PART SIX: The Job Centre
Walking back through town, David unfolded the A4 sheet that the Job Centre had given him. The paper was cheap, a dirty cream and the ink was faded. The printer cartridge was on its way out and most of the staff didn’t know how to change it. David looked down at the address printed between the text. He’d never heard of the street name and he thought he’d known the area well. He had torn out a detailed map from the local phone directory. David had kept it in a draw in the kitchen with all the takeaway menus the last tenant had left and the few updated ones that he added himself.
He looked at all the carefully mapped out streets and thought that if he looked hard enough the page would burst into flames. He dropped back into reality, there was no such street on the whole thing. Maybe it was just outside of the page. The job centre lady’s voice was ringing between his ears like some type of voice tinnitus, repeating the warning, ‘If you don’t make the effort this time to get the job we have found for you, you might get a two week suspension of your benefits.’
David pulled out his tired mobile phone and dialled the job centre number. He got through to the regional switchboard and asked to be transferred to his local branch. He thought they wouldn’t pick up or he would be on hold for a while but with a brief flush of satisfaction, they picked up almost instantly.
David asked about the street name and explained he couldn’t find it. The voice on the line asked him to wait as he checked his computer. Keys tapped and a murmured mess of voices filled the break in conversation, as did the sounds of the outside that bustled around David. ‘No, there is a street of that name in the town Mr Waters. One of my colleagues thinks they have been down it. So it must be there, keep on looking and good luck with the interview.’
‘Ok, cheers. Bye’ was all David could reply. He wouldn’t get the job anyway. They had called up the employer and sent him around straight away. The employer just said ok, sounding confused and thinking, ‘this guy must want the job pretty desperately to make the effort to come down to see me today’. David didn’t have his CV and wasn’t tidy enough in his opinion to impress anyone at the interview. Boots, jeans, smart casual shirt and his coat, from the bottom up. They didn’t give him time to go home and get smartened up and put on his suit.
At least it wasn’t the woman on the line he’d had to endure last time. He got sent out on a wild job hunt. She had said down the line, ‘If Mr Waters doesn’t turn up he will lose two weeks of his benefit and the right to receive welfare…’ She took the job role too seriously bordering on sadism, ‘…so toddle on Mr Waters. There is a job waiting for you. Goodbye,’
A few streets back he had passed a newsagent. David went back and asked if they knew where the place was. He had asked an old man on a street fighter motability scooter that looked like an F1 car, but the old man couldn’t hear him. His hearing aid was faulty and he was off to town to get it replaced. ‘If you wait here I’ll be back in half an hour, then I’ll be able to hear you son’. ‘Sorry mate I’ve not got time’ David said to the old man. It fell on deaf ears.
He tried an old lady but she passed over to the other side of the street to avoid him and a truant from the local high school who just asked David to buy her some fags, because the newsagent wouldn’t serve her.
After turning the corner off the industrial estate, David saw the newsagent and went on inside. After a bit of to and fro between David and the shop keeper, the shop keeper relayed the conversation from the front of the shop to the back. Finally an answer came from the back and the shop keeper passed it on. Even though David had clearly heard what was said, he didn’t butt in and let the shop keeper carry on anyway.
‘Sorry mate, we’ve no idea. It’s not round here. Would have come across it in the twelve years we’ve had this place I would have thought’. There was a pause for David to say thank you and then the guy carried on, ‘just wait a minute, I’ve got an idea you could try’.
He bent down behind the counter. His voice came out over the top of it. ‘I’ll check the newspaper round logs. Just hang on a tick, mate’. David stood there politely eyeing up the confectionary shelves on the front of the counter. The selection started to have an effect on his taste buds, he started to drawl. The shop keeper rose up, David realised he was about to dribble and immediately sucked the dribble back through his teeth. ‘Definitely no sign of it in here or in the old log books from the people who had the place before me, can’t help you mate, sorry’.
‘Thank you for your help. I’ll go back and see them at the job centre. I think they’ve made a mistake’. ‘Seems like it mate, can I get you anything while you’re here?’ he asked with hope of a small sale. Out of courtesy he gave in and bought one of the chocolate bars. David said goodbye and thanked him while placing his copper change in the old RSPCA dog chained to the counter as he left.
