Fiction in response to Decent Work and Economic Growth
August 2018

Countdown

By Caroline Sun

10   different job attempts in the past month. Each one less paying and more desperate than the previous, yet still unable to hire someone like me. “This job is…  just not right for you,” says each shift manager, each hiring executive after a few days of work. They look at me with dismissal, edged by a glint of pity, before shutting the door in my face.

 

9   o’clock in the evening, and my shift isn’t even half over yet. I glance around at the garishly decorated walls of the small room. A “We’re Open” sign flashes red and blue against the clear window pane, illuminating the cracked linoleum floors. This is my second day of work. I can’t help but feel a rush of despair; was this really the only place that would accept me? A fast food restaurant?

 

8   dollars and forty-seven cents, each hour. Thirty hours a week, dispensing burgers and sodas, swiping credit cards, counting change. Barely enough for a decent meal each day and a place to sleep at night. But it’s something, I guess. It’s something. The door opens suddenly, letting in a breath of the frosty winter air. I glance up, pasting a plastic smile on my face for the new customers. “Hello, welcome to Burger World. How may I assist you?”

 

  customers waiting in line, standing between me and the end of my shift. I tap my foot, impatient to get out of this place, to go… where? Home? I almost laugh. As if the cheap $25 motel room I was staying at was anything close to a home. With this kind of money, this kind of work, I would never be able to live a normal life.

 

6   dollars, the lady demands. Six dollars, I ought to give her, because her fries were “cold and undercooked.” As if I were the cook. The manager watches me carefully, ready to step in if I handled anything wrong. I sigh, and reassure the lady that I will refund her meal. Six dollars, from my own meager budget, gone. The manager nods approvingly and turns away.

 

5   more tables to wipe clean, before I could leave. I wrinkle my nose in disgust as I drag the soapy cloth across ketchup splatters and spilled food. Something slides under my foot, and I look down to see a pile of smushed fries smeared across the dirty floor. Funny how people always seem leave behind so much trash and so much work for others, yet never seem to notice.

 

4   miles away from here is the motel. I cannot afford a car, so I walk, with nothing but the ink-black sky above me. There are no stars in sight, just the pale outline of the yellow moon covered by a blanket of clouds. Finally, after what seemed like hours, I drag myself into the motel lobby.

3   hours of sleep, before I get up once more. The sky is a dark, bruised purple, and the sun is but a shadow on the horizon. I strip off my uniform from the previous night, sighing inwardly as I realize that I had fallen asleep without changing. I take a quick shower, pulling on my other uniform, a striped t-shirt and long black pants. There isn’t even time for breakfast – I can’t be late. 

 

2   jobs I am working now, in an attempt to save enough money for an apartment, or maybe a car. The gentle swaying of the community bus threatens to lull me to sleep, and I can barely keep my eyes open. A calm, feminine voice informs me that my stop is next, and I stand up slowly. The doors open with a hiss of air, and I step out into the fresh morning air.

 

  day after another, each exactly the same. Sleep late, wake up early, work work work. Repeat. I am stuck in a vicious cycle, tormented endlessly by money and hunger and exhaustion. I had never wanted my life to be like this. When I was younger, I dreamed that I would someday become a princess. Now all I wish for is just some more money, a few more hours of sleep. What will become of me?

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