Mountains can be moved

Submitted for Contest #89 in response to: Start your story with a character taking a leap of faith.... view prompt

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Apr 16, 2021

Creative Nonfiction Happy Inspirational

She began by aiming at the top. Primed with determination, armed with a lifetime's expertise, plus a potential employers list compiled from a well known Five Stars Hotel, Peggy set out to offer her executive services to the upper echelons of South Africa’s Hospitality industries. During the first hours she didn’t even get to give her name to a hat-check girl. Whenever she called, as soon as she mentioned employment she was dismissed with a curt headshake at the door. In the next half dozen places, reinforcing her persistence she at least got to talk to an assistant manager, but was always cut off with the same response: ' We’ve got all the help we need. Nobody uses females for top positions. There’s a part-time spot for a cleaner.’  

In the biting winter winds of Johannesburg she gritted her teeth. It wasn’t so much the rejection that pained her, but the inhospitality with which it was delivered. As Peggy plodded on, the vast difference between her home and South Africa became increasingly apparent. It wasn’t until late afternoon that in one of the Hotels, the security waved her towards a door with the information, ' Manager.’  Peggy, confidence recharged, resolute now to present her credentials come what may, strode along a narrow passage which led to a small, dimly- lit and elegant room. A large balding man in shirt sleeves and open waistcoat parched incongruously on a swing chair was writing notes on what looked like a diary across the chromium framed table. The man swung around and saw Peggy. ‘ If you are here for a cleaning position, don’t waste my time or yours, we are not hiring.’ Peggy hurriedly explained, 'No, I’m not a cleaner.’ Them giving what she knew was her best winning smile, she launched rapidly into her presentation, determined to say her piece not permitting the man to get a word in edgewise as she related all her experience, threw in considerable proof of her abilities, including certificates she received. She concluded by handing over her resume, then waited, heart in mouth, as the man stared into a stunned silence. At last he said, ' You’re wasting your time.’ Peggy inhaled sharply. As she groped for something more to say, some extra scrap of persuasion, the man went on, 'don’t get me wrong. Your routine was impressive. And I believe it.’ Peggy's patience began to fracture. ‘ I don’t want charity, she retorted. I came here for a job .’ A skilled job. I can do anything you ask. As well as anybody. Better than most. I’d heard that South Africa was the land of decency and equal opportunity. But it seems I was told wrong. And now that I’ve seen the truth, the way people are treated, I’m beginning to think I should never have come here, never brought my family to such a heartless place.’ She began to turn. ‘Hold it.’ The man slid quickly from his chair, caught her arm. Facing Peggy's simmering anger he said frankly, ' You’d better understand the way it is.’ He released her and began, ' You know how much fellers I had looking for work this week? At least three dozen. And I said fellers. Men with wives and kids to support. Not all cleaners either. Experienced security officers, drivers, and all. I know you said you used to occupy a higher position at a well-known Hotel abroad, but so did a thousand others. They come here from all over the country, thinking this is the place they stand a chance of starting over.’ He sighed. ‘ They got about as many prospects as a snowball in Hell.’ Peggy mentally flinched. The man continued, ' I’m sorry I cut you down before. No offence intended. But it’s been one of those morning. It was the first acknowledgement of fellowship Peggy had received all day. Relaxing slightly, she nodded. The man regarded her.’ Before you wear down any more shoe leather let me give you some advice. If you trek a few hundred miles around the town you eventually might land a job. But tramping the Streets this end of town will earn you nothing but blisters. Up here the guys who hire and fire have enough on their plate without also having to interview everyone. You only got to see me because Edward at the back figured you were here from the auditing company.

That night Peggy took her potential employers list and threw it in the trash can, she’d felt as limp as a wet rag-and considerably older and wiser. She now knew the facts of life. There wasn’t the remotest chance of climbing the ladder of her ambition from any place except the bottom rung, and even a foothold on that was going to be hard-won. But travelling back to the other side of town she rebuild the resolve, prepared for the struggle ahead. The following morning she was outside the Employment Bureau fifteen minutes before it opened; she was twentieth in the rush through the door panelled tiny cubicle. She sat before a morning- suited fish-eyed character and ran the presentation she had given the previous afternoon, but with greater care and practice enunciation, pausing politely when her interrogator asked a question, answering firmly but modestly. When she was done, all details noted in the man's ledger and he said, ' and your references, Miss Roger? She unhesitatingly opened her purse and handed over the envelope. She smiled guilessly as the man extracted the letter and read. But it was with overwhelming relief that she accepted it’s return. The proprietor of the previous hotel she went to had said, ' Without a reference you might as well not waste your time coming north of town. ‘I can’t say you worked here. You’d never get a job. What I could do is give you a letter of introduction; vouch for your credentials. Why should I ? In exchange for cleaning his office , what else? The Employment Bureau interviewer said condescendingly, ' that seems quite satisfactory.’ He handed her a small printed card on which he had written a number and pronounced, ' You may now sit in the waiting room. When we receive notification of a vacancy, if you are suitable you will be send to fill it. May I remind you, from this Bureau are of the highest calibre, conscientious in their work and morals. Should we receive any complaint from an employer, the misdemeanant is stricken from our register, and, of course, is recommended to be blacklisted at every other agencies in the city. That will be two rand for your enrolment fee.’ Peggy paid; returned to the outer office and waited.   

It was some time before she understood that the number on her card meant there were six hundred and seventy prospective workers ahead of her on the employment allocation list. When the counter clerk explained the system it seemed superficially fair. The following morning Peggy discovered it was less than perfect. Enrolees were issued assignments according to their length of registration. But only if they were on hand when a vacancy occurred. Therefore, as about a dozen jobs were available first thing each morning, the twelve hopeful workers at the hard of the list had to be at the Bureau when it opened at seven thirty. So did the next twelve in case any of those with precedence didn’t show up. A further twenty or thirty needed to be on hand for the position which invariably came on the market during the first hour of the working day. Thus there was always an initial stampede to the counter followed by a nerve-racked milling around the room while telephone rang and numbers were called. By mid-morning the majority were still without jobs; they then would run to a second agency, later a third and fourth before returning to the Employment Bureau. Their life was a desperate waiting game.

As the weather grew daily more bitter, and her cash reserves sank rapidly lower, it took all Peggy’s will to heed the warning and hold fast to her course. Her determination to survive became all consuming. She would not give up, she told herself every night, repeating the promise until it became an oath; and when, during the fourth week of June, her money ran out, she didn’t think twice about entering beneath the sign ‘BROKE'- CALL ON UNCLE, which  overhung the door of the pawnshop where she purchased the radio. The broker gave her a hundred dollars against her mother’s emerald necklace. A tenth of its value. She didn’t argue. She’d reclaim it within a month. Within a month she’d have money . Peggy swore it to herself as she pocketed the cash. Before she reached home, a thought she had few days ago return in her mind and it came so strong she could not shake it out. When she saw multitudes of people each day at the Bureau she remembered how her grandmother made a living selling cookies. Just there, she visualised herself having a confectionery café where people would come in the morning, have tea and cookies. Without any hesitation, she took the hundred dollars she pocketed and rushed to buy ingredients. The next morning, with a bucket full of cookies she took a leap of faith and headed to the Employment Bureau. 'If God allows it, I might kill two birds with one stone, she thought.’ Within few minutes all the cookies were sold out. From that day onwards, Peggy’s thoughts were now channelled to making money and opening her own Confectionery than chasing employment. In just a week she made enough money to make her finally take a decision to pursue growing her own business. All it took, was just one step of faith, and now, looking back, she doesn’t regret one bit. Money knows her doorsteps.

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