As I prepare to visit my parents' homeland, Cyprus again, as part of a tour of the UK, Greece and Cyprus of my poetry book, I reflect on a trip I took back in 2011 to work on my novel Misplaced, which is set both in Melbourne and Cyprus. It amazes me how long novels take to finish. A fellow writer once told me that you can't finish a novel until you yourself have evolved as a person to the point where you can tell the story the way it is meant to be told. One day soon I will be that person...
I’m not missing home. I’m missing my daughter but not home, because, I am home. My novel, Misplaced, was the reason for my fifth trip to Cyprus, my parents’ birthplace, but now, I don’t seem to want to leave. One quarter of Misplaced is set in Cyprus, the rest, in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Six years after writing the first words of my novel, I knew that in order to finish, I had to come back. It was actually filmmaker Anna Kannava, my friend and mentor that told me I needed to go back. She told me this a few weeks before she died.
One of my aunties said to me the other day, ‘It’s difficult to have two countries.’ It is, and my road seems somehow lost. I’m trying to piece Misplaced together; trying to piece my identity together, but I think, they are both the same thing. I ask myself, how it is at the age of 32, I still don’t know who I am?
One of my aunties said to me the other day, ‘It’s difficult to have two countries.’ It is, and my road seems somehow lost.
Then my laptop dies. When you spend most of your savings travelling to the other side of the planet to refine your art, only to have your laptop die, the self doubt creeps in. The road is even further skewed. It can’t be fixed, they tell me at the service centre, and I need to sit down when they tell me. But they are able to retrieve my files. My cousin’s boyfriend lends me a tiny laptop that does the job and I’m thankful. You can’t rent laptops here. Then I think about words, and what they worth. What are they worth when they are gone forever? What if someone took all the words ever written and pressed the delete key?
I go and visit Anna Kannava’s grandmother in the old town of Limassol. I feel her energy as I walk down her street, replay images from her film. She filmed it right there on that street. I see Anna, young and beautiful, alive, not sick, and brittle, like the scleroderma made her. We gather at her grandmother’s house—her brothers from Australia, me, and another very close friend of hers. The bond between Anna and her grandmother was strong. She was named after her. We all say that it is strange that we are all in Cyprus at exactly the same time.
Nobody says it, but we all know Anna is present too. I tell her grandmother what a beautiful person Anna was and how she changed my life, and how she should be very proud of her. It feels nice to say those things. She’s ninety-seven years old but her mind is as sharp. She cries good tears. It’s good to have a cry, her brother says. He asks her if it is okay to record a poem with her and she is okay with it. Her brother says she’s used to having artists around her, and won’t take offence.
I take my tiny laptop and go to another auntie’s house. The last time I was here, my grandmother was alive. I sit at a desk and write my stories with her photograph beside me and wonder if she is watching me and what she thinks of my stories and my poetry. Cyprus is different without her, and I am glad that I didn’t see her when she was really sick in the nursing home and that I lived with her when she was semi-well and would sit with me and tell me stories and sing songs whenever she felt like it.
I have another granny too. I take the tiny laptop and go to the remote villages of Cyprus to write more. My uncle from Pafos happens to come and visit. He didn’t know I was here and he hasn’t been here since Easter. I think it’s a strange coincidence. I think my aunty had something to do with it but I didn’t want to say that because she has passed away and I don’t want to upset my granny.
In the bedroom where I sleep there is a wardrobe and my uncle shows me that on the inside of the door, are all of their birthdays. Every time my granny gave birth, she would rise from the bed and write the name and the date on the door so she would not forget.
My granny cracks chestnuts with her carer Rosa from Sri Lanka. She came to Cyprus two and a half years ago and knew no Greek and my Yiayia taught her Greek. My granny is up with the latest technology. She Skypes with her family all over the world. My granny is losing her memory. She forgets how long I have been here. She can walk, but only small distances so she can’t leave the house, but my granny is a busy bee. People are always dropping in to see her. My granny has chickens in her yard and we eat fresh eggs.
My family back home don’t really like that I write. They would prefer I worked as a programmer, which is what I studied out of highschool.
My granny is a poet. I didn’t know she was until six months ago, Dad said to me as a passing comment ‘ah, you’re grandmother wrote poetry too’. My family back home don’t really like that I write. They would prefer I worked as a programmer, which is what I studied out of highschool. But my granny, she’s rapt that I write. We have a chat about creative processes. She says that after her home village was occupied by Turkey, one day she had the urge to write. ‘The story came out,’ she tells me, ‘without sitting down and thinking, it just came out, and I didn’t change it, I just wrote. Then I sent it to the radio, and they read it. They’ve read it a few times. Yes, I have had poems published in newspapers as well.’ We sit and she reads me poetry and stories laced with nostalgia, lyrical poetic imagery and heartache. I write my first Greek poem at my granny’s house. It is written in the Cypriot dialect.
‘I will kiss you,’ she says to me before she goes to bed while I am busy at my laptop writing stories. I smile, and we exchange a kiss on both cheeks. ‘I wish you all the best with your writing,’ she says to me. ‘That you publish books and succeed in your career.’ Nobody in my family, extended or otherwise in Australia, has said that to me. I smile. ‘Thanks, Yiayia mou’.
The next day I record a poem in her yard about my other Granny.
This story originally appeared on Meanjin.