The grey eyed Cinderella – Chapter 3
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 11/05/2023Back to Blog
Two and cherished
Kalliroe stopped reminiscing for a moment and got up to make some tea. She was waiting for the younger Kalliroe to have it together, but since it was getting late she decided to prepare hers now and later, the two of them would have something else.
Holding the warm tea in her palms, she sat back in her chair and fondly remembered those years she and Elpida lived in that flat above the “fishadiko” in that poor part of London. They were tiring but very happy years.
It took them a long time to clean the apartment. It was so dirty one could think it had never been cleaned since it was built. They used to come back in the evenings tired from work and for at least two hours they cleaned. When they managed to get it in an acceptable state of cleanliness, they started painting the walls and waxing the wooden surfaces. Then they bought curtains from a thrift store and covered much of the fish smell outside their home. The result was impressive! If the apartment had a tongue, it would say thank you.
But the one who had a tongue and was dazzled when he visited them to collect the rent, was their landlord, Mr. Christos. He could not believe his eyes. He could not recognize that what he was seeing was his own miserable apartment.
-Girls, what you did is incredible, he told them. I don’t know how many workers I should have brought and how much I should have paid for such a result. I won’t charge you for rent for two months. I’ll get someone to fix the heating for you too. Thank you very much!
Thus began a very friendly relationship between the girls, Mr. Christos and his wife, Mrs. Cleo. This couple were very good people and they worked hard to make some money, to educate their children and when they got old to go back to their village, to die in Cyprus, their homeland. Every expatriate’s dream. But in the end very few did it. They continued to live in the foreign land because their children and grandchildren lived there and were buried in a cemetery in this country, to which they had come to find their fortune, but in the end they gave their lives for it.
Mr. Christos and Mrs. Cleo, apart from being their landlords, had also become their friends. They no longer felt alone in a foreign country. They had someone with whom to discuss their problems and questions. They had a family.
When they finished the hard work in the apartment, they started to explore this cosmopolitan city. On Saturday nights they used to go to the cinema and on Sundays they went out to the parks, went down to central London to window shop in expensive department stores. When the weather was nice – not often though – they would take the train and go to seaside resorts like Blackpool, Bournemouth, and others. They enjoyed those excursions very much and felt a strength emerging from within them, which they did not know they had. The power of freedom and independence, the power of being able to shape their lives with their own hands.
-Happy years recalled Kalliroi. The youth! How much energy the youth have! Only the youth have the drive to change the world!
When they got organized in the apartment, they invited Elpida’s uncles for lunch one Sunday. They also called their hosts for coffee because these people had no time for visits. Elpida’s uncles found that their niece now had an acceptable apartment and was living a decent life. Mr. Christos and his wife praised the girls in front of them, said that they were worthy and well-meaning girls, so they stopped worrying, at least for now.
One day and completely unexpectedly, Katerina visited them. Kalliroe was very surprised about this visit. She knew the aunt’s feelings for her, and she also knew Katerina’s blind obedience to the aunt. She considered Katerina’s daring a very brave venture.
Katerina was a bit anxious and nervous at first. She was rubbing her hands together, looking around awkwardly as if searching for something.
-You did very well, she said at the end. This is how I would like to make my house! Very nice, she repeated.
The girls prepared tea and waited patiently to find out the reason for this sudden visit.
-I’m getting married, she told them suddenly.
-When? They both asked in unison.
-Next Sunday, she answered. But I won’t invite you. My aunt won’t let me. I would like to invite you.
-It doesn’t matter, Kalliroe told her. Is he a good man? Do you love him?
-What does love has to do with marriage? Katerina said mechanically. My aunt says he is a good groom. He has his own business. This is the destiny of women. To marry and have children. The rest are fairy tales.
It was Kalliroe’s and Elpida’s turn to feel uncomfortable. The image that Katerina presented of her marriage scared them. Surely it was the aunt’s work, but the idea of a marriage, under such circumstances, made them shudder. They did not ask much so as not to put Katerina in a more difficult position. They wished her well and kissed her. As she reached the door to leave, she turned, looked at them and asked anxiously:
- Will you girls get married?
