Category Archives: Short Stories
So I had passed the first hurdle! My heart was pounding with joy. Only an hour ago, I had received the email from the agency, confirming that I had been successful in the first interview. Now the Managing Partner wanted to see me. I had to be careful not to grin too smugly as otherwise the people in the shop would start looking at me suspiciously.
I quickly turned to the clothes rail with jackets and blazers. The new autumn collection had just come in and the shop was full of people who wanted to check for the latest trends. To be honest, I didn’t really pay attention to this year’s trends. Not only had I only gone to the shops to find a nice, classy blazer for my second interview but the fact that I had managed to grab the Managing Partner’s attention was so overwhelming that I just could not focus on what was in this year.
I carefully checked blazers and jackets, in classy beige, cheerful white, timeless black. They were all nice, some maybe a little bit too casual but some would make a really nice suit with the right pair of trousers. Still, I felt that I needed something special. Something that would make me stand out of the crowd. I knew that this firm wasn’t the same as my current workplace. But after all, that was exactly what I was looking for. A small firm, nice people and most of all, on the high street where I lived. This was the main reason I had applied for the position of Executive Assistant for the Managing Partner in the first place. Otherwise it wasn’t too different from my current position. Of course, they paid less than the big players in the City. Of course they were smaller in size and did only local work instead of international one. Of course their office was not as glamorous as the shiny skyscraper overlooking the River Thames. But – and it was a big but – to get to my current workplace I had to commute for more than two hours every day and that was on a good day! I didn’t dare to think about signal failures or trespassers, too scared that I might jinx my journey and got stuck for hours. I just couldn’t bear it any longer! I had to find a job near my flat, somewhere where I only had to walk a few blocks. No rush hour, no broken down trains. And now I was so close to make my dream come true.
Outside my little bubble of happiness and excitement, people were looking for the latest fashion and so the shop was rather full. Again, I didn’t really notice. I was still looking for the blazer and wasn’t going to leave the shop without. Finally, one caught my eye. It was black with white borders, quite a Chanel-type of jacket. I felt the material through my fingers, soft and elegant. It was the last one as I had not seen it amongst the other blazers but had actually found it discarded on a hanger for trousers. I smiled when I checked the label inside, it was a size 12. My size. It really was my lucky day.
I took the blazer and went to the dressing rooms. The shop assistant gave me one of the plastic cards showing that I had taken one item and I closed the curtains behind myself. The cubicle was spacious with two mirrors either side, so I could also see how my back looked. I put my jacket over one of the hooks on the wall and put on the blazer. It fitted perfectly. I could see myself shaking the Managing Partner’s hand tomorrow with confidence. I admired myself for a while in the mirror when I remembered having seen a blouse earlier that would match with the white borders of the blazer. It would only take me a second to grab it and try it on as well. I took my purse, left the blazer in the cubicle and closed the curtain from outside. “I am just going to get a blouse.” I told the shop assistant who smiled at me and told me that this was okay.
It took me a little bit longer than expected as quite a few people checked out the blouse section but eventually I found my size and went back to the changing rooms. The shop assistant nodded at me friendly and I made my way to the cubicle where I had left my blazer.
I was puzzled when I wanted to go inside the cubicle and realised that the curtain was open. Confused, I checked inside and with a certain feeling of horror, I realised that the blazer had gone. Maybe the shop assistant removed it. I am sure it is on the rail next to her desk, I thought. I went back to the shop assistant just to find a woman in front of the big mirror outside the changing rooms admiring herself in my blazer.
“Excuse me, did you just take this blazer out of one of the changing rooms?” I asked her.
The middle-aged woman glanced at me for a second without any sign of guilt on her face. “And if so?” She looked back at her reflection in the mirror, closed the button of the blazer and put it straight with her fingers.
“This is my blazer!” I cried out.
“Have you paid for it already? Do you have a receipt?” Oh, the arrogance! Of course, I had not paid for it yet and she knew it very well.
“Well, I have not paid for it. But it was in my cubicle. I just wanted to get this blouse and try it with the blazer.” I tried to argue.
“Then you should have taken the blazer with you. How am I supposed to know that you wanted it? I mean, how many people just leave things in the dressing rooms because they don’t want them?”
I felt my heart racing as well as the panic that I might lose the blazer. I said “Could I please have it back, now that you see that I do want it?”
