Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Liczba stron: 495
Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:
In Pursuit Of The English Dream
Copyright © 2017 by Monika Wiśniewska
All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Disclaimer: The stories in this book reflect the author’s recollection of events. Some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed to protect the privacy of those depicted. Dialogue has been re-created from memory.
For My Mama,
the most loving and supportive friend throughout this 13-year journey to self-discovery.
Chapter 1 - Die Before You Die
Chapter 2 - Leap of Faith
Chapter 3 - French Riviera
Chapter 4 - The King
Chapter 5 - Gone
Chapter 6 - Now or Never
Chapter 7 - Taxi to Hope
Chapter 8 - Welcome to Essex
Chapter 9 - Survival Games
Chapter 10 - Prison Cell
Chapter 11 - Guardian Angel
Chapter 12 - Knight in Shining Armour
Chapter 13 - Together Forever
Chapter 14 - Spanish Casa
Chapter 15 - Different Planets
Chapter 16 - The Other Polish Girl?
Chapter 17 - We Will Meet Again
Chapter 18 - Mr President
Chapter 19 - Adonis
Chapter 20 - We Are Not Going to Ibiza
Chapter 21 - Painkiller
Chapter 22 - Barmaid
Chapter 23 - Greek Tragedy
Chapter 24 - Oranges
Chapter 25 - Portuguese Tete-A-Tete
Chapter 26 - Solace
Chapter 27 - Piddles
Chapter 28 - Dancing With Destiny
Chapter 29 - Stopover
Chapter 30 - Reality Mix
Chapter 31 - Millions Of Miles Apart
Chapter 32 - Two Sides to Every Coin
Chapter 33 - Big Ears
Chapter 34 - Interview
Chapter 35 - Gypsy
Chapter 36 - City On Fire
Chapter 37 - Fairytale
Chapter 38 - Viennese Charm
Chapter 39 - English Bliss
Chapter 40 - Twilight
Chapter 41 - Time Travel
Chapter 42 - Lake House
Chapter 43 - Mosquito
Chapter 44 - Denial
Chapter 45 - Cyprian News
Chapter 46 - Diagnosis
Chapter 47 - Gingerbread
Chapter 48 – Moonlight Wish
Chapter 49 - Dutch Dream
Chapter 50 - Million-Euro Villa
Chapter 51 - Happily Ever After
Chapter 52 - Lady Of Leisure
Chapter 53 - Arcadia
Chapter 54 - Baby Slope
Chapter 55 - Crystal Lady
Chapter 56 - Coincidence
Chapter 57 - One-Way Ticket
Chapter 58 - All Or Nothing
Chapter 59 - Queen In Exile
Chapter 60 - Rebirth
Chapter 61 - Unfinished Life
Chapter 62 - Married
Chapter 63 - Vive La France
Chapter 64 - Homeless
Chapter 65 - Perseverance
Chapter 66 - Synchronicity
Chapter 67 - Brexitpocalypse
Chapter 68 - Awakening
Chapter 69 - Déjà Vu
Chapter 70 - Karma
Epilogue - I Will Always Love You
TO THE READER
Take a comfortable seat, relax and join me on my journey of a lifetime towards spiritual awakening.
I need to warn you though.
You need to be brave.
But don’t worry: if I could do it, so can you.
‘Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the river, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.’
‘The path to paradise begins in hell.’
‘The lorry’s here!’ Mama exclaimed from the kitchen on hearing Cezar, our German Shepherd, barking relentlessly in the garden.
I ran outside and saw two men climbing out of a white lorry while my stepdad was opening the gate.
‘Come on; you can drive inside!’ he exclaimed, waving his hand invitingly and once the lorry had backed into our driveway, the men opened the back door.
My whole life was in there.
I helped with unloading the boxes which contained most of my personal belongings. One of the men took out my white bike with a straw basket which had, when I last saw it, contained groceries and tulips. Next came boxes of different sizes, each labelled ‘Monika—Poland.’
‘It’s over. My life is over.’
It was quiet. Nobody said anything, as if two surgeons were performing an autopsy to examine the cause of death. Only Cezar barked occasionally, running around the lorry and unaware of what was REALLY happening.
‘Can you please sign here, ma’am?’ one of the men asked, giving me a pen and a clipboard.
I didn’t cry as I signed.
I had to be strong.
After the lorry’s departure, I walked into my room which was now filled with stacks of boxes. Opening them one by one, I noticed the print canvas of John and me standing cheek to cheek, lovingly holding hands at the bottom of the white doorsteps of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. Then, in between randomly-thrown-in shoe boxes and my jackets, I noticed the book that John had designed shortly after we’d met. The cover featured a picture of us in a warm embrace outside Windsor Castle. The title said:
Monika and John
First Month Together
I ran out of the house and then through the back gate into the fields of barley, feeling sharp stalks cutting my bare legs, as if enemy swords were about to strike the final blow in my losing battle of the game of life. Breathless, I fell on my bleeding knees, gazed at the red sky of everlasting fire at the gates of Hades, the Hell on Earth I had found myself in, and I screamed out, crying, ‘Why?????????????????????????????????’
The next morning, I woke up to the sound of the birds singing in the garden and a massive pain all over my body, letting me know that I was still alive.
‘Why have I woken up?’ I asked myself, ‘I don’t want this reality. This is not how I’m supposed to be living.
Sleeping was the only thing that stopped this excruciating pain, but only because it made me unconscious of the world around me. It wasn’t so much about the pain being physical, even though it was, but because it tore my soul into pieces. The moment my consciousness came back from the sleep, telling me: ‘Wake up, it’s another day,’ I could already feel needles pushed into my heart. My eyelids, swollen from crying for weeks, could hardly lift their own weight, making me want to stay buried in the darkness of my soul. The torturing muscle spasms, radiating from my back and squeezing my chest in a deadly embrace, made it hard for me to breathe. The beating of my heart, louder than the ticking of the clock, forced me to beg for one thing.
