This story is by Noemi Scheiring-Olah and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Monday 8:04 a.m.
The slamming of a door echoed through the fog covering Cambridge’s narrow streets. Running steps drummed on the stone pavement. “You’re late. You’re late.”
Annabelle’s train left at 8:15 and her job interview started at 9:30 in London. She planned to catch the earlier train, but she couldn’t get up in time, because she could only fall asleep at dawn.
“What if I won’t be able to talk?” Annabelle asked her mother on Skype the previous day.
“Don’t be silly darling, your English is excellent. The only thing you should worry about is being late.”
“Maaa, that’s not fair. You know I’m way over that now. Don’t say this…”
“I’m sorry darling, you’re right. You’re doing a great job in that cafe so I take it back.”
Annabelle took a right turn to Station Road. Her breaths formed clouds in the air, like an old steam-train ready to depart.
“She is such a good girl.” Relatives, neighbours and teachers told her mother. Good grades, always did her homework. But when Annabelle was not accepted to one of Budapest’s best universities, something had happened. She had lost all sense of time. In her mind, failure and poor time management were twins, finishing each other’s sentences.
“I couldn’t do it…”
After a few years of arm wrestling with the clock, Annabelle followed her friend to the UK. She thought that changing scenery might be her chance to finally relearn the ways of time, to grow up, be professional. A businesswoman, who was never late.
Annabelle reached the train station. She showed her ticket to the conductor and ran to the fourth platform. The train stood there, ready to depart. Annabelle slumped on a seat and unpacked herself from her coat and jumper, panting.
So far, her plan had worked. She could come to an agreement with time, and a few weeks after arriving to Cambridge, she got a job at the Black Cat Cafe. But her desire to be a real businesswoman never faded. After spending a year at the Cafe, she started to apply for marketing internships. Even as a waitress she enjoyed guessing the coffee needs of every new guest. Whenever the doorbell jingled and a customer entered, Annabelle studied them from head to toe as they stepped to the counter.
Navy coat. Brown briefcase. Smartphone in hand. – Flat white. Takeaway.
Rimless glasses. Windblown hair. Large handbag pulling down her shoulder. – Chai latte. In.
She got it right most times.
And now she had a job interview in London, at a marketing agency. But the fear of being late again started to creep out from an old wardrobe standing in the corner of her soul.
The train left Cambridge with Annabelle on board.
She stared out the window letting her eyes jump back and forth on the leafless trees passing by behind the curtain of fog. Her arms grew goosebumps as the after-running heat started to escape her body. She put her jumper back on and glanced around in the coach. Men and women clutched paper cups in their hands and bags under their eyes. The woman sitting in front of Annabelle wore a blazer with matching skirt, eyes glued to the screen of her Mac. Rose fragrance and bewildered typing wafted from her.
“She must be a business woman.” Annabelle thought, adjusting her posture.
She unzipped her handbag and reached for her notes to review them:
I am interested in this position, because I have a sixth sense about what people want and how they feel.
She got a pen from her handbag and wrote:
I am also hard-working and competent…
“And being late again.” Annabelle tucked her chin in her jumper as the thought flew across her head.
After picking up more and more passengers who couldn’t find any more seats, the train slowed down and stopped in the middle of a meadow. Annabelle looked up, frowning.
“Dear Passengers, we seem to have some minor maintenance issues. We have to stay here, but only for a couple of minutes. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.” Said a breaking voice from the speakers.
“Inconvenience?! This is not a bloody inconvenience, this is a life or death situation!” Annabelle shouted inside her head.
She gazed at her notes examining the phone number she received in the email confirming her interview: Sam Forrest, White Media, +44 (0) 207 490 9380. She took a deep breath and considered telling them that she would be a bit late. But she winced as the thought gripped and twisted her stomach. She looked out of the window asking the trees for advice. The fog had already pulled up its curtain, allowing rays of sunlight to filter through the air.
Time was like a smith hammering an iron nail into Annabelle’s nerves with every single tick.
Annabelle knew she had to face her smith. She could picture him waiting for her with his hammer held up over his shoulder. She decided she would call that number if the train still did not leave by 8:50.
But then the seat under Annabelle moved. And it moved again. And finally, the train rattled along. The grip loosened around Annabelle’s stomach as the trees waved goodbye.
Annabelle stepped outside King’s Cross Station. She inhaled the breezy air filled with one-sided conversations on cell phones that the other side couldn’t hear from the humming and honking of the black cabs and red double-deckers. As she got a green light, she started to run again. She took a turn to a street guarded by tall trees on both sides and arrived at a red brick building.
“Hello, I’m Annabelle Varga and I’m here for an interview with Sam Forrest.”
“Okay, I’ll let him know you’re here. Hold on a sec.” The receptionist reached for the phone on the counter.
“Hi Sam, one of your interviewees is here, can I send her up?”
“Well, she says she has an interview with you.”
The receptionist, holding the receiver away from her ear, said, “I’m sorry, darling, what did you say your name was?”
“She says her name is Annabelle Varga. – Varga?”
“Okay, thank you.” The receptionist hung up the phone and smiled at Annabelle.
“Sam will be with you in a few minutes. Please take a seat.”
Annabelle sat down on a tawny sofa and removed her coat. She could feel her heart beating in her throat.
A grey-haired man stepped out of the elevator.
“Hello. Are you Annabelle?” He asked.
Annabelle popped up from the sofa.
“Yes, I am. Hello.” She gave him a robotic wave.
The man stepped to Annabelle and shook her hand.
“Hi, I’m Sam. But I’m afraid we have a little misunderstanding here, Annabelle. You see, in my calendar your interview is on Tuesday, tomorrow. You’re one day early.” As he formed these words Annabelle’s eyes widened.
“Oh my god. I am so sorry. I have no idea how this happened. Early? I am so sorry…”
“That’s okay, not a problem. Let’s do it now then, here, on the sofa as we don’t have any rooms prepared for today.”
Annabelle and Sam stood up from the sofa and shook hands again. As Annabelle put on her coat and stepped to the revolving door, Sam called after her:
“And Annabelle remember, see you on Monday, not on Sunday.”