The woman, certainly from a respectful background judging by the elegant hairstyle and the perfect make-up, just looked at me with slight surprise. “You shouldn’t have left the blazer out of your sight if it was that important to you.” she tried to lecture me. “After all, I really like it and it suits me, don’t you think?” It did but I wouldn’t have admitted it for all the money in the world.
I started to feel angry. Couldn’t she see that I really needed this blazer? I took a deep breath and tried to stay calm. “Look, I am sure you find something else that’s just as nice. Does it really have to be this particular blazer?”
“Well, why don’t you find something else? Again, if the blazer was so important to you, you should have taken it with you when you left the dressing rooms.” This was going nowhere.
“You could order it online?”
“So could you.” Yes, I could but I wouldn’t get it until tomorrow morning. “Look, just be more careful next time. You can’t expect other people to know what you want and what you don’t want if you leave things in the changing rooms. And now, please excuse me, I am going to buy this blazer.” She removed the blazer, put it over her left arm and went to the till, leaving me behind with an expression of defeat on my face.
The next morning – I had taken off the day – I was at the offices at 9.00am for the second interview. It was a cold but sunny morning and I enjoyed the walk through the park to the office on the high street. I had put on one of my old suits which still looked fine and I hoped it would still be impressive enough.
I was sent upstairs by the receptionist on the ground floor and greeted by of the secretaries who currently worked for the Managing Partner but who would go back to her old job once the vacancy had been filled. She asked me if I would like to have some tea or coffee and I politely declined not wanting to potentially spill something on myself given that I was a bit nervous. She asked me to have a seat at one of the chairs next to her desk and told me that the Managing Partner would be with me any minute.
Five minutes later, in which I went over and over again certain standard questions, the door to the Managing Partner’s office opened and I could only look on in absolute surprise. It was definitely her, her hairstyle, her perfect make-up and – my blazer. She shook his hand with a bright smile on her face and thanked him for the interview. He smiled back at her and asked her to have a seat; he would like to speak to her once he had interviewed the second applicant. That was me.
I forced myself to smile and I nodded at her. The surprise in her eyes confirmed that she also recognised me. The Managing Partner asked me to come into his office.
The interview was friendly, more like a chat and he seemed to be pleased with my answers. After about 20 minutes, he asked me to wait for him outside, he would like to discuss things with the HR manager and then he would let us know his decision.
I left his office and took a seat next to her. For a while none of us said a word. I stared at the philodendron in the corner and hoped for the best regarding the job.
Suddenly she said, “I am sorry.” I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me though I couldn’t imagine that she would use her mobile phone in this situation. I turned to my left and looked at her. Her expression was much nicer than the day before and she genuinely looked apologetic. I raised my eyebrows, not really sure what she apologised for.
“You know. For yesterday. I am really sorry. I was not very friendly yesterday, was I?”
I swallowed, fully aware about the presence of the other secretary at her desk in front of us. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I just nodded.
“I am not like that usually. I was just so nervous about today and I really needed this jacket. For the last 13 years, I didn’t have to look for work wear, so my wardrobe only holds one suit. I mean, I never expected to come back for a second round. So I just realised yesterday that I could not come back in the same clothes like the other day.” She seemed really embarrassed about the fact that she only had one suit. Sheepishly, I had to think about the 20 suits in my wardrobe, all City-style.
“I am sorry too. I shouldn’t have made a scene.” I apologised.
She smiled and said, “Don’t worry. You didn’t. Trust me, I have seen worse lately. I go through a divorce, you can imagine.” she winked at me. I honestly couldn’t, being 24 and a single. But I tried to give her the impression that I was sympathetic. “Gosh, I was really so surprised when the agency told me that I should come back. The last time I saw an office was 13 years ago. That’s when I got pregnant with Josh, my first-born.” She sighed. “And then five years later, when I wanted to go back to work, I had Patrick. And again, after three years, when things between me and my husband already were bleak, we tried to reconcile and Michael was born. Well, with three boys in the house, you rather wear jeans and tracksuits, not pencil skirts and white blouses.” She sighed again and just now I could see the deep lines of worry on her forehead. “But then my husband left me. You know, just like in the First Wives Club, I was the old cow and he replaced me with the new cow.” Somehow, I felt very aware of my age but still at the same time, I felt truly sorry for her. “So, I need to earn the money. And at the same time, I need to find a job near my house so that I can get home quickly for the boys. They want clean clothes, food on the table, help with the homework and a tidy house. I wouldn’t be able to make all that after a long day in the office and a long journey.” She looked at the resume in her hands. “It’s a miracle that he understands the big gap in my CV. But he’s got three boys himself.”
