The young man’s boots crunched on the snow. He removed the mask concealing his face.
An osprey flew above, its claws close to his head, almost catching his hair as it dove into the river at the edge of the landscape before him. He had the primitive urge to shoot it down and assert his authority over the lesser species.
The osprey squawked, catching a bulk of fish in its beak as it swooped up from the lake. Water splashed onto its surface, sending ripples towards him.
He lifted up his gun, the winter sun gleamed over its shiny surface. Solid black against the white snow, the looming mountains and the pale sky before him. He raised it to the fleeting bird, its wings flapping urgently to meet its hungry offspring. It squawked louder as if it could sense its incoming danger, its anxious cries echoing off the mountains.
His contact was late, and he had time to kill.
It echoed. The fleeting bird, now a falling thing in the sky. Its head first, the wings following.
He walked slowly towards his victim like he had all the time in the world, the trail of blood coming closer to his boots. The startled bird shot through the lungs. The fish it had collected held the bullet, startled and wide-eyed, its slimy skin frosting in the snow.
It was going to be his 18th birthday tomorrow.
“Oh, bloody hell.” I muttered. I was late for interview for the second time this week and this new pattern of mine was becoming all too prominent.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t a punctual person, I just couldn’t help it. Every time I thought I had spare time to kill, I would sabotage myself. Mum always said the family talent for self-sabotage would be my downfall.
I couldn’t let it get the better of me. Not now.
I looked through my scrunched-up notes once more, my unique selling point defined in no more than three precise sentences. I had decorated my short essay with lots of fancy words to really emphasise how unique I thought I was.
I breathed fast and sharp, straightening my skirt as I got off my stop. My fingers drummed anxiously on the banister of the escalator as I got closer to my destination. London Bridge, one of the prettiest and most corporate parts of London. High rise buildings, the coolest bars and the rudest people.
I hadn’t had much luck with the job search so far. And by this point it was just making me insecure. There must have been something missing…something they just didn’t want. I was doing something wrong. I was wrong.
I hadn’t had a post-interview call back in two weeks now and I was becoming desperate. Whether I was just selling myself short or I just didn’t have the experience to begin with, it was getting depressing.
And in my desperation, I had even started applying for jobs I wasn’t even sure I could do, let alone qualified for. Because at this point, I didn’t care. I was going to take anything I could get.
I was going through what every graduate my age was going through. Tons of debt and no job security. I wasn’t special by any means.
But being late was surely going to make my situation worse.
I ran through the barriers in the underground, swiping my oyster so fast the reader was only barely able to comprehend what I was doing. I had already cut the queue to the escalator in my haste, pissing off several tired commuters.
As I exited the station, I briskly walked in my too-high heels, blisters already forming. I shoved past two pot-bellied businessmen ready to sign out for the day. It was 5:45 in the evening. Most people were signing out of office by now, heading to bars to wallow in work miseries or heading home to drown themselves in wine and trashy Netflix movies. I wish I was them. I could be them if I just got my shit together.
I overtook an elderly tour in front of me, on the corner of the shard as they admired its architecture. Tourists from Virginia from the brief second I had heard them speak. But there was no time to confirm useless details like that.
I took a sharp turn into another street, sweat dripping down my back.
This was not a good start at all.
I kept up the pace as I checked through the route on my Google Maps app, frantically trying to find the office. But now someone was calling me. Shit.
I picked it up, gasping for breath, my long hair swishing and my back damp. Lovely.
It was Robin. “Yes?” I panted, still power walking my way down like a maniac to the office.
“How’s it going?”
I heaved. “I won’t lie, not well.”
“You’re late, aren’t you?” She gasped in accusation. I could hear the concern in her voice. The loaded ‘late’ pounding into my brain like an unforgiving reminder. I could hear the pity in her voice. She was feeling bad, already certain I wouldn’t get this job now.
I rolled my eyes. “No shit. I’m bloody screwed mate. They might not even want to see me after this.” I huffed out a breath, still determined to make it there before I completely gave up.
“You better still go even if they refuse.” She said, doing her best to be supportive. I was almost glad she wasn’t doing the whole ‘I told you so’ thing. I was already giving that lecture to myself.
“Babe I don’t have excellent persuasion skills like you. I’m perpetually fucked, honestly.” I muttered, as the address came into view finally.
“Don’t give up till you get rejected.”
“Thanks for your stellar advice.” I replied, laughing at my own ridiculousness. I was taking self-sabotage to a new level this time.
