Continuing on from Chapter 3 and from Elena's point of view...life in the village of Kato Lefkara continues through the winter...The New Year came with a flurry of fresh snow and with it came the freezing temperatures which touched the villages lower in the mountains...
The New Year came with a flurry of fresh snow and with it came the freezing temperatures which touched the villages lower in the mountains. In the distance the snow-peaked Troodos mountain tops replicated thickly iced kourabiethes; rich, golden domed crumbly cookies covered in layers and layers of icing sugar traditionally served at weddings and on saint days.
Elena could see the mountain tops as she made her way to school through the dark foliage of the fir-covered mountain sides and across the olive groves set into the hills. She wore two pairs of wool socks up to her knees in an effort to keep her long legs warm and a bright red hat which covered her ears. She had no scarf; her brother had the scarf and a pair of orange gloves. They bundled against the whisper-light flakes whirling towards them and Elena secretly hoped that the snow would settle. Their tones were ecstatic as they tried to catch them in their hands and stuck out their tongues to lick them. By the time they got to the school yard the snow was coming fast, unusual for it to reach Kato Lefkara and the children were jumping with joy as the flakes continued to dance around their smiling but frozen faces, flushed pink from the nipping cold.
It was Kiria Nitsa’s visit from Larnaca and Elena was relieved to see that she had still made it to the village despite the weather. She came into their class with a bundle of rolled up sheets tied with string bidding them all good morning as she placed it and her bag of art materials on Kiria Maria’s desk. The children were thrilled to see her and especially Elena. During her last visit she had promised to bring with her pictures of England which the children could paint.
‘Ela,’she addressed the class, ‘I was in England over the holidays and here are some prints which I got there.’ She pulled the bow on the string and released the bundle which expanded and unrolled as the string unravelled. The sheets were big, bigger than the school desks.
When the children saw the pictures of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace they were in awe of the magnificent buildings. Elena looked at the detail in each one and the use of colour. She was enthralled with how the river Thames looked as though it was moving and the clouds were drifting in the sky. She looked in wonder at the red boxes and the scarlet boxes with windows.
‘What are they?’ she asked.
‘These are letter boxes for posting mail. These are telephone boxes, with a phone fixed them you can make a call by depositing coins in a slot and ….’
‘What’s the big clock?’
‘That’s called Big Ben, it’s a part of Westminster where the government resides and has meetings,’ explained Kiria Maria, ‘and this is where the Queen lives with her family when she is in London. This is Buckingham Palace, but she has many palaces to call home.’
The noise level in the room suddenly rose a few decibels as the children threw themselves into animated conversation and fired questions at her.
Kiria Maria stepped forward from behind her desk and glared at them all. Immediately they quietened and muttered their apologies, heads bent in obedience.
After the noise of scraping desks across the floor they were pushed together in fours to make room to accommodate the big pictures and painting sheets. The children settled into a quiet hum as Kiria Nitsa handed out pencils, paints and paint brushes. Kiria Maria gave a sheet of paper to each pupil.
‘That’s where we’re going to live,’ said Andreas to Niko pointing to the picture of Buckingham Palace.
‘Don’t be silly. You can’t live with the Queen,’ laughed Niko.
‘Not there actually. I mean in London.’
‘And that’s where you can post me a letter,’ said Niko, ‘if you learn to write,’ he sniggered.
Andreas shoved him in the side with his elbow. ‘I’ll be writing in English so you’d better learn to read!’ he shot back.
The boys settled into a quiet harmony roughly replicating the buildings onto their sheets of paper and then filling their brushes with too much paint made a mess of their colouring.
‘I’ll be able to telephone you from London,’ said Elena to Yioli.
‘You better,’ said Yioli.
‘Oh I will most definitely. We will earn more money too so I will be able to telephone you every day if I want.’
‘You will be busy with homework and new friends to remember me.’
