By Moira McPartlin
It was early, and the wet, drab streets were almost empty. No doubt the masses were energy-saving for the last-minute venture into hell. Why bother when you can shop online? I gagged again as I stepped over some dubious debris in the doorway of the call centre. The night security man was still on the door, slumped over his radio, faking awakeness as I scuttled past him. The last few days had been a nightmare. My exams would be a skoosh in comparison. Next Christmas I’d be at uni and would definitely be delivering mail; that pre-Christmas scrum must be preferable to this.
I spotted the Santa hat over the rows of empty workstations. White fur framed newly coiffured streaks of black and blond. Two malicious blue eyes stared right at me. I resisted the temptation to check my watch, I knew I wasn’t late.
Candy, perched at her desk, headset to the ready; red talons poised over her call control pad; over the only three buttons she used: Y for ‘On’, X for ‘Mute’ and CXXL for ‘Cancel Call’. The display above the desk told me four callers waited.
“Come on, Grungy, I’m not starting before you,” Candy snarled sweetly.
I dumped my untouched gingerbread latte on the desk, shrugged off my duffle coat and sighed.
The callers would be well miffed, having already suffered the website run-around, then cracking the eternal phone loop routine to be finally put on hold to Postman Pat’s Christmas Song.
“Customer Services, how may I help you?”
Mrs Green opened the show for me for the fifth time this week.
“I’m sorry Mrs Green, I informed you yesterday the planned delivery took place. The driver got no reply. We can’t deliver until after Christmas.”
Mrs Green wept into the phone. If I didn’t solve this, she would need to leave for her skiing holiday with last season’s salopettes.
“Mrs Green, I’ll try, I promise.”
“Ooooh, never promise,” Candy cut in, muting her call with a quick jab at X on her pad. “Tell the old bag to get a life. It’s not your fault she can’t be seen dead in purple.”
With a stab back to Y, Candy simpered at the clock.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear you waited in all day yesterday Mrs Whyte.” Candy stabbed X again. “Do people have nothing better to do today?” She pierced the pad Y. “Oh dear, I don’t have a note of that enquiry, Mrs Whyte, hold on while I contact the driver to check.” Candy muted the call and rose from her desk.
“Fancy a bickie, Grungy?” she said on her way to the staff kitchen, not bothering to wait for my answer.
I stood up and gestured to the five call lights flashing on the board. Candy ignored me as she plugged herself back in.
“I’m sorry, Mrs Whyte,” Candy tilted her head to the side smirking. “I’m afraid they won’t make Paisley tonight.” She thumped X. “Wait for it!”
Stabbing Y, Candy’s face transmuted back to a smile. “Mrs Whyte, the men finish at four today – it’s Christmas Eve. We have tried to deliver twice you know.” Candy sighed audibly. “Mrs Whyte, there is no need to swear, Mrs Whyte, please don’t swear at me. Mrs Whyte if you continue to swear I will terminate this call. I am terminating this call!” CXXL is harpooned. “Merry Christmas, Mrs Whyte!”
Candy’s neck turned slightly pink.
While I hunted in my bag for vitamin C, I tried to ignore a pounding headache and Candy’s continuing tirade to one of the delivery drivers who were even more scared of her than I was.
Candy McNamee had been my bane since she was held back in primary three. She and I lived the same village. She was as subtle as a brick through a window. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t scared of her. And even though she was small and skinny, her big eyes and big hair seemed to give her a superpower alien to the rest of the human race. She could scatter a room of grown-ups with the flick of her fringe. Mum called her lippy but it was more than that.
When we went up to secondary, Candy was streamed away from me but we still had to share the same school bus into town. On the day she was expelled from school two years ago there was a collective relief sigh from both students and teachers.
I’d grown used to a life without fear.
How was I to know she worked at ParcelsRUs?
The local delivery company advertised for extra depot workers over the busy Christmas period. I’d started working weekends, then last week school broke up and I went full time. When a vomiting bug hit the office staff on my first full day I was pulled in to help man the phones. It’s horrible – talking to real live people, who mostly shout. And if that wasn’t bad enough there was Candy McNamee.
The minute I walked through the door I felt the force of her tongue.
“Well hello, Grungy,” she said. “I knew when I smelt Teenage Grease No5 waft through the building, it must be you.”
It was as if I had been transported back two years.
Three hellish hours of consoling, explaining and persuading, and finally managing to get Mrs Green’s parcel on the last van out, all to the tune of Candy’s sharp little tongue, jabbing at the customers, the other staff, the drivers, but mostly at me, and it was lunchtime. I unplugged and shot out the door into the immense throng of shoppers in the dark puddled street.
As I sat in the railway station eating sourdough toast and staring at the huge clock I reminded myself that a lot had happened in two years. No one had sent Candy to torture me, I could do that myself and anyway it was only for a short time. With my face set and my resolve of indifference intact I returned to ParcelsRUs. I’d show her – Grungy no more.
But when I got back, Candy sat at her desk, Santa hat askew, weeping into her Greggs Festive Wrap.
Check back with us tomorrow for Episode 2.
For a chance to win a copy of Moira MacPartlin’s YA novel The Ways of the Doomed, leave a comment below.
The winner will be announced before Christmas.