Galina als Putzfrau

Galina as cleanlady

Do you remember feeling of being hurt? When you are hurt, you see as if others act on evil free will. In reality we all have very little of free will. When analyzing your private history, that could be history of anybody else, you see you were often prisoner of circumstances, gripped by uncontrollable forces, and in natural flow of events you simply did what you were to do. I already used to write about my life in Bermuda triangle of Graz. Now and then descending from my mansard in the yard  with all these Bermuda cafes and restaurants around, I narrated my story to occasional companions. Austrians seemed to be very sociable. Once it was talkative bold pensioner with bicycle. Other time – teacher of history who lived downstairs. Small gray-haired astrologer from opposite house volunteered on one occasion to pay for my coffee. All of them were eager to give valuable advice how to overcome extreme situation and survive. People tend to support common point of view, and except of rare occasions their advice was the same genial idea of newspaper advertisements and cleaning jobs.
From time of my Soviet youth I entertained idea that cleaning as job signalized about embryonic creativity or registered affairs with psychiatry and police.

However, it was the center of Europe, and people around had other opinions on the subject. Nobody of them tried cleaning as profession, but common idea was that foreign woman without special proficiencies was fit for job.

I only wondered how to find employee who would pay for my 25-hours per week of scabbing, if I wanted to make ends meet?

One of my first cleaning experiences was serving in Kebab restaurant in Jakoministrasse.
The owner- dark, short and stout Kurd, who promised to pay 8 euros per hour for assistance, greeted me gravely in the morning.
I saw him in Volkshaus among friends of KPÖ and felt myself defended by ethic of the group. I even made expenses and bought for last 15 euros white blouse, which he told was absolutely necessary for position.

Though hall of restaurant with 10 tables covered by red cloths looked quite decent, the tiny kitchen with broken ventilation system was amazingly dirty. Thick layer of dust and grease covered shelves, oven and walls, two Kurdish men in oily t-shirts were busy around sink full of dark fatty water.

The owner enjoyed bossing others around and demonstrated gloomy ignore and irritability.

In addition, when serving for customers I experienced palette of conflicting and painful feelings.
One thing was to visit restaurant with well-off friend and anticipate nice meal.
Another thing was to stay in the corner like piece of furniture waiting for costumers orders.
People treated you then as if were dumb machine or empty space, also because they kept tips in mind.
It was the sort of mortification one needed natural disposition to be accustomed to.
In the end of the day I felt deathly tired : we all worked without break.
It seemed normal that owner did not offer to his workers even a glass of water in midday, though meal was a part of oral agreement.
Next day I was busy with pans and in that very dark greasy water which scared me my gloveless hands soaked.
Repeatedly, I looked at the clock above my head, but arrows did not move- I was in one of dead loops of time.
About 11 oclock, the last customer left.
I came out of the kitchen on limping feet.
Owner stood with his back to me, counting change.
Then he told I did not need to come next day, because I had not passed through
test.
I felt so exhausted that did not ask for two days wages he did not want to pay. I turned over and left.

Graz lay in front of me. Night air was velvety and warm.
I walked along Herrengasse and looking at the sky felt myself newly born.
It was so exciting to realize I was penniless and free.

Galina Toktalieva

Kyrgyzstan-born author residing in Graz, Austria

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