‘No I won’t. And if I do I will telephone you when I finish. They don’t lock the telephone boxes at night!’ laughed Elena, leaning into her friend and hugging her tight.
The majority of the morning was spent painting and drawing and Elena was completely lost in her thoughts. Her mind was full of the images she had seen that morning but more so of the fact that she would be moving to England within the next few weeks. She furrowed her forehead in concentration and drew her lines carefully with a gentle sweep of the pencil and then shaded in using the array of colours lined up in the metal box. She combined the paints and pencil colours together and Kiria Nitsa was delighted with her efforts.
At the end of the session, just as the church bells rang one o’clock across the village, all the children formed a row at the front of the class and the Principal came in to judge the paintings and award a special prize. He walked up and down the line, taking his role most seriously, twirling his thick moustache as he walked from one picture to the next concentrating on each of the images held out proudly by each student in front of him.
‘He’s taking too long,’ whispered Elena to Yioli on one side of her and Stella on the other. He seemed to take for ever. Elena got the giggles.
‘He’s going to choose me,’ said Stella as he stopped and looked back in her direction. ‘I just know it.’
The Principal stood away from the row of children and congratulated them all for their beautiful art work. Andreas dropped his painting and it fluttered towards the Principal’s black polished shoes. He made no move to pick it up and left it there; Big Ben looking up the Principal’s nostrils. Niko then bent towards his sock which had concertinaed around his fat ankle and as he bent down he farted. Everyone looked at him and Elena stifled another giggle but Zacharias and Mirianthi chuckled loudly unable to contain their amusement. The Principle paused, a contorted expression across his face as he smelt the lingering odour. He ignored the incident and visibly shook the pained look away. After a few moments he continued with his speech.
‘I would also like to extend my sincere thanks, and thanks on behalf of the class to Kiria Maria and Kiria Nitsa…for giving the children the opportunity to… explore their creativity. This is a wonderful liaison between teachers which will benefit the… children’s imagination when writing too.’
He then coughed to clear his throat, his moustache jiggling under his nose like a black hairy caterpillar. Elena wondered whether it was tickly or scratchy and was overcome with mirth again which stopped no sooner than it started when the Principal looked straight at her and Stella who had joined in the laughter too. After a moment’s hesitation, he announced the winner and rewarded the winning student with a blank sketch book and a set of colouring pencils. To the rest of the class he poured out a big bag of lokmathes into a bowl and asked them to tuck into the deep fried doughnut balls coated in honey.
Going home at lunch time the children teased Elena calling her an ‘English pillar box’ because of her vermillion hat but she didn’t mind. She knew they were just being funny and she quite liked looking ‘English’ already.
‘Mama, mama,’ yelled Elena as she pushed open the door almost taking it off its hinges. She ran across the courtyard and into the tiny kitchen, holding her hat by the bobble.
‘Yioli won the art competition but she gave me the prize because she said that I’m much better at painting than she is and that the Principal only gave her the prize because I kept laughing.’
‘Slow down,’ admonished her mother, ‘you’re going to swallow your tongue if you talk any faster.’
‘I’m so happy.’
‘Well that’s marvellous agabi mou,’said her yiayia, who was stirring a big pot of soup on the stove.
‘And this is what I painted.’ Elena carefully unrolled her picture and held it up against her spreading her fingers to stop the corners from curling inwards.
‘It’s beautiful, just like you,’ said her yiayia. ‘You certainly deserved to win.’
‘I hope you know that’s not all you’re going to be doing in London,’ said her mother.
‘No. I know. But it’s something I will be able to do every day!’ she shrilled, her smile brightening up the dark, dingy kitchen.
‘He’s scraping snow off the kafeneion wall and putting it in his coat pockets.’
‘Heaven help us,’ said her mother.
‘He wants to save it…he’s SO silly,’ said Elena in an amusing tone, ‘he’ll be able to see all the snow he wants in England!’ Her eyes sparkled and she was almost delirious with excitement as she talked about the art lesson and the images that crammed her mind.