If I saw someone like me, an almost six-foot tall, 24 year-old slim, blond waitress with typical Nordic features, carrying a laden drinks tray and trying to navigate her way between tables on four-inch heels, in a crowded London middle-class pub, I’d say “She really wants to be noticed or else she really wants to suffer.” My name is Olga Kipras by the way.
I was twenty when I moved out of the sheltered, strictly Lithuanian community in the Newham area of London where I’d lived since arriving in Britain as a child with my family. By the time I spread my wings my survival skills had been quite well honed. My third part-time job after leaving school was waiting on tables from 6 pm till closing time, usually midnight, six nights a week at The Bark and Trunk Pub just off King’s Cross. The hours suited me as I was also attending a demanding Business Management course. A reasonable wage and tips made my new independence feasible. And happy, too, as I was then blissfully in love with Richard, the American singer I thought was to be the man of my life. Turned out he wasn’t.
My workmates were Brendan, a morose Irish chap with a passion for melancholic songs in his native Gaelic and Gillian, a bubbly five-foot two-inch Welsh girl. Gillian and I got a lot of the-long-and-the-short-of-it type comments.
As I was saying, life was good. Until The Bark and Trunk changed management. The new owner was a middle-aged burly Turkish man called Benez Charderov, who always added “I’m Kurdish” when he made new acquaintances. So we named him Kurdish. About two weeks after his arrival, Kurdish took me aside. I’d been expecting it as I’d seen him eyeing me up from time to time. My ‘no’ would mean I’d be looking for another job.
“I’ve watched you. You not to flirt with customers Miss Olga.”
“I don’t flirt with customers sir, but I have to be polite.”
“Don’t flirt, you hear me?”
“Yes, I do. Is that all?”
“No. Another thing, I want you to wear different shoes. Trainers are not good for this job.”
“But they’re comfortable.”
“No, Miss Olga, you wear heels from now on. Nice sexy high heels.”
“No need for why. I pay you. You wear heels.” He took a £100 note from his wallet.
“Here. Buy nice red shoes with heels and wear them tomorrow evening. And always black trousers. Always.”
“I have red shoes. I don’t need this money.”
“Take it, take it. Red, sexy, very high heels only tomorrow. On all other days black heels. Ok?”
I felt awkward, unprofessional, gaped at, ridiculous. Richard wasn’t at all impressed on his visits to the pub whenever he was in London. One of Brendan’s very rare facial expressions suggested he wasn’t either. In fact it suggested he was quite disgusted. Gillian thought it all bordered on the grotesque.
A few days later I was offered another £100 note. “Tomorrow I’d like you to wear nice sexy white shoes.”
“With heels I suppose,” I retorted. He was really beginning to annoy me. I took the money despite my reservations.
“Of course, my dear. You make our pub really special.”
“If you say so.” At least he hadn’t tried to grope me!
This was the start of what I recall as my Heel Period. My boss didn’t want me flirting with the customers but I had to wear “sexy” shoes. So be it. In my country they say ‘you tie the donkey where the owner tells you to.’
Even the most bizarre behaviour can become routine. Soon there was little cajoling and the request became an order. “White tomorrow, Miss Olga.” “Red tomorrow, Miss Olga.” Otherwise I wore black heels.
My Heel Period lasted about six months. I arrived at the pub one Saturday evening, white heels in backpack. I had chained my bike to the railing nearby when I saw the closed pub and a police-officer standing outside.
“I’m afraid this establishment has been closed until further notice. Do you mind coming with me to give a statement at the police station.”
“Do you speak English Miss?”
“Of course I do. Why do I have to come to the police station?”
“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to answer any questions, Miss Kipras.”
I started to dial Brendan’s number.
“I’ll take that if you don’t mind. No calls allowed for the moment.”
It took an hour of repeated answers to repeated questions to make the officers who interrogated me understand that I knew nothing about a drugs distribution network operating out of The Bark and Trunk.
“We understand that you, Miss Kipras, passed on messages.”
“I did no such thing. I served drinks and took cash or credit cards for them. I cleaned tables and mopped up spilled drinks and emptied trash cans. I didn’t pass on any messages.”
“We interviewed your colleague Mr Harman.”
“Yes. In fact he said you may not have known.”
“That you were passing on messages.”
“But I wasn’t.”
“We are convinced you’re telling the truth. But, if you’re hiding anything, you must tell us now.”
“I never passed on any messages to anyone.”
“It was your shoes.”
“Yes, we know you were told to wear different shoes from time to time.”
“Yes, that’s right. What’s that…?” I stopped mid-sentence, understanding seeping in.
“White shoes meant a consignment of one thing. Red meant there was something else.”
“I don’t believe it!”
“One of our agents was a regular in the pub. He told us about the remarkable heels.”
The evening at the police station is now a somewhat surreal memory of the ordeal. I remember trying to recall when I started wearing the shoes, how much I got for wearing them, when and how often I changed colours. I remember picking faces out of piles of photographs, signing forms, leaving a contact address and number. Finally, having been told to expect my outstanding wages and some compensation and to delete my now ex-boss’s number from my cell, I left the station.
My phone rang as I was unlocking my bike.
“Everything ok?” It was my workmate Brendan.
“Not really,” I realized that I was upset about the whole ordeal.
“Seeing as we’re both out of a job maybe we could meet for a drink around 9?” he suggested. He must have been feeling the same way and, as far as I knew, he didn’t have many people to turn to.
“Let’s take a walk, I couldn’t sit in a pub this evening.”
“Yeah, looking at heels and all.”
“Don’t you start. I’m totally exhausted.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“I’m going to have a major shoe sale on ebay Brendan.”
“Good start. You could put the money to
a trip to Ireland. I’m going home for a few days. Like to come?
“Oh! Thanks Brendan. That’s really nice of you.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I’d love to come,” What was I saying? “But I’ll come only on one condition.”
“That I can wear trainers the whole time.”
“No problem. See you in a few minutes.”
“Where are you now?”
“Actually I’m across the street. You look well. At a distance!”
Well! Who’d have thought!
A friend once said: “The biggest life-changers are the unplanned ones.”
Margutte has already published a short story by the same author: http://www.margutte.com/?p=1692&lang=en
(Picture by Lorenzo Barberis)