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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

EPISODE IV - THE SECRET GARDEN

EPISODE IV - THE SECRET GARDEN

(Mr. Leousis now addresses a class he has substituted a few times before: Students are insisting that he tell them another story.)

Well let us see what plans your teacher has left for us to cover. Hmm, you have a history class, right? I see here that your teacher has left a note for you to see this video in Canadian history. He wants me to show… (At this point, an insistent hand goes up from a blond haired boy near the front.) "Sir, sir..." (He calls out.) "Mr. Sioz, asked me to set up the video equipment and play the video." All right then..., (Mr. Leousis remarks.)

(As the student tries to set up the equipment, other hands go up insisting that Mr. Leousis, tell them a story. Mr. Leousis responds that stories are told "only," when there is no clear work to be covered by the home teacher. As he looks over to check on "The young technician." the class can hear the bewildered student call out, that he cannot find the specific DVD... Cheers break out!) All right, all right..., (Mr. Leousis calls out.) As long as you inform your teacher, Mr. Sioz, that we could not find the DVD. I do not want any concerns that we did not follow Mr. Sioz's instructions.

Well, if you remember, I was brought from Greece to the Royal Victoria Hospital, here in Montreal. I was grilled with more medical tests and more tests. Looking out of the dark cloudy skies of Montreal, I longed for home, the sun, the luscious valleys, and the military barracks and most of all my friends. I cried, cried, and could not understand why I was being punished and locked up in that Gothic sterile place called, "The Victoria."

My parents rented an apartment at the corner of St. Lawrence and Pine Ave., close to Socrates School. The school was situated at the corner of St. Lawrence and Sherbrook St., next to Agia Trias, (Holy Trinity Church). Each day, I would arrive from school, and help at my father's photo studio. My sister was responsible for the domestic work while my mother worked. Guess where my mother worked …. at the Royal Victoria Hospital (Mr. Leousis chuckles):



Mrs. Euthimia Leousis, Royal Victoria "Baby Formula", room (1958)
 My mother would get up very early every morning and head for the Royal Victoria Hospital, where she would work cleaning and sterilizing baby formula bottles: In those days it was very popular to feed newborn infants cow's milk. Today we know better, there is nothing more nutritious for infants than their own mother's milk.

Living in this area, I learned firsthand about what "discrimination," means.

You see... (Mr. Leousis continues.) In those days, if you were to go East of St. Lawrence, it was all French. If you were to go a block to the West of St. Lawrence, you were in the Anglo section. One day, my mother gave me some money, to go and buy bread at the bakery; it was situated on Saint Dominique St... As you can tell from the name, "Saint Dominique," this was the French side. When I stepped near the side heading towards the bakery, three young boys approached me and started to speak to me in what I surmised was French. I did not understand either language. When I spoke to them in my mother tongue of Greek, they attacked me, beat me up, and took my bread money. When I got home bruised, my mother cursed the place we had come to. She had me pray with her at the "Iconostasio.," which we had in her bedroom; that those bad boys be forgiven for their sins.
 
Weeks later, my mother sent me to borrow a few potatoes, from my aunt. (A Greek family we had met.) We had run out of potatoes to fry, and they were a must, for the delicious plate of dandelions she had cooked. Dandelions, she had laboriously collected from the park that day as she was coming home from work. (Wooow, some students call out.) That is right. (Mr. Leousis responds.) Cooked dandelions, along with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, is one of the healthiest plates of food, I will eat any time! (He chuckles.)

This aunt's house was on Clark Street: Again, you cannot get anymore, "Anglo or English," than that, "Clark St." And guess what?..., (Mr. Leousis, remarks.) I came home with no potatoes; except the ones that swelled on my bruised cheeks from the beating I received. I was beaten by a gang of English kids because I spoke no English! 

As I walked down Clark Street, I could see a group of boys, crunched down in a circle, playing with marbles. I had not witnessed this play with marbles since my home of Tripolis. One of these boys was very aggressive and constantly  belittled anyone who missed their mark; he was the group bully. As he aimed to hit his mark, he missed. Instantly, I broke into a chuckle, this was a serious mistake. The bully got up and charged at me calling out to the others to get me. The other boys held back and were not moved until I opened my mouth and uttered this foreign language they did not understand; they charged!

These horrific experiences of that time made me very suspicious of anyone not being Greek, and I restricted my contact to speaking only to kids in my school of Socrates. However, being a "Tripolis adventurer", I could not remain home-bound. Especially, when I discovered I could escape to the Mount Royal Park. It was only 15-minute walk from my home. 

English was the second language at Socrates School. So before long, I could communicate in English. Venturing out towards the "Anglo" side of town, where the Park was located, now was not so risky.

One of my favorite places to go to was the playground at Park Avenue, near Pine Avenue, right behind Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal Hospital. 

