THE CENTAUR’S SECRETS
The story so far…
Mountainside Arta, 1958
The wind is howling at the window of the brick-built house, that stands alone among the empty and fallow farm fields. The smell in the air forebodes the strength of the storm about to break, with an intensity equal to the one of darkness in Alexandra’s eyes, as she felt the pain piercing her lower belly for the first time. “Seven and a half months now…”, she thought, “…and so eager to get out…”; and with this thought she tried to calm her overwhelming nervousness to the likely possibility of giving birth all alone, in this god-forsaken middle of nowhere. A lightning bolt tore the horizon as if tearing through her heart. She questioned herself about ol’ Lena’s, the midwife, advice telling her not to tend to the livestock anymore and to leave its caretaking to her husband, Charalampos. As if, ol’ Lena could understand the hunger in her home; these animals were their only livelihood. Just a couple of days ago grazing those animals in the rain, raised her fever again and the doctor warned her that pneumonia was near enough to harm both the mother and the child. A second lightning bolt, this time closer, louder. She dropped to her knees, her arms cradling the belly that sheltered the new life inside. She whispered quietly, “…come on my precious, wait for daddy to return and we’ll be together once you’re ready to move into the world. Be patient…”. But the third lightning, with such a loud clangor as the one of the wagons on the train she once saw in Athens, almost burst her eardrums. Yet this pain was nothing compared to the pain of a child beginning the journey of life. The waters now drenching her feet weren’t from the rain… she fell on her back, on top of a hay mattress covered with a sheet, and immediately felt another pain stabbing, this time through her womb. The child was already on its way. Her hands drew close to her genitals and she began to push… the more she pushed, the more it hurt. “Breathe” ol’ Lena had said “deep breaths”, she breathed as deeply as she could but the pain in her chest was almost equal to the pain between her thighs. She screamed as the baby’s head emerged. Trying as much as she could, she grabbed the newborn, to pull it out of her. One of her hands closed around the armpit, and the other around the nape of the child’s neck, and then she pushed for one last time as she pulled the child. It was a boy, a small, feeble boy. By the time it cried its first sound, she was slowly fading out… her eyes, those emerald green eyes, were losing their light.
Mountainous Arta, 7 years later 1965
She coughed vigorously, time and time again. She reached for her handkerchief from the pocket of her robe and attempted to wipe her mouth, in fear of Cleopatras witnessing the small droplets of blood. So many years have passed since she gave birth, yet still the menacing tuberculosis had found shelter deep within her lungs and wouldn’t let go. That night, 7 years ago, Charalampos had found her unconscious with the newborn child in her carrying arms… It seemed as if the heavens had blessed them with luck, since her husband had acquired Stefani’s cart in order to bring the livestock back. He grabbed her in his hands, and made way for the village at once, set to find ol’ Lena the midwife and ask for the aid of Georgis, the doctor. Luck seemed to beam on them, since he barely made it in time, Georgis said. Had he been a second too late both mother and child would have left this mortal coil back in that moody pen. “And yet lucky they still were…”, Georgis added, for “…the pneumonia could have taken Alexandra’s life, and the child would not have made it without the warm caress of his mother…”. When Charalampos asked why the child had a long torso but short legs; “Charalampe…”, Georgis lowered his voice to address him in private, few meters away from the bed where mother and child rested. “Charalampe, listen, Alexandra will not be giving birth to another child, her health’s condition is way too severe for her to bear another one. You shouldn’t put the boy to work and start him early either, he inherited his mother’s lungs and he will be feeble with every breath he takes.”
