The Shadows Of Silence
By Tanya Geles
To my mother: I thank you for your unfaltering support throughout my
My thanks to my supervisor, Peter Wise: without your encouragement
and guidance, this project would not be what it is.
To Pat Wise, whose lectures in my first year of university led to a
change in my degree and the path I now follow.
And to my extended family for their willingness to share their experiences
I dedicate the following to my Dedo, Peter Geles.
The Shadows of Silence
'It is as though I have fallen into a fold in time, stumbled across
a sharp punctuation in the narrative, as my presence, which once apparently
flowed effortlessly across the map, is brought up short, diverted, disrupted,
From the centre,
From the nothing,
Of not seen,
Of not heard,
And a creeping forward 
A house stands at the top of a cliff marking the end of the world.
The darkness falls away from the edge; it tumbles down the mountainside
and into silence. No sound could echo back from those depths. And nothing
moves here, not even the air moves. At first there is only stillness.
Then I begin, walking towards the house, my feet heavy with trepidation.
I am afraid and yet I know that I am safe. Safe in the knowledge that
we are never truly alone. Safe in being guided by the footsteps that
have gone before me. I tread the path of my ancestors, feeling their
spirit within me, surrounding me.
I saw this house in a dream. It was shrouded in mist, the air heavy
oppressive. My great-aunt took me by the hand and led
me through the trees into a clearing. I stood and looked at the house
for the longest time, lulled by the darkness and the silence until the
present ceased to exist. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to
face my great-aunt who gestured for me to sit. Instinctively I closed
my eyes. She spoke softly.
'This house rests on the sacred land of the Mountain of Light - it
has been touched by the gods. We stand in the ancient sanctuary of Epirus,
where the Oracle of Dodona once spoke. The Oracle gives answers to all
questions, even those you do not ask.'
'What must I do?'
'Go forth with an open mind and a true heart. You must seek a room
whose door opens to your touch. Then you must wait.'
Then she stepped into the trees, leaving me alone. I watched until
the red of her dress disappeared into the dark green, until the pale
light of the moon swallowed her form. I rose and walked the path to
the house. I stood outside the huge dark brown oak door, hesitant to
knock, as it seemed an all too earthly thing to do. Surely it should
have just opened, as if by magic, on my approach. But it didn't. I reached
out and turned the handle. The door opened to reveal a wide hallway.
A row of closed doors lined the passage; the walls and floor were solid
rock, rough to my touch, uneven beneath my feet. Something like the
hollowness in the air around me, its feel and sound as I moved, gave
the impression that it stretched much further than perception could
ever allow me to guess. I turned the knob on the door closest to me.
Nothing happened. I tried the next one and the next, but it was the
same. All the doors were locked. I looked more closely. There seemed
to be no way of locking them - no latches of any kind, not even a keyhole.
The sounds of my efforts with the door echoed behind it, as hollow as
the sound on this side
I walked a length I could not have measured along the corridor. Still
no door had opened to my touch but I suddenly came upon a sharp turn.
I stopped, turned, and looked back at where I had come. The doors had
disappeared; all that was left was darkness. I turned and peered down
the new corridor. It was filled with a luminous light, pale yet somehow
bright as well, giving it an ethereal quality. I walked forward, with
a certainty, which I had no evidence for, that I was close. Without
warning I found myself surrounded by a heat, warmth emanated from the
air itself and from the stone. I stood before a door, shiny and black
as obsidian. I reached out and pressed tentatively against it. The door
swung open. There was no light behind it
only darkness and another
Invisible hands pulled me inside. Intuitively I knew that I must not
speak. I waited patiently as time and movement became one
I ceased to exist and became absorbed by the silence, became part of
it. I was no longer separate from it, from everything here. It was at
this moment the message reached me. It was exact and deliberate, full
of surety and purpose.
'You seek something that cannot be found,' a voice spoke cold and careful.
'For it has not been lost. The past does not cease to exist as time
moves on. It continues on through memory and myth, in legend and thought.
History seeps into the earth, it is heavy in the air. History, as embodied
emotion, all that has been experienced, exists in you, in the fibres
of who you are. It flows through your veins.'
The words echoed in my head, solid and tangible sounds, drowning out
I slowly became aware of myself again.
* * *
The mind flickers with memory, images and thoughts become one with
the pain that moves at the edges of consciousness. I sit in this room
surrounded by the past - photographs and documents, passports and books
- which breathe life into the history of my family. I sit in this room
and I am acutely aware of myself, of myself as surface
themselves: your surface and those around and between us, the surfaces
beneath me, on me, of me. Surfaces reach beyond us, stretch beyond perception
yet still remain within our grasp. The surfaces of thought, my body,
this pen, this paper - all intersecting and becoming one. I do not exist
in a third space, as if all these surfaces settled into place. I am
a third space
their shifting contacts and crossings. The lines
of history, myth and legend intersect within me. I am a rhizome - a
site of deterritorialisation. Who I am is taken up in lines of flight
that shoot off into space and return to me; lines that run through my
body, that cross within me, as me. I am both surface and depth. I am
the past and the present.
How can I tell where I truly end and someone else begins, since surfaces
go beyond temporality and spatiality. They carry beyond, and return,
like the lines of a rhizome
since a line is already a surface
anyway. The nib of the pen is not the end of its surface, the pen carries
beyond itself, leaving its contact, its self on the page. There are
things attached, always. Are these attachments, these contacts, the
surface's history? History cannot be erased, cannot be forgotten, it
is always there, attached. But does this make history a surface itself,
or what happens to what is attached to and leaves its mark on a surface?
Perhaps it is another kind of surface, especially when the moment of
taking place, of contact, its temporality no longer applies. But what
kind of strain does this put on things, just to think with surfaces?
How can history exist independent of time when its very definition necessitates
time - that which has gone before. Should we redefine history to mean
a continuation, a stretching beyond itself?
Or do I think of it in some other metaphor, the winds of history sweeping
over us, scattering remnants. And so, whatever is left gets lost in
space and time. We dissipate, dissolve into nothing. We become white
empty sound. History, then, is a vacuum, a void. An empty
space in which whatever enters will remain forever lost. All history
is silence. Histories are silenced when they are written; the void is
covered over by words. It is the historian's history that is being written
... not whoever lived that history. To look to the past is to enter
into silence. Sound becomes stone. The living word remains trapped in
the earth. If I follow its trace down and down will I come at last to
the hidden voice? I enter the silence
and strain my ears. I close my eyes
stretch my hearing. My consciousness
grasps for movement, the movement of sound
* * *
These stories are a part of me. These stories are part of the land.
I stand with my feet firmly planted on the ground and I can feel the
earth rise up into my body. I can feel its energy, pulsating with history,
with stories, with meaning. I heard once that the Aborigines of Australia
get their stories from the land. Their spirituality is bound to the
earth so that the land speaks directly to their minds.
* * *
I looked at some photographs, ran my finger over the smooth, faded
surfaces, wanting to reach into the picture and touch the fabrics, ground,
flesh and feel the wind that made the trees bend. I wanted to inhale
the scents, feel them making their way into my pores. The black and
white disappeared in an imagined haze of colour and vibrancy. I heard
the music drumming in my ears, the beat moving in time with my breath.
