I was born and raised in a working class neighbourhood somewhere in Western Athens.
My parents were your typical villagers who arrived in the city to fulfil the petite bourgeois dream that it promised. When I started going to school my mother spoke to me about her occupation. She told me that whenever someone asked what her job was I should say that she worked at a shirt factory. Indeed, I recycled those words of hers for many years.
My mother’s true occupation was a cleaner. In houses, in shops, uninsured, with bosses who had an increased demand for slaves. With constant negotiations over whatever little money they would pay her, with constant pleadings for them to give holiday pays she would rarely receive. All of this filled her with silence, not with a voice. Her mouth was shut to such a degree that I never remember her complaining, not even to us. Her own people. Even before growing up I decided that it would be me breaking this silence on behalf of us all. I was not ashamed. I was not ashamed to say that my mother was a cleaner. Even before growing up I spoke to her. And even before growing up she spoke to me too: she told me about her shame, her fear, for the behaviour of the “good society” to its staff, which it needs primarily for visual, aesthetic purposes.
The silence gradually broke across the entire family.
Mother’s true occupation: cleaner.
Mother’s true occupation: cleaner who will never receive a pension.
Mothers’ true occupation: cleaner with no insurance who was fired every single time she demanded what was hers.
Mother’s true occupation: cleaner with no insurance who got sworn at every single time she raised a word about her working rights.
Mother’s true occupation: “Konstantina Kuneva”.
“The sulphuric acid fell on my mother’s eyes. Her gaze is now brighter. The sulphuric acid fell on my mother’s vocal chords. Her speech is now bolder. The acid fell on my mother’s soul, too. And her shame disappeared.”
She gave money for Konstantina’s medical treatment, she wanted to take to the streets for her (even if she didn’t manage to do so) and she came out to my father’s bourgeois family about her occupation.
She told me: “I feel sad about Konstantina. Every night I think of her”.
I told her: “Today, I love you more than ever”.