Thursday, April 22, 2010
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
"I walked away. Out of the door of our bedroom, out of our house. Past where little Stravos was playing with other children. I walked up to the top of the town and into a little bar. A place where only the old men sat and drank." As Isodora heard in rapt attention, Alanah continued, "I ordered raki, you know, the very rough spirit they have. I drank untill I could forget the way her round beautiful shoulder had snuggled against his chest. I drank untill I fell on the ground. They carried me home, I remember nothing of it. I woke up next day in our bed. There was no sign of Pegaso. I remembered her there in the bed and I got up to be very sick. There was no sign of little Stravos either. I went to work, but the smell of the petrol and the exhaust of the cars made me very sick again." Alanah suddenly felt tired, a wave of nausea swept over her and with that she again craved, after so many years, the wasteful taste of raki. Christina who was sketching, started humming a melodious tune and slowly Alanah composed herself again and after a short break of cold water, continued with her story.
"Magda had taken my child, my child! to her house. That night I had brandy, good Metaxa brandy to get me over the shock, and then I sort of crawled back to the petrol station, but couldn't talk to anyone, so I went home . Home! Huh! There was nobody there. Four days and nights of drinking, then I realised they had taken my child away from me. I heard like in a dream, that Magda's husband had gone away on a fishing boat to another island. And then the mind is a blank till I woke up in the hospital near the bus station."
"Come Isadora, sit near me, this is where your mother enters my story again. listen well and understand that missing year of her life, when she left her young family to be with a friend. I had given her name as 'next of kin' to the hospital authorities and they had telephoned her. She reached Lipsi the same evening." Saying this Alanah got up and hugged her friend of many years once again. Some bonds are eternal, forged without any reason, and yet they stand the test of time and blossom even in the coldest of winters. Such was the bond between Alanah and Christina.
"Pretend to be calm, pretend to be better, then they'll let you out." Christina had said to her, and that's what Alanah had done, pretended. It helped in the begining and she was let out of the hospital and sent back home. Pegaso did not speak to her, wouldnt tell her where Stravos was. Alanah could not raise her voice in fear of being locked up again in that wretched hospital, where every door closed in on her. Pegaso was living just across the road with Magda, Stravos was never to be seen, she could not go up to the bar and drink, as the whole town was watching her always. she bought a bottle here and a bottle there and drank till she passed out crying and being sick on Christina's lap. She never slept on the bed again, always on the sofa.
Every morning Christina would help her to take her bath, would wash her hair and tidy her up. She would speak of ordinary things like getting the grocery and in the same tone she would speak of going over to Magda's house and confronting Pegaso. Slowly she managed to get her message across to Alanah. And one day a tidy and relatively sober Alanah walked across the street to where Pegaso now lived. He asked her to go away, to leave him. She could stay in the house, but he had changed all the locks of the petrol pump. He said their son was living in Athens with his aunt and that she should never try and meet him as she would be a bad influence on the child. He was speaking as if to a person who had mental problems. Everybody except Christina treated her that way during those days, with quiet and patient concern mixed with a fear that she might suddenly jump on them. Pegaso said that he would sell the petrol pump and Magda and he would take little Stravos and start a new life somewhere. He would try and build a new and better life for Stravos away, he had said, from "this drunken madness".
Christina could not divert Alanah from the bottle, and she had to be put in rehab once again. "Once I knew I had lost everything, I didnt see any point in pretending." Alanah said. She had sold stuff out of the house and bought drink. She was in and out of rehab like a yo-yo. Taking advantage of her condition, Pegaso explained to everyone that she was an unfit mother. There was no court of law or social workers in the village those days. Alanah's not being sober was not helping either.
Little Stravos came back to Lipsi one day, and for a short while Alanah was allowed to see him for three hours every week. The visits were not a success though. Christina would tidy her up on these days and make her wear her best outfit. She always made Alanah carry a basket of baked goodies for Stravos. But still the visits were disastrous. She cried, you see, cried for the entire three hours over all that she had lost. She would clutch little Stravos and cry and tell him how much she loved him and needed him. She scared the boy out of his wits. Stravos started hating the meetings, he was fidgety and looked for an escape. He didnt recognise her anymore, how would he? He had never seen her like this before, and he was just a lttle boy.
These meetings continued. After the ordeal Stravos would look forward to going with Magda in the waiting car, an odd and unnecessary duty accomplished. Alanah would fill her bladder till Christina carried her back home. It was only after they left Lipsi, that Christina could start healing the bleeding wounds. There was not a fear now of them re-opening, you see. And so in the coming months as Christina worked in shops and cleaned floors to make money for them, Alanah got out of her stupour to realise the wastefulness of her actions. The tireless Christina who had just carried Isadora's picture with her to Lipsi was managing slowly to distract her friend. Old man Leros, who had a taverna on the outskirts of Lipsi gave Alanah work. And then one day a man, they all knew from the rehab, took his life. It sounds simple, but that was the day that Alanah gave up the bottle. It happened just like that. She had nothing to live for anymore, but she knew that unless she got her life in order, Christina would never return to her family.
