The waiting room is silent, and sticky. I’m pretending to read the magazine in my hands, but I’ve been taking surreptitious glances at the other candidates, sizing up my competition. One man sits in the corner, fidgeting with the buttons on his jacket. Beads of sweat appear at the top of his receding hairline and roll down until he dabs at them with a handkerchief. Across from me sits a girl in a pink blouse and a black pencil skirt. She fans herself with a magazine. I rub the stubble on my cheeks, wishing I had shaved.
The tall window is partially open, a small concession to the baking summer sun which has decided, on today of all days, to make its first serious appearance of the year. Occasional wafts of cooler air amble their way through the gap. Given the heat outside, the lack of air conditioning in the room seems incredible. Perhaps it is a sadistic part of the selection process. Perhaps the summer’s ongoing lethargy has simply left them unprepared.
The cooler air is not the only thing coming through the window. It carries a familiar sound, a jaunty tinkle of a tune which takes me by the hand and walks me back through the years, to the achingly long summers of my childhood. Then, my ambition was to be a fireman, riding a red engine and climbing up ladders. Later it was to be an astronaut, exploring new worlds in a bubble-headed suit, or an inventor, creating new possibilities.
Before I’m even aware of myself, I’m standing, and my legs are walking me to the door. The other candidates watch me go. I glide past the lift and take the stairs instead, gripping and swinging around the banister at the corner of each floor. I follow the tune, like the Pied Piper and one of his mice.
Taking to the street, I round one corner, and then another, the tune growing louder as I go. As I walk I remove my tie, scrunch it up, and put it in my pocket. Then my jacket is off, swung over my shoulder, and I’m rolling up the sleeves of my shirt.
Finally I see it, waiting for me.
There is a short queue of children. Some of them are accompanied by their mothers, who look at me quizzically. I take a piece of paper out of my pocket, and unfold it. Above the contact details and interview arrangements is the title of the job: Assistant Accounts Manager.
“What’ll it be then?”
I look up. The rest of the queue has disappeared, and the man in the van is smiling at me, waiting for my order.
“99, please,” I say.
“You want monkey’s blood with that?”
I watch him squeeze the ice cream onto the cone, twirling it into a spiral before adding a dollop of strawberry sauce. When I reach out to take it, I release the piece of paper in my hand. It catches the breeze, and floats away down the street.