I yearned for it to stop.
And stop the agony of losing everything I had worked so hard for. But most of all, from losing the man who WAS the love of my life.
‘What am I going to do now? It’s over. My dream is over.’
I couldn’t have failed more if I’d tried. It was the biggest downfall of my life, and I could not understand why it had happened. I’d trusted John with my whole life. I’d given him my beating heart on a silver tray, so he could lock it up in the safe of his heart and treasure it forever. I had surrendered, for the first time in my life, giving up my independence as a woman and letting a man, another human being, take full control of what would happen to me, just as I would have entrusted God: ‘And I give you my heart and soul, I trust in your guidance, and that you will provide me with all I need in return.’ The kind of prayer that shows faith in the Higher Power and its limitless ability to look after you. Just like the plants and trees blindly know the universe will provide them with enough nutrients, rain, and sunshine so they can grow effortlessly to become the masterpiece of God’s creation. John was not God—far from it—nor any other deity. But he was part of my soul and I’d believed that he wouldn’t have let me experience such an annihilation of my heart.
Staring, from my bedroom window at the garden immersed in twilight, I could hear nothing but the crickets, dogs barking across the fields, and millions of thoughts in my head, as if my brain was software infected by a vicious virus that was about to cause damage to the whole system. But I didn’t hear him anymore. No calls. No text messages. The voice of the man I loved so much was the most wonderful sound in the world and its sudden absence now was deafening.
Only a year ago, we’d been squeezing each other’s hands, listening to the most touching Strauss concert in the Great Gallery of Schönbrunn Palace.
‘Kocham Cię,’ I’d whispered, gently kissing the most wonderful man on Earth, tearful from this surreal experience.
‘I love you more, baby! You’re my beautiful princess!’
Only a few months ago, we’d danced on the marble floor of our million-euro villa in Holland, after walking in for the first time.
‘Welcome home, baby!’ he’d said, twirling me around and gluing me to his chest so he could kiss me.
‘We can finally be happy now,’ I replied, thrilled from this historic—for us—moment.
Only a few months ago, we’d been wrapped in the intimate embrace in the warm waters of the infinity pool, overlooking the snow-capped Alps, clinking Champagne glasses.
‘Is this really happening?’ I’d asked, kissing his warm, wet lips.
‘Get used to it! This is our new life. I will always look after you.’
Only a few months ago, we’d gone skiing for the first time in Innsbruck.
‘I can do it! Look!’ I’d shouted with childlike enthusiasm, dressed in a white skiing outfit with a Russian-style hat with flaps over my ears, making me look like a Cocker Spaniel.
‘That’s great! Me too!’ he’d replied, falling on his backside for the hundredth time, making me burst into laughter.
Only a few months ago in Austria, my neck had become home to the most exquisite, sparkling-with-a-million-crystals necklace, given to me by the most generous, loving man I’d ever met.
‘It’s for you. The most beautiful necklace in the store for the most beautiful woman!’
‘Oh, thank you so much. You are too kind. How much? A thousand euros? Oh, no… It’s too expensive!’
‘You deserve it. Happy birthday!’
Only a few months ago, John had been shielding my back when standing on a boat, dressed in white, admiring the passing lights of the spectacular sights of Prague.
These and hundreds of other memories filled my mind, torturing my soul as if they were traumatic war flashbacks. They hurt me now, and I didn’t know how to stop them. They were the most wonderful moments of my life and I wanted them to live with me forever.
My life abroad was over now, even though I still didn’t want to believe it. My mind showered me with desperate images filled with hope that it was just a bad dream, that John would come back for me any day now. Just like he’d promised he would when I’d seen him for the last time.
‘I’ll come and get you when it’s all over,’ he’d said, kissing me gently on the forehead before driving off.
Since that day, I had waited to see his smiling face when he would get out of the car in front of our gate. Cezar, sensing his arrival quicker than any of us, probably because of the tractor noise of our super car’s engine, would jump up and down from excitement, barking like a complete lunatic. Mama would rush to open the gate so he could run to me, lift me high up in the air and say:
‘Kocham Cię, I’m sorry I hurt you, baby. I was so stupid. I’ve missed you! You are my life!’
My mind gave me this vision in the only hope of my salvation. But maybe I was not to receive my salvation just yet? Maybe I had to experience this spiritual crucifixion to awaken fully, stop letting my ego control my mind, and ultimately find the secret to happy life? Maybe I had to ‘die before you die,’ which according to Zen masters, would magically transform me into the human being who finally finds peace?
I woke up each morning, looking at the crystal chandelier, hoping that today would be the day when John would come and take me back to our home in Holland, where we would live the ultimate freedom from the anguish we had been going through for years. That we would finally be happy and enjoy our lives to the fullest.
My mama tried to help me as much as she could, trying to understand it all, just like I did, not knowing what to say, other than: ‘Maybe it’s for the best,’ but with such little conviction in her voice that it made this statement suspiciously untrue to me.
‘I got you your favourite cake!’ she said, sitting next to me on my bed, distressed from the state I was in.
She had never expected this to happen. There had been no visible signs of it being possible. She had hoped that my loving relationship with John was so strong that we would live happily ever after in our villa in Holland, after having got married in the Gothic cathedral, whisked away into the sunset by a white horse-drawn carriage, kissing passionately under a shower of rice, thrown high up in the air by the cheering guests.
I had never thought our love would end, either. It just could not. It was the deepest, most powerful love any human being could experience in this physical dimension. Or maybe, I had had the premonition of this disaster, and if so, why was I surprised that I ended up imprisoned in my family home in Poland, losing everything I had worked so hard for in all those years abroad.
