Short story: Interview from Hell, by Richard Gallimore

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The town hall’s Victorian clock strikes a ponderous nine and I’m already eagerly seated outside the interview room, prepared and waiting in great anticipation to be called by the council panel of seven for that honour in a lifetime – carrying the Olympic torch.

Three shortlisted applicants sit alongside each other and I’m scheduled to go in first.

No-one among us speaks and we studiously avoid eye contact as we hear the dull mutter of voices and the metallic sounds of what sounds like money seemingly being counted from the other side of the door. If I didn’t think otherwise I would say it sounds suspiciously like there’s a councillors’ poker game taking place.

Fifteen minutes pass during which time coffee and biscuits are taken into the room by a wispy-looking secretary.

“Dunno,” is her snappish one word reply to our polite enquiry as to when we’re going to be called in for interviews.

After another 30 minutes we’re all restless and anxious to know how much longer it’s going to be before the interviews begin – we all have jobs to go to and this is taking up more time than we were given to expect by the oily, smooth-talking head of council public relations.

After another hour of inactivity and increasing boredom the third candidate stands up with a look of resignation and says she no longer wishes to be considered. The remaining two of us privately think that improves our own odds as we both sit impatiently on a shared metal bench that creaks at every move.

A call of nature for the second candidate leaves me alone, waiting and wondering in view of the apparent slackness whether this role is going to be worth the effort.

The interview door opens and a beaky-looking, sour-faced woman silently beckons me in and points to a chair which faces seven miserable-looking panel members. They’re all wearing yellow or red dungarees.

The man sitting in the middle of the three interviewers says: “And you are?”

I play it straight. “David Oaks.”

“David Oaks? David Oaks… you should have been here last week.”

“No,” I reply firmly as I produce my file. “If you look at this letter it’s this week, now or rather at nine this morning when I checked in downstairs with your security desk.”

“You must be mistaken,” says the beaky-looking sour-faced woman snatching the letter and throwing it in the shredding bin.

Ignoring her, I say to the other panel members: “I do have a copy if you wish to see it.”

“We don’t make mistakes or, more importantly, waste our time – what did you say your name was?”

“David Oaks.”

“Well Mr Oaks, you’re obviously under the erroneous impression that you should have been here today but that’s not the case – good day.”

The panel members stand in unison as though to emphasise my dismissal is expected. I remain seated.

“We said good day,” repeats the chairman.

“Well I didn’t and you at least owe me an explanation.”

“We don’t explain.”

“Your problem is not my emergency,” I reply with an assertiveness I never knew I had. “You say you don’t explain or, for that matter, appear to get it right and you say you are part of an organisation which claims to be an Investor in People.”

“We do and we are. So?” he replies with a snarl.

I silently produce a digital camera and start to take pictures of everyone in the room.

“What are you doing?” someone asks in alarm as he hurriedly covers his face.

“Taking pictures of a bunch of incompetents who should be shovelled out of their jobs. You not only keep three candidates waiting half the morning but when one of them finally appears you claim he’s come on the wrong day. What sort of idiots are you anyway to be interviewing and wasting people’s time?”

“What are you going to do with those pictures?” they ask, “assuming we let you out of here with your camera?”

“Too late fellahs and you as well madam,” I say pointing the camera at the beaky-looking, sour-faced woman who by now is snarling with the rest of the panel. “Not only have I taken pictures of you all I have also recorded this interview and conversation. I’ve already sent the data off to the newspapers through your own WIFI system.”

They freeze.

Then beaky-looking sour-faced woman approaches me with the coffee pot and menacingly raises it at me.

I back away but the seven interviewers lurch forward and grab my camera, then by the arms and throat and pin me helplessly down on the interview desk.

As they hold me there the beaky-looking sour-faced woman does a jig and prepares to pour scalding coffee down my throat but finds the pot’s empty. She runs to the door and screams for more. Within seconds the wispy-looking girl enters carrying a tray with a bottle of champagne and glasses. We all watch as she slowly opens the bottle with a resounding pop.

She pours out a glass and as my captors release my arms I see it is coloured blue as she offers it to me.

“What’s all this about?” I ask as they raise empty glasses towards me.

“Congratulations, David, you’ve passed our test and now you’ve got the job as Olympic torch bearer, subject to the usual references of course,” says the chairman.

I breathe a sigh of relief. After 20 years of amateur athletics I’m going to have a new honour: carrying the Olympic torch as I run through the town.

“But there’s one small detail,” says the chairman of the panel as he quickly smothers my face with a foul-smelling dishcloth.

As I begin to struggle again from somewhere far off I hear a familiar voice: “David wake up. The cat’s lying across your face. I’m tired and it’s your turn to put kitty out and make the breakfast.”