Lucky - unlucky part 2


Salesgirl or...?



Day 1


I arrived at work an hour early and whiled the time away at an Internet cafĂ© close by. At 9:00 am, I made my way to the shop and found my new colleagues seated at a neighboring fast-food restaurant, waiting for Boss to come open the shop. We were 7 salesgirls in all, 3 new. Why so many? Hellos were exchanged and we’d just launched into get-to-know-each-other conversations when suddenly, the older girls stopped talking and bolted towards the shop entrance. Then, an urgent hiss, ”Boss is coming!” I looked in the direction one was pointing and saw Boss, 250m away and walking leisurely towards us. Boss expected his salesgirls to wait at the shop door. He sauntered over, greeted us in a pleasant voice, looked at me and exploded! Boss was deeply offended by the denim dress I was wearing. Jeans had no place in his shop. What made me think jeans were acceptable business attire?  Jeans are for weekends. I was given a week to overhaul my wardrobe. Sigh! One, he’d wrongly assumed denim was all I had. Two, what a laughable request! He’d offered me peanuts, which I’d taken only because he’d said my salary would increase with time.

We set about making the shop sparkle; cleaning the glass windows, sweeping and mopping the floor, dusting the shelves, polishing the display cabinets, tidying up and emptying chomi the cat’s litter box. One of the older girls cleaned the toilet, a chore we’d all take turns doing. That was fine by me, until I tried using it. Nature called and I’d just closed the toilet door when it rattled with a series of rapid knocks. One of the older girls motioned for me to get out and filled me in on the shop etiquette.

ONLY Boss and his wife use this toilet. Salesgirls can go to the public toilets at the fast-food restaurant. Get permission from Boss before going out of the shop; to the toilet, for lunch, etc. You are given 15 minutes for lunch.”

Yes, I’d have to clean a toilet I was forbidden from using. 

That humiliating incident made me one of them. The girls opened up. Most hadn’t been paid in months; they found it hard to walk away from the sizable arrears. Maybe they’d get paid soon. One of the girls was so skint she sometimes went without lunch and walked 2 hours to work. They made grocery deliveries to boss’s house and were given a time limit within which to return. Coming to work late or damaging anything led to a salary cut. I listened with apprehension, but remained hopeful, “Maybe I’ll be the lucky one.”

That afternoon, I added Porter to my job description. A truck delivered new stock and we were required to offload the merchandise. One group of girls carried boxes off the truck while the second (mine) carried them up a narrow staircase to the storage area - a dusty attic that spanned the shop length. It was back breaking work. Part of the afternoon was passed memorizing prices and cloth-sizing layout, talking to and haggling with customers. At one point, another wave of cramps I’d tried ignoring for close to 4 hours interrupted my education and I gave up. I needed to go buy painkillers. Boss’s response was cryptic but clear, “Josephine, you’ve so far showed a lot of promise but am not so sure anymore,” he said, “You like going out too much.” Too much was twice to the toilet, lunch and now medication (I’d been denied toilet permission on one occasion).

6:30 pm and it was time to go home. Boss stood by the door and went through our bags as we filed out - a precaution against sticky fingers. He didn’t trust his 5 CCTV cameras.

Day 2


I turned up the next day looking considerably different in an above the knees beige skirt, a tight black top zipped at the front and black heels. Boss didn’t say a thing, which I took as a good sign. We cleaned, tidied the shop up and worked harder at getting people who entered the shop to leave with at least one expensive item. Boss sold prescription glasses to an old man who clearly needed to visit an ophthalmologist and cheated another customer out of a new belt. See, the furious gentleman had brought back a damaged belt, saying he’d used it only twice before the leather snapped at buckle. Leather? To placate him, Boss promised him a new replacement (from stock) in two hours. As soon as the man left, Boss got out his toolbox and went to work. He expertly detached the buckle from the torn piece of belt, smoothened the ragged end of the rest of the belt and reattached the buckle. The happy customer got the same belt back and was none the wiser.

Then the day took  a nasty turn. 

Late afternoon presented us with four arrogant goons. The other new salesgirl hurried over to serve them, but was roughly pushed to the side, as they demanded for Boss’s personal attention. Boss called the poor girl over and made a show of reprimanding her, “These are big important people. They work in state house. Why did you crowd them? Why are you so stupid?” He reassured the men his best girl would serve them and threw me to the wolves. I spoke their indigenous language, Runyankole. I wore a dazzling smile and assumed a friendly attitude bordering on flirting. Boss wanted charm. Big money was at stake. I brought them trousers, shirts, belts, cufflinks etc and listened to their poor people jokes. The jokes quickly turned lewd and I still smiled, albeit with difficulty. While rattling off prices, one of them cut in and referred to me as ‘this kid who’s trying to rip us off’ and asked how old I was. My truthful response stoked the lewd fire. “You don’t look old enough to even wear a bra,” came the nasty observation and before I realized what was happening, the repulsive man grabbed my top’s zipper and pulled it all the way down, exposing my breasts. “See, no bra!” I was mortified and stalked off. I'd had enough. Boss, who’d been watching the whole exchange, saw an opportunity to make even more money. He launched into a short-lived mock rave about sexual assault ramifications, then gestured towards the clothes they were holding and asked, “So, you’ll take those…?” As they made their payment, boss casually intimated his intention to charge them extra for their behavior. They guffawed in acquiescence, “That was a brilliant prank. Hahahaha…” Whatever Boss fined them was probably pocket change to these men. I never saw a coin of that money. To give me space to recover, Boss said I could go upstairs with another girl and scrub the storage floor. I…just…couldn’t. I begged not to and promised we’d do it the next day. He consented.

Day 3


The second new girl quit. I turned up in another stylish outfit and immediately regretted it. Having long discarded my heels, I was bare foot, sweaty and dusty by mid morning. It’d been a slow morning and Boss had decided on sorting the new merchandise. We carried heavy boxes from storage, down the narrow stairs to the shop, sorted the merchandise by size, repacked and stacked the boxes to the side and went back up for more. It wasn’t until 2pm that I was allowed to have lunch, after which Boss suggested I make good on my mopping promise, with a twist. I was made to scrub the entire storage floor on my own as the other girls continued with the sorting. This was normally done in pairs. While cleaning, I came across a box of Pierre Cardine labels. Strange. Could any customers be asking for label replacements? Nope. According to one of the girls, Boss sometimes relabeled shirts, trousers and suits as Pierre Cardine products. As soon as I was done, I was instructed to help carry the boxes upstairs. I was exhausted, my body ached and it showed.

That evening, while checking my bag for nicked goodies, Boss had a small nugget of wisdom to impart, “Scorpions are intelligent, powerful and hardworking, but they never get any reward from what they do.” I told him I would change that.

Day 4

I woke up early and prepared for work. I looked at my smartly dressed reflection and burst out laughing! No rewards....and.... working for an unscrupulous man.  I got out of my smart getup, went out to buy a newspaper...then  went to work on the classifieds page. 


4 comments:

  1. Oh dear, that was interesting to read but very annoying at the same time. Good you quit but you should have demanded for payment for the days you had worked.

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    1. It would have been a waste of my breath...Girls had worked there without pay for months... What I wanted was to never set my eyes on him...ever!

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  2. I would have quit too, i guess the other girls who had worked there for several months without being paid expected for things to get better but i don't think they ever did. It's a pity that many people are being treated like that at their places of work and the laws that can protect and help them are not effective.

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  3. I doubt things changed much...I met one of the girls 2 years later and she told me she'd left about a month after I had...unpaid. I doubt the government is bothered. Politicians are looking to line their own pockets...the minions are just that...slaves..

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