Lying on my heated amethyst mat, which gave my muscles a relief from turning into hard lumps of knots, excruciatingly painful even at the slightest attempts to massage them out, I stared at the walls, trying to understand.
‘Is this the final message from God? Give up, Monika! It’s over! Should I finally stop this silliness of pursuing “that thing,” a better life and happiness in a foreign land? What do I want to achieve? Career? Money? Husband? Are those an achievement anyway? Is that all that can be achieved in life? Everyone can do that, with better or worse outcomes. And in any country. What is my soul so desperately searching for? Weren’t my last few years abroad a big enough adventure to teach me what I needed to know about myself? Should I just live a peaceful, less adventurous, and “safer” life back in Poland? Should I accept the defeat? But how can this journey be over? Not now. Not yet. I’m not ready for the end of it. But can I do it again? Can I start all over, bruised emotionally and physically, with a heavy heart filled with pain? Do I have the strength to lift my body from this heated mat and face the petrifying world out there?’
True, I had already done it once before. I had gone to England a naive 25-year-old girl and started from zero. But it was different now. I was ill and I was defeated, even before I started. My body and soul had been wrecked to the ground by a bulldozer driven by the man of my dreams.
True, I had already taken that leap of faith and a two-hour flight to the ‘dream island’ where anything was possible. The country of endless opportunities, if only one were ready to work hard and not let any obstacles stop them along the way. But could I do it once more? How? Where would I go? Who could I ask for help, embarrassed about my biggest life failure?
I had always hated that horrible feeling of having to rely on other people, showing my total vulnerability of not being strong enough to look after myself. But over those years back in England, trusting others and counting on complete strangers’ help and their good-will had been the only way for me to survive some of my biggest challenges. I will always thank God for sending them onto my path in the most unexpected ways, helping me to go through that journey, full of dangers lurking around the corner, some of which could have easily ended tragically.
‘Should I try again? Should I take another leap of faith and go back to England, rising spectacularly like a phoenix from the ashes? Should I prove that I can do it once more? Should I reclaim my independence as a woman? But most of all, should I regain my dignity as a human being?’
One of John’s last messages had said:
‘YOU WILL NEVER MAKE IT WITHOUT ME.’
‘Two there are who are never satisfied-the lover of the world and the lover of knowledge.’
My plane had landed at London Stansted Airport, on a December evening in 2004, nine years before.
As a qualified English teacher, I could already speak the language of the ‘natives’, but my peaceful life with my mama, stepdad, Cezar and cat Miki, in my small town near Toruń, in northern Poland, had not prepared me for the journey I was about to embark on. I had learnt my first English words as a young girl from an American TV programme which I had watched over and over, relentlessly repeating words and the alphabet sung by animal puppets.
Over the years at school, I had become the ‘smartie’, lifting my hand high up in the air, ready to answer questions from the exercise book, even before the other children had a chance to read them. Mama, seeing my passion for English, spent every extra zloty for private lessons. We lived from one month to the next, but she always found a way to save up for them. As long as there was an English lesson that day, I would walk briskly to school, for two miles through the countryside at dawn, in minus ten degrees Celsius, with my boots squeaking in half a meter of deep snow and a thick scarf around my face, covered with frozen crystals from my breath. On other days, I wasn’t that happy. In the evenings, I travelled two hours each way on the train to Toruń, to attend private lessons with a university professor. Walking back home in complete darkness along the train tracks, I prayed that nobody would hurt me. And nobody ever did. My angels always looked after me.
I studied to be an English teacher, but I had a strange feeling that once I could speak English fluently, the world would open up to me with vast opportunities. I soon realised that my biggest dream was to live in England and speak beautifully sounding English words, every single day.
Walking into the arrivals on that cold December day, I was astounded by the hustle and bustle of the airport. Wearing my white jacket and a scarf loosely thrown over my neck, dragging my pink suitcase full of clothes and only £100 in my wallet, I didn’t know whether I would stay in England FOREVER. Just like I didn’t know that what I was about to discover on my journey would turn out to be far greater than I could have ever imagined.
‘If I find a job, I might stay,’ I said jokingly to my tearful mama, hugging her tightly goodbye at Bydgoszcz Airport.
But it was only a joke. Or maybe that deep-rooted desire I'd always had to live in England? To experience the far more exciting world out there, rather than just my hometown? True, I was scared. Scared of the unknown. But my curiosity was stronger than fear. Besides, I was going to stay with my good friend Marta, who had invited me for Christmas. Hakim was picking me up to take me to her house and when I saw his smiling face, waving at me in the crowd of people, I knew I would be fine.
‘Beauty awakens the soul to act.’
I had met Hakim on a beach in Cannes, two years before my arrival in England. Swimming in the warm, turquoise sea, together with my friend Ania, enchanted by the breathtaking beauty of the coast, I noticed the dark-haired man with goggles on his head, watching me.
‘Hey gorgeous! Where are you from?’ he said with a gummy smile, having swum closer in the crystal clear water.
‘I’m from Poland,’ I replied, surprised by his directness. ‘I’m on a bus trip to Costa del Sol, and we are just stopping here for one night.’
‘Lovely, and I’m French and I live in London. I’m a physics teacher,’ he replied and when we sat down on the beach, we talked for over two hours.
‘You are very beautiful, Monika! I’d like to see you again! I want to visit you in Poland. Would you like that?’ he asked, making me blush from his compliments and feel flattered that a man like him had any interest in me.
Watching Ania swimming, I couldn’t believe my luck. I had met this amazing man in a paradise of sun, sea, and the biggest wealth on Earth I had ever seen. I was 23 at that time and I’d been saving for this trip for years as a student, giving private English lessons in the evenings and weekends. I had always dreamt of travelling. Flicking through glossy pages of a travel magazine for hours, staring at the picturesque Greek, Italian or Spanish beaches, I’d imagined being there, despite having no idea how I would get the money to do it. But it hadn’t stopped me from dreaming. After all, dreams are free! And travelling from Poland to Spain on the bus for four days didn’t discourage me at all.
