The sound of squealing brakes and tyres hardly caused a head to turn in the hum-drum of city noises. A small, discoloured white Volkswagen golf manoeuvered inch by inch between two beasts of SUVs; its wheels protesting the whole way as they slid right, left, forward, back- finally parked.
“Can’t be...Can’t be..late,” Zara muttered as she shoved keys into her handbag; grabbed her bursting briefcase; raised her eyes expressively in the rear-view mirror; flattened a non-existent out of place hair strand and bolted out of the car.
“Idiot!” A passing leather shod dude threw her a shocked look before moving on down the sidewalk.
She wheeled back towards the car nearly losing her balance as she grabbed a plain, folded piece of paper on the passenger seat. Another door slam, another click-click of the lock and she set off, walking as fast as she dared in heels; marching confidently towards the tall classy-glassy building shimmering in the autumn sun.
The narrow streets bustled with hooting, smoking cars. On the even narrower sidewalk, shops jostled for sales space - some spilling out as far as three-fourths of the sidewalk. Growing ever upwards, their roots cracking through tar and pavement, the large gum trees sprinkled their golden brown leaves everywhere. Through and around this chaos people in all their varieties walked, sauntered and ran. Throwing cold shadows over the busy streets and people; elegantly tall, average height and stumpy short office buildings stretched towards the sky.
Zara clicked faster, weaving her way between phone occupied people, the trees and light poles. The wind rustled through her hair: she moved her head unconsciously to its beat. Her shoulders straightened, her steps were firm and decided, the smile on her face, the superior eyebrow raise said: watch out, I mean business. She was the star of this show, her show.
The light pole hadn’t been there before. The papers leaking out of her briefcase now exploded out onto the black sidewalk. Her crisp white blouse crinkled and suddenly became wet with perspiration. She tottered, the seams of her skirt protesting, her toes desperately curling into do-not-fall mode. She grabbed at the light pole - danger averted, nothing broken. She stood there, her hair suddenly plastered onto her face by innumerous drops of sweat. A surreptitious glance around - the people still walked, sauntered and ran up and down the sidewalk. No one had seen that.
Zara walked again towards the tall classy-glassy building. One foot in front of the other; hair rustling in the wind; papers tucked securely into her briefcase. A man in a suit walked towards her; there was not a crease in sight, the fabric shimmered, a smooth hand held a phone to his ear, he spoke determinedly and crisply. He walked on down the sidewalk- the epitome of a businessman.
Zara swallowed. A woman passed her next. On her face, Zara recognized the same superior smile, the same I’ll-show- you confidence. She walked determinedly, she acknowledged the world but kept on moving. And as far as Zara could tell - she wasn’t the type to bump into stationary light poles.
Zara kept on walking and one by one - people passed her; the cleaning guys, the busy mom, the directionless teen, the happy-go-lucky shop owner, the overly-enthusiastic salespeople. People, people, people and lots more people but yet Zara had never felt so alone.
The classy-glassy building was closer now. It was bigger than she had thought. Why was she doing this? This was so stupid. They wouldn’t want someone like her; someone who walked into light poles. They needed epitome business guy or ‘I’ll-show- you’ woman, not her. This was a really stupid and a really bad idea. Why was she even wearing heels? She didn’t even like heels. Her nose caught the whiff of something salty and fresh - she would give anything now to be on the beach, sipping a cold drink in flip-flops. Above the honking of cars, the screeching of tyres and the occasional gawk of a seagull Zara could just hear her mom’s voice as she was getting ready that morning: “ You need a job. You need to stop being so scared. And I really want you out of my house.”
“Thank you, mom,” she huffed to the air.
“Act confident and no one will question you.” That had been her mom’s words, not hers. And she had been confident until that light pole. The light pole had reminded her that even though she was in heels and a business suit, she was still Zara: inadequate and a klutz.
The people still streamed past her: all lost in their own worlds and problems. For just one teeny-tiny second Zara wished that someone, anyone would just tell her that it was going to be okay, that she wasn’t alone.
No one did.
Zara stood in front of the building, a mouse in the elephant’s shadow. “Act...Confident.,” she muttered over and over as she pushed the revolving doors.
“How may I help you, mam?” The woman’s face was expressionless, her customer service smile plastered on her face like a cheap mask.
“I’m... here for the job interview,” Zara sputtered, trying to slow down the jerking of her nerves; trying to remain poised and professional. The woman pointed towards the elevator and said, “That’s on the third floor,” before walking off towards the next incomer.
Zara felt like a headless sardine-packed into a moving tin can. Her fellow sardines stared straight ahead at the door. If eye contact was made, they would stare at her stupidly and then hurriedly drop their gaze towards the floor pretending that the rough stubbly blue carpet was way more interesting. The smell of cologne and cheesy chips was stifling. Zara adjusted her hair, rechecked her briefcase again, smoothed her skirt and breathed- in through the nose, out through the mouth. You’re not alone in this her mom had said. Zara would have stamped if she could’ve. She had never felt as alone as in this packed elevator.
The doors slid open at the third floor. Apparently, she was the only one getting off here. Zara stepped into an empty corridor - alone again she thought dramatically, always, always alone. The doors of the elevator began to slide shut: her companions continued staring doggedly ahead, seeing but not seeing. She wasn’t going to get any empathy from them.
“Good luck with the interview!” Zara turned quickly just in time to catch sight of a broad grin and a friendly wave from a checkered shirted someone as the doors slid decidedly shut. She turned away from the elevator, a smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. Maybe she wasn’t so alone.