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Book Cover of Dreams and Realty

BEGINNINGS

from Dreams and Realty
by Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm


It was Stefan's second day in Canada. He's taken care of all formalities at the Immigration Office. He'd found a job, working the graveyard shift as a janitor in a shoe factory. Now all he had to do was find a place to live.

He didn't know Toronto. He'd been shown the Polish district, and told that since his English was so poor, he'd be better off moving in with a Polish family. He walked along Roncesvalles Avenue and turned onto Garden Avenue. Here he saw large, beautiful houses. In the window of one he saw a sign: "Room for Rent". He rang the bell. An elderly woman opened the door. She invited him in and showed him the room. A few minutes later the owner appeared. He looked at Stefan and asked:

"Where you from?"

"Gdynia".

"How far is Gdynia to Kamien?"

"I don't know," Stefan answered shyly.

"Cause that's where I'm from, around Ilawa," the owner said proudly.

Stefan rented the room. Instead of paying cash, he gave the owner his good clothes as collateral. He'd get them back in two weeks when he paid the rent.

He was bit surprised that he didn't have to register his address anywhere. He was pleased with himself, but very tired and hungry. He hadn't eaten or slept for almost two days. He had a sandwich, which he'd saved from the plane trip. Now he ate it with relish. He lay down on the bed.

There was a knock at the door.

"Will you eat some pierogis?"

He was sorry the invitation didn't come sooner, the he could have saved the sandwich for tomorrow.

"Of course I will, thank you very much" he said delighted.

"Six or twelve?"

He was a big surprised. He looked: the pierogis were small. If they're offering, why not take as many as I can, he thought to himself.

"Twelve, please".

He ate them.

Another surprise followed, actually, that was more of a shock.

"For you, that'll be $1.50".

He broke out in a sweat. Then he took out his only money - a five dollar bill. That's all Poland would let him convert. His "hosts" gave him his change.

Then in a great reflex action, he smiled broadly, and said: "I've got some fabulous vodka. Straight from Poland. Would you like a drink?".

"Sure, why not?".

He pulled the bottle out quickly, uncorked it and poured generously. They drank, praising the quality of the alcohol, and thanked him.

"For you, that'll be only $1.5, " he grinned.

They paid him. But this time they were the ones in shock.

"You'll be rich in no time here in Canada," they said nodding with approval.

* * *

He saw a church. It was an impressive-looking structure, with a rectory next door. A third building bore a sign saying: "Polish School".

A tall, thick=set man in street clothes was standing by the rectory door. His pants were wrinkled and his shoes scuffed. A Canadian through and through, thought Stefan.

"Do you think the pastor is in ?" he asked.

"Whaddya want"? the man replied.

"Well, I just wanted to tell the pastor...".

"That's me. Whaddya want?".

Stefan was angry because of the familiar "you" form the priest used. But he said nothing.

"I just arrived from Poland a few days ago. I saw that sign, "Polish School", and I thought perhaps I could be a teacher here. I've had a teaching experience...".

"This is a rectory, not an employment office. So forget it," the priest interrupted him.

I already have a job".

"Oh...well.. you see... " he said, softening. "We don't need any teachers. There are quite a few of them already".

"You, listen here, how many kids have you got in your school?" Stefan cut him off, deliberately stressing the familiar "you" form.

"Well, sir, you see... It's just a habit... Please, sir, give me your address, if an opening comes up, I'll drop you a line".

Three days later the postman brought Stefan his first piece of mail: envelopes from the church - Sunday offering envelopes.

* * *

He started his job as a junior in a shoe factory. It was a large complex with several buildings, adjoining the main one. The floor was filthy. It had been a rainy day, and the employees had tracked in a lot of mud. Stefan had to change the water in his bucket several times before he got the floor clean. He was weak with hunger. In the morning he'd eaten two dry rolls. He wouldn't get his first paycheque for another three days. "I just hope I don't faint" he thought to himself. He stepped outside from some air. Suddenly, he had a dazzling idea. He went to check the nearby Dominion Store warehouses to see if any food had been dropped on the ground. Sure enough, the loaders had dropped several oranges and potatoes. he gathered them up like a treasure and went back to the factory. He ate the oranges, and put the potatoes into a bag for later/ He still had hunger cramps in his stomach. In the garbage he found one of the employees' unfinished lunch. He ate it. The cramps subsided, but his appetite grew all the more. He looked in to the employees' lockers, In each of them he found coffee, sugar, tea, and other food stuffs left carelessly lying about. "It will never occur to them that someone was borrowing from them because of the hunger". He drank several cups of tea and coffee. He cleaned the lockers, though that wasn't part of his duties/ In all, he collected two full bags of "garbage".

Outside the lockers, in the garbage area. he found almost two dollars in loose change, which he pocketed.

In the staffroom, there was an electric hotplate, some plates, cutlery and serviettes. Stefan thought: "Tomorrow I'll have a feast" I've got potatoes and I'll buy a piece of chicken and an egg, and have a real meal".

He slept very soundly that night.

Three years later Stefan recounted his first experiences in Canada with such relish and amusement that tears would come to his eyes.

"Yes, yes...The beginning is always the hardest", his friends all agreed, sipping their after-dinner liqueurs.




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