Ever since, a darkness covered Charalampos’ gaze. Even when the boy would join him from time to time in the pen, it was painfully obvious that he wasn’t cut out for heavy duties. Even worse, his mother was bubbling his brain with her tales, and whenever around the field the boy was imitating to be a demi god, or a grand hero in fantasies toddlers’ minds give life to. “He is a good for nothing kid”, he once said to Alexandra, what good was that boy to him? “He is as useless as you, now that you cannot bear children.” Ever since, he spent his nights at the village local pub, and if he returned home, he would lay away from her, on the divan that stood in their yard, and thus she started feeling the distance between them grow. She went out, in search for Cleopatras. Everyone would jest her for picking her mother’s name for her son, but at that moment of the labor, she had her name carved across her lips, her late mother’s Cleopatra touch, was all she craved for when the sharp pains turned her breaths into panting. The child was given his name through an airing-baptism, an old orthodox tradition for infants that would possibly die in order for them not to be buried unnamed, and she had to lie to the priest to persuade him. She argued to him by saying that she saw a Saint in her time of pain, who dictated that the child should live only if her mother’s name was to be given to her son, for life was only to be granted to him through her. Charalampos became furious with rage, anger got the better of him and for many months to come, he would simply disappear into the pen and back home; no more than what a casual conversation would dictate escaped his lips. And that’s how the cycle of the people she felt as family gradually became smaller, as if only she and her child were part of it. She found her offspring sitting in arms reach, and in front of his tiny hands he was stacking stones, as if he was building the mighty walls of Troy that had not known defeat, those castles that he had so grown to love through her stories. With a basket in one hand, where she kept her needles and wool, she made way to reach for him. And once she reached him, she caressed his brownish yellow hair, and felt her fingers tangled in his curls. He looked up to her, and a wide smile spread across his face. He knew that when mother was done with her work, he would hear once more those grandiose tales of the ones who dare, of gods and men, and demigods and heroes. Who knows, he thought to himself, if they are real, but whenever he would ask his mother, she would always answer the same way. “Everyone, gods, demigods, heroes, no one could dare to compare with you, you who could only be compared with the Centaurs, no one else like you ever existed. Don’t you ever forget about it!” she said over and over again. “And among them all the wisest is the teacher. For, when the teacher is ready, that, is when the students appear.” And because of such words, Cleopatras had found love for both his school and his teachers, which he looked up to as if they were gods. And when the teachers tried to teach him those stories, he immediately sprang forth from his desk, cutting them midsentence to set the story correct, as mother would have told it. His teachers had even called for her once, telling her to quit with her tales, but she didn’t want her child to be left alone. He was feeble and frail and she had been knitting sweaters for him all these years, so that he wouldn’t catch a cold and grow sick on his chest and lungs. But the kids at school would tease and laugh at the little boy and his sweaters, which were many and in a plethora of colors, leaving him lonely. She caressed his brownish yellow hair, that had the same color as the Filira leaves, that she would give him at night to help regulate his breathing and allow him to sleep. Fillira, a mother of Myths, the mother of Chiron, who chose to become the herb, that could heal them both.
Berlin, 7 years later, September of 1972
A year now; when did an entire year pass by, she thought to herself as she laid down the tablecloth on the small, wooden table in the kitchen. She tried to put her thoughts in order and felt swamped by the effort. A year had passed since the night Charalampos announced his decision to leave Greece for good, emigrating to Germany. He made it quite clear that she would either stay behind to wait for him as he sent over money for her and the child, or she could pack a bag or two for her and the boy and get onboard the train with him. Her efforts to explain that they had no one to turn to in that foreign place fell on deaf ears. His mind was made up already, having sold everything they owned, including the livestock, and having the money send to a cousin of his in Athens, for paperwork and passport. She was forced to sell her son’s golden cross, so she could get her papers in time – at least the boy wasn’t in need of papers yet, being underaged. “…as soon as you arrive you must declare parenthood, show them the paper I translated, the paper from the Mayor, he’ll get his identification cards there when he comes of age. I’ve got everything ready here to send if you need anything. Don’t you worry, Alexandra, everything will be perfectly fine…”. That day in the mayor’s office felt like a farewell for the two friends. Her mind revealed her an image stronger than the first, as she remembered her son’s tears flowing at the announcement of their departure from Greece, and another image, few days later with the boy grabbed onto the coat of Mr. Stefanos, his teacher and wouldn’t let go for the world when it was time to leave. “…I’ll write, and you’ll write back, too…”, and he had kept his word. The teacher must’ve sent over two dozen letters, one every week, and just as many replies had her son sent back. She read them as well from time to time, and those letters were the reason she came to realize that her boy was on the verge of a breakdown, and it was about time he went to school, learn the language, get an education. Her gaze fell outside the window, and her thoughts raced around the block of the house they lived in, in Britz, at Berlin’s Neukolln district. One could say it looked like a horseshoe, but to her and the boy it was truly a lucky turn of events. As soon as they got settled in, it wasn’t long before one or two customers came up to her asking the young immigrant to sew clothes for their children, when they saw Cleopatras with his woolen vest, his cap and gloves, at the Christmas service of the small, tight-knit Hellenic immigrants’ community of this part of looming Berlin.
