Type of Short Story: Short Story
There was four people waiting, I was fifth in the queue the little snowman shaped woman in the small, extremely untidy office told me. It looked like a cross between Hiroshima and a paper recycling centre. ‘Organised chaos’, she said with a cheeky wink. I smiled back. This was my first ever experience being in a social welfare office. It was as majestic as I had been led to believe it would be. Talk about a dreary gut wrenchingly depressing place. A strange smell of disinfectant which came from a filthy mop and bucket that looked as if it had done as much work in the last few months as I had filled my nostrils. After a few moments it began to annoy me just ever so slightly. I took my form from the counter along with a complimentary pen (how kind) and I slowly shuffled back towards an empty hard plastic chair. It had a small crack in the back that pinched my t-shirt whenever I sat back into it. Feckin’yoke. I moved to another seat to continue filling out my forms. The wobbly leg on it was marginally less irritating than the last. Suppose it was the lesser of the two evils.
The filling out of this form, mind numbingly boring as it was, was made ever more challenging by a strangely loud flickering of the light above me coupled with the chattering of two Polish (well I’m guessing Polish) men. They were the size of fried freezers so im guessing they’re some sort of Russian expats. Why did they have to speak so loud? I stood up to have a look at the notice board across from me. From the complete mess that was posted on this I’m guessing that the woman in the office had had a hand in its design. Endless lists of courses were posted all over a graffiti covered corkboard. It’s a bad state of affairs when the graffiti was the most interesting part of it! I chuckled to myself as I noticed the irony of a childish cartoon drawing of a cock scribbled in between a poster warning against STI’s (why this was here I’ve no idea but I came to the conclusion that it was no work and all play) and a local funeral directors. I wonder did they draw the cock first and then the posters followed?
‘Hope yer not laughin at my cock?’, a voice said behind me. I turned around to see Dan, a lad I knew from my school days, standing there.
‘Jayzis Dan, hows tricks?’, I asked him.
‘Can’t complain mate’, he said in a voice that didn’t quite fit his appearance. You see he was a small fat Arabian looking lad who spoke with a thick cultchie accent. His parents must have bought him or something as they were as pale as a couple of emo teenagers. Persian Dan we called him at school. Well we called him a lot of things but Persian Dan was the name that stuck. I don’t know if anyone ever called him that to his face? He probably couldn’t care less anyways. The style of the gear he had on him today was a treasure to behold. It honestly had to be seen to be believed. He always had a strange sense of style that made him looked like Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder had being playing “pin the tail” with him. Sandals, socks (of course), football shorts and a Status Quo vest was the irresistable ensemble he had chosen today. This crazy looking getup was topped off with a sort of comb-over mullet. It really was a sight that had o be seen to be believed. There have been escaped loonies with better style sense than this lad.
He took his form and we sat down.
‘Fuckin’ chairs pinching me back fat’, he said loudly. An old man at the seat next to us spat out his tea and chuckled to himself.
‘What course ye doin?’, I asked Dan.
‘Dont really care mate, I just do them to get the few bob. I’ve been on more courses than Tiger Woods’, he said in that dry humour I had forgotten he used to perfection. ‘Don’t know why I have to fill these out’, he said in an irritated fashion. ‘I’ve been coming here that long I get invited to the staff parties’. A smile crept across his face. ‘Irony at its finest’, he said laughing, ‘to get invited to the staff party ye’d have to work and’, he said nudging me with his elbow,’ the only job I’ve ever managed to get is a blowjob!’ We both laughed loudly. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad, I thought to myself.
The door in the entrance opened slowly with a loud squeak that sounded like a cat in a blender. Does nothing in this place look or sound the way it was intended to? In walked four men, a small little fat man, a slightly taller slimmer man, a tall bulky fella and then a man the size of a decent sized wardrobe. Standing in the queue they looked like a depiction of the evolution of man.
We were then all herded into another room and told to sit down at a table and fill out yet another form. This room was another plain box room with cheap laminated tables covered in scratched on little memories from past visitors. On the walls hung the most hilarious pieces of inspirational sayings printed out by the snowman in the office no doubt. I’m sure all these quick little information gathering forms would be so much more relevant to our job search had we all not filled them in together so the lads who couldn’t read or who didn’t speak English had theirs done too. A tall slender man with big round Oasis in the 90’s style glasses stood in a non tailored suit that hung from him as if he had lost weight recently and kept wearing it. He looked as enthusiastic as the rest of us. He droned on in a dull, lethargic manner and sighed heavily after every short sequence of sentences. I wondered if he’d of been better off filling out one of these magic forms that were going to help us find “a job we deserve”. I didn’t want to suggest it to him. Well it was my first day.
He handed us yet another personalised form. Please answer all questions to the best of your abilities the form read.
‘And lads, don’t spend forever on it, we haven’t got all day!” he said in an angry and disgruntled manner.
‘Sure what else are we gonna be doing Alan, the bookies and pub doesn’t open til after lunch!” Dan shouted out from our table. We laughed. Alan didn’t.
‘Less of your chat today Osama’ he quipped back as quick as a flash.
‘Osama? ” I questioned to Dan. ’Surely that’s a bit racist? No? I asked but didn’t really think it was racist. It was hilarious and so unexpected from a man who looked as humorous as a bipolar suffering undertaker.
‘That’s what he calls me. Osama Bone Idle’ he said laughing as he told me. A loud laugh escaped my mouth quicker than I could control it, it filled the room. It deserved a laugh. Meeting Dan could be the break I needed to catch.
