I’ve had many different jobs in my relatively short years, mostly because I don’t like to be idle (although my former employers might tell a different story). I loved all the jobs in different ways & for the most part, I was sad to leave each of them. None more than the toy shop where I had made a lot of friends.
However I had applied for a job in the civil service many months before & I was surprised one day to receive a letter confirming a post for me. There wasn’t a lot of information on the role. It was a general administrative position in a town over an hour away. No information on the department, only an address. It was a temporary position but I heard you only needed to get a foot in the door, then you could be shipped from one office to the next.
I handed in my notice & in a whirlwind of two weeks, I found myself standing outside a dank, brown brick building. It looked rather depressing, dark & dreadful, but not as dismal as the barbed wire lined police station that loomed across the road. So I crossed the threshold of the Jobs & Benefits Office in my best tweed trousers & crisp white shirt, all of which was encircled with my grandest white scarf.
I decided administrative assistant KC wasn’t going to be the KC of old. No more clumsy KC. No comic falling flat on my face in public or spilling coffee down myself. No wearing out clothes at the rate of a five-year-old with a death wish. The new & improved KC would have her stuff together.
Smiling as I approached the desk, I said I was there to start work as an administrative assistant. The receptionist picked up a phone & rang someone, a jovial man jogged in after five minutes. He politely told me they weren’t expecting anyone. I ruffled about in my bag & handed him my letter. He read it & passed it back, confirming there still wasn’t an opening. Then he jovially jogged back out again. My shoulders slumped. The receptionist waved me over.
‘I’ll call HR for you, give me your letter.’ She read it & made a few calls. As she did, a door behind me opened & an older man popped his head out. I hadn’t seen the room on the way in, because I wasn’t supposed to. It was squirrelled away to the side of the front doors.
‘They say you were supposed to start last week. In fact it says it right here in your letter, last Monday.’
‘I spoke to someone,’ I muttered. ‘I had to change the dates. I had to give notice in my last job.’
‘Well I don’t know what to tell you…’ The man behind me coughed. I looked around, not sure of what was happening. He was probably in his sixties, hair whitened & thinned on top.
‘We’re expecting someone. Are you… Kieran?’ I groaned. Often people confuse my name, Kerriann, with the boy’s name Kieran. I explained it to him & he ventured out of the doorway to read my letter.
‘We were expecting you last week.’ I relayed the same story again. The brand new KC was feeling a lot like the regular KC.
‘Well, come into the office.’ Office was a grand word to use for a room with two TV screens, three chairs & a newspaper. I could have comfortably touched both walls if I stretched my arms out. One wall had a small, caged window that looked on to the car park & the opposite wall had a two way mirror that looked on to the main floor of the job centre. On the TV screens were the car park & the main floor of the job centre.
‘We weren’t expecting you today. Clive does all the training. He’s not here today. He’s at court.’
Well, that’s a good sign.
The older man, who never bothered to give me his name, proceeded to complain about the uselessness of the civil service for an hour with little input from me. That continued until someone turned up for the later shift. He was mid-twenties & very smiley, tall & bouncy when he walked.
Turned out I knew him through school. He asked what I’d learned so far, I said nothing. He showed me around the rest of the floors, reassuring me that the job wasn’t too bad.
‘Clive’s better at this than me. He’ll be in shortly.’
‘What’s he in court for?’
‘Oh, one of the dole officers was beaten up in the job centre. Clive had to go testify in court.’
After we’d wandered down the third or fourth corridor & looked in a random cupboard or two, I finally asked what we were looking for.
‘Or suspect packages.’
‘Have there been any bombs?’
‘Well, erm… there was a suspect package a few weeks ago. Took the police two hours to come & detonate it.’
I looked out the window.
At the police station.
A police station so close that, if both buildings didn’t have cages covering the windows, I would have been able to look straight into it.
‘I don’t think I can be a security guard.’ I said the obvious. I’m five foot three with no muscle tissue worth mentioning. I’m not brawny or burly. I’m not menacing & I definitely can’t take a punch if someone didn’t get their benefits paid to them on time.
‘Oh you don’t have to do any bouncer duties or anything. If something happens, you just have to witness it.’
‘Yeah, there’s a button in the security office, it calls the police directly.’
That’s the same police who took two hours to respond to a possible bomb.
‘Then run out on to the floor & witness anything that happens. HR don’t let you get involved ’cause of health & safety. If it comes to court, you testify against them.’
I think I’d rather take that punch, thank you very much.
After lunch,Clive appeared. He looked like a supply art teacher in a brown blazer with elbow patches & a sprout of messy curl hair atop his head. He did a rather amusing (to himself) double take when he saw me.
‘You must be Kieran, we were expecting you last week.’ He introduced himself & told me to ignore anything the other two had told me about the job.
‘It’s not a security job, far from it. You are not a security guard or a bouncer. This is an admin role.’ I asked what part of the job was administrative. ‘Erm… in the morning, we have to photocopy a sign in sheet for the records office.’
‘OK,’ I waited for a list of tasks to come but it never did.
‘That’s it. Ahem. But your title is admin assistant. This job is in no way, a security job.’ The phone rang on the desk, Clive wandered over to pick it up. ‘Hello, Security desk.’
I stopped listening to Clive after that & eventually I went home in a daze. Clive asked me to come in at 7am the next morning to be fully trained. Not sure what to do, I rang my mum and my friends. I tried to laugh it off as typical KC.
The next morning I got up at an unreasonable hour & set off for day two of my job. Well what else could I do? I decided it was only one year before I could apply for something else when my temporary contract was up. Until then I could try to dodge punches & suspect packages.
When I got there, Clive was startled to see me. He showed me around the floors, training me in turning on light switches, how to get the boiler to work if it’s not already on, how to photocopy one sheet of paper & where to check for suspect packages (again).
Then he turned on the TV screens in the definitely-not-the-security office. The camera that faced on to the car park showed the cars as they came in.
‘You need to hit the green button to let people in. Don’t let anyone suspicious in.’
‘Is there a list of licence plates or something for the car park?’
‘No, just don’t let suspicious looking people in.’ Clive repeated.
‘What’s suspicious looking? This is a job centre, I think there will be a few suspicious looking people in the car park.’
I let everyone in that morning. Suspicious is a loose term & can really apply to anyone under certain circumstances, so who was I to judge? The morning gradually dragged into the afternoon & the older man turned up. Again visibly shocked to see me.
‘I didn’t expect you to come back.’
‘I see that.’
‘No-one comes back the second day. We’ve had 6 people since Christmas. One left after an hour, another took his lunch break & never came back, another turned around & walked out when he heard it was a security job. But no-one has come back for a second day.’
‘Well I’m here.’ I beamed.
‘None of them stayed when they found out they couldn’t apply for roles internally on a temporary contract.’
I left the office that day, again in a daze. My boyfriend pulled up in his car & I hopped in, in silence. The full stress of the two days hit me & I burst into tears. Needless to say I didn’t make it to day three & the new, improved KC never reared her head.