by Efrosini Manda-Lazarou
The mourning bell tolled at Mirianthi’s wedding. Whether some unhappy, lovesick youth was behind this unfortunate occurrence, no-one could say, nor if some man or woman of the village had simply, with bitter humour, set off the sorrowful tolling as an accompaniment to what everyone was whispering.
Deliberate act or macabre accident, when they heard the mournful sound that normally accompanies a funeral, the villagers all said the same thing, some out loud and others in whispers. What a sin! What a shame, a girl as beautiful and good as Mirianthi, and in the flower of her youth! To be married at seventeen to a middle-aged man, one whose ambition to become a merchant had led him to desert his monastery just before he was to receive the tonsure, to stand bridegroom beside a girl who was as rich as she was beautiful. It was precisely the age of the bridegroom which her strange father trusted most, judging that the best advantage for the man who would take his beloved daughter was that he should be of his own age.
The marriage ceremony ended with the joyful pealing of the church bell, and was followed by a three-day celebration, according to the custom of the village. And so Mirianthi became the wife of the Monk, as the villagers renamed him, as though his marriage amounted to a tonsure of a secular kind. It might well have been worse, as the villagers were renowned for their biting irony and their nicknames.
He quickly grew bitter and ever more stingy. As his father-in-law’s shop flourished so he saw that his wife, whether seated at the cash register or arranging the merchandise, was like all the unfeeling goods which she happily sold at inflated prices to the villagers. Thus the pleasure of the bedchamber was soon lost, but even worse, it seemed to him, whenever he took the pounds between his thick fingers to count them, the pleasure of money had also vanished. Now and then, as he weighed and poured the goods into paper bags or wrapped them in gaudy paper, he tried to catch his wife’s sweet glance, warm and liquid as honey, which she bestowed on all and sundry except himself, and his heart grew even harder, as though from a deficit of life or a surfeit of death.
The ultimate meanness of the old man, in which his spite plumbed new depths, came after he had made a strange supposition during the last summer of his life. He remembered the road he had taken when he left the monastery to marry the rich girl. From the tip of the Karpas peninsula, leaving the monastery behind him, he had walked for days beside the sea, and on reaching the harbour which they say resembles a soft armpit and a womanly bosom, had skirted it and hurried towards the Mesaoria plain. Now that road seemed to him short and uninteresting, with neither sea nor villages, trees in blossom, people or other creatures. He had seen nothing, heard nothing, met no-one, admired nothing, loved nothing. And for the first time he wondered, as he pored over an old, faded map, whether in reality or even in a dream he had passed by Leonarisso, Platanisso, Yialousa, Koma tou Yialou, and as he struggled to retrace his old journey in his memory, step by step, he thought that he had seen his wife’s chestnut hair fluttering on the deck of a ship in the harbour he had shunned… and then it was too late, the girl had gone… She seemed to him a lady, much travelled, with unimaginable wealth. He, who had never travelled, would never have dared to dream of such a lady by his side. And she, as he knew, had never left her father’s house except to wed him in church. He grew jealous, as though he had been deceived.
The woman was pure amber, living amongst the cold, hard, counterfeit stones which the Monk had hoarded, first at the monastery and then in the shop she had brought him as her dowry. He owned them both, but was unable to enjoy either the sweetness of what was genuine, or the profits of what was sham. The path her life took was secret, an inner journey to elusive depths, where pain alone can lead. But this too is only supposition, since despair can sometimes entomb a person in icy inflexibility or the aridity of a wasteland, long before the frozen embrace of death itself.
And even the fragrant name of the girl was lost. On the very first night of the wedding, at the predatory touch of the monk, its fragrance blossomed for the first and last time. At home, of course, for as long as her parents lived they would call her by her given name. The villagers, however, who had never forgiven Mirianthi’s husband for marrying her, with malevolent glee referred to her – and that infrequently as they did not wish to bring her into their conversations – as the Monk’s wife. Mistress Monk.And no-one was ever heard to call her Mirianthi, which is to say:
A Thousand Flowers…
Translated by Susan Papas