She laughed with me, lightening the mood, “I’ll cheer you up with coffee afterwards. Good luck. I believe in you babe.” She hung up to save me from doing it, knowing I would be attacking the buttons on my phone in my hurry.
I pushed past the revolving doors, my coat flapping in the wind. The security guard gave me a disapproving look and I smiled apologetically. I had no time to be polite no matter how fancy this building was.
I rushed to the receptionist, immediately zero-ing in on her pristine desk.
“Hi. I’m here for an interview. I’m sorry I’m La –“
“Late? Yeah you’re really late...like 20 minutes.” She clicked her tongue at me, and I fought the urge to reach over the desk and strangle her. I stared at her, waiting anxiously for her to go on, to take me somewhere, to do something with me that would help me get to where I was supposed to be 20 minutes ago.
“Wait here.” She tapped away at the keyboard in front of her and I sighed, continuing to fight the urge to fly-kick her out of my way. She couldn’t seem to tell how infuriated I was as she dialled a number, pressing the phone between her neck and ear.
We waited. She was bored. I was anxious.
“Hey Ang. I’ve got your last interview down here. Want me to bring her up?” I waited, unable to stand still. On the edge of my pained heels. She rolled her eyes and I watched impatiently as her face contorted several times in what I could only assume was annoyance. I wasn’t sure if I was the cause or the other person on the phone. But it was probably me. I looked up at the giant clock pinned to the ceiling anxiously, it was nearing 6. Shit. I was definitely screwed.
“Well maybe you’ll recognise her when I bring her up. Seems pretty eager to me.” She snapped back. I fumbled around trying to find some hand cream in my bag, my hands were cracking and dry. It wouldn’t look good if I had to shake a hand.
“Okay. Great.” She hung up and without acknowledging me, went back to typing away. I looked at her exasperated, knowing I would have to wait patiently for her to grace me with her attention again.
Finally, she looked at me. “Follow me.”
I was ready to faint in hunger, thirst and exhaustion.
Her curls bounced rhythmically as she strutted to the escalator, not turning to me once. This had to be the coldest interview I had attended so far, but then again, I was late and was probably causing a huge inconvenience to the people upstairs. She tapped her nude acrylic nails on the banister as we trawled up to the second level on an escalator. She was completely bored of me already.
The building itself was impressive. It was tall, encased in glass and from what I had heard, it had a rooftop view of the London skyline. Everywhere I walked, there was something to be amazed by. People walked past me briskly and rudely, hurrying in their expensive suits to get to their next venue. I mumbled my apologies, while the curly headed secretary escorted me to the elevator.
I had tried to make small talk already, but she wasn’t interested. In all the other interviews I had, the staff were trying to ease me and all the other candidates before the interview. They at least smiled. But this woman was cold and bored. I already had a bad feeling about the whole set up.
She pressed the 16th floor. Even the lift looked more expensive than anything I had ever owned, earned or even rented. There was a TV screen, mounted to one of the walls inside, with the news broadcasting the recent drops in GPD for this week. My mind was too boggled to understand any of it.
“This is your stop. Come on. And keep up.” She said, tearing me away from the flashing images on the screen. She was right. Time was leaving me and I’m sure my interviewers wanted to go home by now. I quickened my pace despite the blisters forming on my feet.
We arrived at another immaculate front desk. The blonde-haired woman behind the desk looked up at me shrewdly and I shit you not, a shiver hiked up my spine. Her laser-cut cheek bones and pulled-so-tight ponytail glared up at me with her ice-cold eyes.
“Who are you?”
“I’m…Laila. I got a call back…?” I asked, blinking unsurely. Everything was throwing me off today.
She frowned at me and I tried to ignore it, still putting on my best smile. My curly-headed companion had already taken off. Good riddance. The woman in front of me took another glance at me before picking up her phone. I had never met anyone this cold before – and I lived in London – it was intriguing and alarming. I felt like a fish out of water.
“Hey. It’s Martha. There’s a girl here, says her name is Laila and she’s here for interview. Should I bring her in or send her out?”
So far, I wasn’t getting a very good impression of the organisation in this company. No one seemed to know what to do with me even though I had already explained it twice. I vibrated on the spot, waiting, unable to stop fidgeting out of my nervousness.
“Ang is coming to get you. Sit over there please.” I did what she said immediately, she also didn’t seem like the type to do small talk. I didn’t want to loiter either, and at least now I could look for my blasted hand cream.