But the smiles seemed distant, as if they had faded over time despite
being captured in this frame. A frozen moment. A pocket of air, of history
of unknown memory. Or is it forgotten? I cannot name
you. The faces do not display a familiarity that extends beyond the
surface and reaches into knowledge. They do not look back at me with
recognition. My imagination is unable to fill in the gaps - it cannot
give me the missing pieces of the puzzle. I look at these photographs
and I am filled with the utter despair that comes with the knowledge
that what has been lost cannot be uncovered
will not be recovered.
perhaps. The fear rises in my chest, clawing at me,
trying to get a firm grip. It is time to move forward, to travel to
my people's country. I have left the security of dreams, tumbled out
of the safety of this world, this time and moved toward the mirage.
But in time it will no longer be a mirage. It will be real, with sounds
and aromas and sights and structure. It is a terrifying thing to enter
an imagined place and give it tangibility. To throw light on dreams
and hope to see if they disappear, proven to be illusions. How can they
be anything but illusions, fallacy, imagined realities? I grow more
concerned, the fear intensifying with each thought. I visualise these
imaginings being buried under the weight of real places, actual time.
I stand on the land of Macedon. It is not earth beneath my feet but
concrete. Skopje is buildings and streets, people and food. They mingle
together in the usual atmosphere of corporate economies and industry,
of suppressions, expressions, urban movements and noises. I knew this,
though, that Skopje was no longer a village. I had no romantic illusions
about what the capital would be like; there has been no deception. The
years that have passed since my Dedo left this country has brought
so much change - as it was bound to do by its duty to progress. But
there is still history here, in this city, folded into the history of
the land, into geography, people, my family
and the beginnings
of a new history, one that is yet to be written. I leave the structure
and routine of the city, intent on finding a small village where I can
sit quietly and think and experience. My Piscean-writer-romantic self
takes over in some - almost embarrassing - attempt to be as one with
this place, Macedonia.
I sit down and wait; waiting, waiting to feel something, to feel anything.
I sit for the longest time, my eyes closed against whatever is around
me, forcing my other senses to make contact. I feel the earth beneath
my hands, hot and dry despite being hidden in shadow. I am inhaling
aromas that have never entered my body before. I remember the story
of the Aborigines and try to emulate that way of knowing, listening
for a story. But the earth remains quiet and closed off from me. It
will not speak.
* * *
The words swim through the air till they fall softly at our feet, brought
to ground by a lack of understanding, dying a quiet death. The silence
hangs, suspended, unable to move or penetrate. Meaning is absent. Words
go on falling. They are crushed, trampled upon. They are dust. We face
each other, the earth and I, both of us alone in our insulated worlds.
* * *
There is only hollow sound here. These walls contain nothing but emptiness,
the feeling compressed into a small bundle and held close to my chest.
I lie, listening to you sleep - your breathing slow and even with the
occasional moan, soft mewing sounds that make me love you even more.
It is at this time you are most vulnerable. The harshness of the day
slips off you. You become soft and placid, almost child-like. The innocence
I listen to you sleep and realise how much I am going to miss your
scent - the smell of earth, warmth and red wine that envelops you. But
most of all I am going to miss your presence, the knowledge that you
are near and the comfort that this thought gives me.
I lie here and try not to think of tomorrow and the heartache the morning
I left them standing by the doorway. Ilinka held Mary's hand in an
effort to keep her still. Christina clutched her apron with both hands,
so tight her knuckles turned white. Her face remained rigid in a Stoic
effort to maintain composure. She helped pack my belongings and pressed
a small jar of turshija od piperki into my hand for the long
walk. 'Put them in your pack and don't eat them all at once', she had
said but her eyes betrayed what she truly wanted to say. There would
be no farewells or promises. I was doing what had to be done. I was
doing what was best for my family.
I left them in Lerin, standing by the doorway, and I immediately regretted
not looking back - not having one last look at my family, my home. I
must look ahead. One hand rested on the money Christina sewed into the
waistline of my pants. The other clutched the letter from my brother
and the ticket for the Vi Mi Nali. The feel of the paper brought
comfort to me. It was something to focus on, something tangible and
real to hold in my hand; not the imaginings of what might lie ahead.
Thoughts of a new beginning were not a dream I held close to my heart.
I did not go forth into the world wanting something more
forth needing something more for my family. Bill had written,
with grand words, of the abundance of land in Australia, the opportunities.
He had been there nearly three years when his request came for me to
join him. Together, he said, we can make enough money to secure a future
for our families. Together, my brother.
The sky was clear and the heat beat down on us as we stood on the dock
in Athens. Hundreds of us huddled together in the sticky humidity, trying
to get enough air. The ship was late. It had been moored there last
night but passengers were not allowed to board. Now the ship had gone
- to where, nobody knew. So we waited. Eventually news spread through
the crowd that it had gone to offload more cargo on one of the islands
to make room for an extra shipment. It would be back within the hour.
When it arrived, a ripple of excitement, fear and anxiety flowed through
the crowd. Many people were waiting with loved ones. They were trying
to spend every moment with them before they boarded, uncertain of when
they would see them again, afraid that that moment would never come.
This unspoken fear disrupted every movement, every word. You could feel
it in the air. You could see it in people's eyes. I did not allow myself
to dwell upon it. It was not my way. I thought of Christina's staunchness
and how she refused to pity herself for the circumstances that would
leave her alone for an unknown length of time. Slowly the crowd thinned
out and we filed onto the ship, making our way to the tiny quarters
where we would spend the next three months.
* * *
Theo came to tell me that the ship approached land. 'You can see it',
he said, 'on the horizon. The men upstairs said it's called Fremantle."
And so it happened that I was in Australian waters. Theo and I had become
familiar, cramped as we were in the small room with two cots. It reminded
me of my time in the Greek army: the food, the living quarters, and
the solitude. It was more than that, though. The Greeks are all the
they have the same attitude. For two years I had endured
the humiliation of being denied my heritage. I was trained to fight
for a country that was not mine; a country that sought to obliterate
my nationhood - stealing our lands, refusing our names. The enlisting
officer gave me a Greek surname. 'It's for the best', he had said, 'for
everyone." He thought it would avoid disharmony among the troops. Not
that he was concerned for my safety. But I was. And now, on this ship,
it is the same. My Greek is fluent - I can both read and write the script
- but my name. They look down on me. Theo and I stayed away from
most of the Greeks on the ship. We told ourselves it was our choice,
that we didn't want to socialise with them. Neither of us would admit
that we were avoiding the cold shoulder we could expect from them.
Theo was more withdrawn. I refused to allow their attitude complete
control. I am Macedonian and not ashamed to say so.
It is the 20th of April, 1938 and the Vi Mi Nali has moored
in Sydney. The end of my voyage, finally. To set foot on solid ground
again was a blessing and I prayed again that my coming has not been
in vain. Bill was working in a place called Tangool, near Rockhampton,
planting cotton. His letter said that he could get me work there as
soon as I arrived. I stayed in Sydney no more than an hour. I boarded
a train bound for Rockhampton. For fifty shillings I could see my brother
again. For fifty shillings I could create a new life for my family and
The people of Lerin woke before the dawn to begin another day in the
coldest winter the area had seen for years. Christina Gelevski left
her mother in charge of her two daughters while she worked out in the
fields, checking for any snow damage to the crops. With Petros gone
the harvest had not been completed in time and Christina worried that
their stores of food would run out before spring arrived. She had continued
tending to the crop, despite the cold, in the hope that some could be
saved. The pale morning light was just bright enough to light the tracks.
Christina took a piece of bread and some cheese, picked up the tools
and left the house, which was peaceful in the quiet dark. She hoped
to be finished the work by lunchtime so that she could allow her mother
to rest in the early afternoon. Christina's father had died six months
before and her mother had not yet gotten over her grief. Any extended
length of time spent looking after her vnuci would wear her thin.