Stravos would be almost thirty now. Every birthday Alanah wrote to him, to the last mailing address that she had, but till date there was never any reply. This had been the case with every every letter she had written in her life be it to her parents, her friends in Ireland or to her son in Greece, never a reply!! Suddenly she laughed and said, "Bless my stars !! I was not told to write to Christina from the hospital, else I would be still be locked up in the rehab!!" She didnt blame Stravos, how could she? He was a small boy, and she had been a nightmarish experience to him. How was he to know that she had mellowed down and could be courteous and polite to people? If he were ever to get in contact with her, it would be out of pity, and Alanah had never accepted that emotion from people.
"Dhen pirazi Isadora, Nothing really matters anymore." ended Alanah.
Isadora looked at these two weathered, and time worn women and smiled. She would find out where Stravos was, of course she would. The world was tinier now. But first she would go buy three tickets for a journey to Ireland. As the sun set that day there was healing for all as the painful gaps in their lives had been finally filled.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Lipsi kept pace with the rest of the world in its own way. There were more tourists to be seen now, there was a ferry every hour to Athens. The tavernas by the beach dished out cusine from across the world. The place was still serene. Most of the younger generation had left the town in search of jobs. Not many new faces had settled in, and so even today, everybody knew everybody else from a long time back.
Alanah didn't own the pump anymore. She now ran a store that rented diving, fishing, and other water sports gear. She still had her house, and rented out the top floor to tourists to keep money flowing in. The pump still stood where it always had - a salute to a hard earned dream. She had last seen Stravos twenty years back, when he was 6. She vaguely remembered him getting on the car and waving goodbye. The rest was hazy, or maybe too painful to scratch. She was not radar-less, but she was quieter than before. She was a perfect landlady though, always leaving her guests alone. She left an occasional basket of grapes or a bowl of olives on their doorstep.
Christina had recently been widowed and had moved back to Lipsi with her daughter, Isadora. The studio had been revived, and the evenings were again a meeting place for the two friends. Christina usually sat with one of her unfinished sketches and a glass of wine, Alanah with her soup. She had never touched wine since her rehab days. There were days when nothing was said, just the comfort of togetherness and the setting sun was enough. And then there were days when Isadora regaled them with her stories, when they laughed like they didnt have a care in the world, moments in which she was able to forget even her little Stravos.
Isadora's life always had Alanah in it, even though she had met her only a few months ago. There was a time when she was a kid, and her mother had left her with her dad and come to Lipsi for a year to be with Alanah. Christina had no secrets from her daughter, and yet that year was never talked about. Isadora had been curious, and on seeing Alanah, her curiosity had magnified. These days when Christina plaited her daughter's hair before bed, she was tormented with questions by Isadora. About that one year when Christina had left everything to be with this queer little woman. But it was not her story to tell, and so she said nothing.
Isadora's curiosity was getting the better of her. she started asking about Alanah's past to old Yorghis who was a tailor, and then to Andreas who was a butcher. All they said was that Alanah was part of their island for as long as they could remember, they smiled and changed the topic. But these futile attempts of the young mind did not go unnoticed by Alanah. And so one day while the three sat outside Christina's studio watching the sun set, Alanah decided to scratch open her past for this beautiful girl to see and maybe in telling would be her salvation too.
She started with Ireland and her childhood, her family, her city, her school, and as she described this unknown locale to Isadora, she revisited the old bylanes, the garage, the school, her friends, her mother and Pegaso. It always ended with Pegaso even after so many years, It always ended with Pegaso. She talked about Lipsi and about beautiful Christina. She talked about her life, that started on the trampled veil of Christina's dreams. She spoke without pretentions and as she spoke she held a mirror to her soul.
This was not a story to be told in one evening, and so days passed. They carried on with their routines and in the evenings, they sat together to talk about the past and watch the sun set over it. Isadora was learning so much about her mother from Alanah. She never knew, for instance, that her mother could sing, or that she had the guts and the strength to run, carrying a completely sloshed Alanah on her back, through a lonely night from the rehab centre where Alanah was locked up in. Christina and Alanah had so many jokes that Isadorah didnt understand before, but now they made sense. And then they came to that missing year in Christina's life.
That day, Little Stravos was at the petrol station and he had asked a strange question. "Mam, why is Magda tired always?" "She is not." Alanah had said. And he had replied,"Yes, she must be, because she always goes to bed when she comes to our house, and Papa has to go and sit with her." That moment from so many years ago seemed as clear suddenly as if it was this morning, and she was washing the cars at the station, while Stravos played with a tyre and talked to her. Christina came and sat close to Alanah, held her hands as they together went over the murkiness that followed.
