They found Stella dead in her living room, slumped over her armchair, in the afternoon. She had been dead for less than a day. When the police took her body away, they figured that the last person she had spoken to, was a friend, who had called the night before to see how she was going. Her glasses and a notepad were on the table beside her. The notepad was blank, as if there was nothing further to add, no reminders necessary and the spectacles neatly folded at a right angle. Nothing to see here.

Stella was only 75 but visiting her home some days after her passing, it seemed as if she had inhabited her home for aeons. The rooms had a dense, aged, timeless feel, arranged according to an order predetermined so long ago that their arcane logic was now incomprehensible. Canvasses rested against the wall of the hallway, for Stella was a gifted artist, portraying the same themes, in the same naïve style, a hierophant uttering oracles concerning the present and future in a language of the past, employing glyphs once known only by the initiates and now merely echoing in the desolation of an abandoned temple.

Framed examples of faded embroidery jostled for position on the walls with souvenirs from Greece: copper pots incised with the Meander key, plates bearing ancient-Greek motifs, reproductions of archaic theatre masks and traditional oil lamps. These must have been brought back from the motherland by her husband on one of his frequent trips, or sent as presents by relatives. Stella never travelled. On the front wall, eclipsed by the light diffused by the curtains hanging in the window, a burnished icon of the Panagia gazes solemnly into nothingness. Nothing to see here.

A few dusty photographs in corroded frames rest here and there, to attest to the rites of passage of life. Stella and Christos, her husband. Some grainy images of family members and a half-remembered childhood left behind. Stella can no longer explain who they are. On the far wall, above the bookshelves groaning under the weight of encyclopaedias, dictionaries and works of Greek literature, a photograph of her daughter Labrina on her graduation day. The image is obscured by dust but true to her name, she appears as luminous as a celestial being. It is proper and right that this is so, for she left us in 2006 after a battle with cancer and is now an angel. Stella had been broken ever since.

Next to the fireplace there is a zither, an instrument barely played by anyone these days. Alone of the articles in the room, it is the only one not covered even in one grain of dust. Its tinny strummings consoled Stella as she mourned for her daughter and bore the burden of her silence after her husband was admitted into care. Next to it, above the mantlepiece, is a self-portrait of Stella as a young woman. She is breathtakingly beautiful. Yet as her blue eyes gaze at the viewer, one immediately comes to the realisation that these are not the eyes of youth. These eyes are expressionless. They do not wish to give any hint of the darkness, the pain and the desperation that is to come. They give away nothing. There is nothing to see here.

I know Stella’s kitchen. It is my grandmother’s kitchen, my great-aunt’s kitchen and the kitchen of all Greek migrants of the Sixties. Except that Stella never did make it big and move out into the outer suburbs in search of a larger backyard and even greater respectability. The high, stark walls loom precipitously over wooden cabinets from the nineteen thirties. They are lined with the traditional copper pots and utensils once used by the long departed. Inside the drawers, there are knives whose edges have been honed away by decades of sharpening and ancient forks with non-aligned prongs, for Stella was ever the nonconformist. There is still food in the fridge and fruit in the fruit bowl. She was expecting us.

Above the mantlepiece, is a self-portrait of Stella as a young woman. She is breathtakingly beautiful. Yet as her blue eyes gaze at the viewer, one immediately comes to the realisation that these are not the eyes of youth. Photo: Supplied

I do not enter the bedroom. Floor-to-ceiling wardrobes entomb the secrets of her adornment and the bed takes up almost all the available space in the small room. In the gloom, I discern a couple of blankets, neatly folded. The scent of my mother’s glory box, opened rarely throughout the years re-emerges despite my conviction that it had been lost forever, and pervades this room. This is an abaton and I cannot violate its sanctity. I recede in reverence and awe as a friend enters, seeking the appropriate attire in which to dress Stella for her final journey.

Like many old inner-city homes, the toilet, bathroom and laundry are to be found outside. These are liminal realms between the motherland and the adopted country: they could plausibly exist in their current form in both places contemporaneously. Yellowed newspapers, rusty old tools carefully preserved lie piled in a corner. A bronze sheep’s bell hangs from the wall. I turn on the tap and it groans as if in pain. Some drops of water spill out and then nothing. There is nothing to wash here.

Stella lies as a ravaged queen in state in her coffin in Agia Triada church in Richmond. I help to carry the coffin inside, marvelling at its heaviness. It is trite to say that she is at peace. She looks tired and fed up. The members of the congregation enter the church slowly, one after the other and gaze mutely at her coffin. All of these, bar very few, are her elderly neighbours from the Richmond area.

“We have known each other for a lifetime,” one of the old ladies, dressed formally in an overcoat despite the heat, informs me. “Those were great days when we were young. Every single street in Richmond had a Greek family. We shared our lives together. And one by one we are going. Few of us are left. Where our houses were full of life, now they are empty, silent tombstones. The ones of us that are left, are like ghosts, lingering until our time too is up. No one remembers us.”

One of the mourners is in his fifties. He too is a neighbour. Despite his work and family commitments, he would ensure that he visited Stella every day to make sure that she was taking her medication and to provide her with some company. The year before last, observing her once immaculate garden reverting to a primordial state, he pulled up her overgrown paving stones slumbering under layers of dirt and re-paved the entire front yard. “I grew up in and among these people,” he shrugs. “We are always there for each other.”

The noted absence of the vast majority of Stella’s husband’s political and community associates is fitting. Nothing should draw attention to the commanding presence of Stella, before the icons of the iconostasis. The eyes of the characters in the wall frescoes gaze serenely down upon her from their lofty positions. These illustrate the parables of Jesus, cautionary tales relating to lives always fleeting. The names of the families who have dedicated the frescoes are inscribed below for posterity yet they are too far away for me to make them out. The few names I am able to decipher after squinting, are unknown to me. They are long gone. I turn my face in the direction of the gaze of the icons. There is nothing to see there.

«Δεῦτε τελευταῖον ἀσπασμόν» (Come, kiss for the last time), the priest intones and one by one the mourners shuffle past Stella. Some of them murmur endearments to her. Others stroke her face lovingly. I touch her hands, the hands whose music enthralled generations of children and wielded paintbrushes to masterly effect, in a symbolic language of colour and parable all of their own but, still frozen, they do not yield at my touch. She does not look at me and allows me to file past unacknowledged. There is nothing to see here.

We follow Stella outside the church in her final procession. Her neighbours congregate around the hearse making comments such as “We are next,” or «Καλό ταξίδι». Most are making arrangements to arrange lifts for the long drive towards the cemetery. When the hearse finally pulls away from the church, almost everyone is gone, either back to their homes, or rushing to join the funeral cortege. An old lady wipes away her tears and asks: “What time are they all coming back for refreshments?”

That evening, I drive past Stella’s house. The asphalt is steaming and the twilight is one of those interminably hot, long drawn-out paeans to the summer sun shuddering in its death throes. The shadows lengthen and I can almost make out her silhouette behind the curtain, seated at the front widow. From the pathway, I glimpse the overhanging branches of the pomegranate tree laden with fruit, sustenance for the terminal destination. Tomorrow, everything will be as the day before and the day before that, save that this house will no longer know the occupants who have defined it for the past fifty years. At ten o’clock, an elderly neighbour will shuffle past and cross herself as she sets forth in search of bread and milk. I execute a U-Turn and drive away. There is nothing to see here anymore.