Wednesday, December 03, 2014

by Bruce Hodder
At ten pm under a thin December moon, Declan O'Connor, a short, overweight Irish shift manager, arrived in a new BMW to interview candidates for a cleaning job at the meat factory. He was half an hour late, but as he was in charge, who was going to tell him that?
Two Polish men, one Lithuanian, one Latvian and one English man had been waiting silently in the canteen since half-past nine. Once O'Connor was in place in his office, with his usual cup of coffee and his biscuits, a woman in a tabard came into the canteen.
"New starters? Follow me."
The candidates were escorted to a meeting room, where they sat together around a big table talking quietly, mostly in Polish, but occasionally in broken English.
"What was your last job?"
"You never work?"
"A day here, a day there."
"How long you been in England?"
"Six months."
The Latvian man, his blue eyes hollowed out by melancholy, told the Englishman, "Used to be jobs so easy to come by. Now nothing. So hard. Something very wrong."
The candidates were called one by one down the corridor to O'Connor's untidy office, and returned to the meeting room five minutes later.
"His accent so hard to understand," said the Latvian man. "Ireland is part of England? Same language?"
The English candidate went in last. O'Connor told him with a conspiratorial smile, "You're in a minority here. There are only two English people on the shop floor. And most of the managers, of course."
They had a cursory chat. O'Connor asked the Englishman about his experience, although the job had been advertised as "full training given." If he had known experience was a requirement, the Englishman would not have bothered to spend money he didn't have coming all the way across town on such a cold night.
Afterwards, he was sent back to the meeting room as the other candidates had been. They waited another five or six minutes for O'Connor to come in and announce three successful names out of the five. The chosen ones who would come back in tomorrow and start their training.
There was a complete absence of feeling in his voice or on his face as he read out the names. He might have been sorting fresh joints from rotten.
Leaving with the others, too tired to feel sorry for himself, the Englishman said, "Well, that was a waste of bloody time."
One of the successful candidates, walking behind him, laughed and said, "Can you smell the dead meat?"
He was right: the stench rising from the factory floor was thick and awful.
Pushing open another door marked "exit", the Englishman looked at his mobile and realised he had missed the last bus home. Perhaps understanding why he looked so annoyed, and perhaps not, one of the Polish men touched him on the shoulder.

"Hey, bro, you want a lift?" he said.

Outside the winter chill closed around them.