With this in mind, Christina went out, determined to be back as soon
as she could.
'Baba, Baba!' Ilinka called to her grandmother. 'Can we go outside
'It is too cold, Ilinka. You must stay inside with me."
Ilinka pouted, as children do when they do not get their way, but she
did not argue and went back to where Mary and she had been playing.
Their Baba sat back down with a heavy sigh. The cold made her
bones ache and the arthritis made her knees and hands swell to nearly
twice their normal size. She sat watching Ilinka and Mary. Seeing them
playing as they were usually brought a smile to her face, but there
had been no happiness in her life since her husband had passed away.
Her son-in-law had abandoned the family to go to Australia (for that
was how she saw it) and nothing had been the same since. Even though
it had been three years since Petros left Lerin, Angelopolou had not
let go of the bitterness in her heart. Her husband's death had only
solidified it. Seeing that the children were sufficiently occupied,
Angelopolou went into the kitchen to make tavche gravche for
Ilinka and Mary were bored with their game after an hour or so. They
didn't like staying inside all day until winter passed. They missed
playing with the lambs, picking olives off the tree and running in the
fields while their mother worked. Ilinka, the older of the two by as
many years, decided that she'd had enough of being stuck inside. She
persuaded Mary that they would sneak out while their Baba was
busy. She crept over to the kitchen and peered around the corner. All
she saw was her Baba's black skirts as she was bending to get
some cabbage from under the bench. Ilinka grabbed Mary's hand and they
ran out the front. The two girls giggled about their escape and ran
all the way to the stream.
The stream was a favourite place, even in winter. They liked to look
for fish frozen under the ice. They had never seen one, but the possibility
of it was enough to make Ilinka and Mary think it fun to look anyway,
especially given how cold the winter was this year. The stream had frozen
over so quickly. Ilinka and Mary walked along the edge, peering under
the ice. They had been looking for five minutes when Ilinka grabbed
her sister's arm.
She pointed to a spot half a metre onto the ice. The stream had caught
a fish in its icy grip before it had a chance to swim away. The girls
usually stayed near the edge but they could not see the fish up close
from that distance. Mary was too frightened to move from her spot at
the edge of the stream but Ilinka walked out onto the ice to get a closer
look. Looking back, Ilinka saw that Mary was not following her. She
knew her sister was scared, and Ilinka decided to show her own bravery
by going out further. Her stockings were too smooth on the ice, and
she fell. There was a branch, broken from a tree on the other side of
the stream and she tried to reach it, shuffling across the ice on her
hands and knees. But the ice was thinner there, and little cracks spidered
out through it from the impact of the branch. Ilinka reached out to
touch the branch when, crack! The splintered ice broke under
the added pressure of Ilinka's weight. Mary screamed as she saw Ilinka
plunge into the water.
Ilinka had been in the water no longer than a minute, but it took her
and Mary over half an hour to walk back to the house. By the time they
got there, Ilinka could hardly walk she was shivering so badly. Hearing
Mary's cries, Angelopolou raced out and gathered Ilinka in her arms.
She hobbled hurriedly inside to change Ilinka's clothes. She wrapped
her in a blanket, stoked the fire and placed Ilinka in front of it.
She ordered Mary to hug her sister to help keep her warm. She told them
not to move: she would go and get Christina.
'Mary. Don't let go.'
But too much time had already passed.
* * *
Shaking hands lit a candle in the darkness. Paper, pen and ink well
became visible as the light grew. The pen was picked up and dipped in
the ink. The hand hovered over a piece of paper, hesitant.
My heart is heavy as I write this, knowing there is nothing I can
say to ease the pain this news will bring you. Ilinka, our daughter,
has died. She became sick with pneumonia three weeks ago
Christina could not finish. She looked at the words for the longest
time and wept. She cried for the loss of her daughter, she cried for
the loss of her father, and she cried for the absence of her husband
who would not lay eyes upon his oldest daughter again.
The war had finally ended. That was what the newspapers were saying.
Bill had raced to my quarters, paper in hand, waving it wildly. 'It's
over,' he said. 'They can come to Australia!' I took the news quietly
as I always did but inside my heart was pounding so hard I had to close
my eyes to steady it. My family would finally be with me. Six years
ago, and after three long years of working hard, Bill and I had bought
a farm - twenty-two acres of bananas - in preparation for our families'
emigration. We now had twenty-nine acres of bananas and a further 336
acres of grazing land. The war had put a halt to our plans but it was
over and we could begin again. We would go into town the day after tomorrow,
we decided, and fill out the applications for the permits. But I would
write a letter straight away, telling Christina that she, her mother
and their daughter would be joining us in Australia soon.
But it would not be soon. The end of the war saw thousands of people
wanting to migrate, so many with refugee status, pushing our application
back in a very long queue. But there were as many people again behind
us, so we considered ourselves mildly fortunate. The months dragged
on, turning into a year and then another. In April of 1947, Bill's wife
Joy and his children, Angelina, Pandora and Arthur, and Christina with
my daughter Mary and Christina's mother Angelopolou finally set foot
on Australian soil. That day ended a nine-year separation from my family
and a twelve-year separation for Bill.
* * *
The streets are loud. Traffic, the clatter of the 'walk now' noise;
conversations, music - the boom, boom of a car stereo. The masses, the
herd. Business class and working class both on their separate ways to
work. Walking slowly; their deliberate steps as if each invisible footprint
on the sidewalk marks a meaningful passage; as if the trace of their
movements might tell the story of their lives - as empty and uninterpretable
as the sound of the crowd. Their eyes look without seeing, their attention
closed to whatever is around them except the young girls in tight skirts
and the handsome men in suits.
The buildings seemed to want to absorb me into them, the walls of the
city leaning in towards me in an effort to reveal their secrets. I walked
the pathways, acutely aware of my place in the structure they produced
in their precise lines. My subjectivity as a surface, bound to nothing,
free-floating and amorphous. It bent and moved, the shockwave sending
ripples across its form, disrupting its movement for a moment only to
continue flowing. I felt the different surfaces around me, coming loose,
beginning to float. I imagined myself as a fish, swimming in and out
of the cracks and crevices of the now moving surfaces of the city, skimming
the bumps and brushing my fins across its textures.
Postmodernism is slick and oily - like the California Poppy in my grand-dad's
hair - it runs across surfaces. Psychoanalysis, that modernist thing,
is sharp - it pierces the skin and makes me bleed. History is folded
into you, the psychoanalyst says, and must be uncovered. But perhaps
there is another kind of folding
which takes place at, between,
surfaces. Surfaces drawn into each other, becoming one. They pass through
each other and come out the other side distorted, forever changed
once crisp clear colours become faded and cloudy. The surface of the
Other, fluid and malleable, can be caught up in this movement. It too
can be drawn into your surface, absorbed and changed, its differences
mixing to create something new. And so a surface might sit alone, suspended.
It might reach out to touch another only to draw back into itself, wounded.
But even this surface retreats with the residue of other surfaces clinging
to it, trying to seep into it. Like a virus invading its host
* * *
The place is quiet. Out of the way. Unobtrusive entrance, small doorway.
Lino floors and the smell of bourbon. Small plastic flowers in small
plastic vases. I order a ristretto and find a quiet corner to wait.
Someone has left a book on the chair next to me, open. I look around
for the mysterious owner but no-one seems eligible to claim it, the
book has been abandoned. I pick it up and read a few lines.
I hate the stillness. I hate the stone. I hate the sealed vault
with its cold icon. I hate the staring into the night. The questions
thinning into space. The sky swallowing the echoes.
