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The Alchemist: How it all began

29 May, 2017

Bella Stories Written by: Alexandra Di Gregorio

11th September 2001, London – 

Everything is so perfect. I have my own flat in one of the biggest and most famous capital cities of Europe. I already have two degrees, I’m about to complete my MBA and if everything goes as planned I will soon get a job in management consultancy.

It’s a quiet morning, as usually I woke up as early as possible in order to go on with my thesis. It was nine months that I had quit my job to concentrate only on my studies. Nine months of moving from the bed to the writing desk and sometimes to the kitchen (when I remembered that I couldn’t run only on caffeine). Nine months to give birth to a thesis. I was about to start writing when my phone suddenly rang: “Switch on the TV!” “I am studying, I don’t have time to watch TV!” “Switch on the TV, now!”. I turned on the much hated TV and on every single channel there was this horrible image of the Twin Towers collapsing on themselves with people jumping out of its windows into the void, like petals falling off from a flower and slowly floating to the ground. I stood there, frozen “The Third World War has just begun” I thought while they were showing a close-up of a man, face covered with sweat and terror, looking at the sky like he was searching for some sign of hope, and then jumping.

Just like every young and ambitious person at that time, I had always dreamed of living in the United States of America, and I was actually still looking for a way to fulfill that dream. But the only thing I could think in that moment was: “I could have been there. It could have been me jumping out of that window with the whole world watching the last moment of my life” That day and the following days, there was a big grey cloud creeping over London, everything seemed to be frozen in time, everybody seemed to be waiting for the end. “I’m probably gonna be dead soon, who cares about my graduation and my ambition of having a well-paid job and living in a metropolis!”

Needless to say, I couldn’t throw away years of sacrifice just because, seemingly, the end of the world was near, so I still handed in my thesis at the end of the month and got my MBA. However, this feeling of an impending end made me make the decision to find as soon as possible a job just to have enough money to make a six weeks trip to Australia to visit my cousin Georgina.

Christmas and New Year’s: The tell-tale trip

Two months later I was sitting on a plane, I had six whole weeks to enjoy my life tainted by this sense of caducity that that wretched September day had brought to my young and unafraid soul. By the way, a friend of mine, Helen, who was living in Thailand at that time called me a week before and, as soon as I told her about my trip to Australia, she started complaining that I should go and visit her too, so I decided that I will stop in Thailand for some time to make her (and myself of course) happy too.

There I am in Bangkok, sleeping in a four star hotel which is as fantastic as everything that this city can offer, from the delicious and exotic food to the colourful and lively marketplaces filled with cheap yet beautiful jewelry. One day, Helen booked us a three days trip to the dreamy island of Phuket…nobody has ever come back to life to describe paradise, Dante made a masterpiece description of it, but in religious terms that have little to do with the tempting landscape I had in front of me walking on the white and soft sand of Kata Beach. “I’m in heaven” I said to myself slightly moving my lips as if I was saying it to Helen who was already enjoying a massage lying on a lounger in the shadow. It was very hot, but the gentle breeze flying through my hair made the high temperatures enjoyable. “I am young, free, with a British citizenship and a promising career. I’ve made it! I am no longer a simple girl living in a tiny village on a small island, I am a young and independent career woman! The only thing missing in my life is a man…this bed is big enough for two…but who needs a man? I can stretch my legs and arms as much as I want without making anyone fall off of the bed!”

I couldn’t really imagine an end to the life I was living, I had reached all my goals and nobody had the right to take that away from me. Still, the awareness that a terrorist attack could happen in London as well was making my legs shake with fear.

While I was slowly immersing in the transparent and calm waters kissing the shore of this little piece of heaven far from the chaos and noise of London, a thought suddenly started to grow in my mind, it was punching my brain so hard that I began having a headache. Although I tried to repress it, to ignore it, to silence it, I couldn’t avoid listening to that voice: “ What is the difference between this beach and Glyfada beach in Corfu Island?”

Was my mind really telling me that I traveled so far just to realize that the paradise I was longing for was already under my nose since I was born? “No, you’re only shocked because of what happened in America” I said to myself. Luckily, Helen, who was calling me to invite me to have a drink with some guys who have been looking at us since we arrived, saved me from drowning in the waters of my twisted mind. After these three days in Phuket, I had to say goodbye to Helen and continue my trip to Australia.

Australia meant a lot to me, not only because of my cousin, but most of all because my parents emigrated there for a long time. Together with Georgina we visited all the places that my parents were telling me about since I was a child. Travelling around this continent I realized how lonely my parents must have felt here. Although it is an amazing place, now I could finally understand their dream of going back to Corfu, of reconnecting with their roots and not living like foreigners for the rest of their lives. Before I didn’t agree with their decision to move back, my only dream was to leave that place. Was I missing my roots too? “No, you’re only shocked because of what happened in America.”

