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On The Line – Life Writing

On the journey of my life there have been several forks in the road, points where one little thing could have changed the course of my life. I have lived all over the country and in America and feel that this has broadened my outlook on life and shaped the person that I am today. When I visit my home town of Bathgate I sometimes run into friends from school who took jobs in the local council or banks and have lived their whole lives in the town in which they were born. That could have happened to me too and it almost did because of one missed phone call…

I’m sitting in a railroad station, checking up my destination. I look around at the other passengers and wonder who else can hear Simon and Garfunkel singing in their heads. I often wonder about these things, asking myself “Is it just me or…?” and sometimes I wonder if it’s only me that asks myself questions like this. I check my watch, then glance at my phone. This is  1990, the old days, so there is no clock on my phone.  It has been almost an hour since I had the interview and they told me I would hear from them before the end of the day.  It sounded vague but I feel that I did well.

Waverly Station is a cathedral for travellers, and pigeons, but on this day I am the only person praying. Please let me get this job.  I stare up at the domed ceiling with its opaque panes and mysterious stains and stop myself from making a quick sign of the cross. I don’t want anyone thinking that I’m crazy.  I glance at my phone again and I don’t like the way that the smallest of the little  black signal bars is flickering. Buildings from the mid nineteenth century are great places to shelter from a storm with their thick stone walls but they’re not ideal for mobile phone coverage.  The last bar flickers out, only to be replaced by a circle for a second or two before reappearing, nonchalantly steadfast on the screen as if trying to pretend it had never gone.

The smell from the hot food stand is driving me crazy. I skipped breakfast due to nerves and swear that Mr Grimley  (“Call me Des”)   could hear my stomach grumbling during the interview.  The only thing stopping me from grabbing a sausage roll now is the knowledge that my dinner will be ready when I get home, and the fact I don’t want to get any food stains on my good suit. Or my only suit if I’m being honest.  I look over at the girl on the other bench, she’s listening to music on her headphones and bopping her head in time, I can hear a faint buzz but can’t tell what she’s listening to.  We are both too young to care about hearing damage.  I smile at her but she doesn’t look up. She is probably shy because of my suit and tie. And my mobile phone. She probably thinks I’m someone important.

I enjoy wearing the suit and tie. It’s like a costume. Like James Bond. Maybe if I don’t get this job I could apply for MI5. The little voice in my head tells me that I would have more chance getting a job with MFI, building cabinets. A  ding, dong, ding noise bursts from the tinny speakers overhead and an accent-free voice announces something to do with London Kings Cross and platform four.  Not my train, I’m waiting to go to Bathgate. The cute girl sitting across from me – sorry I didn’t mention before that she was cute – pulls her headphones off and cocks her  head to better hear the announcement.  I watch as strands of her blonde hair fall  across her exposed shoulders while she looks up at the speaker and I recognise the tune coming from the orange foam covered  headphones as  Betty Boo wondering  where her baby is. The girl isn’t going to London apparently. She pulls back her hair and twists it  into a knot in a single, elegant motion then slips the headphones back on. All without looking in my direction once.  She’s very good.

I check the phone again. Nothing. If I get this job I will have to move to Leeds in West Yorkshire, and leave my family behind. I will be living on my own for the first time and eventually meet the love of my life there, but I don’t know that at the time; I only know that getting this job will be, in the words of Peter Pan, an awfully big adventure. I look up at the departure board again. Twenty minutes. There is a woman with a red hand bag standing by the photo booth and a man with a leather jacket and a dodgy looking moustache approaching her from behind. I consider what I would do if he grabbed the bag and ran for the exit. From my angle I could probably intercept him before he got away. If he tried to get away by jumping down onto the tracks I could run along behind him then drop down on to him and keep him pinned until the police arrive. I watch instead as he gently takes the bag from the woman and she hugs him briefly before the two of them head out together.  One day I will pour that imagination into writing novels but it also helps pass the time waiting for trains. In my head I hear the theme from the TV series Mission Impossible.

The music is not in my head, it’s the ringtone that I installed on the mobile. I flip the phone open


A crackling noise on the line then, “Hello Gary? It’s Des.” Another crackle then a click.

I stare at the phone. No bars; just a circle with a line through it. I shake it. I hold it in the air; I smack the side of the phone. Nothing.

The other travellers must think I’m crazy as I run around in circles trying to get a signal. Nothing I try works and I consider smashing the stupid plastic phone against the stone walls. I spot the British Telecom phone box and run over to it, searching my pockets for change.  Of course, I have no change, it would have ruined the line of the suit. But I do have two pound notes in my pocket.

I ask the woman in John Menzies if she has change for a pound, waving the crumpled green note in desperation.

She explains that she can’t open the till without someone buying something and that I can wait if I like. I look around, the shop is empty. I grab a packet of polo mints and hand it to her. She asks me for ten pence. I grit my teeth as I thrust the paper into her hand and watch as she slowly counts out my change. As the last coin drops into my palm I am already moving back towards the payphone.

I call the number from the card in my wallet.

“BT Mobile Communications, Desmond Grimley’s office.” A perky voice announces.

“Hi, it’s Gary Pettigrew. I was there for a job interview earlier. Can I speak to Mr Grimley please? I mean Des.”

There’s a long pause.

“I’m sorry Gary. Des is quite busy just now but he will contact you as soon as he knows anything about the results. I’m sure it won’t be too long”

“No, no. Don’t hang up. He did try to call me but my phone died.”

Another long pause.

“Are you sure?” She sounds doubtful.

“Yes. Can I talk to him please?”

“Let me take a look and see if he’s free”

My imagination kicks in. Does she sound sympathetic? Is that a bad sign? Does she know that I have messed up the interview?  I know that there is a job vacancy with the Bank of Scotland which I could apply for. I can walk there from my parents house. That would be a lot easier.

“Hello Gary?” A man’s voice, it sounds like Mr Grimley.


“Yes. Sorry about earlier, I’ve no idea what happened.”

He pauses for a long time, as if framing bad news.

“I hope you’re packed, you start next Monday.”

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