One thing led to another and she had by now managed to sew for a number of clients, without worrying about her child anymore, as she watched him playing for hours in the little grove surrounded by the building’s drab grey. She watched him play with the snow, and run back home, all muddy and wet. She watched him getting back from the study where the community’s priest gave lessons on this foreign language, on top of school. “…he is a smart boy and learning comes easily to him, he’s already grasped the basics and it won’t be long ’till he can speak for himself…”, and the priest’s words came true day by day since then. It was the one helping her out when she had to do her shopping from the market “Ha…”, she chuckled, “look at poor me at the market, pfft…” – just a thought about herself, and then her mind turned to the boy. Where is he, he should’ve been back from school half an hour ago, she couldn’t help worrying. As far as her husband was concerned, she wasn’t even sure if he’d come home. Every time he managed to find his way home, he fell dead-tired on the couch, with his breath stinking of alcohol, and when he didn’t, he’d simply chase lustily after a local wench or two. He had made it clear, after all, that things would be very different here. The factory at Grunstuffe Strasse worked twenty-four hours a day, and he would take at least two shifts a day, as his cousin, the one who arranged all this, had promised. And Charalampos came back home whenever he felt like it, supposedly after two or three days full of work, but she knew it all along that Babis, as the German girls called him, was not the man she once loved. And Babis didn’t seem to care if it was Cleopatras’ birthday. He simply left some money on that same table three days ago when he announced that he have to work an extra shift this weekend…
Museum Island, Berlin, 7 years later (1979) September
It must have been barely three hours he had stormed out, cursing both gods and demons, banging the door with great menace, as if Zeus himself had cast his thunderous rage against the mortal world. He wanted to get away from all the shouting Babis was letting loose. Babis, who decided to become lover to his fifteen-year younger girlfriend from the factory. And like this decision of his, the rest of the troubles appeared in queue. Shouting became a daily routine, with each word dripping more poisonous venom than the next one into the life of his poor mother. Everyday some new complaint was inflating his outbursts, but the truth was that, that little German bitch had him bound to her whims and she demanded marriage after founding out that she was with his child. He should have been more concious, he would tell himself, but his thoughts remained dark, and it didn’t even matter that he was situated in a world bathed in the light of artists of all ages. The harder he was trying to distract himself with a painting or a statue, the more he lost himself to self-hate for leaving his mother behind to deal with the beast.“… I am 20 years old, what use do we have for him…”, he had once told her.“… I’ll find a job, my hands are able and I am willing…, we’ll make it somehow…” he begged of her. But she wouldn’t even let him finish his thought. “You will not do such a thing, your job is to finish your studies, me and your father will work this out…”. Father. Really? Were was he when sickness would deprive me of sleep. Were was he to show me how to be a man. He who did not even attempt to congratulate me for being accepted in the University of Archaeology in Berlin. “First and finest… born and raised Hellene” his mother would boast, but his father had only said “…What use is there in studying, he should work with metal just like me and finally make use of himself, I am tired of feeding him and now he wants me to pay his studies…”. He could not fathom why it hurt him so bad every single time he tried to prove his worth to his father, why would he try to convince this stranger for things a roughneck like him could never understand. But it hurt him even more that his body would not allow him to raise a hand against that same lout and protect his dear mother with the same violent way that this stranger was treating her. He raised his eyes and lazily allowed them to perceive the area around him.
