There was something quite wrong with Mr. Twender. And in that way he was the perfect representation the Handicourt Blacking Company, which I had now formally joined. As a man, he was the size and consistency of a reasonably priced Christmas tree and as a potential employer, he was baffling. He draped a meaty paw before me and I felt obliged to shake it. Rather how a child approaches a snake, I expected his hand to be slimy to the touch, but, in fact, it was hard and cold.
“Glad to have someone of your calibre joining us. With a degree.”
He’d mentioned the degree a number of times during this less than conventional interview, and on each occasion spoke of it as I expect the Magi spoke about our Lord Jesus Christ. Which was unfortunate, as it was entirely fictional.
“You will be joining the sales force. This will be a demanding position and, as such, you will have access to a telephone,” Twender said.
I think he expected me to be impressed by this and so I released a little, ‘oh’.
“Your desk will be here.”
He offered me the desk we were currently sitting around. It was stifled with a great deal of paraphernalia; mainly take-away menus and empty graphs waiting to be filled, plus a child’s colouring book, seemingly from the 1950s. It didn’t appear to carry a phone.
“The telephone will be attached in due course,” he said, reading my mind.
“I assume you can make your own lunch arrangements?”
I assumed that I could.
A silence grew between us. Twender was staring at me as a imperceptible smile drifted across his face like the long shadows of the afternoon.
“Erm…” I began
“Yes?” He looked a little nervous.
“What will the role involve?” I asked.
The gentleman appeared crestfallen.
“That element can be discussed once you’ve settled. No point muddying the waters at this point.”
“But the premises are active?” I asked, noticing the belligerent lack of sound. “For a factory,” I continued, “it’s rather quiet.”
“Hmmmm,” he said and left the room. In due course the distant sound of manufacturing began. He breathlessly returned to the room.
“There,” he said with joy. “You see?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Now,” Twender vigorously began to rub his palm against the thigh area of his trousers, which perhaps explained their sheen. “One important thing. Vital, in fact. How will you be approaching the establishment?”
I think this was one of the interview questions they primed us for in Job Club. The answer involved the words, ‘prioritisation’, ‘commitment’ or ‘work flow’. But before I could answer, Mr. Twender elucidated.
“I mean literally. How will you get here each day? From what direction?”
The final part of the question was shouted at quite a clip. I must have appeared slightly stunned.
“Sorry,” he said. “I have an inner ear problem. It affects my balance. And volume. You’ll soon acclimatise.”
I tried to picture any evidence of this impaired balance, but nothing sprang to mind. He was tilted slightly, but that may have been the floor.
“Now, travel arrangements.”
I considered this.
“I expect I’ll take the bus,” I offered. His face fell.
“Oh dear,” he gulped and I instantly felt shamed. “I’m afraid we have something we do insist on here at Handimans.”
“Handicourts,” I corrected.
“Yes, here at Handicourts,” he continued, unconcerned by the feeble grasp of his own company. “We do like our employees to walk to work.”
“Yes, walk. There are many reasons for this. Many, many reasons,” he stopped. It appeared these many, many reasons would remain anonymous.
“And here’s our preferred route.”
A well-thumbed square of paper appeared before me. A cube represented the factory, a smiley face within it and the initials HBC hovered above. A line snaked from the factory, through a shaded area and then petered out.
“Obviously you can fill the latter half in yourself. I don’t believe I know your exact address. I trust you have one?”
“Very good. But if you can follow this particular arrival method and pitch up at around 9.30, everyone here at Handicourts will be delighted.”
Again his hand was offered. This time it was damp.
“That will be acceptable? You won’t deviate from the route?” He asked while continuing to damage my hand.
“Yes. No,” I answered.
“Then we’ll begin when you arrive,” he said and lightly pushed me towards the exit.
I left the office and walked past a concrete structure that I assumed housed the factory. As I drew level, all sounds of industry ceased. There followed a series of hurried footsteps, a slew of muttered curses, then the obvious sound of a phonograph needle hitting a record. Then the sounds of machinery began again.
I walked home.
To Be Continued.