Battleground: Hawthorn - Present Day
Know they heritage before you can know thyself
The darkness had not yet been broken by the early morning light. The daily battle cry could be heard in the immaculately presented Victorian terrace house in the west of Hawthorn alongside the Yarra River.
“Christopher, please hurry. We are going to be late!” Angela Nikitas could lead and organise a pharmaceutical company, teams of employees, but at times, she was lost with how to best handle her pre-teen son. Angela’s mother had brought her up to believe that she must live her life with passion and stand up for her beliefs. She had passed these ideals on to her son, but with dire consequences. Christopher questioned everything and continuously fought for his right to be heard. She admired his fervour and tenacity, but it was exhausting to deal with on a daily basis.
Angela was an intelligent, practical woman. She was of small stature but high ideals. Her outfit was smart, expensive but comfortable. She did not waste time or effort where it was not necessary. And this morning was no different. Angela and her husband Jason were focused on closing a deal with the representatives from Chicago. The meeting was in their offices in Abbotsford just across the river, but there was not a minute to lose. Her husband had gone on ahead, but she needed to be there to make sure it all went according to plan.
“Mum, I’m old enough to walk to school on my own. I am going to high school next year,” Christopher shouted emphatically through his bedroom door. “I don’t want to go to Yiayia’s house every day.” When his mind was made up, Christopher Nikitas was a force to be reckoned with. He just wanted to be seen as normal. His greatest embarrassment was being forced to walk to and from school with his Yiayia, his Greek grandmother. He was determined to win the ongoing battle with his parents of not having to go to Yiayia’s place before and after school.
The power struggle had shifted. Angela surrendered some ground. She stood at the bottom of the stairs and emphatically shouted, “You can play an extra half hour of computer games tonight, if you are in the car in exactly five minutes.” She knew this was not the best strategy for control, but it got immediate results. The bedroom door opened triumphantly and out rushed a determined eleven-year-old with a steely resolve. Christopher’s mousy straight brown hair hung long over his hazel eyes and he habitually pushed it back as he bounced down the stairs and into the kitchen where Angela was now rushing around to get organised for work. The victor’s tone was lowered and greedily bargaining for more spoils.
“Mum, all my friends walk to school by themselves. Why can’t I?”
“Your father and I have something to discuss with you, Christopher. It involves the possibility of that happening, but there are conditions that we need to sort out first. There is no time now. We will talk about it again tonight.” Christopher’s eyes glistened with excitement. He could feel it. Victory would soon be his.
Yiayia’s house was just down the road, next to the Church Street Park. It was a short walk to Hawthorn West Primary School from there. Christopher’s Yiayia was waiting to greet them as they pulled up in her driveway. She wore what was customary for Greek widows, all black attire with her braided grey hair wrapped around her head. She was of medium stature and had a careworn face, wrinkled and spotted with random moles on her cheeks and chin. Christopher, in times of boredom, counted five in all. Time had not been kind to Maria. She looked older than her 56 years. By the age of 28 she had become a widow and a single mother alone in a foreign place. She struggled to give her only child all the benefits of a life she herself did not realize.
The young immigrant couple, Maria Kypris and her late husband Manolis Kypris, worked hard and paid off the mortgage on their single-fronted timber home in Smart Street, before Manolis’s tragic death from a sudden heart attack. Maria worked two jobs to make sure her daughter did not miss out on all of the advantages of growing up in their adopted country. During the day she worked as a machinist repairing clothes at the drycleaners around the corner and at night she did piece work making plastic covers for blankets for the factory up the road, near the corner of the Kew Tram Depot. Their lounge room would be abuzz from the noise of the industrial sewing machine as Maria transformed sheets of plastic to completed covers from the time Maria came home until the early hours in the morning.
Maria made sure that Angela was given every opportunity to succeed in her life. She willingly sacrificed everything. Every drop of sweat, every ache, meant her girl could have a better life. Angela and Christopher were her only focus, her reason for living. Her entire existence revolved around them.
Maria opened the car door for Christopher and tried to help him with his school bag.
“Yiayia I can carry my own bag.” Maria was not in the least bit fazed by Christopher’s reaction. From the moment she first set eyes on Christopher, as a baby, she saw the face of God. The child of her child could do no wrong.
“Kalimera, agori mou,” she warmly greeted him in Greek.
“Speak English, Yiayia. You know I don’t understand Greek.”
“Christopher, behave yourself, listen to Yiayia or you won’t be allowed to go to the game with your father tomorrow,” Angela shouted through the car window in desperation as she began to drive off.
“Mum, I’m sorry he hasn’t had breakfast, and could you also organise lunch for him. I will come and have a kafe with you tonight, I promise. We will talk about the trip then. Thanks Mum. Love you.”
Christopher did not want to be at his grandmother’s house. There was no Internet and her old TV set was not worth watching. There was nothing to do.
“Christaki mou, I made you a dippy egg. It is how you like it, with tall thin stratigous to dip with. Just like the soldiers of the Kings of long ago.” Maria smiled remembering the stories about the Kings of Cyprus, and the days in her old town Dierona when she was a young girl dreaming about past and new worlds.
“It is not a dippy egg, Yiayia. Stop making words up,” Christopher corrected her as he hungrily ate his egg and waited eagerly for Yiayia to tell him the stories of the Kings. He enjoyed her stories, but felt that he had outgrown dippy eggs and soldiers. He wished secretly that she could be a normal Australian grandmother and stop talking to him in Greek. It was really embarrassing, especially in front of his friends.
“As you know, long ago Cyprus had ten kings,” began Maria. “It was said that they were the Achaean and Mycenaean kings that battled besides King Menelaus in the Trojan War that lasted for nine long years. Instead of going back to fight for their right to their thrones they went to this new land, with new hopes and dreams just like your grandfather Manolis, God rest his soul and your mum and I did so many years ago when we came to Australia.”
“But Yiayia,” challenged Christopher, “we are talking about the real history of Cyprus, Homer’s Iliad is a myth. That can’t be the real story of the kingdoms.”
“Some historians believe that the Iliad is a true history Christopher, but most think it is just a fable. You are right to argue this point.”
“What is the truth Yiayia? How did the kingdoms really begin?”
“There is some debate, but a Cypriot History professor I knew once told me that he believed that the Dorians, a fierce people, invaded the Myceneans, a highly cultured population from Peloponnesos. Some of the Myceneans fled from Greece and settled in Cyprus and began separate kingdoms.”
Christopher was mesmerised by these stories, “Yiayia,” Christopher asked, "whereabouts do you come from in Cyprus? Is there