In the French Riviera, I stepped into the most magical place on Earth. Shiny super cars, looking like full-size boys’ toys, speeded up the windy roads, making loud engine noises. The tall, palatial hotels, sprinkled with palm trees, had limousines parked outside, as if the rich and famous had just had another day in paradise. Sunny streets were lined with expensive boutiques and the harbours were filled with the most stunning gigantic yachts, furnished with white leather sofas on decks where I could see myself sunbathing and drinking Champagne with the other glamorous women, wearing the biggest hats and the smallest bikinis.
In Monaco, the second smallest independent state in the world and the home of the Formula One Grand Prix, I put €1 into the slot machine inside the Casino de Monte-Carlo. I lost. But at least I gambled, and I could brag about it ever after. Just not about my winnings! The changing of the guards, dressed in white uniforms and marching outside the Prince’s Palace, a former home of Princess Grace, looked spectacular. Walking along the streets, lined with colourful houses, I was stunned by the flags which looked just like the Polish ones, only upside down. The postcard views of the sea from this ‘heaven on the hill’ made me gasp with astonishment.
‘Am I dreaming? Is this world real? What a wonderful life it would be if I could see more places like this!’
In Cannes, I compared the size of my palms with celebrities’ hand prints on the pavement of the walk of fame. Posing for a picture on the red carpet of the Palace des Festivals et des Congres, where the annual biggest film festival took place, made me feel like a movie star—at least, for a minute. Walking along the seaside promenade at twilight, I noticed a sign on the board outside an Italian restaurant. The cheapest pizza was €9, almost a fifth of my total budget, but I decided to be adventurous and order it. I ate it al fresco, buzzing from excitement. It was the most delicious, thin-crusted, juicy margarita pizza, so thin that it hardly filled me up. But I ate it in Cannes, overlooking the eternity of the turquoise sea, and that was all that mattered to me.
After this trip, my desire to live in England got even stronger. I knew England wouldn’t be the same as Cote d’Azur, especially with regards to the weather, but getting a good job there would allow me to become financially independent and travel around the world. Yes, this was now officially my biggest dream.
The dream to live in England.
‘Cześć, Monika, jak się masz?’ (‘Hi, Monika, how are you?’) Hakim said on the phone with a sweet Polish accent, right after my return home.
From then on, he called me every evening, expressing his adoration for my beauty, and just as he had promised on the beach in Cannes, he bought a plane ticket to visit me in Poland. It was an incredible event for my family. At that time, no foreigners came to my town. At least, I had never seen or met any.
‘How wonderful! What a visitor to have!’ said Mama, as if the King himself was honouring us with a visit.
French or not, he was coming from England. And who was I? Just a young Polish girl, a student, living in a small town. Hakim had arrived with his entourage of elegant clothes and heavenly perfumes. When he was explaining different brands and labels on his jeans that I had never heard of, I felt inferior to him. Why does he want to be with me? I don’t even wear designer clothes, I thought, looking at his sartorial look.
‘This is for your mama, to use in cooking,’ he said, handing me jars with a thick orange paste. Mama was happy to receive such gifts, but we didn’t really know what to do with them, so they stayed in the fridge for months. Later, I learnt they were jars of Indian curry, something completely alien to us at that time. Instead, we cooked Polish food, but it couldn’t contain pork. For some reason, he didn’t eat it.
I took Hakim for long walks around the countryside, through fields wrapped in a thick foggy blanket, with colourful leaves paving our way. I hoped to impress him with the Gothic cathedral in town, standing majestically by the lake, which reflected its stunning architectural beauty. Walking through the central nave, I shared the story of the precious robe kept in the treasury, supposedly made from the saddle of wezyr Mustafa, brought as a trophy by King Jan III Sobieski after the defeat of the Ottoman army in Vienna.
‘My family is originally from Algeria and I don’t practice any religion,’ Hakim said when we had walked out.
As much as I had tried to entertain him, he wasn’t too happy, even in Warszawa, where we had stopped overnight before his flight back. We went for a walk in Łazienki Park, the largest park in the city, to see the palace on the island which had been a bathhouse before the last Polish king, Stanisław August Poniatowski, had turned it into a residence.
‘And this is the monument of our Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin, famous for his piano pieces such as mazurkas and nocturnes,’ I explained, pointing at the large bronze statue of Chopin sitting under a willow tree, reminding me of a harp.
‘Umm, I’ve never heard of him’ he said, and looked away.
We then strolled through the Old Town, in a labyrinth of cobblestone streets and colourful medieval houses. I told Hakim that they had been rebuilt after Warszawa had been razed to the ground by Hitler in WWII, when an unbelievable 90 per cent of buildings had been destroyed during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. It was one of the most tragic events in twentieth century history. The courageous resistance movement had fought the German occupation for 63 days in sewers and cellars, in hope of support from the Red Army. But the Red Army had only watched this hell on Earth from the other side of the Vistula River. And so did the Allies, who did not do much to help. When the massacre had finished, the Soviets’ tanks rolled into the destroyed city. Almost 250,000 civilians had been slaughtered.
‘Our dramatic history hasn’t been paved with roses! If it wasn’t for our spirit and bravery, we as a nation probably wouldn’t even exist now,’ I concluded, adding that Poland had fought for freedom over 40 times between 1600 and 1945, and had only become a democratic country recently, after the fall of Communism in 1989.
‘I’d like to show you the Ghetto Heroes Monument, commemorating the martyrdom of Jews and their deportation to concentration camps.’
‘Oh Monika, your Polish history is so sad. Can we have something to eat now?’ he replied, so we found an Indian restaurant.
‘Did you like it? I asked, looking at him finishing his meal.
