“One… two… three… four…” The whispered words echoed across the lonely room, breaking the unsettling silence. “Don’t do this to me, not today.” The man mumbled to himself as he desperately tried to compose his thundering heart. A large exhale escaped his lips as he smoothed his oiled hair perfectly back in place. “Of all the days, you had to choose this one didn’t you. Couldn’t wait another day, or even give me a few hours to do this, could you?” His foot was fidgeting up and down, trying to distract him from the situation. Glancing towards the door marked ‘RESTROOM’, he bit down on his lower lip to push away the awful feeling building below his belt. Checking his watch, he had one minute before the interview started.
Bolting out of the seat and flying towards the restroom, the door locked him into this small sanctuary. Going to the toilet, he unbuckled his slacks and sat down, releasing all the built up anxiety since last he was here. It was frustrating to say the least, but this was his only way of dealing with it.
Cradling his face in his hands as he spoke, “Why are you doing this to me? Why today? What is it going to say about me if they come looking for me and I’m in the toilet?” His eyes went to the door waiting for the inevitable knock that would highlight his luck for the day. All was silent except for his deep breathing as he reigned in his thoughts. He grabbed his tie and yanked the knot, loosening its grip. The seconds ticked by like a thundering drum as he desperately tried to produce anything for his efforts. A few teaspoons of fluid was all that he could force out.
Finishing, he stood in front of the sink and gazed deep into his eyes while tucking in his shirt. “Too bad you’re too broke to afford the pills, huh? This would be so much easier if I had just one more. But, I don’t. So we have to do it the hard way, peeing every twenty seconds and convincing myself that there’s nothing left. It’s great! I don’t know why I would want it any other way. Do you?” Turning the water on, he focused on washing his hands once again. “I can’t be this way. Gotta put my best foot forward. I can do this. There were sixteen other people that were in the room earlier, now it’s our turn.” Grabbing a handful of paper towels, dried his hands and left the sanctuary.
The moment he stepped out the door, a feminine voice from across the room called his name in a flat voice. “Mr. Jefferson, if you will follow me, please.” Not waiting for him, she turned and walked through the open door. He could hear her heels clicking on the tile floor and raced to catch up to her.
Following the woman, they passed countless hallways and offices, every thing was painted the same light grey color. Turning this way and that, he had no idea which way was out. Coming around a corner, he bumped into a man looking at a paper and without stopping, apologized to him. The number of people packed into this building was unbelievable. Taking a deep breath to pull his heart rate down from the breakneck threat of a heart attack, he continued trailing the woman.
Finally, she turned down a hallway toward an elevator. Pushing the upward arrow, they waited for the elevator to reach their floor. Standing motionless waiting for the elevator was almost enough to make him want to scream. The tension was again building in his gut and just when he was about to ask the woman where a restroom was, the doors dinged open. Without hesitation, she stepped inside to face the control panel. With clenched fists, he followed her. Inserting a key, she turned it to the right and pressed the top floor button.
In the confines of the elevator, her perfume permeated the air. He welcomed the floral distraction as he tried to sway slightly from foot to foot. The floor numbers grew as he looked to see where they were going to. The top floor was the glowing number on the display. Ted Jefferson couldn’t hold back his thoughts any more. “Why are we going to the top floor?” His fists were bumping the sides of his legs.
The woman turned to face him, allowing him a good look at her professional attire. Her voice was softer now, “What they didn’t tell you Mr. Jefferson, is that Mr. Campbell does all the hiring. He wants to know exactly who is working for him on all levels.” Ted’s face went pale as a sheet. His inner voice was screaming in fright as he wanted more than anything to leap out the nearest window. The woman reached forward and fixed his collar and snugged up his loosened tie. “You’ll do fine. Remember this, Mr. Campbell is a person just as you and me. The only difference is that he has enough resources that he can do without either of us. So, it’s up to you to give him a reason to keep you around. Everyone here is replaceable, don’t forget that. I didn’t make it to this level just because I’ve got legs and a pretty face. He wants to know who you are as a person, so, just be yourself. Even if that is a nervous wreck.” The elevator dinged, announcing they had arrived to the top floor.
As the doors opened, her body went went rigged as she stepped out with Ted in tow. “Mr. Campbell, this is Ted Jefferson, the last applicant for the day. Do you need anything from me, sir?”
A man’s scratchy voice came from across the dark room, “That will be all.” Turning on her heel, the woman reentered the elevator as Ted watched the doors swallow her, leaving him alone with Mr. Campbell. “If you can find your way over here, I’ll give you a job.”
Looking across the dimly lit room, Ted could barely make out the outline of Mr. Campbell standing in front of the windows. “Just walk across the room? That’s it?” There was no response from the man as silence echoed through the room. A faint rustle of clothing came from behind him just before he was tackled to the ground and felt his arm wretched behind him and a knee placed on his neck.
“I never said it would be easy, Mr. Jefferson.” The man slowly started to shuffle closer to Ted as he lay on the floor, paralyzed in fear and pain. When the man was a few feet away, he looked down on Ted asking, “Are you just going to lie there?”
Confusion riddled Ted’s thoughts as his mind raced to come up with an answer. Defeat pushed his words out, “I…I don’t know what else to do.”
Mr. Campbell groaned as he came down to the floor, placing his face within inches of Ted’s. “First rule, don’t roll over like a pathetic pansy at the first sign of trouble. Fight back! Show this punk on top of you what you’re made of! Secondly, why should I give you a job in my company? I don’t see any drive in you at all. You let this pig-headed imbecile take you down without a fight. I didn’t make this company what it is by hiring gutless people like you.” He was breathing heavily as he spoke to the person holding Ted, “Get me on my feet.”
The weight on Ted was lifted, allowing him to take a deep breath and bring his arm back to its normal position. Mr. Campbell was helped to his feet and shuffled steps carried him away as he spoke over his shoulder, “I’m sorry, Mr. Jefferson, you have no place in my company. Take the elevator down to floor twelve where Stephanie will give you your final instructions.”
Light flooded the room as the elevator doors opened, casting long shadows across the room. Ted’s heart was pounding as he pursed his lips tightly together and got to his feet. Looking down at the behemoth shadow he was casting, he saw the power and fierceness it portrayed of him. With his shoulders rising and falling with each breath, he pulled at the core of his soul, “No, Mr. Campbell. I’m not going to just walk out of here with my tail between my legs like the coward you think I am. I’ve had to fight for every chance and opportunity I’ve ever got just to be here today. What makes you so much better than me? Money? This company? Big deal. All I wanted from you was a chance to show what I’m capable of. Instead, you’ve only cemented the idea that only idiots run companies any more. And now, I would tell you kiss my rear end even if you did offer me a job. If you cared about the people of this company, instead of just yourself, this place might actually be something someday.” Turning, he stormed towards the elevator. “If you will excuse me, I have another job interview later today that I would like to prepare for.”
A sudden jarring motion woke me from the sleep that I had unknowingly slipped into. “Mr. Jefferson. Mr. Jefferson. Mr. Campbell will see you now.” Blinking away the sleep and seeing the acne covered face in front of me pulled me back to reality. The other men in the room where shaking their heads and chuckling to themselves. ‘Let them laugh,’ I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to nail this interview.’