Lucky - Unlucky part 1

The interview

No, I’m no layabout. In fact, by the time I was 20, I’d crocheted to earn money, worked as a lawyer’s receptionist, a salon receptionist, a typist, as a cleaner/messenger at a reputable interior design store and more; most during school breaks but some alongside school.  

I was 19 and in the midst of a deep bout of self-pity. See, the US embassy had just stolen my golden egg. I'd been denied a student visa (My sponsor was American and I was an orphan with weak family ties to Uganda - a potential immigrant). I needed a job to keep me sane till the next University  intake in Uganda. As luck would have it, my brother had spotted an advert for a job he thought was right for me.

“The proprietor of Man About Town, an authorized dealer in Pierre Cadin men’s clothing is searching for beautiful and intelligent sales girls. Hand in your applications together with a photograph by xx.xx.xx. Interviews will take place xx.xx.xx at the shop located on xxxxxx road,  Kampala.”  

Damn! The applications deadline was long past and interviews would be the very next day, a Sunday. A quick online search revealed Pierre Cardin to be a high-end brand. The salary would be decent. I had to attend that interview. I’d wake up early and be first in line at the shop. I’d plead my case and try to hand in the application letter and hopefully, I’d dazzle enough to at least be granted an interview.

The weather had a different plan though. I woke up to angry grey skies letting loose – relentless heavy rain. Wet and muddy wasn’t the way I wanted to make a first impression. I decided to wait the rain out. I arrived at the shop three hours later than I’d planned to find a snaking queue of young excitable women. True to African weather, it was sweltering with no sign of that morning’s downpour. A few minutes into queuing, a hubbub started up at the front of the queue and made it’s way down as it’s cause became known - a new requirement asking ‘The girls to have 2 passport photographs (I had one) and a CV ready,’ had just been dispatched from inside the shop. That small request wasn’t as light as it appeared. The advert had made no mention of this and everybody was caught unawares. Also, most businesses would be closed, it being a Sunday. Pandemonium broke out! Girls run off in droves in search of photo studios and Internet cafés (the only place one was sure to find a computer connected to a printer). Some didn’t make it back. I took advantage of the disarray to try and have my application letter join it’s friends inside the shop. I made for the shop entrance but didn’t get far. An unsmiling security guard blocked my way and shouted, “Go back. Wait when we call you. You hear?” Aagh! What now? I found a photo studio several streets away and had my picture taken. I then called a friend, LS who worked at an Internet café, asked for his help with my CV and went on to church to pray for patience.  Everything was ready for pickup 2hrs later, at 2pm (You might have read how LS saved the day in The wedding dress that made me cry).

The queue was progressing. I’d arrived at the same time as an out of breath beautiful giantess who looked considerably disheveled. She’d already had her interview but had been sent out on an impossible mission – to find out if there were any Pierre cardin competitor shops and note down their set prices on clothes. She’d encountered closed shop after another and had nothing to show for her effort (she never got the job). Two hours passed slowly in the blistering sun, but it was finally my turn. 

“ANOTHERONE!” came the command from somewhere in side the shop. The guard pointed at me, “YOU, ENTER!” I walked straight to the back of the shop and stopped in front of a wooden semi circular work desk placed at a height above the rest of the shop floor. The Boss sat behind it and had an areal view of the whole shop. A young lady stood to his right, holding a subservient pose. She motioned for me to hand over my documents; I wasn’t to speak to Boss just yet. I gave her the documents and before I could say 'application letter,' she’d handed them back saying, “Make copies of your support documents.” No mention of an application letter. Hallelujah! I fast walked several streets away before I found an Internet café with a copier. Interviews would be stopping in half an hour, so I run all the way back. I arrived panting, sweat rivulets making their way down my back and shot past the guard and into the shop. He came after me, “Go out and line up.“ I must have looked furious because he shrugged and said, ‘It is my job.’

5 minutes and I was back in side the shop and being handed a written test I had to complete before having the interview. Neither paper nor pen was provided. I went out on another frantic search for paper, which took me 4 blocks away. I was desperate. A magazine street vendor agreed to sell me a few sheets of paper torn out of her yellowed book. I sat at a café, ordered yoghurt and worked on my answers. Halfway through my yoghurt, I realized I had 5 minutes to hand in my answer sheet. Running wouldn’t do. I grabbed my papers and the yoghurt and hopped onto a boda-boda (motorbike taxi). I gulped down the yoghurt as we sped off towards the shop - I’d long given up on looking presentable. The guard didn’t stop me this time.

As Boss read through my answers, I took the time to study him. He was Indian. His straight black hair covered the nape of his neck and fell in a fringe over his forehead. A pair of deep-set brown eyes nestled under thick, arched eyebrows knit in concentration. His nose sat with pride on top of a thick but well groomed moustache that covered his entire upper lip. He was clean shaven with beginnings to a healthy double chin. It was a fierce face. My observation was brought to an abrupt end by a sheaf of papers flying at my face. He threw the papers at me because I’d written 15 sentences to a question that asked to ‘write 20 sentences about yourself’. I picked them off the floor and went back out to complete the answer. Whatever I wrote must have been good as Boss gave a slight node of approval upon reading my answer and then commanded me to START TALKING. I protested. I needed a topic. He paused questions that I answered as best I could and my final task was to write down all we had talked about. I balked. How?  He caught me off guard by saying, “You can do it. Have confidence in yourself.” Wow! I thus put pen to paper and slipped in something extra we hadn’t discussed; unemployment rates and work disappointments. It was calculating, but hell, he’d asked me to write. 

He grinned as he read this and then launched into a lecture about lazy Africans who, once given a job, fail to do what is required of them. He told me how he’s never fired anybody and that whoever left, did so on their own volition. I, in turn assured him I wouldn’t run customers out of the shop if given the job – and just like that, I had a job to go to the next morning.

Continue to Part 2: Salesgirl or...?

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