‘Yes, it’s nice, but not as good as in London!’ he replied.
‘Why does he only want to eat his food rather than trying our cuisine? Who wouldn’t like our pierogi or bigos?’ I said to Mama on the phone later.
‘I’ll get you a plane ticket to London for Christmas! I want to show you the most amazing city in the world, my gorgeous! You haven’t seen anything yet!’ he’d said, hugging me goodbye at the airport.
‘Oh, thank you, that’s very kind of you,’ I replied, grateful for his invite.
I had learnt a lot about English history and read Shakespeare, Emily Bronte and Jane Austin during my studies, so the thought of seeing more English heritage was very exciting. But I was also a bit scared. I had never been on a plane before.
Hakim’s central London flat was cold, with old windows, always covered in condensation. He cooked the ‘orange paste’ with chicken and served it with some kind of flat bread that I had never tasted before. And cooking involved putting plastic containers into the microwave and then its contents on my plate.
‘Nice?’ he asked.
‘Oh, yes, but can I have some more water, please?’ I replied, not being used to such spicy food.
But the most important thing was that we could spend time together. Rushing through London, I got a glimpse of the main tourist attractions, the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. We jumped on a red, double-decker bus to the busiest, longest street I’d ever seen in my life, lined with hundreds of shops. Oxford Street. We walked in and out of shops, passing people, running around like headless chickens, carrying piles of clothes and shoes, as if preparing for the apocalypse. Hakim bought a jumper and two pairs of jeans. I couldn’t afford anything except a cosmetics set. But what else would one need from a trip to London anyway?
‘When you meet a man, you judge him by his clothes, When you leave, you judge him by his heart.’
‘Do you want to attend a cabin crew course with me?’ Marta asked on the phone one day.
When I finally got my master’s degree in 2004, which I had been working so hard for, Marta, my good friend from university, decided to attend a cabin crew training course for an airline based in England. Poland had just entered the European Union in May, opening the silver cage door to a new-found freedom, letting us spread our wings and fly out, so that we could seek new opportunities and a better, more prosperous life. It was a true gift of freedom to be able to possibly earn more money, and travel without the need to apply for a visa which before, could have only been granted if family members had sent the invite. Remembering vaguely the times of Communism, I was excited about the opportunities of working in England, allowing me to live life to the fullest. I probably could have achieved a lot career-wise by staying in Poland, but in my heart I felt that through hard work and commitment, I could achieve much more in England. But I was hesitant about attending the course with Marta. After my last flight from London, my head almost exploded like a balloon from the pressure in my ears before landing, so I decided: best not to. Marta went to England, but we stayed in touch and I started to work as an English teacher in a special needs school, in a nearby town. I soon realised, however, that this career path was not for me.
‘Miss, we know we are freaks,’ the kids said repeatedly, swearing and throwing chairs at everyone, including me.
‘We can’t even speak Polish properly, so why are you telling us to learn English? What do we need it for?’ said Karolina, one of my teenage pupils who scared everyone with her violent outbursts but was very polite to me, staring at me as if she was in love.
Having pondered on this profound statement, I had to admit that she was probably right. They simply wouldn’t and couldn’t do anything I asked them to do, and the only way for me to keep them calm and make them sit for 45 minutes of the lesson was writing very long English sentences on the blackboard, in the hope they would copy them into their notebooks. And it worked. Sometimes.
Jesus, it looks like nothing what I have written, I thought to my horror when Karolina showed me her notebook.
‘Oh, super, bardzo pięknie,’ I praised her, looking at her dreamy eyes, not knowing what else to say, slowly losing the will to live.
‘Try drinking Melissa tea, it helps to relax,’ my mama said, seeing me stressed every single day.
My adult life had begun!
One day, a 12-year-old boy, famous for terrorising both teachers and pupils, stood up in the middle of my lesson and just as I had turned around from writing on the blackboard, he jumped out of the window.
‘Piotr! Nieeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!’ I protested with a near heart attack, seeing myself taken to prison, cuffed and sentenced for life but when he started running on top of the roof underneath the window, children burst out laughing and I sighed with relief.
‘Dzień dobry, (‘Good Morning’) Sir. I must tell you that Piotr jumped out of the first floor window during my lesson,’ I reported to the headmaster with a tremulous voice.
“Really? Did he kill himself?’ he asked, looking straight into my eyes.
‘Oh, szkoda!’ (‘Oh, that’s a shame’) He replied with a grin that made it impossible for me to tell if he was being serious or not.
‘Can you help me with getting a job as a teacher?’ I asked when I arrived in the UK and Hakim was taking me in his car to Marta’s house.
‘You? A teacher? Impossible! You need a UK teaching qualification to teach in this country,’ he replied, snorting with laughter.
Hakim had known about my dream to live in England, but he’d never suggested helping me with that first step, even though I’d always hoped he would. The following day, I called him but he didn’t pick up. I tried again the day after but there was no reply.
‘He will never call me back, will he? I can’t count on his help,’ I realised, sitting on Marta’s bed, staring at my phone.
‘Why doesn’t he want to know me now? After years of calling me every day, tantalizing me with beautiful words of how much he missed, loved and adored me,’ I said to Mama on the phone.
‘I don’t know, darling, but he obviously doesn’t want to help you. You see, a friend in need is a friend indeed, and I have a feeling he is still probably married,’ she replied, knowing that when I had visited him a few months before, I’d noticed a picture of him and a woman sitting next to two other people, wearing elegant clothes. ‘It looks like a wedding day,’ I’d thought.
When I’d confronted him, he admitted he had been married but he’d divorced her, and she was living in Algeria now.
One morning, I’d woken up and said, ‘I dreamt that I talked to your wife.’
‘Oh really? And what did she say?’ he replied without looking at me, and continued to iron his shirt.
