Elementary Novels

Ekaterina by Jack Cope

There are countries in which people follow the ancient traditions invented in the Middle Ages. Young boys and girls marry the people that their parents chose for them. Sometimes such marriages are successful and families live happily. But this is not always the case. When people are at a great distance or one family earns much more than another, it becomes difficult to agree. It happens that families live in different countries and getting to each other is long and expensive. But thanks to the invention of aircraft, this problem has ceased to be so complicated. Today you can fly to any part of the world. It takes no more than twenty-four hours. This book begins with a conversation of the characters at the airport. One of the men says that he knows people who even today measure the distance in the days of walking.

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Ekaterina by Jack Cope

In some countries, young people marry a person chosen for them by their parents. Sometimes these arranged marriages work very well; and sometimes they don’t.

It becomes more difficult when there are questions of money, or of distance. Perhaps the man’s family is rich, and the girl’s family is poor. Perhaps the two families live in different parts of the world. From Greece to South Africa, for example, is a long, long way…

Coming into Athens. The man in the next seat put away some papers, looking bored.

‘Air travel has changed our idea of place, time, country,’ I said to him. ‘In fact, there aren’t countries any more, in the way we used to think of them. Nowhere is more than twenty-four hours away. Soon, the idea of having different countries will just disappear.’

He laughed.

Ekaterina by Jack Cope

‘What’s so strange about that?’ I said. ‘And yet where I came from, there are still people who measure distance by days. “He lives two days’ walk away,” they say.’

‘Are we talking about life in this century?’ he said.

The man was an American, and I had to explain what things were like in parts of Africa. I’d lived in some of its wilder places during my fifty years.

‘And now we can travel at the speed of sound,’ I went on, ‘but we’re like children. We don’t know what to do when we get there.’

He thought I was a little crazy. ‘If you come from South Africa, you should be black and speak Zulu,’ he said.

‘I do speak Zulu,’ was my answer.

He left the plane at Athens, and I was not sorry to see him go. Johannesburg was another twelve hours away.

I had not travelled through Athens before, so I ran down the steps from the plane to put my foot for the first time on Greek soil. I thought back two and a half thousand years, to the time of ancient Greece. Did those great writers, Euripides and Aristophanes, once walk where I walked now? Did they see these same white and gold hills, breathe this same air?

It was late afternoon, and a soft summer light lay on those distant white hills. Over the smell of hot engine oil around the airport, I told myself I could smell the sweet clean air of ancient Greece. I was not looking at faceless passengers hurrying into a crowded airport, but could see girls with flowers in their hair, dancing to ancient music, for ancient gods. And away to the north of the airport Athens called to me, that city of light, the birthplace of the Western world, but I had no time to visit. I had to board my plane again…

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