While playing on the swings there, I soon realized that before me, lay this stone crafted wall upon which there was placed barbed wire. It screamed out to me, "Climb me!", just like home at the barracks. I fought and fought the temptation, fearing the worst and looking away each time "the call," entered my mind, until one day, I could not resist any more. 

I left home one early Saturday morning and headed for "The wall." 

I was determined to climb and see what was on the other side, what secret hid behind "The Wall". When I arrived, there was hardly a soul at the playground, an opportune time to climb. With the skill of a mountaineer, I climbed to the top. Looking over to the other side, I had discovered, "The Secret Garden", I had discovered Paradise!

On the other side of this "sacred place", I could now see a huge garden of lush green apple and cherry trees, pear and plum trees and the most colorful flowers. I had not seen such a beautiful garden since back home at the "Platia Gardens". I jumped down on the other side, with only a minor scratch from the glaze of the barbed wire; nothing "a lick" of saliva would not cure. I was exuberant with joy and did not know where to start. 

I gorged on a few cherries, a peach, and a pear and just sat there. Lying under a tree staring at the glorious morning sky, feeling in part, that I was somehow in a very familiar place;  I felt I had somehow drifted into the Elysium Fields. I soon became conscious of quiet voices;  I hid to have a look, who was about to disturb my peace. In the distance, I could see this tall woman in long black garb, wearing a silhouette of white over a cap; she was a nun. She was pushing a wheelchair with a young person on it; a young boy I thought because he had his hair all shaven off, much as the haircuts given to us back in Tripolis.

I followed the two like a tiger marking its prey as they stopped in front of this white statue belonging to the Virgin Mary. They spoke French.



The sister took a dark bead necklace from the side of her waist (a rosary) and handed it to the young person in the chair. The young person responded in that other language, "Je vous remercie, ma sœur." 


The nun placed her hand on the child's head for a second, turned around and walked away. As I moved closer, I could hear the young person praying, except in that "his voice/her voice," was more girlish than I had ever heard from any boy. As I stared, the young person broke into a song of Santa Lucia.  

I sat there listening. She  would sing and hum this song repeatedly as if she was practicing for some performance. Carelessly, I stepped back on some dried branches and made a disturbing sound. The child to my surprise got up from the wheelchair and came over. When he/she looked at me, I was very embarrassed and did not know how to behave.

The child did not seem frightened by my presence and simply asked me for my name, in French. I understood that much and responded by pointing to myself, "My name, Elias." "Oh, she responded, you speak English?" "Little English," I said. "Me Greek." "Oh, 'she' said, I am Lucy, and I speak Italian too." On and on we went, talking and talking, discovering much about each other.

Lucy thought at first, that I too, was a patient at the hospital, just like her. To my surprise, I did not even know that those were the grounds of a hospital, but rather I thought that this was a nun's convent. When I asked why she was using a wheelchair when she could walk, she explained that it was because she was undergoing what she called was "Chemotherapy," I did not know what that was. We continued to chat about different things most of which had to do with her curiosity about "My world." back in Hellas. Our privacy was soon disrupted when we heard "The Sister."; call out,"Lucy, où êtes-vous?" Lucy signaled to me to be quiet, and she ran out from the shrubs and responded, " Oui, ma sœur.". I hid so as, not to be discovered

And so it was each day, after school, I would rush and meet with Lucy in the gardens of Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal Hospital. We had so much fun playing in the grounds and doing lots and lots of talking. I liked her.

She became very interested in my stories about what had happened in Hellas and queried me endlessly about each event. She became entranced with my story of the Gypsy and how I had managed to escape. When I came to the part where I told her about Petrako, the paraplegic son and how I had saved him, she became upset at me and asked me to leave. I did not understand. I begged her to explain and finally she did: She said that only Christ could do this and that I was not Christ. I tried to explain to her in my broken English, that I had no control over this and that it was "The Light." Still, she insisted that was not right according to sister, Margari

We parted for the day, and I continued to worry about what she had said, feeling guilty and confused. That night, I entered the Elysium and sought answers from the "Judges of the Light." It soon all became clear to me. I will not deal with this at this moment... (Mr. Leousis, explains. ) ...because I do not feel comfortable discussing such serious topics as religion with my students; especially, subjects I am not sanctioned to speak about or teach. For now, let us accept as I have stated earlier, that all this is a fictional story by a substitute teacher.

The following day, I visited the garden and Lucy was patiently waiting for me. She apologized for the other day and remarked that after speaking to Ms. Artemis, she now understood. When I asked her who Ms. Artemis was, she noted that she was the nurse's assistant in the evening shift. Ms. Artemis and Lucy, spent hours talking at night about this, that and the other, before Lucy was given her blue pill to fall asleep. In fact, Lucy now became more curious about the place I called Elysium and kept on repeating if it was possible for me to take her there. I scratched my head, pondered, and did not have an answer. I asked her to close her eyes and that I would describe to her what it was like. As the days went by and we "meditated" more and more about the Elysium, Lucy started mentioning to me that some nights she was able to go there all on her own. She described "creations" that only one who had visited the Elysium could bring forth; I was stunned because I had not met anyone else who "knew this place".

