Continuing on from Chapter 4 and written from Christaki's point of view. It's 1958. His mother sighed and looked across at him with eyes full of pain and heartache. Christaki knew that his mother was finding life in London a challenge too, especially without his father.
His mother sighed and looked across at him with eyes full of pain and heartache. Christaki knew that his mother was finding life in London a challenge too, especially without his father.
‘Things will improve Christaki mou.’
‘But I don’t want them to improve, mamma. I don’t want to be here.’
‘Ayios Tychonas is not as you remember it. Things have changed there too with the increased tensions between the British and the Cypriots. There are inter-relational problems now too. The Turkish Cypriots are turning against their Greek Cypriot neighbours. And as much as I hate to admit to it, the other way around too. The Greek Cypriots are losing sight of what it is they are fighting for. Innocent people are being murdered in their beds. Your father says it is not as we remember it at all.’
‘But this is no life! The weather is gloomy every day. There is no sun, there is no joy here at all. I can’t swim. I can’t ride a bike anywhere. The buildings are decrepit, crumbling.’ He gave his mother a pleading look. She spoke, her voice cracking with emotion.
‘Give it time. For me. I can’t go back there Christaki mou. I cannot pass that place every day where your uncle was murdered and not think of him. See his face. See a young life destroyed through jealousy and hatred,’ she pleaded. He saw the tears stinging her eyes. He knew how painful it was for her. It was painful for him too remembering his uncle and his life was so once full now snuffed, gone forever. ‘And to risk losing you or your brother or sister. It’s too dangerous now. We have to stay.’
‘There are no proper jobs here and as for doing accounts I can’t do that. My English is too poor. The English are cold. When they smile it does not reach their eyes. They whisper and say things about the Indians, the Irish…that much I understand.’
‘Your English will improve, son. Give it time. You will soon start your lessons again. Accounting is not out of the question. In the meantime you must support mine and your father’s decision.’
‘I’m sorry mamma. I am trying. Really I am but this is an impossible place.’
‘You’re the oldest and you must show the way for your sister and brother. Your father and I have put all our faith in you. You are the head of the household until such time that your father joins us.’
‘Now listen to me. Koko and Chloy are finding life here difficult too living in such a big city, away from everyone we know and love. Please Christaki try to like it for me.’
‘I will try harder. But the cold is so cold.’ They heard the front door open and then close with a bang.
‘Stop moaning.’ Koko walked into the kitchen bringing in with him the stench of alcohol and a gust of icy air. He sloppily pulled out a chair and joined them at the small formica table. He reached across and grabbed a slice of bread, buttered it thickly and ate it in two bites.
‘Where have you been?’ asked Anastasia.
‘I was invited to a party…so I went.’
‘You were out all night? What would your father say?’
‘Well he’s not here is he? And there’s nothing else to do round here.’
‘You could try getting a job.’ Christaki’s voice was heavy with sarcasm.
‘Well I’m not working like a dog for a few bob to come home with calloused hands and blistered feet.’
‘You don’t have to. You can always do some training. My boss knows someone who’s looking for an apprentice. It’s in a hotel. In the kitchens. I’ll come with you if you like, see what it’s all about.’
‘That’s wonderful isn’t it Koko mou?’
‘Well…yes it is...’
‘Anything else you want to say? To your brother?’ Koko reluctantly thanked his brother and disappeared to get washed and changed into fresh clothes.
‘Come and have some breakfast!’ his mother called after him.
Christaki and his mother sat in silence for a few minutes. The only sound ringing through the house from Koko as he clattered and banged around in the bedroom upstairs.
‘The summer will come.’ Christaki sighed deeply, resigning himself to a life of uncertainty and confusion. Similar story, different canvas he thought. ‘The summer will come and we will fare well in this country of opportunity even if the English are as cold as their weather.’ His mother laughed quietly at her own little joke, reaching across and pinching his cheek. Christaki relaxed as he felt the mood between them lighten, at least for now.
His brother came back into the room, his face pale from a lack of sleep and no doubt food. His mother stood at the stove warming milk in a small pan to make him a glass of cinnamon milk. It had always been his favourite from childhood and she would often make it for him even now he was much older.
‘So when can we go see this man?’
‘I’ll meet you after I finish work one day this week and we can head off together. See what’s on offer. One of the guys on the site last week said his son was doing the same thing. You could become friends.’
‘Yeah…maybe. What about you?’
‘What about me? The accounting? There’s time for me to get into it once father is here. Don’t you worry about me little brother.’ Christaki ruffled Koko’s hair and slapped him playfully across the cheek.
The rest of the week passed with no further arguments or late nights from Koko. Chloy was happy at school. She made friends with two local girls, Jennifer and Stacey (?) and seemed happy to do her school work and help around the house.
The following week, with the wind biting at their faces, making their cheeks pink and their lips blue with cold, Christaki and Koko made their way to the St Ermin’s Hotel. They walked to the front entrance and a tall man in a black overcoat and top hat bid them good evening.
‘Good evening, Sir. Here for job. In kitchen.’ Christaki spoke clearly proud of his English.
‘You’ll need to go out back. Red door marked staff entrance. Knock loudly. Someone’ll let you in.’
‘Thank you Sir.’
Christaki and Koko made their way to the staff entrance and were let in by a young girl dressed in a blue dress and white apron. They followed her instructions to the kitchens meandering left and right along a warren of roughly painted narrow corridors.
The kitchen was a hive of activity; preparations for the dinner service. There were pots bubbling away, the ovens roared and a number of men and young boys dressed in their whites, chopped, stuffed and tossed ingredients at highly polished wooden and stainless steel surfaces. The noise was almost unbearable and it took Christaki a while to adjust.
After a few moments, the Head Chef, Chef as he liked to be called, noticed them both standing just inside the doorway and beckoned them over to the other side of the noisy kitchen.
He was a towering hulk of a man and even more so with his tall white hat on his head. He spoke slowly in a gruff voice but had a hearty laugh which softened his angular features and dark blue eyes. Within a few minutes of talking, mainly through Christaki who translated as best he could to his brother, the Head Chef offered Koko the job on a three month trial basis.
‘It don’t bother me you not speaking English. In fact it suits me.’
‘Thank you,’ Koko said.
‘Thank you Chef.’
‘Thank you Chef.’ Koko looked at him through his dark lashes and gave him a nervous smile.
‘You’ll need to come in tomorrow morning at 5.30am. Graham’ll show you your room now. You can come back tonight or tomorrow morning with your things. The room comes with the job and all meals are provided while you are on duty.’
Graham, a slim boy, with long gangling legs and arms and a face full of pimples, jumped to attention at the sound of his name being called and quickly nodded at Chef.
‘How old you are?’ asked Christaki.
‘I’m fifteen next month. Hated school. Dad got me this job. He works in maintenance in the basement.’
‘This is Koko… George.’ He corrected himself remembering what a fellow Cypriot had told him about anglicising their names so that they didn’t stand out so much. ‘I’m Chris.’
‘Pleased to meet you both.’