David walked back through town, back to the job centre. He came to the curb side, stopped and waited for the traffic to die down and pass. Rolling from heel to toe, cars of different sizes passed, the first he noticed was small, the next was bigger, then small again.
David watched a big car approach, it slowed but there was no ‘let on’ for him to cross. So he waited there to see what the driver would do. He was in no rush to see the members of the job centre staff and receive his due ‘tut, tut’ that he believed would probably turn into an apology.
As it got closer, the car got bigger. Down in London they called it a Chelsea tractor, up here it just meant useless sponging posh twat. It just pulled up in front of David. He was about to lean out timing the pass, getting ready to cross as it stopped there right in front of him. He swayed to bring himself back on balance and laughed to himself.
If he got his balance wrong he imagined his face connecting with the driver’s window. His cheek smearing and squeaking down it, leaving a greasy skin smear. The lady meeting David’s panicked eye from the other side of the tinted glass, waving his arms and hands trying to grasp something to hold himself up. Eventually he’d fail to find grip on the stylized body work and melt down out of her sight onto the pavement.
‘What you doing?’ he asked himself. He was already frustrated with the day so far. The status symbol sat under a foot away. The lady was not aware she’d blocked his crossing. It wasn’t sexism, it was a small fact. It could have been a dapper fella in his pink shirt, tank top and green cords.
Any moment she would pass on by, leave his crossing and do her thing. There were spaces a few car lengths in front of her. She looked about her inside the car, distracted from nearly everything around her. She answered the call, thinking she’d seen the parking spaces in front. She simply assumed she’d parked up in one of the spaces but stopped short.
Big sun glasses wrapped her immaculately made up face, framed in tortoise shell with some gold branding holding them together. She put the phone to her ear and quickly answered. The conversation built and calmed and then became prolific waffle. She had forgotten where she was. He stepped backwards and tried not to get too frustrated. He was here first with his simple purpose. He shuffled his feet a little. He couldn’t think whether to turn and stroll along a bit or wait and cross there. He just watched standing stubbornly with a little humility.
David waited, smiled and pictured another farce scenario. Getting into a rhythm, a beat filled his head and in his mind’s eye, he stuck his arms out like a plane. Like a big capital T. Still unaware, she kept waffling on. He just stood there waiting patiently. His farce carried on. He flicked his wrist and the wave moved up his arm to his elbow and over straight shoulders, knocking his head to the side. The flow kicked down into his elbow, along to stop at his other hand. He paused and the move rolled back again.
It would look funny but stupid. The image slipped out of his head. The beat vanished and all it would take was a polite knock on her window. So he gently tapped a finger, he thought a fist would be too aggressive.
She turned to look at him and dipped her head to look down her nose. Her lenses were too big and got in the way. She made a hurried move to pull them a little farther down her nose but they were still too big to look over at David. He smiled and gave a fragile laugh. She smirked and lifted her sunglasses to rest on her forehead pulling back her neatly chopped fringe.
‘Hold on, there’s someone tapping my window’. The driver’s window drops an inch. ‘Hello’ she said to him. ‘What’s the problem? I’m just on the phone’, She said over the glass. She had an awkward look on her face, knowing that she wasn’t doing something quite right.
He rubbed his chin, his stubble gave little resistance. He opened his mouth to answer but David’s words didn’t follow. ‘Hold on. Yes. Stop talking darling… a huh, yes. I just told you, there’s someone at my window. Yes, yes…. Very Romeo and Juliet darling.’ Almost embarrassed she opened the window a little more.
‘Sorry, what do you want?’ the immaculate lady said. ‘It was just to say excuse me. You’ve just stopped on a crossing’ David answered, he felt he was being difficult. ‘Oh god, I’m sorry, a hundred things are going through my mind just now’ she said to him and put down the phone.
He pressed his lips together in mild frustration, relaxed and let out a comforting smile. ‘Look don’t worry, we all have rubbish days’ he followed. ‘Sorry, sweetie, I’ll move on. I thought I was in a space’ she said ‘B, bye, have a shave darling, I like the look but you need a good grooming’ she winked. David smiled, tipped his imaginary cap, bowed and walked round the back of the car as she drove off the few car lengths to the free parking spaces.
Laughing, he crossed the road and it started to spit rain a little. David looked at his reflection in a white washed ex-shop window and checked out his look. She was wrong, he liked the way he looked. His mobile phone started to ring and vibrate in his pocket. It was an apology from the job centre. The street he had been looking for, for the last few hours of morning, was over a hundred miles away in Bristol.
