Most people say that Mondays are the worst. The first day back at work, already eagerly awaiting those precious weekend days to get out of the hellish prison known as their day-job. Watching the clock for four in the afternoon to roll over, so they can stand from their comfortable desk chairs and go home to spend the other half of the day in another stress-free state of comfort. For me, that dreaded day was always Friday; the start of the work week in the retail world. Only, without the luxury of sitting down for eight hours and ready to take on yet another ridiculous expectation to meet impossible sales goals and smiling at every middle-aged woman that treats you like a doormat. Believe me- swallowing the urge to keep your dignity intact through snarky back-talk each day didn’t take long to conquer. The customer is always right, after all; especially when the price of rent became more expensive than the satisfaction of letting customers know that you’re also a human being. The internal images of setting their hair on fire, however, only grew more ravishing with each passing day. I rolled my eyes as the third customer of the day critiqued the stores playlist, assuming that not only was the music entirely my choice, but that it also had anything to do with the clothes that I was actually here to sell. I smile politely, while an excruciating realisation settled in that I would have to endure an entire week of this pain before my precious two days. I watch in a tired haze behind the counter as rich, stay-at-home mothers tore through the store, ripping cardigans off their hangers and throwing them over hooks that I had spent all morning tidying. Scrutinising the stores designs and insisting that our size twelve were actually a size eight. “Yes, it is entirely the brands fault that these styles don’t fit you.” Not, of course, downing an entire bottle of wine each night, or even denying the fact that you’re not the same size you had been twenty years ago. Staring at the stack of discarded garments that rest in a miserable heap next to the change rooms, I huffed out an exhausted breath before finding just enough energy to put one foot in-front of the other to shuffle over and clean up the mess. It was a chore that these days was soul-crushing enough that the act itself was like a blank slate of thoughtless daydreaming. So much, that it wasn’t until the third time a customer called out an impatient “Hello?” within ten seconds of each other that I had pulled myself out of daydreaming of being on a far, far away island- sipping mimosas and being fanned with leaves by silent, toned, tanned men. I walked back to the counter, where the lady had been babbling on about something to do with the kind of service she used to get when ‘retail workers still cared about their jobs.’ I nodded and smiled robotically as she continued to spit all over the counter, waving around her manicured nails like the entire world had to know what she was saying. “Ah, yes.” I reply solemnly, hoping that it was a sufficient answer to whatever it was she had been talking about. “That will be $45.60.”
With a quick wave of her gold card, a high-arched brow and an eager hand reaching for her bag, she was gone without another word. As I watched her glossy, brown extensions leave through the front doors, the same question I had been asking myself, every day for the past eight years slivered into the forefront of my mind. “Do I really need this job?”
Of course, the feeling of imagining myself running through those doors and never looking back was a fleeting moment as the stores phone rang loudly, forcing me to crawl back into the harsh confinements of reality. I could practically feel the sun being blocked once more behind thick, rainy clouds, despite this boutique having no windows.
I answered the phone with a tone so upbeat, even I was fooled into thinking I was happy to be here.
“You’re speaking with London!” I chimed, inwardly hoping that whoever was on the other end of the line was about to tell me that I could go home.
“Uh, hey..” the voice on the other end replied.
“I’ve got about nine boxes of new stock for you guys sitting in the back of my truck with no idea how to get to your store…”
Ah, yes, the familiar feeling of my eyes rolling to the back of my head while I explain for the millionth time how to reach our store from the loading dock. He gave a short laugh, the interaction genuinely relieving my mood for the first time today.
“Thanks, London,” he chuckled politely. I smile into the phone, grateful for the simple form of positive interaction, before hanging it back on its hook.
One of the most important rules I had every learned in retail is that a watched time is a frozen time- and nothing had ever resonated with me so much as I purposely walk passed the clock without giving in to a peak. I headed back to the pile of clothes that never seemed to shrink, despite my best effort. Moving stock back onto the floor during peek trading hours was like shovelling water with a strainer- useless and painfully ineffective. With each garment hung, smoothed and put away, ten more would arise from a change room. Inside-out, makeup on the collar, warm with the ghosts of strangers that couldn’t appreciate the concept of a well-kept boutique. It was an endless battle and yet, as common as the stores themselves. I fantasised of closing the doors, taking a pillow into the back room and sleeping out the rest of my shift. The image of personally insulted women banging on the doors, hastily searching for the first number they can call to officially complain about the inconvenience of being kept from using their husbands bottomless credit cards, danced through my mind. It was the kind of meditation that allowed me to feel as though I could make it through the day. That’s when I was interrupted by the eruption of a deep, drawn out laugh, sounding from the counter. I look up suddenly, afraid that somehow my thoughts had been projected onto the walls. Almost faltering at the sight, I stare towards a trolly of boxes, standing tall next to a rugged sleeve of tattoos- and a sharp, stubbled jaw. He stares back at me with kind eyes, enveloping dark, hazel orbs.
“And there I was, thinking I was the only one wishing I was anywhere but here.” His voice called toward me, his sharp jaw accentuating stubble as he smirked with a playful intent. It took a moment to register what he had said, focusing more on the heat that rosed my cheeks at the reality of his attention. My first instinct was to crawl under the counter and wait for him to become weirded out enough to leave. Luckily, my customer service alter ego stepped in before my instincts. I smiled at the ground, ignoring the flutter of nerves that bubbled in my stomach at the sight of his short, brunette waves sitting impossibly perfect on a head that had been pushing around heavy boxes all day.
“Well,” I begin, walking toward him and reaching for the wooden clipboard that he held onto with large, callused hands. I swallowed hard as I felt the metaphorical, electric surge shock my fingertips as I signed his sheet of delivery papers. “There’s no place like nowhere, right?” I look up to hazel eyes that glimmer playfully and suddenly, I wasn’t in hell anymore. He huffed into a small smile once more, staring back into my eyes with a lingering stillness. Jesus, how long have I been gawking at this unlucky delivery man? The realisation settled in with a vast flush of butterflies and embarrassment. I pull my sights away, looking around the store in an effort to pretend that I hadn’t been lost in a fantasy of hazel and roguish charm.
“Anyway,” I started. He clears his throat, slapping the clipboard against his knuckles.
“Yeah,” he replies. Oh my god, this is awkward.
“Well, at least try to have a good day,” he laughs, dropping the boxes of stock next to the counter.
I giggle like an idiot. “One day closer to paradise!” I joke, hoping that he wouldn’t notice the prickling heat running down my neck.
He replies with a chuckle, shrugging his shoulders before heading out of the doors. I take the chance to stare at his backside. Even in dark, brown cargo’s, of course he was a work of art. Just as he reaches the store-front, he turns to face me once more and I practically jump out of my skin. Oh god, please tell me he didn’t just see me drooling after him. I furrow my brows at a pointless stack of papers sitting on the counter, looking intently onto scribbles of boredom as I wait for him to leave, pretending that I could focus on anything but him. After what I could only imagine as just a few moments in hell, I look back up at the doors with burning cheeks and he was gone.