I looked at her CV and noticed that she had attended one of the best colleges for Business Administration in the country and she had worked in top positions before she had become a mother. Who was I to take this away from her? I was young, I had a secure position in the City in which I earned even more than here but she would need this money to give her boys the best start in life. Guilt crept up my throat. “The blazer really suits you.” I tried to reassure her.
“Thanks.” she smiled her warm, motherly smile.
The door opened and the Managing Partner stepped out of his office with a short brunette woman, the HR manager. “I have to say, it was really a very hard decision, you are the last two candidates for this position and both of you have spectacular CVs, so we really had to think hard about this decision.”
“I am really sorry to interrupt you but I think I would like to make your decision easier.” Everyone, even the secretary in the corner of her desk who was typing on her PC looked at me in surprise. My competitor raised her eyebrows and everyone was waiting for what I had to say. “I think, that my colleague here would be most suitable for the position. She has attended one of the best colleges in this country whereas I have only picked up the profession by practical experience. Which she has too, in some great firms which you can benefit from. And she’s got a great dress sense, so she will represent your office perfectly.” I smiled at her and I could see that she could not believe what she heard.
“But what about you?” the Managing Partner asked.
“I withdraw my application. You have already found the right person for the job. But thanks a lot for the opportunity.” I shook his hand and then I shook hers. Everyone was still looking at me in amazement.
“Well then, congratulations!” The Managing Partner was the first who found his voice again and shook the hand of his new assistant.
I could see a little tear in her eye when she said “Thank you.” but I knew it was a tear of joy and relief. I went to the door and left the office with a smile on my face, knowing that losing is sometimes exactly the right thing.
Arthur Wentworth II looked at his reflection in the mirror as he was ready to leave. He was well aware that his daddy would have never approved and that’s why it had taken him 83 years to fulfil his dream. But now, he was exactly where he always wanted to be. Ever since his granddad had told him exciting stories about his journeys to the African continent, Arthur had this strange feeling that it was his calling to go there. His granddad had always urged him to follow his dreams, advising him that ‘Life begins when it becomes more than mere existence.’ His daddy, however, had other plans and Arthur had always sought to make his daddy happy. Now it was time to make himself happy and nobody else.
Arthur made his way to the hotel lobby. Downstairs the concierge smiled a big friendly African smile but Arthur just nodded, keeping his distance to the locals as usual. Another thing he had blindly followed as his daddy had told him so.
When Arthur left the hotel, he enjoyed the Ugandan sun on his face. Kampala was already busy at this time of the day and he found comfort in the busyness around him. It took his mind off the fact that he was the only one left.
As Arthur did not have an heir, he had to sell the company to a consortium when he retired. Though his granddad had founded the company, it had been his father who had ruled it for 50 years with an iron fist. Although Arthur always wanted to become a famous actor, his daddy had snubbed these plans as dreams and forced him to start working in the construction company when Arthur was just 14. Now, only a member of the board, he had finally found the strength to ignore his father’s strict orders. Finally, he could leave bricks and concrete, heavy machines and hard work behind. He had always despised the line of work his father had admired so much. And though his granddad had always told Arthur to follow his dreams, he had never done so. But finally, at his 83rd birthday, he had booked the tickets and had made his way to the country his granddad had told him so much about.
Arthur walked through Kampala’s city centre, a busy and vibrant place. As always, he also passed the big tree in the middle of the junction. He kept his gaze straight ahead and ignored what was going on in the tree. He could hear them, like every day and as always, he would ignore their pleads. “Please Mister, one dollar. For food. Please Mister.” one boy said. Another one, not daring to look Arthur in the eyes, kept quiet but his little hands put together left no doubt what he was pleading for. But Arthur stayed strong. He didn’t care how many of them used the tree to spend the days there, safer being in a group. Too poor to go to school, too poor to have clean clothes, often too poor to have food for the day. Their mothers either left them there to fend for themselves or had to go to places far away to make a living.
But Arthur remained untouched by their big eyes full of hope that the white American would share some of his fortunate so they could survive another day. His daddy had never given in to any pleads from the community in New Orleans and so had he done after Katrina. Why would he care about them, if nobody cared about him?