Something about it interests me and I wonder if I should keep it. I
probably ought to hand it in, tell the waitress that someone forgot
it. But it lies there, staring at me. I catch glimpses of it out of
the corner of my eye. I try to blend in with the dark hardwood floors
and the wooden walls. My intentions towards the book make me feel obvious.
Like the colour red. I slowly pick it up and place it in my lap. Someone
enters. I do not look up. Hurriedly
I put the
book in my bag, pretending it is mine.
'This seat taken?'
I look up into a pair of intent eyes. I look around. The place is practically
empty but he sits down anyway.
'My name's David."
The waitress interrupted with my coffee.
'And your name is?'
'Does it matter?' I just wanted to be left alone.
'Of course it does." He smiles. 'It tells me who you are."
I swallow hard, forcing down the sarcasm. Great
one of those
I drink the coffee as fast as I can, burning my mouth in the rush to
make a getaway. His movements are slow. He cocks his head and looks
at me purposefully.
'Don't I know you from somewhere?'
Oh, god. I clear my throat. 'I don't think so."
A few moments of silence pass.
'Runcorn High.' He clicks his fingers. 'Tanya, right? I was in your
I stop all movement, too stunned to speak as a forgotten memory unearths
itself. David. He wrote 'go home wog' on the back of my chair
in liquid paper. It was there when I walked into class one morning,
stark against the dark plastic. The first and only time I have experienced
racial prejudice. And here he is. I wonder, again, why he felt the need
to sit with me.
The waitress brings his cappuccino, distracting him for a moment and
I have my moment for escape. I touch him lightly on the shoulder and
mumble an apology, saying that I have got to go. I do not wish to go
through the pretence of all those niceties and shallow rituals of conversation
with someone I barely knew and have no wish to remember.
This encounter has unnerved me. It has opened a floodgate of past experiences,
forgotten despite their significance at the time. The one that comes
to mind so vividly is when I was sitting at school assembly and Padrag
turned around to ask me if I was a wog. I had no idea how to answer
and remembering now has brought the feelings back. A mixture of confusion,
anxiety, pride, humiliation and frustration marked me
* * *
Hands groping, yanking me into their circle
'You are one of us,'
they tell me. 'You belong with us." But being with them is false. A
lie. They search for similarity when there is only difference. I sink
into my dark hair and olive skin. I seek sanctuary in my dark eyes.
I do not want to be a part of this oppressive regime. I am running away
from whiteness, from all that comes with it - the processes of naming
and being named, otherness and exclusion. I am running away, pushing
against the tide of people running towards me. Assimilation is not an
option. I cannot take that path. My hope is for de-assimilation
disentanglement from the Anglos, from the West even. But I am being
denied that too.
Pushed and pulled; stretched in different ways. Their words crush me,
overwhelm me. I do not belong. I do not belong on either side, in either
group. I feel alone, trapped in-between. Wanting, desiring - no needing
- to find some kind of validation. I am denied this. They cannot see
nor can they feel what I do, so why do I believe what they tell me?
I feel my flesh slowly dissipate and taken on a non-colour; translucence.
Can they see right through me? I am fading away in the heat, under the
bright lights they're shining on me.
I am unable to face the world wearing these words on my flesh. They
are etched there; they cannot be removed. It is in everything, on everything.
These words penetrate even the hardest of surfaces; they are cut through
to my bones. They cling to me, sharp claws digging into my skin, drawing
blood. I cannot remain here under surveillance. He's looking at me.
Not staring, just glancing up at me from time to time. I know that look.
He surveys me with the smug assurance of knowing my type. I am inside
a little box, as fair as he is concerned, four walls but no exit. I
am trapped. I see him looking at me again and realise that this box
has the same dimensions as his guarded mind. Young. Female. Wog. I touch
my skin, my hair, my eyebrows. I look in the mirror to see what he sees
but there is nothing. Just as he looks at me but does not see, I look
upon myself and see nothing. There are only shadows. With this darkness
there comes a great pain
I cannot remain unseen.
* * *
I had no idea he felt the same. I never knew. The obvious had struck
me and I did not look beyond the surface. He is me; we want the same
things. We want to be able to speak. Not just any words but their
words. I found out when my brother turned to me and said, 'I wish I
could speak Macedonian. I wish Dad had taught us." But he didn't. Deprived
and denied by the whim of the father. A refusal of language, denial
of connection. We exist in an elsewhere. We are
neither here nor there but in this state of limbo, purgatory for the
* * *
I have never been to a Macedonian wedding before. The anticipation
overwhelms my anxiety over meeting my Melbourne relatives for the first
time in years. I haven't been told anything except that it will be cold.
The plane touches down and my uncle proves prescient as a strong wind
rushes toward me as I step outside the plane and into the elongated
walkway. The air does not have a different smell, as I might have thought
it would, but the place is coloured differently. It is as if my glasses
were tinted grey, or green, possibly both colours at once. We, my family
and I, walk downstairs to collect our bags and then find our rental
car. We spread the map out on the bonnet and trace our way to my uncle's
house. The drive is long and marked with speculation over who will sleep
where. There are too many people and not enough beds - we knew this
before we left Brisbane. But, according to my dad, there is no turning
down an invitation to a wog - they just won't take no for an answer.
'Too busy trying to bignote themselves', he had said. I reminded him
not to say that too loud, since, in his version of his family, they
were bound to have arranged some sort of spy cam in the car.
'No matter what, they always find out what has been said and then use
it against you. They have ears like elephants.'
Again, I told my father not to speak so loud and politely reminded
him that it wasn't just wogs who would do that. 'I think it's people
in general, dad. Everyone wants to know what others think of them
But there was no telling him.
'Bloody wogs,' he said, but he did so with a smile at least.
We drove along the street, looking for the house number but we needn't
have bothered. There were cars in the driveway and along the curb, the
lights were on and as if that wasn't enough indication that we had found
the right place, Macedonian music blared out from behind the closed
door and there was a flag, with pride of place, hanging in the window.
I shook my head to get rid of any possibility that I was dreaming or,
which would be much the same thing, caught inside a scene from a movie
like My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Memories of my Uncle Vic did not
extend to assertions of Macedonian national pride at a volume that would
alienate his neighbours. When we got out of the car, I noticed that
the music was not coming from the house but rather from Pedicle's vehicle
parked in the driveway.
now, it is important to interrupt here to explain something.
Pedicle is a quintessential wog. He is arrogant and fiercely nationalistic.
If any opportunity arises to show that he is Macedonian, Pedicle grabs
it with both hands and refuses to let go (terrifyingly reminiscent of
a bulldog). Trust me, this man exaggerates everything: his accent, gesticulation,
his clothes, the number of gold fillings in his mouth. Nothing about
him refuses to say wog. I look again at the house and suspect that the
flag is probably his. And I suspect too, with my father's paranoia,
that he's no doubt had a trace put on our car so he knew exactly when
we were to arrive, just so he could up the ante and put on this show
for us. Pedicle always did want to show us up to be traitors to the
wog cause. My father did marry an Aussie, after all ...
We stand at the door, ears desperately trying to limit the effect of
the music but to no avail. We press the buzzer, realising that the chance
of someone hearing it over the music is slim, but we try anyway. As
my father reaches out to bang on the door, my cousin Christopher, the
groom, bursts out of the door, strides straight past us, heading for
Pedicle's car. He reaches in and turns off the stereo, admonishing Pedicle
as he does. Christopher turns around, sees us standing there, our eyes
wide with surprise, shock and, I will admit, a little concern. He smiles
apologetically and comes forth to greet us. He shakes my father's and
brother's hands, and moves to kiss my cheek when his eyes catch the
flag in the window. Christopher looks at the flag, then looks at Pedicle,
fury marking his face. At that moment Uncle Vic walks out of the house.
