John woke up with a start. He rolled on his bed and reached for the alarm; smothering it. His thin worn out blanket lay at his feet. He used it just because he had to. It did not prevent the biting cold anymore. The clock indicated ten minutes past six. The alarm had rang for the second time. He had to move fast. It was a day for another interview.
Since getting out of college two years earlier, he had never held a steady job. He relied on short term contracts given out by his more successful former classmates in big companies. He was among the smartest but the jobs had been elusive to him. They always danced in his eyes as he went from one interview to another. He did not have a tall brother or distant relative to hold his hand and pull him out of his quagmire. He held on to hope. That one day, things would work out. The contracts he got ranged from data entry jobs, sales, and to the bizarre sweat dripping ones. The ones he never imagined he would do as a graduate. Sometimes he would go into construction work; doing manual labour with all sorts of crooks. He had attended so many interviews that he had lost appetite for them.
John groped under the bed for the only basin he had. The lights were off. Without light from the windows, he could stay in the dark till he got accustomed to it. His prepaid electricity bill was still pending. He carefully drew water from the black 100litre water container. The water level was low and he had to bend low to get to it. Bathing was not mandatory here but today, he had to. With water in the taps only once a week and two days to the next 'water day' he knew what that meant for the next couple of days.
He was lucky to get the last occupant of the bathroom leaving. Thank God, there was no queue either. His bathing was always a five minute affair. He had perfected it over the years. It was the only way to cut short the agony of the skin-numbing body-trembling cold water. He also rationalized that with the sharing, he could save other people's time. The condition of the bathroom did not allow a prolonged stay either.
The last phase of his preparation had been the trickiest. His clothes were scanty. John had two suits. One was grey, bought for his graduation. The other was pin stripe navy blue one. He had bought it from a friend who found it a size too small. He could choose the suit to wear by looking away as he searched for the hangers. As a rule, the one first touched would do for the day. Whether they were clean or not was not considered. Most times they were good. Without mentioning the suits were beaten.
The major hardship was the shirt. Most of them had collars that looked like they were shredded and glued back together. Others were anti-iron. However hard he tried to iron them, they would crease up again. He was very cautious about them because he had attended an interview with one such before. Things had gone well and he tough he was making quite an impression because the panel kept smiling at him. It was not until the last question was asked by the big bellied man at the heart of the panel that he realized what was amusing them. "Mr. Onyango, did you look at yourself in the mirror before you left your house?" The building almost came down in rapturous laughter. He felt small. He could not even muster the courage to ask the mandatory last question. He did not want a repeat of that experience.
He found a sky blue shirt, clean and pressed. A red tie with stripes went with it; the navy blue suit was picked for this day. Time was running out. He had just five minutes to make it to the bus station. John wanted to get there early. From experience, he could not get late. It was bad sign to interviewers. On several occasions, he had been late or lost and those were some nightmares he loved to hate. A job seeker is always as lucky as the next interview.
The journey was slow. He had expected it. Forces always conspired to ruin his important days. Today, he could afford a smile. He was in no hurry. He flipped through a dossier he had made for News Media East Africa. He had made many such dossiers in the past. It was a hard task but a worthwhile one. Interviewers are always impressed by candidates who know a lot about their prospective employers. He looked for scraps of information over the internet, from newspapers, journals, magazines and any other relevant sources. He flipped through the dossier absentmindedly as juicy vulgarities from a local FM station rent the air inside the matatu.
He wasn't building castles in the air as he used to when he began job hunting. In those early days, he could imagine the oak table, rolling leather chair, state of the art computer and other trappings that lay on the other side of the hot interview seat. He had grown skeptic.
John fell in love with News Media East Africa the moment he stepped into the reception. It was magnificent. Everything he could see did spell grandeur. He was ushered in by a pretty damsel called Kate. She was kind enough to cheer him up and wish him well. She even said she was looking up to working with him.
The waiting room had four candidates. He had purposed never to compare himself with others. Thirty minutes later, it was his turn. He was the last; a good sign. He had read in some column in the dailies that the last candidate usually got the job.
He sauntered in, smiled broadly as he said good morning and took his seat. This was perfected from experience. As he rested his back on the seat, he was formatted. His mind went blank as he saw her at the extreme left of the interview panel. He panicked. Sweat drops rolled down his stomach. He was sweating in this cool air-conditioned room. He couldn't wait to hear her full names but when he did, he felt dizzy. With trembling hands, he filled his glass from the plastic water bottle in front of him and gulped it down. He wanted to run away.
The ghosts in his closet had come out. They were here, the most unexpected of places. He had loved Sally. She too had loved him with all the love of her youth. Their love hit the rocks when their country was rocked by mayhem after a botched election. Inter-ethnic animosity could not stomach the beautiful thing they had. His community and hers could not see eye to eye after a blood bath and massive displacement of people. She had cried when her parents sent him away. They had never met again until today. Their daughter Seanice was two years old but he was not aware.
'Tell us about yourself.' The interview was on. He was a veteran at interviews and tried as much as possible to remain focused. The questions came fast and thick but he was prepared. He gave a good account of himself.
After several questions about himself, his competencies, the company, the profession and its current trends and one question of his own he left. He saw her smiling as took his way out.
Two weeks later, the phone rang as he lay on hard hot ballast over lunch time at a construction site. News Media East Africa had hired him. He didn't know what to feel.