After these strange conversations, I knew that I probably wouldn’t be with him for the rest of my life so I decided to find out about my future and if I would find true love and get married, just like everyone else. Arabella from Toruń seemed like the right person to ask. After all, who else would know better than a fortune teller? Her room in the old house was very dark. The colourful patchwork covered the sofa, and the heavy smell of incense filled the air. When I sat down in front of her, she asked me to shuffle her Tarot cards before doing the spread.
‘I can see a man who lives abroad,’ she said, making me think that she was very good, ‘but he is married,’ she added.
‘He WAS married, but he got divorced,’ I corrected her, knowing she was talking about Hakim.
‘Oh no, he is still married,’ she replied with calm confidence and satisfaction, as if she had just caught a thief of hearts.
‘Will I get married soon? Can you see my soulmate?’ I asked my burning question after hearing what I’d suspected anyway.
‘I don’t see it in the nearest future. And when you ask about a soulmate, well, there can be many soulmates in a lifetime. Some are only here to help you grow and prepare you for the one you are meant to be with,’ she replied, ‘but you will live abroad,’ she added with a soothing, mysterious voice.
‘Oh, really?’ I replied, disappointed that my biggest dream to find love since I’d been a little girl wouldn’t come true quickly—but at the same time, I was excited about living abroad.
‘Let me tell you something, my dear. You see, some people want to be like weeds and some want to be roses. You are a rose and your soul wants to grow, learn and develop in this lifetime,’ she added.
What does it mean that I’m a rose? Why can’t I be just like everyone else? Just happy? And why do I need to learn so much? I thought, having left her house, unaware of what lessons were waiting for me in my adventure of a lifetime.
Hakim was gone from my life as soon as I came to England.
I never heard from him again.
‘When are you going back to Poland, Monika?’ asked Marta on a Boxing Day.
Marta lived in Bishop’s Stortford, a small historic town in Hertfordshire, on the border with Essex, close to London Stansted Airport. She shared the flat with other cabin crew members who had to work crazy shifts, flying all over Europe.
‘I’d like someone to stay with me overnight and it would be best if you just went back to Poland,’ she continued, letting me know that I couldn’t sleep with her in her bed anymore.
I was surprised to hear that she was seeing a pilot, not only because it was such a cliché, but because she had a boyfriend in America whom I had thought she genuinely loved. What’s got into her, now that she’s moved to England? I thought.
After that, I slept on the blanket on the floor in the corner of the living room. Marta woke me up at five every morning, because I, sleeping on the floor, was not a nice view for her and the pilot whilst they had breakfast. But my unflinching determination to find a job did not diminish because of it. Her ruthless behaviour agonised me, mainly because of the disappointment of how unrecognisable she’d become, compared to how I remembered her from Poland, but deep down I knew that this was my one and only chance to stay in England. My only chance. I had no idea how but I knew, that I had no other choice—even though I did have a choice. I could have gone back home the next day.
The first two things I bought in England were a sim card to call my mama, which quickly used all my money, and… an umbrella. Walking along the high street at night, cold heavy raindrops were slowly melting away my dream of living in England. ‘What should I do? Do I go back? But I don’t want to go back. I want to find a job. But how, where? Why is Marta so horrible now? Why? Why?’ My internal battle had started.
‘Just get the ticket and come back home, darling, please don’t stay there,’ Mama repeated as I stared at the colourful Christmas shop displays.
‘Nie Mama, I’ll stay another day. Maybe I’ll find a job tomorrow,’ I replied, adamant that I wanted to stay, despite the overwhelming fear of not knowing what might happen.
The following day, I went to a job centre close to the airport. I scanned the screen of vacancies on one of the stand-alone machines but I didn’t know what jobs I could do. They all seemed challenging and serious.
Who would let me do such important jobs? I thought, as I walked out of the job centre.
‘Are you looking for a job?’ asked an Englishman, running after me. He was in his forties and looked like a construction worker.
‘Yes I am, I would like to find a job. I’ve just come from Poland,’ I replied.
‘Follow me! I know someone who can help you!’ he said, pointing towards the main airport building.
‘Oh really? Who?’
‘Come!’ he replied.
‘How did he know I needed help so much? Has he been sent by my angels?’ I thought, walking alongside him.
When we approached the terminal building, he introduced me to a dark-haired man in a white shirt and black trousers, pushing a tall metal cage on wheels.
‘This Polish girl is looking for a job. Have you got anything?’ asked my new helper, sent by angels.
‘Yes, I do have a job. Is that your CV you are holding? Come with me. I’ll show you what the job is all about,’ he replied, staring at me.
Bal, as that was his name, took me upstairs in a lift. We stopped in front of a restaurant.
‘Your job will be to clean the tables. You will need to collect trays with dirty dishes and put them on the trolley. I’m a manager here so you will be working for me. You will be paid £4.25 per hour, and the shifts are usually ten hours a day, but could be more if required,’ he said.
‘Umm, that it’s not really what I was looking for. I am a qualified teacher and I have a master’s degree. I’m looking for at least an office job,’ I replied.
‘Without any references in this country you will not find a better job, and you need to start somewhere!’
‘Ok, let me think about it,’ I replied, feeling sad that after five years of studying, all I could do in England was work in a restaurant.
Bal called me persistently every other day.
‘Hi Monika, so are you going to take it? It’s a good job! It’s a start for you!’
‘Ok I’ll take it. When can I start? ‘I finally replied, desperate for money and stressed by Marta’s pestering me to go back to Poland.
‘Oh fantastic. Have you got anywhere to stay?’ he asked with a cheerful voice.
‘No, I don’t.’
‘We have a company house where you can rent a room and pay from your first salary,’ he said. ‘You can move in tomorrow. The door will be open,’ he added.
‘Ok, thank you, I’ll go there tomorrow,’ I replied, aware I only had £10 left in my wallet.