January- March 2002, London

Back in London I started a new job as manager in a hotel which was not really going well when I joined it, but I was getting very good money and thanks to my managerial skills ( I’m sorry for boasting about my abilities, but that’s true, I was pretty good) the hotel soon started picking up. All the staff began to work with more and more enthusiasm and my assistant, Dona, soon turned out to be my best friend. However, the owner wasn’t happy at all with my success and started throwing a monkey wrench in the works. While I was putting all my efforts in creating a team that was literally saving the hotel from going bust, he was constantly trying to divide us and to undermine my work. I was working twelve, sometimes even fourteen hours a day to reach the bonus which enabled me to pay off the mortgage for my flat and all the responsibility I was carrying on my back and the problems with the owner were causing me a lot of stress. I could handle a lot of pressure, I was used to work in big luxury hotels which means in an extremely busy environment, but I was starting to wonder if it was worth risking a nervous breakdown and maybe getting sick from all the stress and bitterness I had to swallow working in that awful environment.

July 2002, London

My phone is ringing in the middle of the night. Who could possibly call me at this hour? I look at the phone with only one eye open “Donna?”, I pick up: “Sorry for calling so late, but I really need to talk to you, can we go for a walk?” Of course we could, she was my best friend and I could hear that she was really anxious and worried.

Ten minutes later we were sitting on the borders of one of the big fountains in Trafalgar Square holding a glass of wine. After some seconds of silence that seemed to be ages her voice finally filled the silence: “Look, I am so stressed that I cannot sleep at night even if I’m dead tired. I cannot work with that man any longer, I tried really hard, because I don’t want to leave you alone. You are my best friend and I don’t want to turn my back on you, but I have enough, I want to leave the hotel. Yes, I want to resign.” Although I couldn’t image going to that place every morning without seeing her comforting face…”Donna, you need to do what you think is best for you! You don’t have to stay just because of me, I will manage! Don’t worry about me.”

I was living the life I’ve always aspired to have, I had reached almost everything I wanted, but the thought that the treasure I’ve been looking for has always been under my pillow, the thought that maybe living in a large city wasn’t enough for me anymore and that maybe I would feel more happy and safe in Corfu was torturing me. How could it be possible that everything had turned upside down so quickly?

To the disappointment of the hotel owner who was trying to get rid of me in order to give my position to her, Donna resigned. After one week without my friend, I realised that I couldn’t go on working with that awful man without getting sick or depressed or sick and depressed. “Fuck you, fuck your money and fuck your hotel” I thought to myself and yes, I resigned. After this big decision, I made an even bigger one: I decided to go to Greece to think.

What I didn’t tell you before, because I didn’t want you to think that I was working in the tourist industry only because of that, is that my parents had their own hotel in Benitses. Actually, they were renting it to other people who were running it, but due to the fact that those people stopped paying the rent, my parents had no other option but managing the hotel on their own. My mum, aged sixty-three, was cleaning the rooms and my dad, who hardly could read and write, was working at the reception, and although I was trying to help them from London, the truth is that I was too busy with my own job to save my parent’s hotel from collapsing. So, my decision to go to Corfu was also influenced by the will to help my parents for the coming summer season.

August 2002- April 2003, Benitses and London

As soon as I stepped into my parents’ hotel I was shocked. I didn’t remember it like that, so bland, without any colour but a mute and cold white. It looked like a beautiful but sad woman that everybody was just using, but never loving. “This place deserves more love!” Only my parents loved it, but they were too old and tired to give it more attention.

At the end of the summer, still confused about what to do next, I decided to go back to London. Sitting on my red sofa in my beloved flat, holding a cup of hot tea in my hands, I started to examine every corner of what I used to think of as my home. I started to examine every corner of my heart and with the light- heartedness of a child I thought to myself “I’ve reached everything I wanted. I proved to myself that I am strong, capable and independent. Maybe all my doubts and fears are just inviting me to close this chapter of my life and open a new one.” Driven by this sudden revelation, I took my phone, dialed my mother’s number: “Mum, I am coming home. I will run the hotel in the next season.”

Some days later I put my flat up for rent. Useless. I didn’t like anybody who came to see it. There is a saying in Greece “you don’t have one leg in the grave and the other outside the grave” which means that you either make a choice and do something to the end or you don’t do it at all. By the way, I didn’t like the idea that somebody else would live in my flat, so I decided to make it “not mine” anymore, and there was only one way to do it: sell it. Three days later the flat was sold and I was ready to start a new chapter.

Knowing that I would leave soon, I made the best of the time I had left in London. During the months before my departure I finally, for the first time, enjoyed the fast-moving and multicultural majestic mother that has been carrying me for fourteen years. In the day I was meeting friends and in the night I was collecting ideas to get my parents’ hotel back on track. One night, while I was surfing on the internet, spying on what the other hotels in Benitses were offering to their guests…

Tags:
9/11 Anthea Pouli Bella Vista Hotel Benitses corfu Kata Beach Revelation The Alcemist
About The Writer
Alexandra Di Gregorio
Pen Name: Fille Du Vent

Alexandra is a young and still developing writer. She likes to explore different literary genres and styles, such as poetry, short stories and stream of consciousness. Alexandra aspires to become a travel writer collecting and writing the stories of the people she meets on her journeys around the world. This time Alexandra worked as a biographer, writing short stories revolving around momentous events in the life of Anthea and of the Bella Vista hotel

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