My wife’s powerful breathing wakes me up an hour before the alarm clock is due to sound. She lies on her back like Sleeping Beauty. I climb out of bed consumed with thoughts of my deceased parents. Dreams of them are a rarity, but last night I dreamt dead relatives came one by one to greet me.
I was in awe when my father’s father appeared. He stood wordless and clad in the deepest black suit holding a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a rifle in the other. My father, with a purposeful somber expression appeared next and he articulated his sorrow at missing my teenage years.
Finally, my mother floated in the air dressed in a delicate white fabric with patterned holes. A white scarf draped her pulled-back hair. She stretched her arms, as if intent on presenting me with a bunch of golden daffodils. I tried to take them, but she kept a firm grip, as if to tease me. Her lips tapered to a thin line, and she offered a winsome smile. However, a frown suddenly emerged.
“Be careful,” she said, but I awoke before she was able to tell me what I ought to be careful of.
My mind sticks on the thought of how different my life might have been if my Dad had not died. As a young boy, I initially thought he was a causality of the U.S invasion, but Mom explained he died in an unrelated vehicular accident. However, shortly after his funeral, I was told by several older cousins that my father took his own life.
When I questioned my mother demanding the truth, she denied the stories. She swore on her bible that his death was indeed an accident and he hadn’t purposely slammed his sports car into the post that killed him. I never figured out why she’d lied to me, except, maybe, she wanted to protect me from the same type of pain she’d endured when her biological father abandoned her as a tot.
I force all thoughts of my deceased parents out of my mind, as I stand in front of the bathroom’s mirror, and strip down to my birthday suit. I inspect my slightly protruding abdomen, and sigh. I breathe deeply before holding in my breath to make my stomach seem flatter, and firmer. I run the shower and allow the cold water enough time to warm while I brush my teeth. Then I step under the water, and cover my skin with suds before washing off the soapy film. The soapy water runs down the drain in the same direction my marriage is heading. The running water quickly transforms from a soapy sod to a clear hue. I pat my body dry, place my towel around my waist and step toward the bedroom. My wife is still asleep. Her gasping sound reverberates throughout the silence of the early morning. I slip into a white shirt, and a pair of black slacks.
Later, as my noisy car veers toward my workplace, I reminisce about the day, when my older boy, Andrew, as an energetic five year old held his mother’s hand and boarded the plane that was about to take us from Grenada to Canada. My thoughts retreat even further to the last day I worked as a Human Resources Officer at Grenada’s Ministry of Education. Little did I know then, I was leaving a secure though not particularly high paying position, for unreliable, monotonous work in a new land.
I’m green with envy as Janine, Eddie, and Kofi, come to mind. Janine, my daughter’s mother, is a human resources director at a multinational corporation in Florida. Eddie, my younger brother, is a successful insurance broker based in Mississauga, and Kofi, my friend, is a supervisor at a large communications firm in downtown Toronto, while I remain a lowly administrative assistant working under a termagant named Sally.
My boss scurries in front of my cubicle dressed in a fancy black suit with a band of white splashed around her collar and wrists. She looks more like a high-powered attorney than a middle manager. Her hips shift from side to side as she walks, and I haven’t been able to figure out if this is her natural gait, or whether she consciously moves her body in such a manner. She carries a black bag over her right shoulder and firmly holds a briefcase in her left hand. Her shoes are almost stilettos, and I’m amazed at how she’s able to move at lightning speed without ever tripping and falling over. Her shoulder-length hair falls neatly in place and bounces as she walks. I’ve rarely seen her in the same outfit twice, and I swear she changes her hair color almost as often as she changes her attire. I don’t have a clue as to her natural hair color, since she’s changed it at least four times in the six months I’ve worked here.
When I arrived, she was a brunette with dark brown hair. But her hair was soon transformed to a lighter shade of brown. Then out of the blue, she became a Marilyn Monroe look-alike. Today, her hair is a dark-red color, and I often wonder what color she’ll try next. She’s easy on the eyes, and her only negative feature is her oddly shaped ears, but her hair usually hides them from view. Experience has taught me how deceiving looks can be. She’s probably my worst boss yet, and I’ve had numerous bosses in my thirty-five years, but I’ve learned how to deal with her negative insinuations and her curt personality.
“Good morning, Sally.” I turn to acknowledge her. I know how to play the game. I know how to make her feel important. I want to become full-time here. After two-plus years in Canada, I’ve grown tired of moving from one temporary position to another. I’ve learnt how to play politics with the right people. Attending every work function is a must, especially if Sally organized it herself. I don’t want to give her ammunition to use against me. I don’t want her to say I don’t socialize with my workmates. That is why I take the extra effort to make myself visible at every work function, whether I’m in the mood to attend or not.
Ten minutes goes by, and then my telephone rings.
