I wondered about Telemachus. His fate and mine, so similar, and yet, I felt he had been luckier in his misfortune than I. There’s very little comfort about me, very little legacy to hold on to, and very little room for pride, for my father was neither a fighter, nor was he a powerful man. No. He was a poor man from a small country, who had to leave his wife and home, and work in a distant land so that he could support his family. He was handsome – from what I’d been told – tall, fair skin, head full of dark hair, big brown eyes that gave grace to his large forehead, and high cheekbones that stood gratified above a sharp jaw line. His mouth was circled by a pair of full lips, that wouldn’t kiss me until this moment: I am a married woman with two children of my own.
My mother never described him to me, for she was a very shy woman, and refrained from making comments about males, whether that male was her husband, her brother, or her son. My aunt described my father, for she missed her brother dearly, and always tried to make him alive for me by telling me tales and stories, all of which always ended with him leaving and never knowing much about his children. And because of this ending, his image remained always incomplete in my mind, his face untouchable, his embrace unreachable, his voice inaudible, and his smile invisible.
I was born in 1939, only a month before the start of World War II. My mother, my innocent mother, either had forgotten her previous pregnancies that had given her a son and a daughter, about fifteen years before I was conceived, or was too embarrassed to remember that she was a woman, and not a virgin. She was a wife without a husband, so it was only proper that she lived her innocence to the fullest, even if it meant that she would deny her own humanity. To her though, this was no denial, but a simple expression of her submission that she only belonged to one man.
She didn’t know how to show it in another way, other than by disavowing the existence of anything that wasn’t chaste or pure. She was the kind of Penelope that weaved her own truth in her reality. She was kind and sweet and blushed when I kissed her, and I knew that she was embarrassed by affection, and feared it would awaken in her what was to never exist – the woman. So, she remained a mother, for as long as she lived.
There was a lot she worried about; her eldest daughter was beautiful, smart, and involved with groups against the extreme national factions that had created ties with Nazi Germany. Her son was just as much involved in the movement and during the war brought propaganda pamphlets home, which my older sister would distribute in the neighborhood and beyond. About three years into the war, as the country got more organized and partisans were fighting under leadership, my brother joined the army and didn’t return until the end of the war. I remember, when I was three or four years old, a German soldier was assigned to guard the door of our home, because we were marked as a partisan abode.
One evening, there was a knock on the door that startled my mother, She opened the door only a little, enough for the outside darkness to create a line through the door, and for the silhouette of the German’s helmet to create a dent through it. I went after her and grabbed her dress. I noticed the German soldier make gestures and speak in a low voice. He put his hands together as if in a prayer, and then leaned his face on his hands, as if on a pillow. My mother shunned him, pushed the door tight, and in a fury said something about sleep. I don’t remember much about their very brief encounter, but I remember thinking that I was the only one who slept with my mom, and that’s that.
During these times, I was my mother’s comfort, and she kept me so close and so shielded, that I didn’t know anything else, but her. She was my mother, my father, my brother, and my sister. I longed for them, and in my childish mind would search for their faces, would try to recognize their voices, and would attempt to recollect their touch or kiss, but they transformed into my mother no matter how much I searched for their image and for their memory.
Soon, I realized that I had never seen my father, and my sister was more like a shadow that would pass by, sometimes hold me before running out the door, other times read something aloud and laugh at my stunned face, and my brother, he was even more elusive, tall, and dim, an imprint of something transparent in the dark room where the candle flickered and mixed his image with that of Saint Mary in the icon on the wall. I’d see her and baby Jesus, and somehow would think that he was part of that setting, always East, always by the window, always fleeting.
Only a few months after the war ended, my sister died a sudden and unexpected death, which took my mother away from me for almost 40 days (I was told later). She locked herself in the basement, stopped eating and drinking, and simply waited to waste away, as I remained confused and unaware of why the person that was so many persons to me, was no more. Until one day, my aunt took me by the hand, climbed down the stairs of the basement, opened the creaky door, and pushed me inside.
I remember my mother’s face – it was unchanged. I didn’t see tears, or hunger, or thirst, or pain. I only saw two sparkling eyes which opened up so big and so bright, and two arms that raptured me in the tightest embrace inside a chest that heaved with what I thought were promises of life and prayers to God. This moment convinced me that she was indeed everything, every person, and every one that would ever enter my life – except, my father. He would remain in my memory like a photo with a face cut off that would only be complete with my mother’s eyes, mouth, smile.
I am now in my late twenties and am shivering with emotion in the middle of a small airport in my country’s capital. I am waiting for my father, and as I wait, my childhood brings me another memory and I remember our goat that lived in a small partition of the house, how she loved us and fed us with her milk, cheese, and butter. I was my own Telemachus, with my own goat, although he had flocks of them, and with my own little kingdom of green hills and rocky highlands. My mother and I would take the goat to the mountain every morning, where a shepherd would take her with his sheep and bring her back at night.
One evening, when we went to pick her up, the shepherd gave us a kid, too. My goat had a child who was like me. A kid with a mother and without a father. I imagined that the daddy-goat was also an emigrant somewhere, on some other mountain, and I learned from the kid that one can live without a father, until one day, my mother decided to give the kid away. I cried because I knew the kid would be an orphan, but as the days went by, I realized the loneliness that one experiences when one parent is missing – one is not two, but one can be all. I prayed for the kid and found comfort in its loneliness, for it was mine, too.
I notice a plane land in the distance, and my husband says that that’s the one. I am a stone. A stone that trembles to the point of knowing it will break. So, I don’t move. I don’t speak. I hold on to my silence and to my stillness. My brother who is just a few feet away from me decides to go to the glass door from where the plane can be seen. It is slowing down. I feel my blood rush to my toes and while my head, my arms, my legs are cold, my toes are hot with a buzzing sensation, which soon dissolves in the freezing wave that gently rolls down my body.
I notice a door drop down, stairs and then soon people go down and walk toward the airport entrance. I stand stoic but every cell is crying for me to leave, to disappear, to stop being. Until this moment, all in the world has been nameless, shapeless, marked by one face, by one bosom, by one love – my mother. But as I remain against myself, against my emotions, and my very soul, I realize something is holding me, something outside me, something that has made me, and I can’t deny myself to it. So, in that instant, I remember the moment that Odysseus and Telemachus met, and I trust the words of that ancient writer, “So you are come, Telemachus, light of my eyes that you are.”
Those words catch up to me and echo something that I know is eternal, or even more than that, something, for which a word has not been invented, just the moment is captured, the moment that a father sees his child. And as I hear the echo of the words, my father appears in front of me, tall, in a white suit, with a white suede fedora on his head, a beige overcoat thrown on his shoulder, a brown leather bag on his other hand, and his eyes, stuck on me. “Donika!” he whispered and, in a flash, everything in the universe gets a name: my sister, Luisa, my brother Nick, and my mother, Dimitra. Everything and everyone has a name and I have the embrace that gives my existence the life it has been missing.
Aida Bode is an Albanian poet and writer, whose works have been published online and in print. Visit her website www.aidabode.com for her extensive publications. Aida is a Pushcart Nominee.