“Can I help you?” She’s dressed smart, pale blouse with navy blue jacket and skirt. Pale red lipstick that should be called femininely professional.
“Ah, yes,” I reply, “well, I hope so… I need to find a job.”
Her finely pencilled eyebrow twitches. “What sort of work are you looking for?”
How have I managed to push the buzzer and walk up the stairs into an employment agency in London without considering this question? What sort of work am I looking for?
“Well. I lived in Egypt the last four years I’m a writer you see and I was visiting my mum when it all kicked off and I kinda lost most of my work and I don’t know if and when I’ll be able to go back and I just need something to tide me over for a while. Anything, really.”
“Eeegypt, huh?” She draws out the “e,” as if savouring an exotic taste. “My friend went to Sharm al-Sheikh. She had a lovely time.”
You got to be kidding me? Sharm al-Sheikh. We are currently witnessing events in Egypt so epic the Pyramids themselves are shaking, and you want to talk about the resort hell on Earth that is Sharm al-fucking-Sheikh!
“Yes, it is lovely,” I say.
She asks me again what sort of work I want to do. I realize two things. 1 – I’m not going to be able to dodge this question. 2 – something to tide me over for a while isn’t going to cut it. I need to be more specific.
I resist the temptation to tell her that what I want to do is go back to Cairo and continue writing about the city; that as far as revolutions go, this one was damned inconvenient because not only did I miss it, but the only time I broached the subject to my family of returning I was told – eyes glassy with shock and suppressed tears – not to be so selfish. But I figure she won’t be able to help with that, so –
“Well,” I start to say, “my background is in writing and editing…,” but she interrupts –
“We only deal with office jobs.”
“OK. I’d like an office job, please.”
“Do you have a CV?”
This one I’m prepared for. I do have a CV. A CV that charts, in excruciating detail, the meandering path I have taken through life: from Geology graduate to numeracy tutor, via some TEFL and a touch of fundraising, to tour leader and then writer. In short, a CV that shows: a) I can’t keep a job for more than two years, and b) I probably don’t want to work in an office.
I’ve been anticipating this moment with delicious dread. I remove a sheet of paper (keep it down to one side of paper, I’d been told, it’s very important) from a smart plastic wallet (liberated from my mum’s study) and pass it over, watching her eyes. She doesn’t take it. Doesn’t even glance at it!
“We don’t accept paper ones here,” she not-quite-snaps, “We get so many CV’s we’d drown in them. You need to email it to me.” She hands me a card, as I imagine her death by a thousand paper cuts.
I ask if they have much work going, and she assures me that yes, there is loads. Then she pauses, looks me slowly up and down. I flush. I’m dressed in tatty jeans and trainers, a hoodie that I don’t think she can see the holes in, and a striped brown beanie.
I want to tell her that all my clothes got ruined in Cairo, that dust and pollution and old taxis and smoky cafes (not to mention leading tourists around by the hand) play havoc with the threads; that before returning to England I hadn’t been subject to the tyranny of socks for four years. But I don’t. Instead I blurt out –
“I do scrub up well.” She smiles for the first time, though I can’t tell if it’s patronising, pitying, or contemptuous. Perhaps all three. I leave, feeling pathetic.
I totally suck at looking for work. Partly because I haven’t had to for years; partly because I still feel disoriented in London. Visiting is one thing, but contemplating a move back here is a whole different kettle of heebie jeebies. And if I’m being honest, a big part is that I don’t want any of the jobs I’m applying for. I could possibly work in a nice cafe for a bit, one with chilled beats and beanbags and a jeans and t-shirt dress code. Possibly. I suspect if I even did get offered a job in an office, I’d turn it down. I’ve been spoiled. I am spoiled.
That evening, I meet three friends in the pub. We talk for hours about Egypt. One of us used to be a teacher there. One has family there. One has lost her freelance work as a news producer because of her insistence on covering events there. One realizes, deep down in his heart, that he simply has to go back there.
I go to the bar, get a round in. Put it on plastic, so it doesn’t feel like I’m spending money. Drinking like I’ve got a job.
Have you ever applied for a job knowing there’s no way you’re really going to accept it? How do you go about finding work?
And to see how Candice Walsh dealt with being laid off, check out Garlic Finger Breakfasts and New Life Plans: The Hope and Heartbreak of Being Laid Off.
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Nick lived in Egypt for six years, working as a tour leader, EFL teacher, city guide editor, and online guidebook writer. He's currently in San Francisco searching for his centre. He (kinda sporadically) blogs at Delicious Chaos, and you can follow him on twitter.