And then Arthur saw him again. He was different from the other boys. Smaller, almost tiny. He never said a word, he was just there, sitting a little further apart from the others as if he didn’t belong to them. Probably waiting for his mother to come back, the sun was shining down on him and little drops of sweat were on his forehead. His clothes were in astonishingly good condition, though he was a little bit dirty from the dust on Kampala’s streets. Arthur had to ignore him as he was the only one who could make him feel unsettled. He didn’t know why but he was different from the others.
The weeks passed by and Arthur kept ignoring them when he was on his way to his favourite restaurant. Then one day, he dropped a dollar note accidentally right next to the tree of children. His old body wasn’t as quick as it used to be and before he could pick it up, wind and dust blew it closer to the tree. The boys were quick on their feet, running after the piece of paper that could bring them so much. The wind picked it up from the dusty floor, blew it high in the air and straight to the tiny boy’s feet. Arthur watched him carefully and the boys’ eyes were glued on the note. The boy picked up the note and looked at it for a while. Then he looked straight into Arthur’s eyes. Arthur was sure that the boy would keep the note and was therefore more than surprised when the boy walked over to him and his little arm stretched out to give him back the money.
Arthur was so taken aback by this behaviour that he just mumbled “No, you keep it.” and walked away. His old feet dragged him up the street when he heard the kids screaming and shouting behind him. He turned around and saw the whole gang surrounding the little boy, starting to push and beat the boy until they finally managed to grab the dollar note from his little fists. Some strange feeling kicked in. As fast as Arthur could, he rushed back, his walking stick in the air as a threat and shouting at the gang of boys. “Leave him alone. How dare you turn against the weakest!” He was surprised by his own words, when he picked up the boy from the floor. As fast as they could, they were gone, with them the money.
The poor child was bleeding and had scratches all over his hands where the boys had tried to grab the money. “Come, get up boy.” Arthur said. Although the boy must have been in pain, he didn’t cry. “Where do you live?” Arthur asked. The boy just kept looking at him with big eyes full of soulfulness. “Mother? Father?” The boy still remained silent. “Granddad?”
He took Arthur’s hand and they started to walk. Three blocks down the road, they had left the shiny city centre behind and entered a different territory. The roads were covered in torn plastic bags, old bottles and the sewers around the shanty town were full of rubbish and worse. Arthur saw the little houses with metal sheets as roofs and simple wooden doors and felt uneasy. Still, somehow he knew he had to take care of the boy. The boy, still holding Arthur’s hand, led him into one of the little houses. The room was tiny and humble. There were two beds, two chairs and a small table. The windows were covered with a white crocheted curtain and Arthur could only wonder about the kitchen and bathroom. A second later the thought was forgotten when he realised that they were not alone. The boy led him to one of the beds and Arthur realised that an old man, probably his own age, was lying in it. Still clutching on to Arthur’s hand, the boy just pointed at the man in the bed. “Granddad?” Arthur asked. The boy didn’t say anything and also the man in the bed remained silent.
A minute later, they heard a woman in wailing voice outside. The boy ran to the door and opened it and the woman, probably in her late sixties, took him in her arms obviously relieved to see him. “Where have you been, Anthony? I was worried sick when I did not see you at the tree. I thought something bad had happened!” Suddenly, she realised Arthur’s presence and being startled at first, she asked with a firm voice, “What has he done?”
“Nothing, Ma’am. Some kids were mean to him, so I took him home. I hope that’s alright.”
“Thank you. I sometimes leave him at the tree while I work in a restaurant. His grandfather is blind and deaf, he can’t take care of the boy. I know the boys there are no good but I can’t leave him on his own. Let me cook you a meal, to say Thank You for protecting my grandson.” Arthur wanted to protest, seeing how little they had. But the woman was not having any of it. While she prepared the food on a little stove outside, she told Arthur that Anthony’s parents had both died of Aids which only left her to earn money for the little family. As often as she could, she would send Anthony to school but they could not always afford it.
Arthur was touched by the story and the surroundings he found himself in where people survived without electricity, running water or sanitary facilities. ‘Mere existence’ sprung to his mind. Again, he had to remember his granddad’s words, ‘Life begins when it is more than mere existence’. This evening, when a family who had to survive so many obstacles, shared the little they had with him, he knew what to do.
The very next day, he did not only set up a fund for Anthony to send him to school. His experience in the construction business finally made sense as he invested all his money to give the people of this shanty town, proper houses, electricity, water and so much more than mere existence.
And finally, Arthur realised that his own life had begun when he was able to make other people happy and by doing so, he had made himself happy. Finally, life begins…