The Non Swimmer
Short Fiction ~ Brindley Hallam Dennis
(This story is the third prize winner in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 3)
When I read the name I recalled the first time he came into the office. I could remember thinking, you’ve got about as much chance of getting the job as I have of swimming the channel.
You could tell he wasn’t familiar with interview techniques. He was unshaven, scruffy, badly dressed and truculent. I can remember thinking how glad I was that it wouldn’t be me behind the big table.
That duty fell to Mr Shukri, our beloved leader. Excuse the sarcasm, but he is a bit of a character. Most self-made millionaires are, I guess. What a day to pick though. I shall take the interviews today, he’d said, snatching the sheaf of papers from me. You are never too big, he said, to get your hands dirty.
So all I had to do was send them in.
In the end the job went to a woman called Anjali. She was of Indian ancestry I think, but she’d come from some Godforsaken hell-hole in the Middle East, well, perhaps not forsaken. She’d walked across mountains and deserts through the war-zone, traversed several countries, made it on foot across the whole of Europe, and survived the English Channel in a rubber boat. And she’d done it with two kids under five in tow.
This is the sort of person that we want, Mr Shukri had said, smacking the application form with the back of his hand. She has guts. She has determination. She has endurance, ingenuity, and a cool head in a crisis. You couldn’t argue with that. He didn’t say anything about Gary Shardlow’s application, and maybe he thought that was a kindness.
It turned out though, that Gary had plenty to say for himself. That was the second time he came into the office. He wasn’t ‘reeking of booze’. There wasn’t the faintest whiff of alcohol about him. That’s pure invention, and not by anybody who works for Mr Shukri; not by Mr Shukri himself either. Neither was he ‘straight off the street’, whatever that means, though he still looked scruffy.
Mr Shukri and I were both in the front office when he burst in. He was raving about British jobs being taken by migrants. Fucking migrants, I think, was the exact term he used. I thought he was going to assault us, but Mr Shukri threw out an arm across my chest and stepped towards him. Mr Shukri can be quite an imposing figure when he needs to be.
Fucking immigrants, Gary shouted, taking our jobs. Cheap fucking labour.
Labour? We do not employ labour in this company, young man, and nobody who is working here is cheap – is that not right, Sam?- Let me tell you, Mr Shardlow, why it is that she got the job and you did not.
And I was thinking, how the hell did he remember the boy’s name?
We are looking for the people who can think on their feet. We are looking for the people who will push this company forward; the people who are looking for the new ideas, and for the ways to make them happen. We are looking for the people who are not daunted by difficulties, and who do not consider the possibilities of defeat. We are looking for the people who overcome the obstacles and are beating the odds. We are looking for the people with balls.
That was when the boy managed to say, what…but Mr Shukri kept on going. Do you know what she has done, my boy? She has brought her family out of hell and has walked it across the several thousand miles of inhospitable terrain. She has negotiated her way across the half a dozen borders. She has dealt with the people speaking a dozen different languages, most of which she did not know a single word of. She has found a way through where there were barriers. She has found a way over where there was barbed wire. She has found a way out when they were caged in. She has found the way in when they were shut out. She has kept them together. She has kept them safe. She has brought them home, to the new home, and she has turned up at this interview looking as if she were going on to take tea at the Ritz. Don’t you dare talk to me about cheap labour.
Gary Shardlow went silent. He went pale, and he stood there looking like a defeated man. That’s when Mr Shukri took me by surprise again.
He said, look, Gary…you do not mind if I call you Gary? Gary, we have an office in Turkey. You take yourself to that office and tell them to contact me and say that you have arrived, and I will find you a job. This is a promise, Gary.
I can’t afford to fly to fucking Turkey.
I am not asking you to fly. I do not care how it is that you do it, and you do not have to take anybody’s kids with you. Only take yourself there, in any way that you can, and tell them to contact me. Then Mr Shukri turned to me and said, give him one our cards, with the Turkish office address on it.
I said, yes Mr Shukri, and I went over to the receptionist at the front desk to get one. When I turned round Mr Shukri had gone, but Gary Shardlow was still standing there like a man in a daze.
I said, he means it, you know, and I pressed the card into his hand.
Right, he said, and I thought there’s as much chance of him getting to Turkey as there is of me swimming the channel. I doubted he would even try, and probably best if he didn’t.
I hadn’t thought about Gary again until this morning, and now I have to decide whether or not to take the newspaper through to Mr Shukri with his coffee.
Brindley Hallam Dennis lives on the edge of England where he writes short stories. Writing as Mike Smith he has published poetry, plays and essays on the short story form. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com
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