Christopher swears, 'Tell him to get that fucking flag out of our window!'
and storms inside. It is an impressive outburst; and there is more to
it than pre-nuptial nerves. Christopher is, after all, about to marry
a Greek. And no-one, Pedicle aside, wants to go stirring up that particular
wasp's nest of rivalry and bitterness.
Chantel, my other cousin, knows that us 'Geles' from north of the border'
do not know Macedonian traditions so she has the perfect opportunity
to educate us. She sits my brother, John, sister, Peta and myself down
to explain. This evening there would be a meal where the groom's family
and guests for the wedding, followed by music and dancing and quite
a lot of wine. Tomorrow morning everyone has to be ready by ten, because
there is going to be a lunch, for the groom's family and guests, this
time without music or dancing but of course not without a lot of wine.
Then we will have the church service - and this is where it gets interesting
and just a little complicated, requiring a bit more explaining. Christopher's
family is Macedonian. Their religion is Greek Orthodox (therefore the
service will be held in a Greek Orthodox church). Christopher is marrying
Efraxia (or Effie) who has a Dutch mother and a Greek father (therefore
there will be both Greek and Dutch and Australian guests on their
side of the church). So, we will be attending a Macedonian wedding held
in a Greek Orthodox Church, spoken in English for a congregation of
Macedonians, Greeks, Dutch and Australians of the usual range of backgrounds.
It seems to paint a strangely normal picture of contemporary Australia.
* * *
The dinner was like something from Plato's Symposium, with olives,
cheese, wine and many drunken wogs thinking they were poets. It was
a little ridiculous but enchanting to watch the scene unfold, to see
everyone come together with all their idiosyncrasies for such a joyous
occasion. Everyone in this room had something in common - we are linked
together by blood, friendship, lineage; we were family. The music was
loud and my aunts and uncles along with my cousins Christopher, Chantel
and Marijana joined hands and danced around the large table in the loungeroom.
My sister and I sat watching the footwork, trying to piece together
the sequence so that we could join in. I only knew one dance and then
only the movements, not the song it went with. When I recognised the
pattern of the feet I got up and wriggled my way into the circle. There
was something about the energy in the movement, and in the music, as
we danced. I could feel the pulsating, rhythmically at a slow pace then
quickening to match my heartbeat. Faster and faster the music played
until my feet were tangled in the rhythm. I looked around at the faces,
aware and embarrassed that my emotions were so clearly marked on my
own. I felt joined, connected but at the same time I felt like a fraud,
as if I did not truly belong. Nothing my extended family might have
said could make me feel this way. It was the idea that kept repeating
itself in my head, shouting down the voices of my better angels, the
recognition that I did not really have the knowledge to allow
me to participate.
The feeling stayed with me for most of the night, until all was quiet.
My thoughts had been taken over, had become pre-occupied by theories
and concepts that I thought I might have found myself in at one time,
but now I could only find myself against what they assumed about someone
like me, an event like this
their belief in authenticity sits
heavily in the pit of my stomach and makes me feel ill. I am not an
authentic subject. Words are bandied about, words that are supposed
to allow identity but in truth only restrict and constrict the validity
of my ethnicity, this part of me that is given no voice. My cousins
are authentic but I am not. My mother does not 'belong', and so, apparently,
neither do I. But who would decide this belonging if not me? Choice
and free will: it is folly to think these matter, except perhaps in
cases of political action, a group's choice, a collective will producing
a decisive movement towards change. Even then, it is not enough. My
choice, my free will, but those words that confer identity still keep
saying only that I am fake: whatever I do is superficial, no more than
a gesture of belonging. Yet this judgment ignores emotion. It denies
the existence of what I feel, whether belonging or not belonging, and
I am rendered voiceless. This is not a marginalisation or oppression.
It is refusal even to recognise me.
* * *
The day started dark, cold and damp. I woke to the scent of Macedonian
coffee (or Turkish, as it is called for marketing purposes) brewing
downstairs. It is dark and sweet, too sweet for my taste, but it reminds
me of Baba and Dedo's place when the cards were out and
old Macedonian friends had come to visit. I remember helping my aunt
make it once, the memory vague and faded, like a creased old photograph
with torn corners that had stayed in somebody's pocket too long. She
was trying to teach me how to make it properly, treating the moment
as if she was passing on the precise record of a tradition she hoped
I would carry on. I have not yet used it.
Breakfast was a feast of piperki, fetta cheese, olives and pogacha
- leftover food from the night before. It was strange and confronting
at this time of day, but surprisingly palatable. The rest of the morning
was spent preparing food for the wedding lunch. People started arriving
at ten, but the latecomers were still coming after eleven. This left
us only a short time to eat and get to the church on time. After the
older people had been given their food and were seated, us younger ones
were allowed to get our own. The tables had filled up, so my sister
and I had to squeeze onto a long bench in between my Uncle George and
many people we did not know. We were introduced to a man and his mother
and daughter sitting opposite us. I recognised the man and daughter
from a picture that had rested on my Baba and Dedo's wall
cabinet. He did not say much, other than ask us why all the Geles kids
were so good looking. I managed a small smile, unsure of how to answer.
'Must be in the genes, eh?' he said.
'But not all wogs are attractive', my Uncle George joked.
'Yes, but these girls,' he pointed to my sister and I, 'are only half
He looked at me.
'Which half?' he asked.
I went to laugh, convinced he was joking, but I was stopped short by
how he said it and did nothing to confirm it. So I said nothing. After
a moment he smiled and continued eating. I took that as a belated sign
that it was all in fun. The comment was benign. He had been joking,
surely ... asking about a 'wog' half, as if we were so easily divided
up, isn't something anyone would raise in earnest. But the comment lingered
at the edge of my mind. I couldn't help recognising in it that habit
of classifying, compartmentalising and naming - the habit of the scientists
and the rationalists that pursues us all, one way or another, even finding
its way into a scene like this, a family wedding. After a while I shrugged
it off, denying it any significance. I am not a percentage.
My Uncle Vic was sitting on a chair with a silver tray sitting on his
lap. On the tray lay a round loaf of bread; I don't know its Macedonian
name but I do know that inside is an olive. When the bread is broken
apart, the person who gets the piece with the olive is meant to have
good fortune. On my Uncle Vic's left stood my Aunty Helen and Chantel,
with the best men next to them. On his right stood Christopher. Everyone
lined up and filed past, placing money onto the tray and congratulating
the groom and his family. We were to kiss everybody twice, once on each
cheek. After everyone had a chance to walk past, Uncle Vic gathered
up the money on the silver tray, putting the bread aside, and handed
it to Christopher, who kissed his father. It was a touching moment,
my Uncle with tears welling in his eyes. Someone I didn't know, another
of Christopher's relatives, came in and handed him a small glass filled
with red wine. Christopher carried it to the front door, which he opened,
and placed the glass in the doorway. He kicked it, the glass shattering
on the concrete path outside. Someone else gave him a handful of sugared
almonds, which he threw first to the left, then right, then directly
ahead of him. The traditions fulfilled, Christopher was ready. He made
his way to the car waiting in the driveway.
