She looked down at her feet and wiggled her toes. They looked like a wave, or a smile, from her happy toes back up to the brain that left them unfettered. And despite the dire warnings of her devoted but larger-than-life and deeply melodramatic Greek granny, in the two years since she’d started having her period Georgia hadn’t once suffered paralysing pains beyond the dragging cramps her friends had as a result of her insistence on going barefoot.
It wasn’t the only thing she and her gran clashed over. Seems that everything she did was wrong - from whistling in the street (even if it was Bach) to refusing to wear the turquoise bead that looked like some gruesome eyeball gouged out of an alien socket that Yiayia Gogo had given her to ward off the 'evil eye'.
She suspected that Yiayia rather enjoyed the theatricality of her studied (and highly predictable) responses to her wayward granddaughter. She especially like to lay it all at the door of her English side. “Ach, that English ‘peisma’ – that, that… stubbornness – of yours!” she would lament “What am I going to do with you, my girl, if you won’t listen to your Yiayia, eh?”
Georgia would roll her eyes and reflect that considering that Ancient Greece provided the bedrock of modern philosophy, its modern-day heirs could do with a few lessons in stoicism, instead of throwing their hands in the air at every new crisis that arose (anything from running out of olive oil to not finding the right saintly icon to give as a wedding gift, even though the happy couple had asked for baking tins and tupperware).
Most of the time, Gogo’s despair was good-natured. Deep down she was rather proud – and not a little envious – of the young girl’s rebellious streak. Bemoaning it helped occupy her time, in between the Turkish soap operas and cooking up a storm to feed any family member within a five-mile radius. And after all, Georgia was a good girl – she got good grades, didn’t smoke (even though Gogo got through her own half pack every day), and she didn’t dress like a little ‘poutana’.
She was just so contrary and questioning – about everything. In private, Gogo reflected that was probably not a bad quality in girl you fully expect to earn the family’s first PhD and give her the joy of telling her friends about “My granddaughter, the doctor”. Not that she would ever have admitted it.
The thought of Gogo made Georgia bite her lip as she rehearsed her speech announcing her decision. Yiayia would almost certainly go ballistic when she heard the news, descending into a paroxysm of panicked prayer and crossing herself. It would a regular Greek drama, all right.
But no matter how much she loved her granny – and she did – this was one thing she was not going to back down on for the sake of a quiet life.
It had all started when one of her friends told her she could opt out of Religious Studies classes at school. All she had to do was get a form from the school secretary (who gave her a very disapproving glare as she handed the paper over) and get her parents to sign it. Then, she’d be free of the weekly tirade of tedium distracting her from the things that really mattered.
She couldn’t see the point of the lesson anyway – let’s face it, your take on religion is first decided by your family and second, if you can be bothered, by yourself once you start looking at things critically round about the same time that puberty hit. A kid from a devout family will go to church regardless of whether or not gospels and catechisms shoved down their throats at school as well as at home. And someone from an agnostic household (no-one actually admitted to being faithless, not in Greece) was hardly going to experience some miraculous conversion on the road to Classroom B as a result of the world’s most boring lecture from some fossil of a teacher, were they?
Perhaps there was some value in the lesson, if you were planning on joining the priesthood or becoming a nun. But the kids at her school weren’t exactly clambering over each other for the chance to take the cloth, were they?
Georgia had a plan. She knew what she wanted to do, and she knew how much effort and dedication it was going to take from her. Frankly, she could do without having to learn chunks of a seriously slanted view of world religion presented in the books like some kind of eulogised parrot. That’s why she wanted out.
Her parents’ reaction surprised her. Dad, the more traditional of the two, just shrugged his shoulders and turned his attention back to his laptop screen. It was Mum, who she was sure would be her biggest ally in this fight, who challenged her.
“Why, Georgia? Why make an issue of it? Why upset the apple cart? And why now?” she said as she absently stirred the pot of beans on the stove with one hand and turned the page of the book before her with the other.
Georgia stared at her mother, mouth agape, not quite believing her ears.
“Muuu-uuum! Don’t be such a hypocrite!” she squawked, knowing full well the effect of the ‘H’ word on her mother.
She gently placed the completed form, missing only the all-important parental signature, and a biro atop of the page her Mum was reading and cast her a cow-eyed gaze of “Come on, you know you love me!” to the English woman as she did.
Her mother sighed, slopped the wooden spoon into the beans and bent to scribble her name on the page after reading the words it held, lips moving slightly as she processed them. She thrust it back at her eldest child with a look of exasperation tinged with a hint of reluctant pride.
The doorbell ripped its jangling way through the steady murmur of the house. Georgia stopped in her tracks, panic-stricken, knowing full well who had pressed the button. She looked to her mother, now standing watching her calmly, with her arms crossed across her chest.
“Mum, pur-lease, please, please! Please, will you tell Gogo?”
The older woman straightened up, looked her daughter in the eye and gave a little smirk of amused defiance.
“No,” she mouthed, and turned back to her book.