‘Cześć I took that job. I’m staying in England,’ I said to Mama on the phone.
‘If that’s what you want, darling. I hope it will work out fine for you. I would much prefer it if you came back home, but it’s your choice.’
‘I’ll be fine, don’t worry, and Bal seems like a nice man,’ I replied and started to pack my suitcase, excited about what the next day was going to bring.
‘Are you sure you are going to be ok?’ asked the taxi driver on the way to the company house.
‘Yes, I will be ok. Why?’ I replied.
Thomas was a friendly, chubby Englishman in his fifties. I told him about Marta and my new manager who had offered me a room in the house belonging to the restaurant. Thomas listened to my story, gazing at me with a concerned look on his face. When we stopped in front of the terraced house, he took out my bag from the boot.
‘Why don’t you give me your number and if I hear of any rooms for rent, I will let you know. I know lots of people. I take many cabin crew members to the airport every day,’ he said.
‘Oh, thank you very much! That would be great,’ I replied.
I struggled to get my bag up the stairs, which were covered by a stained, blue carpet. To the right, and after what seemed like a climb to Mount Everest, there was a room with the door left ajar. Seeing the skeleton posters on the walls and black curtains, I knew it must have belonged to a man. Could it be Bal’s room? I thought.
I opened the squeaky door to the room on the left, my new room, and I was hit by the obnoxious odour of a dead rat. It was freezing cold and empty, except the bed in the middle, or rather a wooden box, covered with a red, dirty cloth. The faded green wallpaper was coming off, close to the grey ceiling, which showed black marks of fungi.
Oh my God,’ I thought.
I sat on my ‘new bed’, covered my face with palms and wept.
I can’t do this. I can’t stay here, it’s not safe, God, I can’t do it. I give up. I need to buy the ticket to Poland, I thought.
With a heavy heart, I picked up my phone and looked for the airline number. After about 15 minutes, but what had seemed like an eternity of an internal battle, my phone rang.
‘Would you like to stay with me and my family in a single room for £300 a month?’ Thomas asked in a cheerful voice.
‘Oh, yes! I would love that! Thank you!’
‘Listen, I’ll pick you up in 20 minutes. Wait for me outside!’
‘Ok, I will,’ I replied and ran outside to wait for my saviour sent by my angels to rescue me from hell and making the final decision to go back to Poland.
I knew it was a sign. A clear sign from God that I should stay in England. Thomas and Rebecca, his wife, showed me a cosy, bright and clean room in their beautiful terraced house. The walls were snow white, the window framed by navy blue curtains and the floor covered in a soft cream carpet.
‘Do you like it, Monika?’ he asked.
‘Of course, I love it!’
‘After I take you to work tomorrow, we will buy you a bed and a cupboard. You will need to sleep on a mattress tonight—is that ok?’ he asked, looking at me with his caring blue eyes as if he truly was my angel in disguise.
‘Thank you so much. It’s very kind of you,’ I replied, feeling indescribable gratitude for having received such kindness from a complete stranger.
‘It’s unbelievable! Thomas and his family are amazing! How often do taxi drivers take someone home because they feel worried about them? Things like that do not normally happen in life, do they?’ I said to Mama on the phone.
I loved the new house and the hospitality. But what I found strange was the separate taps in the sink, one for cold and one for hot water, unlike in Poland where I could wash my hands in a stream of warm water, running from one mixer tap. Now, I either burnt my fingers or froze them. The choice was always tough and I tried to make it warm by mixing the water from both taps in the air. Challenging indeed. I later found out that it was because of the way houses in Britain had been built after WWII, when the cold water tank had been usually placed in the attic, and was safe to drink from. Thomas said that if I was thirsty, I could simply pour cold water from the tap. The hot water tank had been separate and water from these two could not mix, for safety reasons. He also offered to take me to work and back every day. We enjoyed chatting and laughing in the car.
‘Why did you want me to stay with you? You never had any lodgers before and you know lots of people who would need a room,’ I asked in the car one day.
‘I knew it wasn’t safe for you to stay in that house after you had told me about your manager and the company house. I don’t think it was a company house,’ he replied.
‘No, I don’t think it was either. Bal lives there, in the room next door. Thank you for your help. If it wasn’t for you, I would have had to go back to Poland. I knew I couldn’t stay there,’ I replied.
His wife, Rebecca, on the other hand, turned out to be rather petulant and never in a happy mood. One minute she was nice and friendly, the next minute, she exploded. It was hard to predict what would she would say next, so I avoided her as much as I could.
‘Oh, shut up, you idiot,’ she exclaimed to Thomas, in response to his attempts to make jokes.
Why did he marry her? I thought to my dismay.
He probably thought the same, but was never courageous to say it out loud, scared that his head would be pushed into a microwave by his opponent, skilled in ready-meal-cuisine.
‘Today he is dancing with you. Tomorrow he will go back to his wife,’ said the sign on a poster in the ladies’ toilet in a local pub that I had gone to on a Friday night with my new colleagues.
‘Is this a joke? It can’t be real,’ I wondered, as I had never seen posters like that in Poland.
Dancing to eighties music, showing off my dance moves and forgetting about my worries, I noticed, from the corner of my eye, a tall, blond haired man, staring at me with a smile. When I’d stopped dancing, he approached me. ‘Hi, I’m Ryan, what’s your name?’ he asked with a strong Essex accent, giving me a lascivious gaze.
‘I’m Monika, nice to meet you,’ I replied.
Ryan was a lorry driver, very friendly and with a quirky sense of humour.
‘I must tell you something. I actually have a girlfriend, but it’s not that serious and she can be really nasty at times,’ he said when we sat down at the wooden table in a pub, a few days later.
‘I’m sorry to hear that she isn’t nice to you. Well, when you are single again, call me! I don’t date men who are in relationships,’ I replied, wondering why he would want to go out with me if he had a girlfriend.
