A bunch of us wanted to write 1000 word stories during this Coronavirus lockdown. This is the first of many to come in the coming weeks, based on the prompt given by members of this writing group.
Prompt: The gate swung open with a horrible creaking sound like it was ready to fall off its hinges. I took two tentative steps forward, feeling my breakfast slowly work its way up my food pipe, ready to decorate the cobbled path in front of me.
I had been preparing for this, for ages. I spent hours watching videos about writing the right cover letter. I questioned the authenticity of every line in my CV, and answered them with confidence to my imaginary panel, who smiled approvingly. In reality, it was my spartan brother equipping me for an interview, and it was exceptionally difficult to elicit a twitch from his tightly drawn lips.
‘Being fired from a job you love is not easy. But I made the most of it by using the time it gave me to focus on myself. I’ve been learning how to code’
‘But, why were you fired, Nandini?’
How many ever times this question showed up in how many ever ways, I simply could not bring myself to answer.
‘Well… I shared a joke about my boss on our WhatsApp group by mistake’
I wondered if this would come across as being honest. I wanted to portray myself as a person who had the capability to accept one’s follies, a trait every über cool start-up endorsed, through their senior management’s contemplative but proud posts on LinkedIn or other social channels. I imagined the interviewer moving to
the next question nonchalantly.
‘I was always late because I stayed far away’.
Is it valid enough? No.
‘My manager was not helpful. She was a monster!’ Was I bad-mouthing my manager who drove me home and bought me dinner every chance she could, so we could catch up outside work?
‘My family needed me to care for them, which took a toll on me, and my performance dipped into a sludge and hid there until I got fired’
Could I lie about my family when all they’ve done is support me through this whole fiasco? Umm, no.
‘Hmm.. Budget cuts.’ followed by a shrug to indicate that it was not my fault.
‘I was sexually harassed, but when I raised my concerns, the management fired me and the harasser! What was my mistake here?’ I tried to sound angry while looking into the mirror. No, no, no, this is not fair to the ones who would have actually gone through this ordeal. I shouldn’t be twisting it to suit my desperation for a job.
These were all lies.
However much I prepared – decorating my CV or practising my interview questions, truth was, there were zero interview calls for around the three thousand applications I sent out. Not for the first year, not for the second. In the second half of my third year of being jobless, and when I was on the verge of giving up, I got a call.
The bus ride was long and arduous. The weather didn’t make it particularly easy either. I found a sweet spot by the door, holding on to the railing and shifting uncomfortably when someone came to buy a ticket from the red beeping automated machine. I had to smile and move when someone waited to get out, and endure the cold winds that blew every time the door opened and shut. There was another problem. All the men and women were taller than me, and their jackets swished above my head or close to my ears, and in some cases I had no choice but be exposed to varying degrees of underarm niffs or unwashed down jacket odours.
K had packed a box of hot and fluffy idlis with molagapodi and all I wanted to do was find a seat in a corner and plonk down to open my breakfast box before it could go cold. My stomach roiled in hunger and fear. It was also the stress of interviewing for a job after six years.
After an hour’s ride, I managed to find a seat. I thanked K internally for having cut them into tiny pieces I could gobble using the white plastic fork he had wrapped in a tissue. Ignoring the inquisitive stares from the white folk around me, I quickly finished my breakfast and drank a large swig of warm water from my maroon flask, just enough to wash it down.
My phone beeped.
‘All the best. Don’t fuck it up little sis.’
I made my way out the tram and onto the pavement. The wind howled and nearly buffeted me off balance. Every walker paused for a few seconds in their positions, drew their hoodies up their heads and walked as if nothing happened.
This, according to me, was an omen.
I drew my hoodie up anyway and marched on.
I reached the location. It was a massive European edifice decorated with falcons, a clock tower and a tiny spinning wind vane on its spiked crown.
I pressed the buzzer next to the namecard ‘Weber’.
The gate swung open with a horrible creaking sound like it was ready to fall off its hinges. I took two tentative steps forward, feeling my breakfast slowly work its way up my food pipe, ready to decorate the cobbled path in front of me. Whatever little hope I had about acing this interview was starting to leave my body.
I felt defeated. Deflated and small, in front of the huge building. I was losing consciousness.
I swallowed my saliva hard, drank some water and walked up to the reception. Whoever this Weber was (man, woman, child or clown), was definitely some big shot. I was shown into a carpeted room with intricate embroidery on its borders, on the sixth floor.
I rubbed my cold hands and focused on controlling my urge to throw up.
A short woman in her 50s walked in.
Alarmed by this greeting and hoping to get my point across, I said ‘Guten Morgen. I thought this was a role that needed me to speak only in English’.
Switching to English, she said. ‘Of course! Good morning!’ and began interviewing me.
After a twenty minute session, a break ensued and I texted K and my brother.
‘I’m killing this! Round one over!’
K: ‘Woohooo. All the best for the next one! Love you.’
My brother: ‘Don’t get too ahead of yourself child’.
Two other people– (their name tags read Ms.Gothenburg and Mr.Dremel) entered the room and I answered all their questions as if I knew what to expect. I thanked my brother for his coaching skills, however ruthless they had seemed then.
Just when I began thinking I was going to nail this whole shebang, Mr.Dremel said
‘Would you like to share with us why you were fired?’
‘I got pregnant. The company’s policy expected me to not get pregnant for five years after I started work. I had signed a contract and I violated it.’ I blurted out the truth.
‘What a terrible place to work at!’ exclaimed Weber.
‘When do you think you’d be prepared to join us?’, asked Ms.Gothenburg.
Inflated by happiness, I smiled.
But all I could manage were tears.