The church was small and white. Stone steps led up to the big double
doors, which opened onto a large foyer. Another pair of doors opened
into the church itself, disclosing the rows and rows of ornate wooden
pews. Stained glass windows reflected patterns and colours onto the
altar. To the right of the altar, there was a raised pulpit where a
priest stood, an open book in front of him. Before the altar was another
priest dressed in a white robe. The guests stood as the bride walked
down the aisle. The priest in the pulpit began the service by singing
a hymn. The second priest began when he had finished, speaking with
precise and deliberate enunciation. Hearing the service performed in
English did not make it feel as familiar as I'd thought it would be.
Unlike Dedo's funeral, where I needed to hear words I could understand,
these words were not comforting. They seemed out of place, like I was
watching a foreign film (badly) dubbed in English. It felt wrong. When
the priest stopped praying, he called for the bridal party to come to
the altar. The entire bridal party and the immediate families of the
bride and groom formed a line, along which all the guests were expected
to pass and provide their congratulations, kissing each person in the
line on both cheeks. It was a strange experience, this ritual of kissing
people I had never met before, or people whom, even if I knew their
names or relationships to the bride or groom, I'd never been introduced
* * *
The reception, which is held on a boat hired for the night, is full
of life and celebration, as they all are, with food, with laughter,
with wine and dancing. The night winds down finally as the boat pulls
into harbour, the music fading as the compere invites everyone to the
dance floor to say good-bye to the bride and groom who are about to
leave. Again, we stand in a circle, waiting to endow them with more
money and more kisses. I have never kissed as many people in twenty-one
years as I do in the course of this wedding. I am happy for them both
as I watch Effie and Christopher make their way around the circle, moving
in opposite directions. When Christopher reaches our family he thanks
us for coming all the way from Brisbane to share this with him. As I
watch the newly married couple walk down the gangplank I smile to myself.
I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
* * *
There are only a few who remember the old ways but we have been forgotten.
We stand apart; invisible, transparent. We have been dissolved into
the swirling mass of history. Not merely pushed aside but erased. The
smoke wafts from beneath the closed door. It surrounds me, permeating
the air with the pungent scent of incense. The sickly sweet aroma envelops
me, takes me back. My mind drifts. I see priests in white robes, candles
flickering, their shadows dancing on the walls. The soft hum of whispered
hymns in an almost forgotten language fills my ears. I walk down past
the pews, running my hands along the wood worn smooth by time and use.
There is an emptiness here that goes beyond abandoned space. The church
feels hollow, as if the experiences these walls had encased has somehow
been carved out and taken elsewhere. The walls moan and creak as the
air rushes through the open door. Its touch sends goosebumps rippling
across my body. I pull my shawl tighter around my shoulders and straighten
my black dress. The cold pulls me out of my reverie and I no longer
see images of times past. I turn to leave. Nothing remains now. Nothing,
save an old lady desperately clinging to the threads in the hope of
recovering whatever has been lost.
A false hope.
* * *
Our arrival would cause a short break in the music and laughter but
would continue as soon as the greetings were done. The mind embellishes
the past in ways that make things appear more important than perhaps
they were when they actually occurred. This, however, does not mean
that the meaning such events carry now is not of importance to the present.
It was always vibrant in that house. Even when the activities were subdued
the house had a life that touched you as soon as you entered. It was
in the atmosphere, in the walls of the place, in the music playing and
in the words being spoken. It was a time of 'remembering the good old
days' on the farm, where the community got together to celebrate who
they were, to celebrate being Macedonian.
The mind would flicker with memory of things that were almost forgotten
and would recover the sense of importance that lies in making sure those
memories will always be drawn back from the precipice, from being lost.
Being together helped everyone realise the importance of family and
tradition - of never forgetting where we came from. There was always
a sense of pride that emerged at these gatherings. You felt proud to
be part of this family, to have a Macedonian heritage.
This feeling never left me. But it always had its antithesis, a feeling
of somehow not belonging.
* * *
They say I do not belong. The voices are loud and insistent. They give
me a title that removes me from where I want to be. I try to fight my
way forward, pushing against the boundaries they have placed around
me. Invisible lines that do not allow unhindered mobility. I want to
float along movements of disruption, negotiation and return.
I want to find my own place in which to dwell, an elsewhere of my own
They say I am a third generation immigrant. Why does that fit so awkwardly?
Why do I feel the need to shout my dissent? I am removed from belonging.
I am ignored; their eyes stare through me as if I do not exist as flesh
and bone and blood, as if I am not experience and emotion and narratives
in-fleshed. They will not let me speak of myself, for myself. They want
to silence my voice because nothing I can say is of importance. But
I want them to see that I do belong
in my own way. I do not fit
their preconceived ideas but that shouldn't matter. I cannot be reduced
to descriptions and naming.
They say I am superficial, but they are wrong. Superficiality does
not have a place here. Movements and interaction, icons and rituals
these are all expressions; expressions of belonging, of experience,
of the self. Without expression, there is nothing. What is left behind
are only the shadows of silence.
* * *
Dedo would sit alone in his home, just a tape recorder and his
memory. He spoke about his life - recording dates and events, singing
songs and reciting poetry. His legacy left to be nurtured by those who
'Today the 31st July, 2002 we acknowledge Peter Geles (Gelevski), the
link between our past and our future. He was the last survivor of all
his brothers and sisters, brother-in-law and sister-in-laws. He was
the link to our previous country, Macedonia. He was our link to the
past. His memory was impeccable and he could recall dates, places,
events, songs, stories; he provided all the information for this commemorative
booklet as a piece of history to show where we have come from. We know
he is no longer in pain and pray for his safe journey to the other side.
We will all remember him in our own special way.
'This is not the end of the Geles Story but the beginning of the next
* * *
The church is dark; dark floors, dark walls
dark thoughts. My
Uncle Vic stands before the altar holding a candle. Aunty Mary is sitting,
her husband's hand on her shoulder. Grief marks her face, deepening
the furrows in her brow and making all her features drawn. There is
such sorrow in the air. My father stares straight ahead, fixing his
eyes on the priest - avoiding the coffin open before him. Everyone avoids
looking at the coffin; everyone except me. I cannot take my eyes off
it. I am overwhelmed by it
in shock. A hard lump sits in my throat,
it cannot be swallowed away. The sounds blend around me, becoming undistinguishable
noise. I cannot understand the words; they mean nothing to me. I feel
alone in my grief.
Arthur makes his way around the half circle, handing out candles. A
child I have never seen before walks behind him, a lit candle in hand,
passing out flames. The wicks catch alight, drooping slightly as they
disintegrate. The air is oppressive in here. The incense has been burning
for half an hour now and it makes my eyes sting. It has risen to cover
the roof of the church in a white-grey haze. The stained-glass pictures
of Christ are clouded over; no light gets through. The church is dark.
I close my eyes but I can still see the coffin. This scene will remain
burned onto my memory, like a scar that refuses to fade.
The priest prays. He sings. The priest prays and sings in a language
that I do not understand. I listen to these foreign words. Christ
and Petros are only two words I can distinguish. I imagine what
the priest is saying. He prays for the safe journey of my grandfather
into the afterlife. He sings hymns that tell of the life of Christ,
his death and his resurrection. The tone is low, soft and sombre; it
rumbles through the air like a quiet thunder. I feel it
me. My eyes well up with tears. This language speaks to me but not in
words; it is in-fleshed. I cast my eyes around the half-circle. We will
always be a part of each other - the people in this room. We are bound
together, not by time and particular events, but by a shared history,
shared bloodlines. Tears begin to fall as I realise that no-one can
take that away from me. No-one can tell me that I do not belong.