- Well, when the right one is found, Elpida said laughing.
Then she was silent because she thought, maybe in this way she offended Katerina. Kalliroe said nothing. The subject of marriage had a very dark and uncertain picture in her mind. However, Katerina was never seen again after that day. Nor did they learn anything about her.
Those years, Kalliroe thought, how many could they have been? Three, four, five? She could not remember. They were happy years. Not because their lives were easy. Not even because they had a lot of money. But there were two of them. Ever since her mother died, she has always been one. And by now, at eighty-three years old, one she was. In those years there were two. Two and cherished.
-Strength in unity, she whispered.
She remembered that was the time she relaxed, perhaps for the first time in her life, and from her grey eyes came a glow and a light that made her look beautiful. She could tell by the way men looked at her, and the strange thing was that she almost was not scared. She had forgotten her mother’s words for a while.
-Happy years, she thought again. It was then that I had that thought: I don’t want anything else in my life, my God. I’m happy.
But such statements stir up winds and give birth to storms that violently invade the lives of the naive and shatter their complacency. Because life is a struggle and a journey forward. Such moments are moments of respite from the long competitive course of life. Those who were lucky enough to experience them should not mourn them later but celebrate them. It is for these moments that we should rejoice at the end of our lives.
Kalliroe rose from her chair again.
-Why is Kalliroe late? she thought again.
Then she smiled. Such is youth. Full of activities and meetings. An old woman like herself has nothing else to expect except a visit from a young woman. But how much does the young woman have to do? How many to see and how many to talk to? Visiting her old aunt can wait.
So Kalliroe sank back into her thoughts. They were having a great time with Elpida. How well matched the two were! How they enjoyed their excursions! Kalliroe had almost forgotten her dreams of professional advancement. She just worked in the factory to earn money and enjoy life. They had managed with Elpida to make a small bank deposit for each of them and now they had some financial security. They were not the frightened girls who had come from Cyprus to the unknown county of the rich conquerors of their homeland.
Kalliroe, all these years, continued to correspond with her friend Eleni from Cyprus and that is how she learned the news. For the struggle of EOKA for independence, for the rebellion of the Turkish Cypriots, for the riots of 1963. She knew everything and was sorry for everything. But she was far away in another country, this country that was the cause of the suffering in her own homeland. Homelands get involved, she thought, politicians say and do their own thing, and everyday people get killed. Everyday people, like her, always pay the price.
She returned to her thoughts again. There came a time when Elpida often visited her uncles. Alone, she did not invite Kalliroe to accompany her. One day, after her return, she announced to Kalliroe:
-I’ll get married. My uncles found me a young man from Cyprus, and I will take him.
Kalliroe was startled at first. She was completely unprepared for this development. Elpida had not said anything to her before, as if she was afraid of her reaction.
-How, when did you meet him? Is he a good man; Do you love him?
-He seems like a good guy. Originally from Paphos and now living in Manchester. He is a tailor. We will be able to work together. I saw him a few times at my uncles house, and we talked. I want to have a family I want to have children. We’re both having a good time, but for how long? We will grow old, and I want children.
-But do you love him? Kalliroe asked again.
-I don’t know him enough to love him, replied Elpida, after a short pause. Even if it doesn’t turn out well, I can divorce him. The important thing is to have children. I want children of my own, Kalliroe.
So Elpida married the young man from Paphos and left for Manchester. At first they corresponded, calling each other now and then, but little by little Elpida fell silent. Maybe because she had a lot of work – she had also given birth to a daughter – maybe because she was not happy and did not want Kalliroe to know.
She, on the other hand, suddenly lost her confidence, she felt so alone. At night she locked and double-locked the doors, she was afraid of losing her wallet, she did not recognize herself. It was then that she concluded that one should not base their happiness on others. Everyone leaves at a point and never comes back. She should find a way to be happy on her own.
