The best-laid plans…
When I decided to restart the blog by unearthing the occasional story, I’d imagined it being maybe a weekly exercise, but…
Here, 4 months later, is offering number 2.
Sammy Reid didn’t seem to have much going for him. He wasn’t particularly good at any subjects in school, didn’t play for any of the sports teams. His girl friends (there were only ever two of them), were unexciting, and he seemed quite content to tag along with local gangs of kids who were almost as unpopular as he was. The only grown-up he’d ever respected was Mr Henderson, an English teacher who was teased and laughed at by most of the other kids
In his teens, he didn’t have enough qualifications to get to university so when he left school he didn’t move away from home, had no job, and the little money he made came from delivering goods to homes in the neighbourhood and running errands for the local grocer.
By the time he reached his seventeenth birthday, some of the few friends who’d stuck with him through all his youthful hopelessness started actually to feel sorry for him. He’d always been such a loser. They supposed it wasn’t his fault. It was just a fact. Also, because he’d never known anything else, he sort of accepted that life was predictable, unexciting and nothing ever changed much.
When change did come, though, it was a big surprise. His mum and dad, ashamed of his regular failures and resenting the fact that he was costing them money and not doing anything to contribute to the expense of running the house, were always nagging at him to get a job. He didn’t mind that. He couldn’t remember a time when they hadn’t been complaining to him about something or other. But one day, he saw an advert in the paper for a factory warehouseman’s assistant at a business just on the edge of town. ‘No qualifications or previous experience necessary’ it said. He would only have to work Monday to Friday from 9 am to 6 pm, there would be regular wages, and two weeks holiday whenever he chose to take it.
So, just for something to do, and without really thinking whether he was capable of doing the job, he phoned the number at the bottom of the advert, and arranged to go to the factory to meet the boss.
On the evening before the interview, he was in the pub with Derek and Judy, Derek’s fiancée. They were two of the five people who were still his friends from school. Derek was an electrician and Judy worked in a dress shop. When he told them his news, he wasn’t surprised that they didn’t seem as excited as he was about it.
‘You’ll be a dogsbody, mate,’ said Derek. ‘Bottom of the heap.’
Judy nodded and said, ‘Yeah, it’s probably better if you don’t get it.’ Then added, ‘Never mind, you probably won’t, anyway.’
It was insulting but Sammy didn’t take it that way. It was typical of Judy. She’d always been like that with him, making remarks about how ordinary his (two) girl friends were, laughing at the awful way they dressed, yawning at the feebleness of Sammy’s attempts at jokes. It was pretty obvious that what she felt for him wasn’t really friendship but contempt (or, on better days, pity).
Derek wasn’t much better.
‘I wouldn’t get your hopes up too high,’ he said. ‘There’s lots of unemployed guys about nowadays. There’ll be plenty going for the job. And they’ll have all the stuff you haven’t got – experience, qualifications, personality.’
Sammy nodded along with him, seeming to agree with Derek’s assessment of his chances. He was used to it, after all. Derek had been saying that sort of thing to him since primary school.
Strangely, though, he hardly heard Derek’s words. He’d been staring at his shirt and only just noticed how ugly it looked. Its stripy red design clashed very starkly with the orangey-yellow of the tee shirt underneath it. It made Sammy wonder why Judy hadn’t noticed it. She was supposed to work in fashion after all. Why hadn’t she told Derek how horrible it looked.
And, even though it seemed such a trivial thing, that’s when, at last, Sammy started to become the person who would eventually get the job he was going for and start making his way up through the company ranks until he’d become sales coordinator for the whole of the south-west. Because after he’d said his goodbyes to the two of them and started to walk home through the darkening evening, he began, for the very first time, to wonder why he’d always accepted the insults and opinions of others as being true. Judy, as usual, had been rude about his chances of getting the job, but what was her opinion really worth if she – a person who worked in a dress shop – could bear to be engaged to someone who had no idea of colour co-ordination? How could she find Derek and his horrible shirt attractive? As for Derek himself, what the hell did he know about working in a warehouse? He’d passed most of his electrician’s exams but no others.
And, on this gentle evening, after all these years of insults and put-downs, Sammy suddenly remembered something Mr Henderson had said when he’d chased away a couple of sixth-formers who were bullying Sammy in the playground.
‘Don’t worry about them,’ he’d said. ‘They’re not as tough as they think they are. You’re OK, Sammy. It’s like Oscar Wilde said, “Quite often, your real life isn’t the one you actually live”’.
Sammy didn’t understand it at the time but, thinking about Derek and Judy made it seem clearer. He’d always listened too much to what others had said. Like all the rest, Derek and Judy expressed opinions about him as if they were true facts. But none of it was what he was feeling inside. They didn’t really know him at all. Their ideas were just that – ideas. Their own ideas. But they were warped, twisted, wrong. They couldn’t know what was going on inside Sammy’s head, what he was thinking, who he was. Only Sammy knew that. And suddenly, he realised he’d never really been the person that other people thought and said he was. Like every one of them, he was an individual, special. There was no-one else like him.
So the Sammy who sat at the interview the following day felt confident, looked good, talked well, even misquoted Oscar Wilde and was so impressive that he got the job. They even paid him more than the advert had offered.