Alanah remembered her thoughts of that distant day. "Magda and Pegaso in my house, on my bed! It cannot be, there must be some misunderstanding, It surely cannot be!" She had continued washing the car, it was a red truck, she even remembered the number plate of that truck, insignificant details permanently etched in her memory. The next day she had gone home early from the pump. Stravos was playing in the garden. She took him by his hand across the street to where Yorghis lived, then she went back. she had opened the door very quietly, a tresspasser in her own home. It was very quiet, and then she had heard them laughing. He was calling her his little furry rabbit, something he called Alanah when they made love. She stood there watching them. Beautiful Magda with her long dark curls and her olive skin, and she caught a reflection of herself in the mirror, it was not the right thing to do, but it had been done, the last vestiges of her pride had been shorn. They saw her then. Alanah had thought, "Why did I come home and disturb them? Now its all in the open, if I had not come back, we could have gone on forever pretending everything was alright. All of us." And she had looked again at the beauty of Magda and she had known that she had lost. Pegaso had broken the long silence. He had said, "Please dont make a scene Alanah, you'll upset the child." Thats what he had thought of first, not upsetting little Stravos, to hell with her being upset of course!! She who had left her family and land to be with him, her getting upset was not being considered at all!! Suddenly things seemed as if they had tilted, like a picture being crooked on a wall.
the final part will be in tomorrow ths time, thanks so much for bearing with me!!
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Torn blouse for flesh rent;
Ladders in the stockings –
A rung for every callous blow landed.
Scuffed shoes winked about the kicks –
After all, bruise-gorged eyes can’t –
Just permanently closed.
Burning tears were scant warmth
Against a chill from ugly cries.
Lipstick smudges on the chin to
Nullify all vestiges of beauty –
Those that constituted rare patches
Of purest cream skin, from
Days of feminine joy, telling once
Upon a time there was an angel…
But now, a battered doll.
These lines by Mark R Slaughter describe Magda, just as she was the day Alanah first saw her. battered and bruised she lay on her kitchen floor, helpless and in pain. They were new to Lipsi. Magda and her torturous husband had just moved into the neighbourhood from Santorini. He ran a bar up on the hill and she mostly remained indoors. And so inspite of living on the opposite sides of a road, Alanah had never really met Magda before.
PS : dear readers, believe me I am in a hurry too..but just cant write more than this in a day!!
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Alanah was happy in her marriage. Pegaso was not lazy like his other friends. He did not waste time at the local bars. He had his moods, but he also had his endearing ways. He loved to sing, he played the lute to Alanah as she tended to their small garden, he cooked for her whenever she was over-worked, he was patient with her on nights when she cried for her parents and family back in ashbourne. He loved to braid her long red hair, arrange flowers in them, play with them. He loved this tiny, frail looking girl from Ireland whose beauty was in her energetic spirit, in her love for life, in her love for people. Pegaso was also proud of the fact that he was the only one to have brought home a girl from a faraway land.
A few summers down the line, Stravos was born. Alanah had hoped that the news of a grandchild would soften her parents, but there was no return mail from Ireland. Pegaso's parents, however, were delirious with joy. His usually reticent father even danced at the christening ceremony of his grandchild. Christina brought with her all the baby clothes she had made, when she was expecting Pegaso's child. Alanah kept her promise and every month a cheque travelled from Lipsi to Ashbourne, and with it travelled pictures of the house, the pump, of stravos and of her and Pegaso. She wrote about her life, she asked about theirs, but there was never a reply. Many a times she craved for a glimpse of her mother, for a taste of her home made jams, she craved for the smell of books that filled their small house in ashbourne, for her younger sisters, but none of them bothered to write even a line to her. Alanah's only touch with Ashbourne was an old man who ran the garage where Pegaso had taken up work. Maybe he blamed himself for this unfortunate link, but whatever the reason, he did keep Alanah informed of major milestones. He wrote to Alanah about her sister's wedding, her father's retirement party, about the tough time the family went through when her mother was hospitalised for almost a month. Alanah ached to go back and see her family for a few days, but she knew that she was not welcome there anymore.
Summer turned to spring and time kept pace. Stravos was five now. Pegaso had lost both his parents to old age and related afflictions. Alanah had paid off the entire sum of money she had taken from her dad. Christina got married to a painter from Athens. The pump was doing going business and life seemed to have sorted itself out finally.
Alanah was never vain. She rarely looked at herself in the mirror. But nowadays, she had started noticing the grays appearing in her hair, she had started noticing that her never very full cheeks looked a bit hollow, and also that there were shadows under her eyes that didnt go even after a good nights sleep. She watched these signs, and she smiled to herself. These were the fruits of her honest and tireless labour, these were her medals. She had never possessed the careless selfishness that usually comes when you are born beautiful. And so she never dwelt for long on these signs. Until Magda came into their lives.
to be continued ...