She began to remember her original dreams when she first came to London. To find a job in another factory, where they cared about the quality of the clothes, to be able to fit the fabric to the customer’s body, make frames and pleats and see the result and be happy. To enjoy the result of her own work.
She now bought newspapers every day and looked in the classifieds for factories that wanted raptors of this type. Such advertisements were not common. Everything was now industrialized, and the Cypriots were very active in this sector. But that was not what she was looking for. One day she saw an ad that she thought might meet her expectations. But this factory was very far from where she lived, it was in south London. It would take an hour to get there by subway. She would try though.
That day she did not go to work at the factory where she worked. She started early, studied the route on the map several times and each time forgot it. She understood that she was confused and afraid. But she would do it. The time had come for her to face life all alone.
She arrived in the area on time and thus had the comfort of finding the factory she was looking for. She went inside and told the girl at the reception the purpose of her visit. She thought that in their own factory they had no one at the reception. The girl led her to a room where four more ladies were waiting. In a little while, a tall and slender Englishwoman entered, wearing a strict grey suit and bone-framed glasses in white. Her hair was grey and tied in a bun at the back of her head. She was one of those English women who scared you.
She looked at them coldly and told them to follow her. She took them into a room full of sewing machines and gave each of them a jacket of white satin, with pleats and cuts. Then she gave them cloth cut and told them to make one of the same. Kalliroe had never seen such a difficult design. She was shaking and felt sweat on her face.
She sat on the machine, took the jacket in her hands, and began to study it. The garment slipped through her fingers, as if it had a will of its own, as if it were alive. Kalliroe treated it with tenderness and caressed it. As soon as she came into contact with it, she forgot her fear, forgot her insecurity, forgot the English lady who was silently watching them. The garment began to obey her, bending and forming into a jacket. She did not pay attention to the time; she did not care if she was late. She wanted to give this unruly fabric life.
When she finished she realized that the English lady was still standing over her. She took the jacket from her hands, took off hers and put it on. The fabric flowed over her body, giving her an airy look. As if it even lit up her stern face. She then thanked all the ladies and told them she would let them know about the job.
Kalliroe was about to leave when the lady called her into her office. She gave her a seat, offered her tea, and asked her details about her life, how she learned to sew, etc. She was even surprised that Kalliroe was not English since she spoke English so well and looked English.
All this seemed very strange to Kalliroe. Then she spoke to her clearly and sternly:
In addition to workers for the factory, we are looking for a personal assistant for me. We must sew the wedding dress of a Lord’s daughter. This wedding dress is quite elaborate and difficult. I need an assistant because I cannot constantly deal with only one subject. I think you do us. You look very good and from what you told me you know how to try out the clothes to the clients. We’ll give you forty pounds per week to begin with, and if you’re as good as you show we’ll soon make it fifty. We will sign related contracts of course.
Kalliroi was impressed by the salary, but without knowing how, she found the courage to express her concerns to the lady.
-You know, she said, the salary is very good, and I like the job very much. But I live in Camden Town, and it took me an hour in the morning to get here. As you know the underground is expensive and I won’t have enough money left. On the other hand, this area seems very expensive, and I can’t rent a room here.
The lady fell silent for a while and then said:
-I don’t often say this, but you’re very good and I want you. We have a room in the attic that we can give you initially, for what you pay where you live. It has a kitchenette and bathroom. Let me show it to you.
The room was small and smelled musty, but it looked like a small palace compared to her own apartment. Kalliroe could get comfortable until she found something better. As for the smell, there would be a way to vent it to get rid of the mold. So, she agreed with Mrs. Jones, as she learned her name was.
She returned in the evening to the apartment and spoke to Mr. Christos and Mrs. Cleo. They encouraged her and gave her their blessings. She left all the things they had bought with Elpida in the apartment.. She had nowhere to store them. They could now rent the apartment for three times the price. That is how much it had been upgraded.
The next day she packed her clothes, put them in the old suitcase and made her way to her new job. Some kitchen utensils she would take with her, she would return to get them later.