My father presses a five-dollar note into my hand. I look around and
notice that people have started forming a line to pass by the coffin.
The priest has stopped singing. Everyone shuffles forward, head and
eyes downcast. It is soon my turn. I walk to the side of the coffin.
Dedo lies there small and peaceful. He could be sleeping. I place
the money under the white cloth covering Dedo's chest. Fondness
for him flows through me. 'Goodbye, Dedo,' I whisper and bend
over lightly touching my lips to his forehead. The coldness of his skin
throws me off guard. It makes him real.
As the last person files past, the priest says a final prayer and then
the service is over. My brother John is handed a white wooden cross
nearly as tall as him and is asked to take his place in front of the
coffin. The pallbearers move forward - my uncles, George, Alex, and
Vic stand on one side and my Uncle Dura, my dad and my cousin, Martin
on the other. The priest takes the censer and stands in front of John.
He takes up a chant and walks slowly toward the door, swinging the censer
from side to side. John follows first, then the pallbearers with the
coffin. The rest of us slowly followed them, snuffing out the candles
in an urn full of sand by the door.
* * * It is like a story I have heard hundreds of times before in immigrant
tales - the suffering of those that are different. It has become a familiar
story of hurt and pain but it takes on a completely different meaning
when it is my father who has suffered, when the pain that was caused
still marks his voice
when the memories remain etched on his
* * *
It was summer when school started. The days were hot and dry with no
wind to ease the harsh heat. It was four miles from the farm to the
school. My brothers and I would walk together, barefoot, joking and
laughing. I am the oldest of us boys and the first to start school.
Mary had to stay home and help Majka on the farm. At times I
envied her for that. I remember my first day, walking alone the entire
way, feeling small and frightened. Tatko and Majka did
not say a word to me when I had left that morning. Majka just
handed me my lunch and pushed me towards the doorway. The night before,
Tatko had told me it was my duty to learn what he could not teach
me. I lay in bed after that, terrified of what the next day would bring.
The farm gave me a feeling of security, but it is more than just this
place being the only one I had ever known. Among the banana trees and
hills I felt free. There was something about the way the wind smelled,
the rough scratching of the banana stools on my legs as I climbed them,
the sensation of the leaves when they brushed against my bare back.
This land had placed its mark on me, inscribed itself onto my body.
I lay in bed and knew that I would no longer feel free on the farm.
I did not know the language the other children spoke. Walking onto
the school grounds for the first time made me recognise how difference
marked me more significantly than I had first anticipated. Learning
English was not what frightened me; it was the feeling of unease I felt
at this moment, a feeling I also sensed would accompany me my entire
childhood. There was something about sitting there that first day, about
being alone and six years old and not understanding a word that was
said to me all day. I sat there, staring at the teacher until I got
bored and began scratching things into my desk with my pen. It is a
feeling that cannot be explained, this hollowness that engulfed me at
that moment, the utter despair at the other children's taunts. I wanted
to run back to the farm, but I remembered Tatko's words and began
trying really hard to concentrate on the foreign sounds that were being
spoken. My lips moved to copy what was being said but my tongue felt
big and awkward, preventing the words from forming. I felt trapped by
a body that refused me permission to belong.
Some years later and my brothers joined me at the school. I no longer
walked alone, but with them. We race part of the way and try to trip
each other over in order to win. About half way to the school, we would
begin to see other children heading in the same direction. Seeing us,
they often walked faster or even crossed to the other side of the road.
At first, I assumed they just wanted to get out of the way of our racing
- I never thought it might be any other reason. At school most of them
weren't friendly to us, but we understood that we were different and
that other children might not have known what to think of us. We became
accustomed to this; it ceased to bother us. That was, until one day
at the beginning of the school year.
We were on our way to school. George had challenged us to a race. He
pointed to a large tree at the bend of the road.
'Last one there,' he said, 'has to help Tatko in the fields
'You're on!' the rest of us shouted as we took off in a sprint.
I reached the tree first. I turned to face the others. I was half way
through gloating when a sharp pain shot from behind my ear to the front
of my head. I had been hit by a rock. I reached to the back of my head
and felt something wet. I pulled my hand back; my fingers glistened
'Go home wogs!'
The shout came from the bushes, where three blonde heads bobbed, just
visible above the leaves. More rock were thrown at us. We blocked most
with our arms, but another whacked me in the forehead. The yells and
taunts got louder as the other boys became bolder, moving closer. Without
needing to think or communicate, my brothers and I began our retaliation,
picking up the rocks they had thrown and pelting them back. Suddenly
the boys were not so courageous and ran off into the trees, laughing
as they went.
Not one of us spoke another word on the way to school that day. We
would, in fact, never speak of it.
* * *
The day began hot and humid. The scent of dried grass and vine-olives
warm from the sun lingered in the air. The hills surrounding Dubrusevo
were still; the quiet was unnerving. The usual bleeting of sheep and
men shouting could not be heard. The air was heavy - the atmosphere
had a density to it that weighed heavily upon Vellian's shoulders. He
looked across the field to where he had last seen his son, Vangel, tending
the sheep, but the horizon was now empty. Vellian stood looking for
a moment longer, breathing in hot air, feeling the humidity press into
his body, stifling his lungs. Damn, it is hot, he thought, wiping
his brow before steeling himself against the pain of this hard labour.
Vellian grew concerned. It was late and Vangel had not yet returned.
His brother, Steve, had arrived an hour earlier claiming not to have
seen him in the south field. It was not unlike Vangel to lose sight
of the hour but an uneasiness had crept up on Vellian and it refused
to be shaken off. It began as a lump in this throat, but spread outwards
from there until it clung to his entire body. A flash of pain marked
his face as fear grasped at his chest. Then he heard a shout from the
bottom of the hill.
'It is I, Vangel."
Vangel moved slowly, his feet appeared heavy, like they were weighed
down. Vellian swallowed hard. There was something about the evening
darkness; the way the air seemed to cease moving. Vellian yelled to
Steve to bring a light from the fire. When he brought it to him, Vellian
began walking towards Vangel, hoping to aid his approach and thus put
an end to his own forebodings.
It was the way he said it; Vellian recognised it at once. It was the
same tone Vangel had used when wolves killed half the flock. Vellian
looked into his son's eyes. There was a strangeness to them ... a darkness
that had not been there before. Something had happened but he did not
want to ask what just yet. They stood for a while, then Vangel sighed,
slumping to the ground with a loud thud. The light from the torch caught
the movement and illuminated a dark patch on his tunic.
'Are you hurt, Vangel?'
He shook his head.
'Where are the sheep?'
'I left them ... they ... I left them ...'
He stopped talking and stared at his father.
'I fell asleep. It was so hot, I had to rest. When I woke up the sheep
were gone. I followed their tracks west for no more than half an hour
when I found them. They had gotten through a break in the fence and
wandered onto the Turk's property'
Vellian closed his eyes and said a prayer to the gods.
'He got angry. We had a heated argument and I moved away to round the
sheep up. Then all of a sudden he comes at me, brandishing a fence paling.
I would never have hurt him, Tatko, if only he hadn't started
'Vangel, what happened to the Turk?'
'I think he is dead.'
We must leave. The thought enters the conversation without needing
to be spoken. The two of them - father and son - spring into action,
shouting orders to the others, telling them to gather their possessions.
They do so without question, sensing the urgency. Stojanka instructs
her two daughters to carry only food and one spare set of clothes. She
guesses that they must travel light as speed seems to be of the essence.
Vangel raced to his uncle's property nearby to tell him of their departure.