He seemed surprised to hear my response, but I had my rules and I wanted to stick to them, even though I really liked him and his funny cheekiness. It was hard for me to say ‘no’ to him, but I did.
‘It’s over, I am single! I want to be with you! Can we meet in the pub?’ he texted me on a Friday evening, two weeks later.
We met later that night and it felt wonderful to stand close to him, holding his hand, enjoying his flirtatious compliments and jokes, watching others dance. He tantalized me with his suave demeanour, making my heart pound fast.
‘Do you want to come to my place tonight?’ he asked.
‘No Ryan, I am sorry, I can’t. Thomas is picking me up at one and I have to keep my word to him.’
But I did promise to visit him in his house three days later, on Valentine’s Day. I was excited to spend that special day with him and when I walked into his house, Ryan gave me a bouquet of red roses and had a table prepared for our dinner. We then cuddled on the sofa, watching a movie. I went upstairs to prepare a romantic atmosphere in the bedroom, lit candles and sprinkled red rose petals on the bed. Dressed only in my black underwear and a big red ribbon around my waist, I lay on the bed, waiting for him to unwrap me as his Valentine’s gift. Seeing me, his eyes lit up.
‘Happy Valentine’s’ I said, when he stood by the door speechless.
We met a few more times over the course of two weeks before he called me, asking me to come over. When he opened the door with a sad expression on his face, I instantly knew that something was wrong. I sat on the sofa and he hugged my knees, sitting on the floor, rambling.
‘What is wrong? Tell me. What happened?’ I asked, feeling my heart rate speeding up rapidly.
‘I really don’t want to hurt you, but I have something to tell you,’ he finally mumbled. ‘My ex-girlfriend called me and she wants to make up.’
I went quiet, trying to process what he had just said. ‘After all that we have experienced together, you are considering going back to her? Do you want her back? Do you love her?’ I bombarded him with questions a few minutes later.
He didn’t reply, but looking into his teary eyes, I knew what the answer was. I stood up, shut the door behind me and wept walking back home, jilted by the first man I had met in England, who turned out to be mendacious. Even though it was only over a short period of time, this betrayal stuck in my memory. After only a few months in England, I quickly learnt that a man’s intentions were not always what they had seemed. But how could I, as a woman, know if a man had good intentions? I could only find out myself once I decided to trust him and his commitment to a relationship.
Tying a red ribbon around my waist never crossed my mind again! Nor meeting a man in a bar! They never approached me anyway, as if I emanated a powerful deadly air, and they sensed they would perish once I ripped their head off for trying to play with my feelings. But it didn’t turn me into a nun either—I was never inclined in that direction anyway. Despite the fact that my first school sweetheart became a priest. Pondering later about that poster in the toilet made me realise it was not a joke after all, but a warning for women not to fall into skilfully designed traps of local predators who had taken their wedding rings off for the night. Ryan didn’t go back to his wife, but he did go back to his girlfriend. It was my welcome to Essex!
Cleaning tables at London Stansted Airport was not rocket science, nor what I would have predicted as my first job in England. Being paid just over £4 per hour, the minimum wage at that time—which, as I would find out months later, applied to under 21s, meaning I had earned even less than I should have, — I had to work really hard to earn a living. And what kind of living it was, with shifts of ten hours a day and only half an hour lunch break.
My uniform consisted of black trousers, black shoes, a white shirt and a knee-length blue apron, which looked very sexy on me—not really, but I was very excited for my first day at work. After all, I was officially working in England now. In England! My dreamland! I watched the happy faces of customers with due diligence, like an eagle, soaring in the sky, getting ready to catch my prey. As soon as they had finished their meal and left the table, I rushed to collect dirty dishes and pile them up efficiently onto the trolley. Once the trolley had been filled, I used my biceps strength to drag it through a slalom of suitcases and prams to the kitchen, where I exchanged it for an empty one. I then came back to my ‘watching station’, ready to begin the same process again.
‘Only nine and a half hours more to go,’ I sighed, looking at the luminous dial on my watch.
‘Thank you, have a nice day!’ I said to a leaving customer, who smiled back at me.
‘You seem like a very nice girl. Why do you work here?’ she asked.
‘Well, I’ve just come to England and I had to start somewhere! But I would like to be a teacher, or work in an office one day.’
‘You shouldn’t be here. You are too intelligent and your English is very good,’ she replied, and walked away without giving me a chance to explain that I could speak English because I was an English teacher, after all.
‘What did you talk about with this woman?’ Bal asked, approaching me straight after.
‘She just said that I’m a nice and intelligent girl, that’s all.’
‘You are not allowed to speak to customers. Your job is to collect the dishes. That’s it. Do you understand?’
‘Yes, I do,’ I replied.
‘Now, clean those tables at the back. Customers are leaving,’ he added and walked away as if he was a slave owner telling me off for trying to stand out.
‘You are not allowed to sit down,’ he said the following evening when I ducked onto the chair in the corner, when there were no customers around.
‘But my legs really hurt. Please! Why can’t I just sit for five minutes? There is nobody here anyway,’ I begged, desperate for his compassion but his face remained merciless.
‘You’re not allowed to sit down. It’s the company rules. Stand up,’ he said, giving me another lash upon my back with his cold words.
My hopes that life would get better and good things would come to me still hovered in my head, but after only a week, the sad reality hit me with a large frying pan, making my head rattle from the powerful stroke, that things would not get better. Not here, not ever, making me feel exhausted—not only physically, from standing all day, but also mentally.
Tysiące ebooków i audiobooków
Ich liczba ciągle rośnie, a Ty masz gwarancję niezmiennej ceny.
Napisali o nas:
Nowy sposób na e-księgarnię
Czytelnicy nie wierzą
Legimi idzie na całość
Projekt Legimi wielkim wydarzeniem
Spotify for ebooks