The form was as intellectually challenging as a kids join the dots game. Seriously, what could this achieve? The only question I found to be remotely interesting was; describe yourself in five words. I struggled to think of something to write down for a few moments and decided to glance over at Dan’s form. He was scribbling away without even pausing. Must be all the practice he has gotten over the past few years. I glanced at his “five words” question. A wave of laughter started in my stomach sending a shudder through my chest that began rattling my shoulders. I didn’t even attempt to hide it this time. I couldn’t. The tears cascaded down my cheeks. I wiped my eyes with my sleeve and glanced at Dan’s form again to double check what I’d read. His answer read; Overweight, underachiever. Say no more!
‘Honesty, thats what they wanted’ he said throwing out a wink and a smile. I went for a slightly more subdued and generic answer. Honest, reliable, determined, punctual and hardworking.
‘Its supposed to be honest’ Dan said nodding his head towards my answer.
‘Fuck off. It is’ I snapped back arguably but to no avail. I wondered if everyone had been as honest?
‘Right lads, sure we’ll call that elevenses’ said Alan.
‘Lovely’ Dan said as he began rolling a smoke. He looked around shiftily and produced a small bag of weed. ‘Its for my glaucoma’ he said blinking his eyes continuously as if trying to convince me.
‘Yeah’ I said back sounding unconvinced at his explanation. ‘Think I might be getting a touch of that too’ I said and also began blinking. He laughed as he threw in some more medicinal smoke.
We went out to a small area at the back of the centre that looked like a beer garden in a pretty rough pub. The wooden picnic tables shook and wobbled as we sat down. The group split into smaller groups and struck up conversations between themselves.
‘Thats the Warsaw Pact’ Dan said nodding towards a group of men that were so big even sitting down they looked like a mountain range. ‘Over there is the redundancy brigade, he pointed towards a group of elderly men (well mid fifties) sitting together with their glasses on doing their crosswords and Sudoku puzzles. ‘They’re grand and always good for a tip for the horses too. ‘Any info for me today Tony?’ Dan shouted across at one of them.
‘Just studying the form I’ll let you know in a few alright’ he shouted back.
Lovely’ Dan said rubbing his hands together as if trying to warm them on a cold morning. ‘Hopefully thatl pay off and we’ll have enough for a few cheeky after “work” scoops!’ he said with an excited tone in his voice.
After the smoke break we headed back in slightly buzzed and drained after the smoke. The pace in which we all sauntered back in slightly annoyed Alan who grunted at us to hurry up.
‘Right lads, yez are going to have to watch this DVD while I have a look over these forms. Try give it a bit of your attention, if it’s not too much trouble he said again sounding so underwhelmed with life. I couldn’t blame him really. His job is to help find a job for those who don’t want a job. What a thankless task!
An ex Fair City actor was now on screen taking us through the main points of finding a new job. I sat and wondered how bad an actor he must of been to be now considered an “ex” fair city (ahem) “star”. It was slightly annoying me. My mind had now wandered off. I looked at Dan, he looked like his mind was still sitting outside at the table! So this was how he got through these manic depressive days.
‘Watch this, I love this bit, it gets me every time’ he said pointing to his chest. The actor on screen looked deep into the camera, at us, and said ‘remember, always believe in yourself’. Dan was chuckling. ‘Fuckin’ clown!’ he should be here with us . ‘Has he even got a job?’ Dan shouted up at Alan.
‘Dya have to ask every time Dan’ he said through a mixture of gritted teeth and a loud bemused sigh.
‘Guarantee he’s a Rockinroller like the rest of us here! Believe in yourself. Gobshite’ Dan ranted along. Those of us that understood English and his cultchie accent laughed. These inspirational videos and testimonials continued for the rest of the afternoon. It worked though. We felt inspired (tongue in cheek) and were ready to decide what course we were going to enrol on. Dan and I opted for the warehouse course. How testing could this be?
As lunchtime approached, Alan began talking again and after putting down his stack of completed forms called Dan aside for a quick chat
‘I need to talk to you in the office for a quick sec Dan’ he said in a calm yet unnerving undertone. He cleared his throat and dismissed the rest of us for the day. Apparently we had done enough. Dan rose gingerly from his seat, still carrying that air of confidence in him but yet this time looking slightly more vulnerable. A sense of fear crept slowly across his face as the colour drained from it like water slowly escaping down a plughole.
I walked back out to the main entrance of the building and sat down on a small little wooden bench just outside the front door. I waited there for Dan as we had arranged to celebrate our first days work with a couple of sociable drinks. As the minutes rolled by I began to wonder what had happened to Dan. I laughed to myself as I thought to myself, how bad would it be if he had managed to get fired from a Fás course?
About twenty minutes had passed until Dan emerged from the building looking sunken and shocked. His voice crackled just a little bit as he said ‘Its over man, its finally over!’
‘Over’ I questioned.
’Yeah, the sneaky whores have managed to find me a feckin’ job and I have to take it or they’ll stop my dole! Disaster!’ He expelled a huge gasp of hair and rubbed his face with his hands. ‘I need a drink, and quickly’ he said and we got going to the nearest watering hole.
Pint after pint were slung down the hatch and as the room began to move and sway like elderly couples in a ballroom we began to instigate a mixture of singing and what can only be described as growling from Dan. Other patrons were horrified as we murdered song after song (well we tried our best). As the drink took its toll and the singing became faint and inaudible Dan sang a little tune that perfectly summed up his situation. To the tune of ‘On the road again’ by Wille Nelson, Dan sang his version, ‘On the Dole again, I can’t wait to be on the Dole again, I can’t wait to be signing on with my friends, I can’t wait to be on the Dole again’. We fell around laughing as we wandered through the pub car park and as we said our goodbyes it finally dawned on me that I was losing the friend that had gotten me through the day. A heavy sadness came across me as we hugged and as we walked away in different directions he shouted ‘Dont worry I’ll be back!