa give something to the captain and then grasp his shoulder with one hand and shake the other gratefully. So that we came in closer there at the bluff and we could see and hear Aunty as she jumped and waved her bright red scarf, it was funny seeing her jump, cause old people don’t jump properly … their top half seems to leap up but their feet stay on the ground! and she was calling out to us but the sea-breeze which was stronger out on the water blew snatches of it away so we only got bits of what she was calling, like:
“Yassu … yassu! … remember me! .. fortune … Australia! … Yani return to see me, Yani“ … till the rest was lost …
There; I knew I was her favourite! even when she chastised me, there was a look in her eye. I suddenly wondered then about who Petro was, and I thought that I’ll have to ask mama but the journey was all too exciting so I forgot all about it.
Six months later:
The white heat! The space! and the work! That first summer was a scorcher in more ways than one, what with all the organisation to be done. But we finally settled in our new home in Australia and Christmas came and went, then the new year, and papa came in the door one day with two letters. He waved them high.
“From Sophia!” he cried. Mama brushed a lick of hair from her eyes as she looked up from the baby.
“Ahh! Read them out Mihali, I’ll look at them later.”
“There’s two … let’s see … ah, this one first, it’s the earliest … the other must have caught up in the mail ”
He tore the letter carefully down the side and turned it around a couple of times till he got it right.
“Dear Tourists!” he quoted and they laughed. “Dear tourists” he began again and read slowly but with emphasis on the news-bits or funny-bits when he came to them, sometimes repeating a word or two that tickled him and laughing with it; “ … and Tomas is very busy “guiding“ (that’s her word!) the Swedish and German girls around the ruins of the island!(and doing his best ruining their virtues I might add!) ” and papa laughed but mama just tich’d him and told him to go on with the letter, so he read it through to the end.
He held the second letter up and frowned a little as he read the date on it .
“This one’s written just a week later than the first … she must’ve forgotten some little bit of news … I wonder?” … and he read it to himself and his brow knitted as he read.
When he finished, he didn’t say anything but just sat down at the table … mama was watching him but not saying anything.
“So … go on, Mihali, … read it.” but papa just shrugged his shoulder and dropped the letter on the table.
“It’s … it’s Aunty … she’s died.” There was silence in the room.
“Read the letter, Mihali … read it to me,” mama said quietly.
Papa shrugged again, gathered up the piece of paper, sort of flicked it a couple of times like he didn’t want to touch it, then cleared his throat and began:
“Dearest Mihali and Elene … I am the bearer of sad news … yesterday at six o’clock in the evening, Aunty passed away. It was so sudden it gave us all here a shock, as I suppose it will you. It seems strange that within six months a person as seeming ageless as her could suddenly lose the zest for life.
After you all had left, she had grand plans to renovate the garden and plant sections with vegetables here, flowers there, several fruit trees over near the tank, etc, etc. She had Tomas running off his feet moving earth and rocks and so on. She seemed so full of life, of plans, like she expected to live forever … then we had a cold snap a couple of weeks ago … you know those winds that come down from Siberia? well she came down with a bit of a flu that kept her in bed a couple of days, nothing much! … then she was back on her feet, though she had lost some of her zest, or so Tomas said, cause he asked her if she wanted him to move that rose bush by the gate now and she said; “No, it looks nice there when it flowers in the springtime,” when she was all keen to clear that spot the week before … it was her voice that made him take notice. Then she stopped doing work on the garden altogether all of a sudden!
Tomas went around every evening and he found her just sitting on the wicker chair out the front of the house, even on cold days, so he would take her inside. She went a bit “funny” in the last days. Tomas went there last Sunday evening and there she was, sitting outside with a bowl of corn cobs cradled in her lap and she just staring out and rocking back and forth like old people seem to do but Tomas said it looked for all the world like she was rocking a baby She went into a fever that night and never recovered. She woke just yesterday for a moment and whispered;
“Petro will come back soon … tell Yani … ” And that was it … On her soul: Kyrie eleison.”
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