Saturday, 24 May 2014

“Better the devil you know”

An anguished cry rang out from the bedroom at the end of the hall. Brusque, sensibly-heeled footsteps echoed against the uncarpeted tiles as their owner scurried her way back to the kitchen.

Like a submarine coming to the surface, Gogo burst through the doorway and shrugged her way past her son to the sink. Pausing only to throw an arsenic- and accusation-laced look at her daughter-in-law, she filled a glass with water and swiped the bottle of olive oil from the worktop. Turning on her oh-so-respectable heels, she beat her speedy retreat.

Claire cast a meaningful glance at her husband. He refused to meet her eye and went back to meticulously carving the meat.

She sidled up against him and nudged him with her hip. “We’re in for it now,” she whispered. “Or rather, I am.”

Yiannis bent studiously over a troublesome bit of gristle and tried to wrestle it from the joint. He shot a look at his English wife and hissed: “Don’t start. And for God’s sake, don’t provoke her.”

Down the hall, moans of teenage protests could be heard over the soft staccato chanting of a generations-old ritual. Georgia stood obstinately barefoot in the middle of her room, rolling her eyes as her beloved but slightly batty grandmother dripped three drops oil into the water glass and studied them carefully, muttering maniacally under her breath all the while.

“A-pa-pa-pa!” she exclaimed. “Poly mati.”

Rising from the bed, she approached her wayward grandchild, making spitting motions as she continued her incantations and made the sign of the cross.

“Stop it, Yiayia,” said the exasperated teen. “You know I don’t believe in the Evil Eye.”

Gogo shot her a look that could have stopped a rogue bull elephant at forty paces, yawned theatrically and ordered her to walk around the room.

“You only say that because you’re young,” she snapped as the girl dutifully paced past her Twilight posters and piles of books.”You don’t know. Now stop talking back and drink.”

Georgia wrinkled her nose at the glass of oil-coated water thrust in her face, but dutifully took it and sipped. She pulled a grimace of disgust as the gold-green oil hit her taste buds, then gave her grandmother a hard stare.

“Still haven’t changed my mind,” she said, defiantly, and stomped out into the hall.

Gogo cast her eyes to the ceiling, yawned once more and crossed herself in the way her grandfather, the village priest, had taught her all those years ago. He wondered what she had done to deserve yet another test of her character, and her faith.

It wasn’t as if she was intolerant, after all. Did she have a problem that her son rejected all those nice girls from good families she tried to nudge in his direction? Did she object when he got mixed up with a “zeni”, a foreigner? Had she been anything less than a mother away from home to Claire? Did she even protest at her daughter-in-law’s obstinate refusal to adopt the religious ways she'd married into?

She sighed, crossed herself once more for good measure, and headed back to the dining room.

Claire was putting the salad on the table in that awful yellow bowl she liked so much (Gogo doubted the heavy crystal salatiera her mother had given her ever left the dark recesses of the cupboard in this house). The table was laid with placemats, cutlery and glasses – but no tablecloth. The bare wood of the dining table stared out from between the settings like a challenge. Gogo pursed her lips and looked around the room. Not a single crocheted doily in sight.

“Ela mama,” said Yianni with the forced cheeriness of someone who was trying to ignore the storm he knew was coming. “We’re about to serve up. Come, sit.”

Michalis senior and his 12-year-old namesake were dragged away from the TV where one had been trying to explain the intricacies of “Uncharted” to his grandfather. Deafened by years in ship enginerooms, the old mariner had missed the domestic drama unfolding as he waited for his share of the lamb and roast potatoes. But he didn’t miss his wife’s unmistakable frostiness as he slid into the chair next to her – after all, he’d been on the receiving end plenty of times.

No reply answered his enquiring glance, so he shrugged as tore himself a piece of bread from the loaf on the table and dipped it into the oily juices gathering at the bottom of the salad bowl.

Yiannis emerged triumphantly from the kitchen carrying a platter piled high with succulent meat. His wife followed, making less of an entrance with plate of roast vegetables.

Gogo caught the younger woman’s eye. “You know something, Claire?”

Across the table Georgia’s eyes grew to the size of dinner plates and she threw her arms out. “Yiayia! Don’t.” she pleaded.

Gogo ignored her. “I think it’s very important that when people choose to live somewhere, they adapt to the ways of that place. Don’t you think?”

Before her mother could swallow the potato she’d stolen from the dish at the end of the table and answer, her daughter leapt to her defence.

“If you MUST know, Yiayia, Mum was the one who told me NOT to give up Religious Studies at school!” she gushed, spots of crimson forming on her cheeks.
“It was DAD who said go ahead, if I thought it was best to concentrate on my other lessons!”

She flopped down into her seat and stared sullenly at her plate. Gogo put her hand to her chest, just below her pearls, and took a sharp intake of breath.

No-one moved. No-one said a word. Frozen by the fear yet fascinated by thought of what was to come, they waited.

Gogo raised her eyes and looked straight at Yiannis. She dabbed her lips on her napkin (a cheap no-name.paper one, she noted), then smiled – a little too brightly.

“You know, darling,” she chirruped, beaming at her only son. “Georgia’s right. She doesn’t need to take those classes on top of all that other work she has to do.”



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This is the 3rd in a series about Georgia and her Yiayia Gogo. I posted the 1st - "The girl who said no" - on 17 April, and the next one ("Expectations")  on 30 April.
I hope we'll be hearing more from these two...   watch this space and watch out for anything posted with the label 'Two Georgias'.

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