“May I see you in my office?” Sally’s tone is unruffled. She speaks in a much softer tone than she usually does. Gosh, I wonder what she wants now. Did I do something wrong? Is she going to fire me? Maybe she’ll give me the best news yet. Could she be planning to offer me a permanent position?
Sally has summoned me to her office only twice in the six months I’ve worked here. On the first occasion, she informed me of the rules and regulations I was expected to follow. I didn’t know what to make of her then, she seemed youthful and inexperienced, but time and circumstances have surely changed that perception.
On the second instance, she admonished me for mistakenly e-mailing some incorrect documents to the members of one of the working committees. Sally usually phones me, or sends an e-mail whenever she needs a particular task done, but when she’s in one of her nasty moods, she places sticky notes on her door. But I’ve gotten into the habit of checking the door’s exterior for her little messages with the same regularity in which I check for voice or e-mail messages.
“I’ll be right there,” I speak into the receiver softly. I tap her door lightly and quickly glance at her name, Sally Kennedy, embossed at eye level in gold letters.
“C’mon in,” she says.
I push the door. She sits erect facing a large window. She fingers a silver fountain pen, and unconsciously bites her bottom lip. I’d fancy an outside view from my desk as well, but all I can see from my cubicle is the partition separating my workspace from one of my colleagues. A beam of sunlight dappling the green grass and the soaring trees outside Sally’s window suddenly disappears from view.
A woman approaches within inches of the window, and begins to flap her arms like they're birds’ wings. She swirls around aimlessly and positions her hands as if she’s dancing the waltz with a partner. She seems not to have a care in the world, and I’m resentful of her free spirit. Sally glances out of the window and smiles as the woman twirls on the lush grass.
I momentarily glance at a photo enclosed in a gold colored frame hanging high up on her wall. It‘s the same humongous size as portraits of the Queen, the Prime Minister or Governor General often displayed in public places. I don’t understand why she needs to hang such a large family portrait in her office, but it’s none of my business. Little post-it notes, some blue and some yellow are affixed like minute decorations around all four edges of her computer’s monitor, and she presses one of them in place as it hangs by a thread.
“Have a seat,” she says, her mysterious expression is baffling.
I settle in the nearest chair, clasp my hands and maintain a rigid posture as I wait for her to tell me why I’ve been summoned. She watches me intently as if she’s trying to read my mind, but I’m also trying to read hers. She hesitates before she speaks.
“Excuse the clutter,” she says.
We both glance at the abundance of files and books scattered all over her desk. I don’t respond, but, instead, I give her my complete attention. She lowers her gaze, but quickly lifts her head and stares at my face. In return, I offer a wooden smile. I look intently into her blue-green eyes.
“Isaiah, I don’t know how to tell you this,” she says, “But we have to let you go at the end of the week.” A warm queasy feeling rushes from the top of my head to the soles of my feet, however, I keep a straight face, even though I’m thinking of my financial responsibilities toward my wife, my eleven year old daughter, Megan, my eight year old son, Andrew, and the baby of the family, fifteen-month-old Jason-Martin.
Sally looks at me as if she’s sorry to see me go. Her lips spread apart.
“I’ve tried to see if there is another position we could fit you in, but I’ve not had any success at that, I’m… I’m…I’m really sorry Isaiah,” she stutters aberrantly. I believe every word leaving her lips is a deliberate lie, but not wanting to upset the apple cart, I press my lips together, even though in reality, I’m dying to tell her she can keep her stinking job. I want to tell her I can do better. However, as I shuffle back to my desk with stiff, leaden legs, I remain hopeful the situation might change over the next four days, and she would summon me back into her office with a full-time job offer.
A little more than ten minutes later, I’m still in a surly mood, but relieved my workmates have kept their distance. I scan my surroundings to make sure the coast is clear. There is no one in sight, so I click the Explorer icon on my computer’s desktop. My favorite job search website launches and I quickly glimpse at the newly advertised job postings. The clobber of heels approach, so I minimize the job site’s window, and drag a colossal file toward the middle of my desk, flip it open, and with my pen in hand, I focus on the page facing me, even though in reality I’m staring at it blankly. One of my colleagues settles in the adjacent cubicle.
I’m astounded. I had applied for an internally advertised position in Corporate Services four months earlier, and an e-mail response to my application arrived in my in-box only moments ago. In the message, Marilyn, the Human Resources Officer, apologizes for the four-month delay and in her terse message, invites me to an interview scheduled to take place in two days. Maybe there is a glimmer of hope for me? I respond to Marilyn’s e-mail promptly. I tell her I am available to attend the interview at the time and place she has requested. Her short notice doesn’t bother me. I’m ecstatic I’ve been given a chance. This is the first interview I’ve been invited to since I began working here, even though I’ve applied for more internal positions than I can count on all of my fingers and toes. Might this be a sign of my changing fate? I begin to daydream. I imagine being offered a permanent full time position, with full benefits and paid vacation, exactly the sort of job opportunity that has continuously eluded me.
