Short stories on International Women's Day

Flight of fancy

It wasn’t a big lie, as lies go, just a small one. And it wasn’t told out of malice or anything other than possibly a rather large inferiority complex.

Whilst filling in the form, at the part which asked for my name, I put Alexandrine Verity le Marr instead of Ann Crump. Whether or not I thought this would get me the job I wasn’t certain, but I just didn’t fancy being Ann Crump anymore. Then I wondered whether I should say that I lived in Camden instead of the Archway Road but, if they ever wrote to me, I wouldn’t get the letter so I decided it was better to own up to where I actually lived.

I posted my form back to them that very same day – better to be keen, I thought. On second thoughts I wondered if I had been too keen – the form had only arrived that morning and, by 1:30 pm, it was in the post back to them. I really wanted this job. Well, to be honest, I wanted any job. It had been six long months since I had had any gainful employment and money was running out at a rate of knots. I began to think maybe I should sign on and face the indignity of some spotty youth in the benefits’ office trying to place me in a situation of work that wouldn’t appeal to me at all.

No, this job was the one. It was all I ever wanted, it was the one I had dreamt about, the one that would offer me opportunities beyond belief, the one that would open doors to the kind of life I had always wanted. The only problem was I hated flying, but I would probably get used to it after the first few flights. I just needed to build my confidence up a bit. “Air hostesses, we urgently need you”, the ad had said. “Come and work for British Airways and go that little bit further.” That was me. I needed to go further, but did I have the qualifications? The answer to that was definitely not. They asked for English and Maths GCSEs. I had neither, having had to leave school at fifteen, or rather having been asked to leave school owing to behaviour which made me blush now I thought about it. How hard can it be just walking up and down the aisle of an airplane offering drinks and food? Why would English and Maths even come into it?

I would lie about that too. I would award myself nine GCSEs, two of which would be English and Maths, and no one would be any the wiser. After all, no one ever checked so what harm could it do?

I waited patiently for a week to see if my form had been approved, pacing the floor each time the post was due. Then one wonderful day, just after I had given up ever hearing from them, there it was. I had been awarded an interview. I was to go to the offices at Heathrow and ask for Ms Gwen Mathers who would conduct the interview.

Then began the serious business of what should I wear? I wanted to be sophisticated and stylish, surely just the perfect balance for an air hostess. Not overdone, rather more understated with a hint of Meryl Streep accepting a film award before going onto a neighbour’s barbecue straight afterwards, so casual as well.

I searched the shops for days then came up with the perfect outfit. This perfect outfit also took the rest of the money I had saved for a rainy day, but what the hell? It was an investment.

The great day dawned, my excitement was in overdrive. I had rehearsed the journey so knew just how long it would take to get there. Of course, when the great day dawned it was pouring with rain. Just my luck – I would arrive with a frizzy mass of hair from the damp, but I wouldn’t let this worry me. I had to have this job so I would pretend that this frizzy look was totally intended and anyone with straight neat hair was so last season.

There were a lot of us girls there, all eyeing each other up to see who had the most potential. I noticed that several of them were incredibly smart and really looked the part. On the other hand, some looked not the part at all. I felt I could be in with a chance.

At last my turn came. “Alexandrine Verity le Marr – please come this way.” I didn’t budge. “Alexandrine Verity…” Suddenly I was jolted into realisation.

“Oh sorry,” I stuttered. “That’s me.” I was forgetting that I had changed my name. I followed the incredibly well turned-out woman who had come to fetch me.

I don’t know what I expected. Just one woman I think, this Gwen person that the letter had said would be interviewing me. In fact there were four people behind a long desk. I was ushered to a chair and, one by one, they started firing questions at me. Why did I think this job would suit me? Had I had any experience in this field before? and a million others which I couldn’t remember afterwards as my mind had gone totally blank as it is prone to do in situations of great stress.

The woman on the far left looked long and hard at me before she asked, “And which GCSEs did you obtain?”

“Oh,” I said airily. “Maths, English, French, Geography, English Lit, Chemistry, Spanish, History and Science.”

The woman looked long and hard at me. “You look vaguely familiar,” she said. I peered at her. Yes of course I was vaguely familiar. We had sat next to each other in school for four years until I had got expelled.

I felt my face redden. “Do I? I’m not sure why.”

The woman leaned over her desk. “Excuse me,” she said, “but did you attend Tollington High? It’s not on your CV.”

“Err, no,” I replied. “Where is that?”

“Near the Holloway Road. Bit rough, but a good enough school,” the woman replied.

“No. I went to Channing, as you can see by my CV,” I said. This was another lie. Just a little one, no harm done.

The woman leant back in her chair. “I could have sworn you were Ann Crump, same sort of hair.” I cursed the rain for my all-too-familiar frizzy mop – everyone recognised me by that. “But it says here that you are Alexandrine Verity le Marr… Funny, you are the image of someone I used to know.”

I laughed heartily, maybe a little too heartily, and she kept peering at me with a strange look on her face while the other people were questioning me.

Just then the door opened and a small blonde woman appeared offering coffee or tea to all. When she came to me, she gasped in amazement.

“Bloody hell! It’s Ann Crump! How are you? How lovely to see you. What are you doing here?” I gazed at the small blonde woman with a vague look of surprise on my face, as if to say Do I know you?

My face went a strange puce sort of colour. The small blonde person, who I now recognised as Marie Ellis, was rattling on about what a coincidence it was and she hoped I got whatever job I was applying for. But of course I now didn’t stand a chance for the simple reason that this small blonde woman was none other than the person whose dinner money I had stolen, along with Simon Ellis’s. And not for the first time, she had reiterated to anyone who would listen. And it was obvious that, once she realised who I was and how she knew me and what I had done, she would be offering her own views as to why I must definitely not be employed.

One could argue that, of course, that was a very long time ago and people change, if one wanted to be fair. But when was life ever fair? One could also argue that a coffee-making person was not high up enough in the company to make her views felt but, by her relaxed attitude towards all, it was obvious that this was untrue and she was obviously very comfortable in her position. I found out afterwards that she was in fact PA to the Chairman and was only making coffee and tea that day because the person who normally carried out this service had the flu.

The game was up. I was not offered the job, probably because my cover had been blown and possibly because they all now knew I had been expelled because I had stolen some of my class mates’ dinner money, not just once but several times. And getting pregnant didn’t help, although that had been sorted out thankfully. As luck would have it all these people would also know that I had got no GCSEs at all owing to the fact that I had been booted out of school at fifteen.

It’s funny, but if I had remained Ann Crump I may have got away with it. I could have pretended that I had turned my life around, realised that a life of crime was not for me and that I had been doing voluntary work for many years because I wanted to put something back into the community. I may even have been able to blag my way out of having to leave school but, because I had tried to embellish my very miserable existence by romanticising my name and my credentials, they explained to me that I was not deemed trustworthy or at all suitable and that this was not part of the British Airways philosophy. They had all nodded hard at this part.

”Honesty at all times,” they quoted at me as I slunk out of the room, and I must admit it would have been a lot less embarrassing, if I had stuck to this advice at the beginning of the interview.

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