Another of our favorite pastimes was observing various birds and insects in the garden as they went about doing and behaving like insects and birds do, freely expressing themselves in constant motion. Lucy was particularly fond of watching butterfly's jump from flower to flower. She would often bring sketches she had drawn on her hospital bed while she waited for our afternoon meeting; she was a good artist. 


Lucy's original drawing before it was enhanced years later.
In fact, I took one of her drawings home one day and showed it to Mr. Pascal, the artist who lived in one of the upstairs apartments, in my building. He commented that Lucy had a fine eye for details. He asked me repeatedly how old she was. I insisted that she was as old as I was, not more than ten. At which point Mr. Pascal, would challenge that this was beyond what any ten-year-old could draw.

When I visited Lucy the next day in the gardens and told her what Mr. Pascal had said, she smiled and said something weird. "That is not a drawing of a butterfly, that is a drawing of me." I chuckled and laughed, saying..., "Oh, now you are going to tell me you are a butterfly?" She explained that this was her dream, that after she died, she would turn into a butterfly and visit me every spring. I found that strange and thought about it and said, "Yes, me too, when I die, look up into the sky and when you see a swallow, it will be me." We both broke into laughter.

She also began to talk about the beautiful story of Demetra and Parsefoni, which surprised me. When I asked her how she had learned about this, she repeated that it was Ms. Artemis, who had told her about this beautiful, magical story. She then smiled and said, "Soon fall and winter will come, and I will have to go to Hades. Will you wait for me when I get back?" I could not understand what got over her to speak this way and tears started coming down my cheeks. I held her hand and said. "Lucy, I will be there on the wall climbing down each and every day; looking for you until you make the flowers grow again, the butterflies return and my life is full again of your Light!" She hugged me for the first time and buried her face in my shoulder. We just held there... "Forever!"

 

One day, I climbed over the fence looking for Lucy, and she was nowhere to be found. I waited and waited, and she would not show up. I returned home depressed but hopeful that she will be found in the garden, the next day: For three days after, I returned to our meeting place, and nowhere was Lucy to be seen. 

On the fourth day, I had just jumped over the fence, when there waiting for me was the nun, sister Margari!. "Eliaya...?", she called out in her poor English. 

I panicked and tried to climb back up. She called out gently, "Non, non, mon jeune garçon, please stay". I turned and looked at her face and saw the sincerity that she meant no harm, and so I dropped down and turned to face her. "Lucy, want to see you.," she continued. "Please come to me.", extending out her welcoming arms. She gently reached out and took me by the hand. I slowly approached and allowed her to lead me inside the hospital. 

We climbed to the third floor and there in a private room, lay Lucy. Her head now covered with a round white cap and intravenous tubes running from her left arm. I went over to her bed, and as I touched the side of her mattress, she gently opened her eyes and smiled at me; her dry mouth gasping to speak, she slowly whispered the words, "Elias, E..lyas, I, I can fly..." and closed her eyelids in silence. Tears started running down my face. I reached out and held her hand and wished so hard, wished so hard, that "The Light" would save her. I stayed for some time with Lucy until the nun came over with another sister, who spoke better English. 

They asked me to leave for now, because Lucy, was tiring but insisted and pleaded, that I should come back for a visit the next day. They led me to the main entrance, where they introduced me to the guards at the front desk. They informed them that it was all right for me to visit at any time. That they should guide me to Lucy's room each time I came to the Hospital; I left feeling grown up by the way they had treated me. I became very hurt and depressed, when I started to think about the state of Lucy. She looked extremely weak. I feared that she might die and so I cried and cried all the way home.

When I arrived home, my face was a mess with sadness. My mother insisted that I tell her who had beaten me again: I felt I had to tell my mother all about my secrete meetings with Lucy. My mother was very surprised and scolded me gently, why I had not mentioned this, all this time. She insisted that she would go with me to the hospital the following day. I was restless all of the next day; I wanted leave for the hospital. My mother insisted that she had spoken to "Thea" (Aunt) about our visit and no visitors were allowed at the hospital before seven. I pleaded that, the nuns had told me that I could visit Lucy at any time, but my calls were ignored. 

When we arrived at the hospital, I was led into Lucy's room while my mother stayed outside. Nun Margari, was somewhat surprised by my late visit. As I approached Lucy's bed, I could see Lucy laying there peacefully. I noticed that she had her white rosary wrapped around her folded hands, and I surmised that she must have fallen asleep while praying. Sister Margari, gently sought me out of the room, insisting that Lucy, "was sleeping," and asked me not to disturb her further. I waited outside. When Sister Margari approached me once again, I explained that I had my mother with me; she sighed a breath of relief and asked to speak to my mother.