Friday, April 16, 2010
Ireland is known for its forty shades of green. Greece made Alanah understand the depths of blue. The Agean island of lipsi was the definition of serenity. Wide sandy beaches dotted with white and blue tavernas, small two storeyed cottages with flowers in basket windows. A church steeple that could be seen from any point in that island, winding roads that went through the town to its many beaches and coves. small shops selling colourful pottery and artefacts, dark skinned, smiling people and lots and lots of children everywhere. These were the first impressions Alanah formed about Lipsi. These, and the image of Christina were to be part of her preliminary memory of Lipsi.
A blonde girl with an open, beguiling smile and the prefect set of shiny white teeth, that was Christina. Huge with Pegaso's child, she was standing by the bay, awaiting his return. The yellow ankle length frock with tiny red blossoms accentuating her beauty and youth. Complacent and happy in the knowledge that Pegaso was returning to marry her. And then she saw Alanah, A sea nymph with red-gold hair. She also saw her dark and handsome Pegaso, helping this nymph off the ferry, she heard him call her by the endearing names that were once meant for Christina alone, or so she had thought. Dreams shatter with a single jolt, they dont have to be hit again and and again to break into infinite shards that lie strewn till they are picked up again by another innocent passer-by. Maybe thats why dreams are so akin to glass. Christina's dreams ended that day. She tried to kill herself. It turned out that she killed the child she was carrying, not herself. She lived on in that island making peace with her destiny, and friends with this sea nymph whose name was Alanah.
Stranger things have happened since then in that sleepy town. This friendship was difficult to resist. Just like its difficult to resist the fresh dew of the early mornings, or the mild sun of winter afternoons, such was the presence of Alanah. Everyday since her arrival at Lipsi, Alanah went to see Christina, not out of guilt, neither out of a sense of duty, she went because she liked to be with her, she baked fresh breads and made nourishing soups for her. She spoke about Ireland and her folks back home, she spoke about converting the old, run down chicken coop behind Christina's house into a pottery studio, she spoke about irish recipes and the bravery that was synonymous with her land, everyday she came in like a burst of sunshine and everyday she spoke about life to Christina. What she never mentioned was Pegaso, what she never mentioned was the sorrow of losing a baby. And so, gradually, independent of the man who had brought them face to face as rivals, they managed to forge a friendship that would shine through the dark nights of pain and despair which one was facing now, and the other would have to in the future.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
He took up a job at the nearby garage. Alanah saw him everyday on her way to school. He was exciting, nothing like the boys in her class and he always had a ready smile for her. There was nothing much that interested her after that. Her world started spinning around the morning smiles. Love can be many things, it can affect the young heart in many ways, but it is always beautiful in its first tentative steps. And so it was with Alanah.
Irish winters are known to be mild. But that year the nights turned icy. On one such dreary night Alanah swept across the streets from her home with a blanket tugged under her arm. She reached the garage and knocked at the side door. The door opened and Pegaso filled its frame. At a loss of words, as the surreality of the situation gripped her, Alanah managed a shy smile and thrust the blanket towards Pegaso and ran into the darkness, her hair a halo behind her.
Thus started a new chapter in Alanah's life. She would grow with this, she would learn, she would travel outwards and deep inside, she would gain, she would lose, she would reach her core and grow again. She did not know all this then. She was not even 18. Her pale cheeks had a glow in them. Her eyes shone like emeralds. her hair carried the spring of Ireland in them, and her heart carried the love of Pegaso.
Spring turned to summer and before she knew it, the school finals were looming in front of her. At times when you love someone, you distance yourself from every other relationship. Its sad, but it happens, friends and family become strangers in the crowd. Love can be selfish in its naivette, love can be ruthless in its single mindedness and love can be foolish in its blindness. Alanah had set her mind on travelling with Pegaso to Greece. Exams were not on her list at all. her best friend, Fionna, tried to talk her out of this, but to no avail. her parents fought tooth and nail against her decision, but Alanah was determined to start her life in Greece.
Every evening at 7:30 a bus left for Belfast. The summer of 1970 saw Pegaso and Alanah take that bus out of Ashbourne. Pegaso had a small case, he gathered no moss. Alannah had a bigger bag plus a case. She had taken all the money her father, a school teacher, had saved for her university education and marriage. She would return them, of course, as soon as Pegaso's petrol pump became a success in Lipsi, the island in Greece he called home. The island that would be home to Alanah much more than Ashbourne could ever be. Her friend and also her sisters had come to see her off that day, they gave her cakes and sweets for the journey and wished her well. And so started the journey of Alanah. She was 18 that summer.