The grey eyed Cinderella – Chapter 5
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 25/05/2023Back to Blog
The next morning, as Kalliroe woke up, she felt a strange feeling come over her. The memories of the previous day carried with them all the emotions of that time, not all of which were pleasant but often permeated by anxiety, insecurity, and uncertainty.
Indeed, her work was for her a driving force that gave purpose and impetus to her daily life, but the environment around her was not rosy. Mrs. Jones, while she was the best sewing teacher she ever had, was an awkward woman, who the other girls at work avoided and called cranky.
Kalliroe, however, as her personal assistant, had to be with her constantly and tolerate all her whims. Many times, she shouted for no reason and made unfair remarks, but Kalliroe endured her because she knew that she would never find anyone who knew the art of sewing so well to teach her. She was just trying to ignore her – which was hard a lot of the time.
One day, the owner of the company they worked for called her to her office and said:
-I know it’s hard to work with Mrs. Jones, but please be patient. No one can teach you what she knows. In a few years she will have retired and if you stay on the job you will take her place. Both we and the customers are very happy with you. You realize of course that your salary will skyrocket.
So Kalliroe had another incentive to be patient. But she missed Elpida immensely. In this part of London where she lived now, there were not many Cypriots and if there were any, she did not know them. At first, on Sundays, she used to go and visit her old landowners in Camden Town. Gradually, though she stopped because those people were always very busy and had little time to receive visitors.
Then she started hanging out with the girls from the factory. They were almost all English. At first she went with them to the cinema but little by little they pressured her and took her a few times to the pubs they frequented. Kalliroe did not like the environment there. Everybody smoked and drank heavily until they lost control. Then they could not distinguish whom they knew and whom they did not know. They mingled with groups of boys who were equally drunk and either they ended up in their beds or kissing in the streets outside the pub. In most cases they were never seen each other again.
Kalliroe of course did not participate, she felt awful in this environment and wanted to leave. One day a young man grabbed her by the waist, leaned her against the wall of the pub and started kissing her. With difficulty she managed to push him and run away. As soon as she got home she ran into the bathroom and threw up. She took off her clothes and bathed to get rid of his stench, which she unfortunately felt inside her until the next day.
That night she cried a lot. She remembered Elpida and wondered many times if Elpida was right to marry the young man from Cyprus. At least she has never been in this situation, she thought. She decided that she would certainly not go out with the girls from the factory again. She wanted nothing to do with either them or the colorless English youths who frequented the pubs. Her mother’s words were often repeated within her and shaped her relationships with people, especially with men:
-Never, ever trust men and the words of love they say. Never give them your body before marriage. They will abandon you!
The events of that time and the decisions she made led her to absolute loneliness, which she had to find some way to deal with. Her work was her first channel. It was at that time that she began to copy the models she sewed for rich ladies and make clothes for herself. Because those models were often unique and she did not want to be accused of replicating, she shaped them in her own way, used different fabrics and often the result was better than the original.
But she had nowhere to wear those clothes. They were too classy for her own environment. At work she wore elegant but strict suits, like Mrs. Jones, and on her few outings she wore the fashionable clothes of the time, which were miniskirts and dresses. The wonderful models she sewed stayed in her closet.
At that time, too, she took pleasure in her visits to the Raffiel home and meetings with the elderly Lady. Their relations became more and more friendly, and the Lady advised her in various fields. One day she asked her:
-My dear Kalli, I would not like to interfere in your personal affairs, but if you want, I could advise you on how to manage your finances. Do you have any money deposited? And if so, how do you leverage them?
Kalliroe told her that she had a bank account that holds her savings and nothing else. She had no idea how to manage her money. Then the Lady suggested that she could invest an amount, stressing to her that she should never invest all her money in stocks because they always have a risk.
-You should invest only a part of your money, she told her, because while there are prospects for them to increase, there is also the possibility of losing an amount. So, you must be very careful. But this is a good way to increase your income and be able to buy your own apartment. One of my sons is a stockbroker and if you want it too I could ask him to help you in this area.
Kalliroe thought a lot before deciding something like this. She was quite conservative in her choices in these matters but had great confidence in the Lady and her advice. It was with trepidation, one might say, that she agreed to invest £1,000 of her hard-earned savings. These included the hundred English pounds that her grandmother had given her before she left Cyprus.
Lady Raffiel’s son was just as kind and serious as his mother. He managed Kalliroe’s small amount of money wisely and managed to secure her a permanent extra income, which depending on the ups and downs of the market could sometimes skyrocket, sometimes remain stable and sometimes temporarily decrease. This small investment, however, took Kalliroe out of the category of hard-working girls with no future and gave her the prospect of a modest financial comfort. To this day, at the age of eighty-three, Kalliroe had an amount that she invested in the same company and received its profits every year.
At that moment the bell rang and snapped Kalliroe out of her thoughts.
-It will be Mrs. Niki; she thought and came to take care of the house.
It was really Mrs. Niki who came twice a week and took care of her house. She could no longer do many things on her own. So, this good woman helped her to keep her house clean, as she always had in her life.