He had entered the Egyptian Civilization part of Das Neues Museum, and there she lay waiting for him, she who would change his life forever. In her eyes she saw worlds and empires, gods and demigods, masters and apprentices, taking shape from the shelves of his memory and fighting for a place in his consciousness. She looked at him with pride, through centuries of slumber, unveiling the secrets of the ancient world, the secrets of the power to control masses, hexes that the gods would come up with to control the humans and between all those secrets he hoped to discover a way to save his mother. “…So, love at first sight does exist…”, he turned his head to identify the source of that deep, almost hoarse, voice that was directed at him playfully. Her hair was red, almost fiery and her face was packed with freckles. Her eyes however had an emerald color that set her gaze on green fire. Almost reminded him of his mother Alexandra, he thought in the blink of an eye, before getting lost in those deep green, mesmerizing pools. “...Are you alright…, I am sorry it was just a joke, I just wanted to tease you since you looked so ecstatic looking at her…”, she grew redder with each word and she almost reached the color that looked like the crimson shades on the ornate sculpture that portrayed the prettiest of all the empresses, the Heiress, the Beloved , the Lady of both Upper and Lower Egypt, the Great King’s Bride, Lady of two Lands, Nefertiti, the Approaching Beauty. There in front of the gaze of the stern clay figure, there he laid his eyes on Ingrid for the first time.
Excavations Tel Cambri, Nahariya Israel 7 years later (1986)
The sun’s hot touch burned his head, but his participation in his first excavation mission under Professor’s Kempinski supervision, could only fill him with impatience and appetite for even more work. He had learned a lot by the professor as the excavation mission had begun almost a decade earlier, when during 1975-1976 Kempinski continued the effort that dates back to 1956. Cleopatras was still a young child, never had it crossed his mind that one day he might be at the side of the man who admired so much about his patience and persistence. However, his studies in Archeology, and his professors’ wishes, along with numerous letters of reference, had persuaded the respected archaeologist to include him in the mission that would re-start the excavations in the area. He looked up into the sky and could not but think how important this opportunity was, even if it had cost him a tough fight with Ingrid. She had asked him not to leave, as their one-year-old daughter would oblige her to take full care. He answered that the payment would help them manage home expenses, whilst the opportunity to work on his master thesis regarding ‘Cultural Exchange and its importance to the development of the Mediterranean civilizations’, and under Kempinski’s supervision would ensure him the position of assistant professor and a fixed salary in return. Somehow, he had experienced that fight the same way he could remembered the fights between his parents, even if it ended before even started, when the university car took him to the airport where he would fly to Israel. Of course, communication by mail and telephone couldn’t even match live interaction, and whenever looking the pictures of little Alexandra, he could feel his heart and guts going through an intense, deep pain.
He quickly wore the vest, his mother gifted him, before she returned to Greece. It was after his graduation that she had announced that, since he had started his own family, she wanted to return to Greece to spend time in the village, away from the hubbub and crowded Berlin. The truth, however, was different, and he knew it, his mother had long been tired of fighting and wanted to return to her resting place. Two, at most five years, the doctors had given her and her eyes were longing for the tranquility of her homeland scape. Besides, over the years her savings from the sewing had studied him, helped him setup his family’s life, even for the smaller of things. Grandma Alexandra was always there in need. Babis, was nowhere to be found for nearly five years after that separation fight. It wasn’t long ago he was informed, by “behearted willing friends” of course, that his father’s new wife was non-other than the daughter of the owner of the factory, who had become a significant figure in the recent german political scene. Or rather it would be preferable to say, in a personality of the domestic mafia world, after he had enriched on the backs of those who lived away, beyond the wall of shame. He also knew that he had a step brother called Claus, but that was all, nor did he learn anything more about his father’s new family. Babis would sometimes show himself in the newspapers, as the boss’s son-in-law but that was all his grandeur, for the rumors wanted him to be trapped in his father-in-law’s factory while the old man spent his time in the political lounges. The heat made him take a deep breath shortly before he regained devotion over the region that had been called Area D.
He struck the earth with his little axe and felt his skin burn. His white skin, for all the years of maternal care, had not been seen very much by the sun and he knew that he would soon have to cope with the first burns. The deeper his axe went, the deeper he sank in his journey into history. The part that he was commissioned to excavate was near the source of Ein Shefa. And while his mind was sinking, a sound of stone that accepted the metal kick echoed across the wilderness. This subtle sound would be the occasion for the discovery of one of the most important findings and the precursor of the scientific success and reputation that would accompany Cleopatras in the years to come.