David returned home via his local supermarket. It was around lunch time. David was nearing the few streets that run up to his row. His coat had almost done its job. He was damp, both on the inside and out, but he was warm. He had carrier bags in each hand. Three in total, two in one hand and the third hanging from his other.
His phone came alive again. A text alert vibrated in the front pocket of his jeans. He ignored it for a few paces. Curiosity made him put all his bags in one hand and reach in for his phone. His hand felt tight and stiff. He looked down at the pressure sores the bags had left pressed into his moist hand. Clenching his fist a couple of times, he wiped the sweat down the front of his thigh and pulled his phone out.
He’d not been getting many texts lately since coming out to his friends telling them that he’d been suffering from depression for a long time. It seemed a conversation killer to some and awkward to those he now found were just superficial. People came and went. You made and lost friends, someone once told him. This was a pretty brutal comment but he understood it more in these darker personal days. David was starting to fight the stigma and fight his depressions and anxieties.
He got excited. His close mates had been great. They kept in contact at random times through the weeks after he had told them what was what with his damaged soul. He also kept contact and replied back, not too much though as he didn’t want to put his friends out and he didn’t want them to tire of him. They cared for him more than he knew.
The phone had seen a lot of activity that day. The screen flashed bright. The contact information showed up in black text on a light blue background. It said Lisa. David stared uncomfortably at the back lit screen. He felt a little anxious and shaky but unlocked the phone and pressed the button to the read the message.
‘You fucking wanker. You couldn’t just leave it and be happy with what I’ve allowed you. You’ve blown it. Now fuck off’.
David bombed immediately. He dropped to his hands and knees to get as low as he could. He wanted to disappear through the pavement into some subterranean world. His shopping bags crumpled and crashed around his bent legs, the contents settling as they relaxed in the floored bags. David’s other hand ground the phone into the wet tarmac.
Cars passed, someone hit their horn but carried on. He dropped to his elbows hunching forward, flushing and panicking chronically. More cars passed. None stopped, they just carried on. He needed a nervous piss.
What seemed forever was seconds, a few minutes trying to breath. Suddenly David was bowled over. His right side hit by something. This was different pain, it was sharp and winding. The surprise knocked him from his blinkered trance, off his forearms and knees and onto his side. His bags emptied.
‘That got your attention didn’t it son. It’s not me needing the hearing aid, it’s you. Ya daft bastard. I saw you didn’t wait for me to get back to find out what you wanted. I said stay there didn’t I’, said the old fella with his new hearing aid in. He had pulled up a couple of feet away from David and repeatedly called to him to get up. Telling him that, this wasn’t a place to start praying. His joking turned to concern.
As his concern grew, he decided that it would be a good idea to give David a small shove with his motability scooter. David lay there on his side in surprised astonishment. Getting his breath back and checking himself over to see how damaged he was David exhaled a reply, ‘Fuck me mate. Where did you learn to drive?’
‘Korea son and watch your potty mouth. What you doing down there?’ laughed the old fella, less worried. ‘Nothing much, planning on getting up very soon mate’ groaned David hiding what truly had been happening. ‘Thought you were choking on sommit, took that nudge to loosen the stuff stuck in your throat son. Can’t give you the Heimlich sat on here. I’ve not the strength any more to lift you. Be like mounting a bitch. Wouldn’t be right would it, in front of the world and his mistress son?’
‘Wow. Cheers mate, that’s very considerate of you’, David said sarcastically, ‘I wasn’t choking. I had a bad text message’. ‘Shit boy, that’s bad luck. I was taken down like you once, took a couple of bullets’ laughed the old man. ‘It was from the ex’ David replyed. ‘Then give me the bullets any day son. I sympathise with you young fella’ he said and finished by blowing a raspberry out of the side of his mouth through the tar stained light grey hairs of his tash.
‘Here forget about all that now. Hold on to my handle bars, I’ll pull you up. I’ll put it in reverse and off we go’. ‘No, don’t you worry. You’ve done enough saving for now. Thank you very much but I’ve really got to get on.’ David started gathering up his things and walked off leaving the old fella sitting there rolling up, dropping the excess into his tobacco pouch and lap. David started to well up.