Before starting her work, Mrs. Niki and Kalliroe had breakfast and coffee together. Their relationship was very friendly and Kalliroe helped this woman as much as she could with the financial needs of her family. So, Mrs. Niki took care of her as if she were her mother or grandmother.
While Mrs. Niki was cleaning the house, Kalliroi went out into the garden. It was spring and the rose bushes were beginning to bloom. Kalliroe tended them, pruned them, and cut off anything dry or diseased she saw on their branches. She might not be able to do heavy work anymore, but she did not stop being as active as she could. She believed that work keeps a person healthy and strong.
When she finished tending the roses, she sat on the porch and began reading a book. Lady Raffiel came to her mind again. It was this woman who introduced her to the world of books and made her life interesting in the lonely reality she was experiencing at the time. She remembered that then her gaze had become hard and grey again, hiding her own world deep within her soul and keeping the people around her at a distance. She was afraid that they would desecrate her with their callous actions and indifferent attitudes.
Through the world of books, Kalliroe had begun to discover the magic of words. At the same time, she began to identify the mastery that each writer used, combining words with each other to create images and evoke emotions. She even made associations with the subject she knew so well: fabrics. By themselves they may say little, but with the right combinations of texture and color one could create masterpieces. The same with words. The right combinations between them could captivate the reader, and even soften her own grey eyes, which often teared up while reading.
At first she only read English books; the ones Lady Raffiel gave her. Little by little, however, she realized that she hardly remembered her mother tongue at all. She still corresponded with her friend Eleni from Cyprus and many times it was almost impossible to find the right words to write what she wanted. In fact, she did not speak any Greek where she lived now. When she realized this, she was really scared. She felt that she was a person without identity and origin, and she did not want this at all.
She sat down and began to think about who she really was and what she was doing in this country. She knew her father was English. His identity was reflected in her face, but her soul was Cyprus. She had been born in that beautiful village on the slope of the Troodos mountain range and every morning she woke up, she could face the sea in the distance. Although she had been hurt so much in her childhood and youth, she loved that place. She felt it more hers than the foggy landscape of London.
-Then why did I come here? She wondered.
-I came for a better future, she answered herself. The poverty I experienced then, and the lack of my own people did not keep me there. But now deep inside I feel my place calling me. The soul of everyone has its roots where one was born. Of course, what I found here, work, knowledge, and opportunities, I would never have found in my village. But I’ve been more alone since then.
The next time she visited the Raffiel home, when Lady Raffiel suggested they take tea together, Kalliroe told her, her thoughts. This good lady, whom Kalliroe was blessing every day of her life, said to her then:
-My child, for no reason should you forget your mother tongue. Not even the country you were born in. You yourself will have to define your identity. And surely this, whether you like it or not, includes your place, your language, and your origin. I know that in central London there is a bookstore that has Greek books. I will find out the address and give it to you. You should start reading in Greek too.
Indeed, the Lady found the address of the bookstore and gave it to her. It did not take long for Kalliroe to visit it. The first thing she bought was an English-Greek dictionary because she knew better English than Greek. The bookseller tried very hard to help her and suggested her books by Venezis, Myrivilis and other authors of the time.
At first it was very difficult for her to read them because there were so many unknown words. She had the desire to leave the Greek books and return to the English ones, but she resisted. Little by little she began to enjoy this language which may have been her mother tongue but which she had never learned well. When she was able to read without difficulty, she found that there was a magic and a dance in the words and sounds that made the English language very poor by comparison.
In this way, Kalliroe was able to speak and write perfectly in two languages. This made her very proud, especially knowing that the Cypriots of London spoke a worn mixture of both languages.
She thought again fondly of Lady Raffiel. How much she owed to this woman who stood by her, like a mother, like a sister, even like a friend. She never considered her humble origins and never kept a distance between them, even though they were separated by so much. She was the guardian angel of her life, she was her good fairy, at a time when she was completely alone in the vastness of London.
Another subject she had discussed with her was her ancestry. For the first and only time in her life she spoke about her English father.
-That’s why you look so much like an Englishwoman, she exclaimed, when she found out. Do you know your father’s name my child? We could look for him. There are records of the soldiers who served in Cyprus at that time.
-No, all I know is that his name was Michael. That’s why I was given that last name too. In Cyprus it is customary for children to take their father’s first name as their last name. My mother didn’t want to talk about it so I had never pushed her. I don’t think there’s any chance we’ll find him. And on the other hand, what’s the point anymore? When I needed him, he was never there.
-But it would be good for you to find and meet your siblings. I know how lonely you are. Tell me a few details: date, location, and anything else you know.
Unfortunately, she did not know much herself. She only told her the date of her birth and the town of Limassol. The Lady never came back on the matter, however. Maybe she did not find anything, maybe if she did, her family did not want to meet her. However, nothing changed in her life after this conversation.
At that moment she heard Mrs. Niki calling her. Someone was asking for her on the phone. She returned home and of course it was her beloved Kalliroe.
-Aunt Kalli, tomorrow at noon I will come to pick you up, let’s go down to the sea for lunch. Put on your beautiful clothes, so that I can show off next to you.
-Well crazy girl, she answered, I’ll be ready around one o clock.
-My good new angel, she thought. And she smiled tenderly.