5 minutes later, the woman I presumed as Ang came through the glass panelled doors. She nodded at me and I got up awkwardly. I was becoming incredibly tense and this whole thing was beginning to drag. I just wanted to get this interview over and done with so that I could run away in shame afterwards. It was now nearing 6:15 and it didn’t look good for me.
She walked up to the desk, muttering something I could barely make out. I was starting to think that I had gotten the date wrong or something and they were expecting me at some other time instead. I should have checked my email for the 105th time just in case I had been reading it wrong the other 104 times. You know, just to be sure.
I waited for my cue, bouncing my knee, making sure there wasn’t a ladder in my tights or a stain on my blouse.
She turned to me, this Ang had leagues on me with her beauty. I couldn’t find a single flaw on her face. She was just as sharp as the ice-princess next to her. They both looked at me, scrutinised me in fact.
Between the two of them, I felt naked.
She extended her hand for me to shake. “Angelina. I’ll be interviewing you today.”
I shook it as firmly as I could, feigning enough confidence to get my name out in one clear, and comprehensible answer. She watched me shrewdly. Nothing seemed to escape this woman. I didn’t like that feeling.
“Laila Khan, nice to meet you,” I mumbled.
“Come with me please.” Yet again, I was following an intimidating woman into this glass maze. “I should warn you, the boss will be sitting in. It’s part of our procedure, I’m not sure if you’ve had this in other interviews.” She said, looking over her shoulder to meet my gaze.
“I have…” My eyes bulged out of my sockets while walking through the offices. It was so clean and spacious. Minimalistic. So much space. So much to allow creativity. The desks were mostly empty, but I couldn’t help but imagine myself sitting at one, expertly making calls and following up email queries. One could only dream.
She knocked on the door, on what I could only imagine was the CEO’s office. I gulped. Was I ready for this? After all these stone-cold bitches, I was dreading meeting their leader. She side-eyed me, weighing me up, scrutinising me. I was painfully aware I might not come out of this interview alive. She turned the handle, opening it for me to walk in first.
I took a mental deep breath, ignoring the pain of my son-of-a-bitch heels and extended my hand to the man inside. Half of me was expecting a woman. The whole week had been a blur and for the life of me till now, I could not remember exactly what company I was interviewing for. As I took everything in, it began to come back to me, exactly what I was here for.
It was a business construction firm with presence overseas in East Asia and the CEO was supposed to be some young hotshot who potential shareholders had their eye on. He was already successful, that was apparent in being officiated in such a lavish building. He shook my hand firmly and then gestured for me to have a seat.
“I’m Laila,” I said while sitting down. It was going to be a mission to stop my stomach from rumbling, I was starving, and I was tired from all the running.
This was going to be an awful interview, I could already feel it.
I quickly understood why everyone I had met so far looked like they wanted to kill me just for being in their presence. Their sharpness was nothing compared to the man in front of me, who was intimidatingly tall, lean and foreign. His features were sharp, his dark eyes told me nothing, except that he would eat me alive if I was going to waste his time. Other than that, his face was unreadable, he gave away nothing. His eyes flicked over me and I did everything I could to maintain eye contact. I really just wanted to curl up into a ball under my blanket and sleep the evening away.
“Ang. File please.” His accent was American. But I couldn’t place it.
She sat next to him and hesitated. I was uncomfortable by how large and neat his desk was. A shiny Apple laptop to one side, an office phone, two large mobile phones and a notepad with a pen on it. He played with the lid between his fingers waiting for her answer.
Something was up today, it was like they had no idea who I was. I thought about that for a moment, worried that maybe they really hadn’t been expecting me. But now was not a good time to ask that question. The best I could do was play dumb. I had come all the way here for this, through rush hour, from my shitty zero contract job. Besides, didn’t I have the upper hand? I had received an email from this company as proof that they had asked me to come for an interview and I was now here. Late, but still here.
“There isn’t one…or at least none of us could seem to find it.” Any other person in charge would have at least shown a mark of irritation. His lack of emotion unnerved me. He merely nodded. Even sharp-as-fuck Ang over there had a twitch of nerves in having to give unfortunate news to him. He turned to me. “Do you have your CV?”
“Yes, I do.” I smiled, like I always did, hoping it would ease the tension in the room. I rummaged through my tote bag, thanking myself for sticking my printed CV into a plastic wallet. I slid it over the table and fidgeted with my fingers in my lap. I gave myself a quick mental reminder to keep my hands still, body language was so important in interviews.
Unbelievably, he flicked over that CV for 3 seconds and then moved it to the side.