When I introduced my mother to her, sister Margari, tried with much difficulty in her broken English, to communicate with my mother, who also had very little knowledge of the English language. At which point, sister Margari said, "une moment" and walked away. She returned a moment later with Ms. Artemis, the nurses' aid; she would translate. Sister Margari, asked me to sit and wait at the visitor's area while the three women, moved some distance from me to the corridor.

I could see from the distance, my mother putting her hands on her face as Ms. Artemis spoke, while nun Margari rested her hand on my mother's shoulder. Things looked serious! Ms. Artemis told my mother all about Lucy's health. Lucy had leukemia and was terminally ill. She had just passed away, that afternoon! When my mother was told that the child had called out my name, in faint whispers as she took her last breath, my mother became visibly shaken. Upon hearing this, she started to make her cross, calling out, "Sihoreseme panagia mou, sihoresemen." (Forgive me Virgin Mary, forgive me.) She fainted and collapsed. I rushed to see what was wrong with my mother and both the nun and nurse Artemis, called out for assistance.

Hours later, we had returned home. With more questions and confusion in my mind than I could handle, I started asking and begging my mother until she could not avoid me anymore. She began explaining to me, how serious Lucy's predicament was. I cried and cried and said to my mother in anger, "No! Lucy will not die!" and left. I rushed outside and ran on the sidewalk, pushing through people and sometimes jotting onto the road, risking being hit by a vehicle. I ran into the hospital, not stopping by the front desk. The guards, alerted, started to chase after me as I ran upstairs. When I arrived at Lucy's room, she was gone!

I cried uncontrollably. That night, I entered the Elysium, where I was met by the three Judges of "The Light", I spoke of my pain and about the girl Lucy. I was assured that Lucy had already been consulted through my agony and concern. Lucy felt that through me, she had lived a full life. She had chosen to depart the present life and return in another form, "through her choice and just reward," I heard the Judges say. I failed to understand this but knew that the Judges could do no wrong, nor bring any harm.

Two days later, my mother dressed me in "my good clothes". A special limousine was sent to pick us all up, my mother, my sister, and father included. We were driven to the mountaintop of Mount Royal. It was Lucy's funeral. I was introduced to Lucy's parents. They both squeezed and hugged me as if they had known me forever. They had been told at the hospital, that I had been a friend of their daughter in her passing days and they were exceedingly grateful. Lucy's mother held me and kissed my hand in gratitude. I felt embarrassed with all the attention. During the time, Lucy's casket was lowered into the ground, and soil was strewn across the casket, I saw a huge butterfly rise from the ground within and take flight into the sky.  I smiled, knowing that Lucy's wish had come true and that the Judges of "The Light," had now looked after her.

I kept on going back day after day, climbing the wall and pretending I was keeping Lucy company. I could not accept that Lucy was gone, and yet the best part of me told me that she was in a good place. Winter soon came, and I stopped visiting. I knew that Lucy, my dear friend, was now in "another place," perhaps, the Elysium. In the spring, she would return, just as she had promised.

And so it is that since that time, as old as I am today, I seek out spring. I look for the first butterfly to greet me and with joy and slow tears in my eyes; I once again welcome my beloved, Lucy.

(In a melancholic tone of voice, with slow tears running down his cheeks, Mr. Leousis ends his story.). And so, my dear students, this is the story of the Garden. (Applause breaks out with the students making all types of sympathetic gestures. A sincere discussion ensues.)

(Most importantly, students ask why "The Light" did not save Lucy. Mr. Leousis tries to explain that it is not so important how long one lives. He explains that most other living things live for days, weeks, or years. In each case, it is not the length of time one lives but the "quality of life" one has. He goes on to say, that according to him, there are three values of life which he has come to cherish, "Health, Happiness, and Wisdom." Health and Happiness are what one enjoys; it is the journey. Wisdom is an eternal concept that can give you both health and happiness in abundance, the way of "The Light” and to the Elysian Fields.)


In memory of my Lucy to all who remember the Power of One!

Touched by a butterfly!



 By Elias Leousis,
(Η αγάπη είναι το μελάνι, η σοφία είναι το μήνυμα.) 
Love is the ink; wisdom is the message! 




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1 comment:

  1. A very moving story indeed Elias, so well written, giving a clear picture without leaving out any important details. I had tears in my eyes while reading certain parts. I could even summarize and say that having experienced such an emotional and memorable event during your childhood must have left a life-long impact in your life. Thank you for sharing this lovely story with us which is full of special moments of a young boy's life. I look forward to reading the other stories you've written.

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"May The Light shine bright on your journey of life."