The Job Interview

Corporate boardrooms are cold. The clear glass walls and hardwood floors, the snooty secretary who wouldn’t let me in at first, because she thinks I don’t belong here… I also don’t think I belong here. Her bare feet showing in the reflection on the opposite glass wall, ashy under the table, next to them, a pair of thrift store shoes polished to near perfection.

The backs of the chairs are high, and red and white. The man sitting in front of me is tall and confident, like he was born in the suit he’s wearing. The table is black and shiny, and I immediately become self-conscious of the color burst in front of me which is my file holder. Pink, blue and yellow flowers and paw prints I’d thought were cute at the store now seem so outlandish in this world of straight lines and sleek cuts.

“If you’re anything like your sister, you’ll be right for this job.” he’d said a whole bunch of other things before that, but I was too busy looking at the tea room in the next glass walled room.

My sister. Tall and slim. Extroverted, and resourceful, she’s the life of every party. She has a smile that makes her look kind, and gets along with everyone perfectly. Like, everyone, including Difficult Diana. She runs in the mornings, and has quinoa salads. She travels the world, and can fix anything, and has a job she actually loves. So “no”, I want to say, “I am nothing like her!” but instead, I smile and nod…or at least that’s what my head looks like it’s doing.

“Tell me about yourself.” He says, looking at the papers I’d fished gingerly from the loud folder. In a brief flash of honesty, I open my mouth. I want to tell him about how I like big storms that threaten to rip off the roof, and how butcheries have always made me dizzy. I want to tell him about the time my skirt fell in freshman year of high school, and how that haunted me to my graduation day. I want to show him my poetry, and some of the stories I’d written- lovely, but unfinished. I want to mention how the word Guam has always made me laugh, and how from since I was a child I’ve wanted to be on the West End despite being thousands of miles away in a country where theater is a hobby and not a real job but! But this is a financial institution, and this is a job, and no one says that sort of stuff, and so I close my mouth.

“I uh…I graduated university, second in my class, and I have my BA, and…” I rattle on about things that are already in the papers before him. Just like I’d practised, just like I’d been told to.

“So, what can you bring to the table?” he asks.

I want to make a joke about green ham and eggs. I want to talk about how I can make cute greeting cards by hand and how I’ve never sent anyone a store bought birthday card in years. I want to say how good I am at reading people, their little quirks and patterns. Like how I know that despite his acting like he was born in that suit, he had a tough life, from the yellow in his eyes, and from the marks on his hands.

But I talk about how I’m good at research, and even though I did not study something finance related, I can do the job because I’m a quick learner and-

“What accounts can you bring?” he doesn’t let me finish my sentence.

Accounts? A wave of panic and incredulity washes over me. I barely have a bank account of my own to speak of, I jump away at the chance of having to sell anyone anything let alone convince whole entire companies or…accounts to do anything. I am not made for this. I am not my sister. I am not sophisticated, I do not have interpersonal skills, and I cannot bring any accounts. I like painting, and music no one else understands, and still cannot bring any accounts. I like to watch foreign films in offbeat movie houses, and I prefer the company of toddlers to adults because they are more honest, and probably also because they don’t have accounts. Suits make me feel itchy, and I prefer to sit around in my pajamas, drawing ugly-cute owls on napkins. I’m not sleek, I’m not smooth around the edges, I’m not this. 

I get up from the table. The interview is over before I can even get another word out. The man shakes my hand and gives me a kind smile which doesn’t reach his eyes. I know I disappointed my sister. She set this up, because it’s safe, because the money is good and the future is set. Because it beats working for free at some non-profit, and writing bad poetry online. I want to tell him to not tell his girlfriend who’s my sister’s best friend who convinced him to set it up but I catch myself laughing at the nepotism of the whole connection.

I walk past the secretary, she doesn’t look at me, but she’s put her shoes back on. There are people in the reception area- people that look like they belong here. All beautiful, all suited, all accounts. I quickly march my beaten brown loafers across the marble floors of the main building, and make my way out.

It’s raining outside. Big, fat drops of sky water which fall down the perfectly paved stones of the office complex. German and American cars line the Zambian car park, all shiny even in the wetness. I make my way past them and to the bus stop where a bawdy conductor hollers for passengers.

I want to cry. I feel the lump in my throat like a hot potato burn through to my chest. I take my phone out and type a hasty apology to my sister. And then I call my best friend, but before she picks up, an old man gets on the bus. His pinstripe suit looks almost a hundred years old, and his gold teeth glint in the daylight. He stands in the middle of the aisle, spindly legs spread apart, hands on his hips. He proceeds to make a whole speech about how he loves his wife, and how she’s better than the rest of us on the bus- even if she slept with his friend fifty years ago.

He then bursts into song- an original piece he plans to sing to her when he gets home. His voice is croaky, and hard to listen to, and some people shout for him to stop and sit down. But he only sings louder, rocking from side to side. Some people start to clap, others are laughing.

I too, start laughing. Because in that moment, I realize something. We are all living our stories, and they are not perfect, but they are real.

They are lovely, and unfinished.

Seven Years

I am seven.
Wiry little person whose once neatly pulled bun is now a rowdy afro with a small pulled tuft in the middle where the ribbon still holds on for dear life. My girlish mary-janes are brown with dust, buckles undone sometime between break-time and now. One once-white school-sock pulled up while the other is in restful slumber around my ankle. I am outside the school gates, laughing with my friends, as we slap our hands together in rhythm to the sacred made-up game passed down to us by the Big Kids.
And then. She walks past us. This woman, tall and beautiful, skin the color of caramel, and hair flowing down her back. Is it real? Is she real? Like an angel, she and her red bag walk past us, and in that moment, none of us speak- but we all know we want to be her.

I am fourteen.
Standing in front of a the blank-faced auditorium of grey uniformed people slouched in the backs of their seats, hoping silently that this be over. As we, myself and the three girls on my right, screech adamantly the words of Maya Angelou. Words we only memorized because she said what we believed we also ought to say.
We regurgitate stanzas of an oppression that we in our fourteen years could never understand. We, on that stage, embrace a Blackness, an Afrikanness which we will immediately after go off and shed like a costume, as we get back into our straight hair and color contact lenses.

I am twenty one.
The words of Angelou are no more than an echo of a past life as I obsessively hold onto the fist-sized rolls on my sides, willing them to disappear. My popular boy tells me I am beautiful, and that is enough for me to forget about them and smile. The world seems perfect; this small campus community, this world in which doors open at a single touch and existential fears are overrated, and your life…your life is the best life you can live because you are guaranteed that out there- the world will be yours. I’m doing an artsy course because I tell myself I don’t want to wear monkey suits, and silly shoes, and I want to work on my own schedule. I plan my four years to perfection, and all goes off without a hitch. I graduate magna cum laude, and the world is just waiting to know my name. I am perfect. Everything is perfect.

I am…I’m not sure anymore.
I’m in a grey monkey suit, and on my feet are silly shoes I can barely walk in. I smile effortlessly- like I’d practiced in the mirror before; today is the first call of two hundred applications- an unpaid position with potential to grow. I don’t care, I need it, even if for the papers. I continue to hold the effortless smile as they say to me in the best possible terms that I’m just not the right look. And nod in the most understanding fashion- like I’d also practiced in the mirror. And I walk away, feeling angry, wanting to punch the world in the face for its fake promises.
And then.
On the street corner, in front of a school gate, a group of girls playing that hand game passed down by the Big Kids. Their hair an afro mess half pulled up by ribbons. They stop their game. They are staring at the woman in the grey suit and the red bag. And that woman? She smiles at them and waves, hoping these seven year olds will do it differently this time.