Vellian instructs him to give little explanation. Shame has already
been cast upon their ancestors; he will not bring more shame to those
of his family who will remain in Dubrusevo.
'Why must we leave, Tatko?' Bill asks. 'What has Vangel done?'
Vellian does not answer. He refuses to give voice to the possibility
that the blood debt will have to be paid.
'We make for the village of Klubucista. Save your breath for walking
- it is a long way."
* * *
They walked all night and for most of the next day. They did not stop
once. Nor did they speak. Each grieved for the loss of all they had.
They had become nameless, without history, without place, without belonging.
Silence seemed the only gesture for there was nothing to speak of. They
sought refuge in the trees, walking single file with the long grass
whipping around their legs, making progress slow.
A week later, faces hardened from the harshness of the sun and the
bitterness of abandoning their home, they arrived at Klubucista. They
made their way to the water pump, roughly in the centre of the village,
drinking their fill and washing away the grime of their travels. Word
of the new arrivals spread quickly throughout Klubucista and, before
long, many of the villagers had come to see what was going on. The people
stared, unsure of what to make of the family that trudged into their
village from nowhere with nothing but the clothes on their back. The
people asked their names but received no answer. It was not a promising
beginning. But, sensing the hardship the family had faced, the villagers
did not have the heart to turn them away. Before long, the locals had
become accustomed to Vellian and his family, who had decided to call
this their new home. Because they would not give anything other than
their first names, the villagers took it upon themselves to provide
the strangers with a new name. They called them Mauriofsi, meaning
sea people, in reference to the long distance they had travelled to
get to Klubucista.
They kept this name until another family from some other distant place
came to settle in the village and were also given this name. Everyone
realised that it was not practical having two families with the same
surname, so the first Mauriofsis were rechristened Gelevski, which was
taken from the name Vangele since it is a common Macedonian practice
to derive a surname from the Christian name.
* * *
The night is coloured blue, a deep indigo that shrouds over the darkness.
There are no clouds in the sky, just a pale, bright moon. A clearing
lies ahead, with a single tree on the far side. The tree is bare, only
a few leaves scatter the branches. It is cold, a deep cold, like there
has been no warmth here for a long time. I pull my coat tighter around
me and keep my arms folded. I do not know why I am here. I remember
hearing a voice. The sound was nearly inaudible, a soft whisper calling
to me. A sense of urgency rises in me. Now, at the edge of this clearing,
I do not recall where I came from
all I am certain of is that
I am here and need to be. I walk towards the tree. It beckons to me
like an icon, though a lifeless one, its creaminess stark against the
deep sky. I reach out and touch the trunk. It is like ice, cold and
hard. I place my hand up against a branch and hold it there. The coldness
slowly starts to dissipate under the warmth of my hand. I feel the tree
take on a new energy, as if the heat from my body has ignited something
within it. It is strange, the strength I feel standing here, the tree
and I connected as one. There is a power in this place, in this earth,
in the air that surrounds me, still and unmoving. My eyes become heavy,
as though weighed down by fatigue. I gently sink to the ground as the
feeling travels down my body. The cold, damp earth closes itself around
A woman dressed in a woollen coat walks towards me, slow deliberate
steps. Her head is bent; her dark hair falls about her face so that
it cannot be seen. I notice the graceful fluidity in her movements;
the quietness surrounding her. Her footfall is soft; making no sound.
She looks like an apparition since her edges are hidden in shadow, as
if only illusion makes it possible for her to be here at all. I try
to move but my limbs will not respond. The woman moves closer toward
me until she stands barely a metre away. She kneels down and then sits,
looking at me. All I can see are two intense eyes, bright, as if a light
was reflected in them. Finally she speaks. She tells me of a time when
dreams shaped the world, when everything shared a deep, sensual connection.
She tells me a story of a wood carver, who spent his lifetime searching
for the beauty hidden in the wood; the honest, true elegance found in
all natural forms. The woman tells me a tale about a man who travelled
the world collecting ancient documents, intent on finding the lost world
of Atlantis first recorded in Plato. She recounts the story of a woman
who must perform a gruelling task enduring intense pain without making
a sound; a woman who spends eleven years in silent suffering, to save
the lives of her kin.
She tells many stories. Finally, she tells one about naming. She says
that the gods have touched the tree that stands before us, that the
strength and wisdom of the ages lives within the bark and leaves. 'People
come here,' she says, 'to find their true name. A young child is brought
here by a relative and placed before this tree. She is left here for
a time, and the relative returns to claim her. When they leave this
sacred circle, neither the child nor her guardian can ever reveal the
name to anyone. It is hers and hers alone.'
She stops speaking. We sit in silence for a long time, neither of us
moving. The way the woman is looking at me
as if she is waiting
for me to say something. I open my mouth to speak but no words will
come out. I am voiceless. Again, that heaviness creeps over my body,
my eyes slowly closing as I drift out of consciousness.
I must be dreaming. Or having
what would you call it?
a vision? Voices whisper in the dark. They tell me that I will be given
a name, a name so powerful it can only be kept secret. No-one can know
my name, my secret name. A voice stronger than the others whispers it.
I feel it fall upon me, nothing like hearing a word. I fold it and tuck
it neatly into a pocket of my self. I leave the name there, recognising
the power it has. I can feel it pulsate with energy and significance.
This secret name is personal and private; it gives me a place within
the spiritual and universal. This secret name is not earth-bound. It
is not breath and sound bound to letters and empty syllables. It is
pure expression. I feel secure in the knowledge that who
I am is hidden from everyone else. No one can hold power over me because
no-one can speak my name.
This dream, this vision, dissolves into uncertainty
I feel suspended, poised on the edge. I am in an elsewhere. This space
feels strange. It throbs with intensity, a strong sense of threads fallen
together, bound together. And in this elsewhere, fallen together, is
the intensity of words, the actuality that I am bound to language. Words
intensifying, bound together, binding me; language a complexity, a duality.
Language is simultaneously the source of constraint and what enables
you to soar above the world. It has a power that can be wielded by any
who chooses to use it, but only ... Just as everything in this world
has its antithesis, language both creates and destroys. Knowing it,
as if for the first time, I hold this power in my hands, in these fingertips,
tentatively. Afraid of the possibilities.
I open my eyes to darkness. The air is cold, icy fingertips rush across
my body. The woman is no longer there. I breathe deeply. The moon's
light has faded but the tree remains illumined. I feel disjointed, thin;
like I've been stretched beyond measure. My mind is clouded with a dense
fogginess. I stand slowly and stare at the pale cream branches of the
tree, reaching out again to touch one. Its pulse has ebbed, but I feel
a warmth despite how cold it is to the touch. After a while I begin
to feel myself again, but a stronger self. I am different. Somehow.
This difference marks me still.
Piperki - Chillies
Turshija od piperki or piperki - Chillies with oil and vinegar
Pogacha - Bread
Tavche gravche - Bean stew
Dedo - Grandfather
Baba - Grandmother
Vnuci - Grandchildren
Tatko - Father
Majka - Mother
Robertson, George et.al (eds) 'Traveller's
Tales: Narratives of home and displacement." London: Routledge, 1996:
Grace, Patricia, Potiki.
Auckland: Penguin Books, 1994: p7
Kogawa, Joy, Obasan. Canada:
David R. Godine, 1981: pii
Curtis, Barry and Pajaczkowska, Claire
(1996) 'Getting there: travel, time and narrative' in Robertson, George
et.al (eds) Traveller's Tales: Narratives of home and displacement,
London: Routledge, p199.
© Tanya Geles and Pollitecon Publications 2009