The Prospective Employee
Bella sat in a stiff-backed chair with a cushion that had no pretence of giving comfort, and the ceiling began to creak from the footsteps of those on the floor above. On the other side of the desk, with barely enough room to incline themselves backwards in confident poises, at peril of striking the crowns of their heads against the painted wall, were two persons in expensive-looking suits, with perfect fit, and buttons squeezing their bodies into a professional mould.
Sitting on the desk, partly cutting the eye contact between Bella and one of the interviewers, was a grey computer with its screen pointed towards the window, away from her. She could see from her position that the mouse had a sticky substance lodged between its buttons. It rested on a corporate mouse mat, the corners of which were curled up and split. It sported a gold logo in letters rimmed with black that read Radcliffe Programming.
The Prospective Employee took a deep breath and resolved to choose her words carefully. It seemed to her the interview had reached the pivotal moment, the decisive split-second that would make up their minds. Racking her brains for an answer to the crucial question, she rifled through the memories of past times: paddling in the river, going up in a hot air balloon, tickling Dad’s ankles while he hung the washing out...
A smile came to her lips when she thought of the ankles. It was Dad’s only ticklish bit. He hated it because it made him giggle like a little girl. Once, back when he was a sprightly thirtysomething, she had chased him right down the street, barefoot, brandishing a pink feather duster. Dad threw down his peg bag, fell on to a neighbour’s lawn and begged for mercy, kneeling so that his feet would be out of reach. She jumped into his arms, pretending to cuddle him, and sneakily reached over his back with the feather duster towards his ankles.
An incisive cough brought Bella back to the interview room. Dismay filled her heart and leaked into her facial expression as she realised that, not only had she been daydreaming in the most critical moment of the entire interview, but in actual fact she had no answer to the question that they had asked her. Observing her frantic mental searching, one of the interviewers decided to repeat the request:
“Example? Successful collaboration? Team?” came his parrot-like voice.
Before her mind could wander into pondering this strange manner of repeating oneself, by dividing a sentence into three, and the issue of whether the young man had meant to help her or patronise her in doing this, Bella slapped her knees, gave a nervous laugh and surrendered.
“I’m sorry. No can do. It has just never really happened. I could talk about my family, but that can’t exactly be called successful…”, again she tittered, in a desperate attempt to release the little room from the enormous tension that seemed to be making the walls bulge outwards. The two interviewers exchanged a glance.
The office was on the ground floor and Bella could somehow feel the weight of the whole building pressing down on her head. Out in the street, people were walking past in raincoats. The short patch of grass down to the metal railings in front of the old townhouse was yellow at the edges; perhaps the only living thing in London that was enjoying the weather. Unless it was the acid in the rain that had discoloured it in the first place.
“What about your previous jobs? They must have involved teamwork, surely?”, said the older one, the woman, who wore glasses that seemed to magnify her eyes. Outside, a double decker bus trundled past and parped its horn.
“Or perhaps you have always been the sole employee of your managers?” added the young man with a smirk. His eyes were snakely small and continually glistening, in contrast to those of the woman, which were more like fried eggs – a likeness not redeemed by those awful glasses.
The woman, who seemed to be in charge of the interview, leaned forward and looked at Bella over the rims of the unflattering spectacles.
“Let’s move on, shall we?” she said, and pursed her lips. “What about your experience? Your CV suggests you have been in the administrative field for a while.”
At last – a morsel thrown into the cage.
“I worked for Anchor Software Solutions?” Bella said hopefully.
“Excellent! And how was it there? What were your greatest successes?”
Bella blinked. She had never been in a room with so drab a décor in her whole life. Beneath the desk she could see the young man’s crossed legs, and his tight trousers which came to a stop a few inches above his feet. She could just make out a few dark hairs sticking out around the top of his stripy brown socks. A piece of chewing gum was stuck to the sole of his right shoe, which she could see at intervals as he slowly raised it up and down, in a foot-tapping motion, yet without making any sound.
Past caring, Bella mumbled something incomprehensible and the interviewers wrote nothing down in their files.
“And what was your reason for leaving your job at Anchor?” asked the female interviewer next, both eggs wide and expectant, in a rather patronising, unimpressed way.
A fly buzzed around the dusty window frame. Bella’s eyes flicked from heavy desk to leather chair, to humming PC and family photo, coming to rest on beige window blind. Her mind went blank.
“I…, um…, don’t know,” she croaked hopelessly, trying at the same time to hide the fact that she found their self-satisfaction, and the whole charade, a source of entertainment. She turned her head to one side and buried a snigger in her shoulder.
“You don’t know?” said the woman with glasses. A sun ray appeared through the clouds, traversed the window pane and sliced into her forehead.
“You don’t know!”, squawked the young man, and his leather shoes squeaked (though it may have been his chair).
The parrot was too much for Bella. As though suddenly unlatched, her head fell backwards and out flew a loud, untamed guffaw. Momentarily she stopped silent, amusement on her face, and looked at the two of them. Then she bent down forwards and started to laugh again, loud peals of laughter that seemed to come from right down in her gut.
Egg Woman folded and unfolded her arms. Squeaky Man twiddled his pen.
Bella could feel more and more ripples bubbling inside her; as the noise burst forth the three individuals could hear it echoing throughout the interview room, compact as it was. The walls, so near and so thick, only served to accentuate the intense and almost fiendish nature of her mirth.
She raised her head, still holding her stomach, and looked at them through eyes half-closed with laughter, through her hair which had fallen in front of her face.
“You two make a great double act,” she managed to squeeze out shakily between convulsions, “but I think it’s time I was going!”
To the further astonishment of the two smartly dressed managers, she clumsily rose to her feet, picked up her leather satchel and stuffed it under her armpit, downed her plastic cup of its coffee dregs and bounded out of the room.
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