I walked into the supermarket, and I got the attention of an employee.
‘Hello mate, I’m after Barry, the Store Manager.’
‘You’re after Barry? Follow me.’
I was taken to an office out the back of the shop. The employee went in and he came straight out again.
‘Alright,’ he said. ‘Barry’s ready.’
‘Hello, ergh . . . Tom.’
There he was, that man of mystery I’d been in correspondence with for the last few weeks.
‘Take a seat Tom.’
‘Pleased to make your acquaintance sir.’
‘Yes Tom, and please, call me Barry.’
‘Umm . . . okay.’
‘So you’re looking for a job? Says here you’d like to start a career with us. Bit young, no? You must be fresh out of school.’
‘Yes, just finished. I should say that I’ve always wanted to own a supermarket. I thought it best to start young, and to work my way to the top.’
Barry looked at me for a second, and then he laughed to himself. ‘Good to see you’re an aspiring young man.’
‘Thanks Barry, I’ve always wanted to serve the local community, be a sort of cornerstone.’
‘You live locally?’
‘Just around the corner.’
‘No trouble getting to work then.’
‘No, no, of course, but really I’d love to play a positive role in the community. I’d like to maintain my shop as a sort of core spot. People here can bond, get the lowdown on the local news, get a heads up on local events and gatherings.’
‘Get on close terms with the staff members, get support if need be.’
‘Yes, yes . . .’
‘Sell their wares, their homemade crafts and jams and . . .’
Barry continued. ‘Don’t get too far ahead of yourself mate.’
‘Sorry, I just feel really passionate about . . .’
‘The community, life, living, love, all that shit. I get it mate. Look, I’d give you the job here and now but regulations state that we must get through the course of the interview. Now, I’ve got a busy day ahead, so I don’t want to hear another of your monologues. Just remember that part of our brand stipulates our community focus. We encourage our staff to be great people and we encourage good customer relations.’
I looked at Barry for a second and I felt reassured. With a company motto like Good Food, Great People, how could I not?
‘Alright Tom, let’s begin the interview proper.’
I looked in anticipation.
‘Why do you want to work for our company?’
I frowned. ‘Didn’t I just tell you that?’
‘Oh, yep, yep.’ Barry worked his keyboard, mumbling as he did so, ‘To play a positive role in the community.’
‘Next,’ he continued. ‘What drives you?’
He looked up at me and he sighed deeply.
‘Everything alright?’ I asked.
He laughed to himself.
‘Tom!’ The Grocery Manager was yelling at me again.
‘You’ve been working here now for what, two weeks, three weeks?’
‘Something like that.’
‘Can you see the problem here?’ He was pointing to the drinks fridge. It was technically part of the grocery department, but we on front end had to fill it.
I looked at the fridge as hard as I could, but nothing looked amiss. ‘Seems fine to me.’
‘Fine?’ He looked me in the eye. ‘Is that fine?’ He pointed to the display of Sprite bottles.
I gave him a blank stare.
He counted the rows. ‘One, two, three.’ He pointed at the label beneath. ‘How many spaces between this label and the next?’ He counted them with his fingers. ‘One, two.’
‘Is that an issue?’
He counted the two separate rows again. Again, again, again.
‘Come with me.’ We walked off the shop floor, to the grocery desk.
Angus got a book out the drawer. ‘This is the 2014 Grocery Handbook.’
He flicked through the pages, one after the other, one after the other, one after the other.
‘Here.’ His finger landed on an excerpt. ‘Companies pay for their instore display positions. The labels below the products indicate the allowable space to allot each brand.’
As if from some sort of stress response, his voice got aggressive as he read the last bit. ‘Never in any circumstance may the product locations be compromised. The labels are there to guide the filler in correct filling procedure.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I said.
He looked really tense. ‘Plus, it’s confusing for the customer. You work on front end: you should know a thing or two about customer service.’
‘Yes, I won’t do it again.’
‘Don’t forget, we’re here to make the customer’s experience the best it can be.’
We walked back onto the shop floor.
‘Hey mate.’ A lady approached Angus. She stunk; she was emaciated; she had pasty skin and a flaky scalp. ‘I was just fackin after yer Sprite. You got the six hundreds but I wanted a two liter.’
‘Yes, yes,’ he said. He disappeared.
I looked twice at the lady and I recognized her. ‘Mrs. Jeffries?’
She stared at me for a second. She looked really down and out.
‘Remember me? Tom? I was friends with your son in pre-school.’
‘Long time ago now mate.’ Her eyes lowered. ‘I haven’t seen my son in years.’
‘He ran away, living now somewhere in the western suburbs.’
‘Why do you think? Drugs mate. Fucked on drugs.’
‘Mrs. Jeffries, I’m so sorry to hear.’
‘No, seriously. If you need to talk about it, please tell me more.’
‘What could you do?’
She shook her head. ‘No, no. They have professionals for that sort of stuff anyway.’
I put my hand on her shoulder. ‘Really Mrs. Jeffries, I knew your son. As much as you need to tell someone, I need to know the details.’
‘Who said I need to tell anyone?’
I could see that she’d been holding her emotions in. I found it hard to fathom how this could have been so, years after her son had run away. Had anyone like me actually approached her like this? Had such a simple demand never been put to her? I knew she was bitterly lonely. Even when I was friends with her son, even then she kept to herself. The father had disappeared before he’d even been born, and I remember the son telling me that his mum was the only person he knew out of school.
I looked into her eyes. ‘Mrs. Jeffries, you don’t remember me, really? Your son and I were such good friends. I remember going over your house, sleepovers. And surely you remember my fifth Birthday party? I know you and your son came round. I know you got on well with my parents.’
She gave me a serious once over. ‘Tom?’
‘Yes, Mrs. Jeffries, it’s me.’
‘I’m sorry Tom, I do remember you.’
We smiled at one another for a moment.
‘You know Tom, it’s been a long time since I talked to anyone. Perhaps, maybe . . .’ She looked at the ground.
‘Yes?’ I prompted.
She looked up. ‘Perhaps . . .’
I jumped in surprise. I looked around to see Angus coming with a box of Sprite.
‘What are you doing now? Have you just been standing here these last few minutes?’
‘I . . . I . . .’
‘You what? Pick up your game mate. Get back on the registers. You’re here for customer service, and customers aren’t being served.’
Mrs. Jeffries was looking down again. Angus gave her the Sprite and she disappeared out the store.
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