The Waiting Room

via wikipedia
via wikipedia

“‘I’m here for an interview with, ah… Mr. Jenson.”

“Thanks,” said the receptionist. He felt more than saw her purposeful scan of his appearance. In his mind, the just-noticeable wrinkles in his only white collared  shirt became words scrawled in thick, black permanent marker. I’m not good enough. A days’ stubble. Hastily tied necktie. Thrift store dress pants. What am I even doing here?

“Have a seat,” she said. He couldn’t tell if the sticky-sweet tone of her voice was mocking, or forgiving. “He’ll come out for you in a few minutes.” She smiled, though in an odd way that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

He managed a split second of eye contact and a forced smile back as he thanked her, before turning around and noticing, with a start, that there were two other people in the room.

Great. They must be interviewing for the position, too. One, a man easily ten years his senior, wearing a crisp light gray suit, could have been taken straight from an ad for one of those five-blade razors. Redundantly sharp. The other was a stick-thin young woman, dark hair tied back so tight it stretched the skin of her forehead. He could see the blue veins of her forehead pulsing, throbbing. It was like a black hole – his attention couldn’t seem to escape its gravitational pull.

Stop. Try to be normal. He smiled awkwardly and found his way into a chair facing them. With a sigh, he reflected on the comedy of errors it had been to even get here this morning. The fight with his girlfriend the night before. The few hours of fitful sleep, punctuated by nightmares about being late for his interview. Waking up in the middle of one of the aforementioned nightmares, only to realize his phone had died overnight and his alarm hadn’t gone off. The wrinkled shirt. The run to the bus stop.

But it was time to focus. Time to ignore his insecurities,  his regret over things he wished he hadn’t said, his looming awareness of caffeine withdrawal. The interview was, after all, going to start any minute now. He ran through all the preparation he had done over the last week – despite his current sorry state, he had actually done a lot of thinking about this. Considering his usual practice of “winging it” in interviews, he felt an odd mix of both well-preparedness and unfamiliarity. Like navigating through a new city for the first time, having studied it only on a map.

A door on the far side of the room opened, and all three pairs of eyes in the waiting room glanced up expectantly. His breath caught in his throat, and a dense ball of energy floated into his chest. An man in a dark suit appeared in the doorway and strolled over to the door exiting the office. On his way, he thought he saw him wink at the receptionist. She looked up briefly, enough for him to notice that weird smile again, and resumed whatever it was she was doing on her computer. Without so much as a glance at the three applicants in the waiting room, the mysterious suited man left the room from the same door he had entered only moments before. The soft click of the latch as the door drifted closed seemed sharpened by the silence that followed.

What just happened? He looked around the room at the other two applicants. The razor commercial guy seemed unaffected – his chiseled stone features drawn to the folder of papers he had been reading through the whole time. The woman with the stretched forehead sighed and produced a smartphone from her purse, as her fingers began typing as furiously as the veins in her forehead.

A few moments later, he realized that his heart was pounding, and a swell of metallic anxiety had once again gathered in his chest. Deep breaths, just like you learned. How did you get to be such a nervous wreck? He glanced at his watch, and was startled to see that he had only been in the waiting room for a few minutes. Feels like it’s been half an hour. The image of the three of them there in that room, trapped in an anomic limbo, suddenly seemed overwhelmingly hilarious to him, and he had to stifle – unsuccessfully – a brief, cruel sounding laugh. That got the others’ attention. Even the receptionist glanced up momentarily from her computer monitor, just long enough for him to see the corners of her mouth turn up ever so slightly. That smile – was she mocking him? Stupid. Stupid, stupid idiot!

As he continued to deride himself, the door on the far side of the waiting room again opened. An imposing figure stood in the door frame, a figure that seemed to command authority, respect, deference. Jensen. It had to be. This is it. The interview. He looked up expectantly and noticed something in Mr. Jensen’s face… was it tiredness? Not that it mattered. At this point, he was happy just to escape the Sartrean hell that was this waiting room.

“Thank you all for coming,” said Jensen. It is tiredness – I can hear it in his voice. “I apologize for keeping you waiting here. There was some… business I had to take care of,” Jensen murmured, his glare drifting noticeably to the door opposite where he stood. The same one  that other man exited only a minute before.

His thoughts swirled, the answers to all the interview questions he had practiced time and time again racing through his caffeine-deprived brain. He concentrated on forming an intention, willing himself to swallow down his rising anxiety. I have value. I am a great candidate for this position. I am strong. I am confident. I will get this job. Looking up, he finally felt as if he was ready. Despite all the setbacks and roadblocks set in his path to get here, he made it, and he felt something good was about to happen.

Mr. Jensen’s gaze left the door, and returned to the applicants in the waiting room. “I’m terribly sorry,” he said. “There have been some… complications. We just learned that we’ve been bought out by a rival firm. There will be a merger, and over half the jobs in this department have been considered… redundant.” Jensen had to swallow before that last word. “Including my own. Thank you again for coming. There will be no interview. Good bye.”

He stared, not even bothering to breathe, as Mr. Jensen – his previously imagined authority utterly dissolved – retreated back through the door.

Click.

He looked around. The other applicants were as speechless, stunned as he was. Everyone seemed to be in shock. The only exception was the receptionist, who continued with her work, as if she had known all along.

She was still smiling.

*Cross-posted in Dave’s Diary at the Career Services Informer.

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