Two days later, I glance at the eight interview questions I prepared the night before. I don’t think I’ll need to refer to them, but it’s a sort of security blanket, so I fold the sheet, and clutch it tightly. I don’t want to get my hopes up too high, but yet my spirit is upbeat. I’ve glanced at my timepiece all afternoon. It is now two forty-five. Fifteen minutes is more than enough time to walk toward the adjacent building without breaking a sweat. My boss is off site, so there's no need to report my absence to her, but I step toward my colleague in the adjacent cubicle to let her know I’ll be away, in case of an emergency.
I walk briskly, intent on getting to my interview a few minutes early. I’m alone in the elevator as it ascends. The door slides apart. I enter room 314. A raw-boned middle-aged woman comes toward me sporting a casual top and push-toe shoe. I sense I’m over dressed in my business suit and tie.
“You’re Isaiah Codrington?” Her voice is more youthful than her age.
“I’m Barbara Wilkins,” she extends her arm. Her handshake is firm, but her hands sure feel cold.
“This way please,” she leads me to a room with a much more extensive view of the hospital’s sprawling grounds than from Sally’s first floor office.
“I’m Irene Sandoval, Director of Corporate Services,” a generously proportioned woman stands in front of an oval table with a serious expression. She offers a flaccid handshake. The fine lines encircling her eyes, tell the story of her age. Her brown eyes slant slightly downward, giving her a tired, worn-out look. She turns sideways, and I observe her convex nose profile.
“Have a seat,” Barbara says while Irene Sandoval maintains a stony frozen look.
“Do you want a cup of coffee?” Barbara says.
“No thank you, I’m fine.”
“Did you have any difficulty getting here?” Barbara’s warm smile remains.
“No, I work in the neighboring building, so it’s sort of familiar here even though I’ve never before set foot on this particular floor.”
“I guess it’s about time we begin,” Irene looks up at the clock.
“We’re going to ask a series of questions, and take notes as you speak. Are you okay with that?” Barbara asks.
“Yes, that’s fine.” I sat as I begin to feel a little bit jittery.
“If either of us asks a question and you want us to clarify, feel free to interrupt us and we’ll try to simplify,” Barbara says.
“Do you want me to ask the first question?” Barbara looks across at Irene
“You can start the ball rolling,” Irene says.
Both women peek at their respective copy of my résumé resting in front of them. Each has portions highlighted, but from where I'm seated, I’m unable to decipher what they have chosen to emphasize.
The questions flow in a simultaneous fashion, from Barbara on my right to Irene on my left. Tell me about yourself. Why are you applying for this job? Why do you think you’re the best candidate? How do you think your past experiences relate to this position? Where do you see yourself in five years? Tell us something about yourself you’d like to change. Tell us about a time when you were in a stressful position and what did you do to handle the stress? How would you deal with a difficult employee? Wow, the questions seem to go on forever, but I’ve answered with an indescribable eloquence.
“Is there anything you’d like to ask us?” Irene suddenly says.
“Sure, is this a newly created position, or did someone resign from it?”
Irene and Barbara’s eyes meet. Irene takes a deep breath.
“Ac…Actually so...some… someone is currently wo...working in the position,” Irene stutters.
“How soon are you planning to hire their replacement? I ask.
“The individual whose been temporarily holding the fort has also been interviewed. There were a few issues, some sort of discrepancy, I think that has delayed the process.”
Irene responds stiffly, and in my opinion insincerely. Her eyes lack expression and for a while, I look at Barbara, and then at Irene and silently think. What was their motive for inviting me to this interview four months after the job was initially advertised? Why was someone allowed to work temporarily in this position for all this time? Why are they using me to make the system seem fair? Why is there no one from Human Resources here?
Do you have any further questions?” Irene asks.
“No, that is it,” I say candidly. I’m ashamed for them, but it’s a poignant moment for me.
“Thanks for taking the time to come. It was a pleasure to meet you,” Irene says.
“Thanks for making the effort to attend the interview,” Barbara adds.
The heaviness of disappointment weighs me down as if I’m carrying a stack of iron blocks on my back, but I muster the strength to stand.
“Thanks you both,” I say politely.
Glynis Guevara was born in Barataria, Trinidad. She completed undergraduate studies in England, but currently lives in Markham, Ontario, Canada. Her manuscript, Under the Zaboca Tree was long listed at the Mslexia Women’s novel competition 2012, and her short fiction, The Visit, (adapted from her manuscript Barrel Girl) was short listed for the Small Axe Literary Prize 2012. About seven years ago, Glynis completed a Post Graduate creative writing certificate at Humber College, in Toronto, Canada. The Interview has been adapted from her manuscript, Pain of My Imperfections.