This is my story. I am not a hero. I am just a survivor.
It started, as most things do, with 2 glasses of wine in a restaurant. Then it got even better with two more glasses of wine at the pub and four pints of water whilst watching Game of Thrones. Until it was gone 1am and I remembered that I had to get up for work at 5.30am.
My job is entirely unpredictable and therefore terrifying, at times. I work for a catering agency and am sent to a new place every shift. I never know what I’m going in for and this, usually, turns out to be quite fun. Usually…
I nearly smashed in the front of my phone at 5.35 when my alarm finally got through to me and I woke up. And I stumbled out of bed, a little drunk still, and immediately took a Nurofen meltlet and downed another pint of water. I swayed under the shower and stuffed toast down my throat, already feeling the alcohol soaking into the bread and therefore out of my blood.
I finally reached my destination, nausea vanquished by the fresh mild air of the warmest Halloween since records began. I sat down in the reception area, watching warm greetings as people arrived and continued into the building. Finally my supervisor for the day appeared.
I knew it was a bad sign. She had no banter with the security guy, not like the others had. She wore all black. She didn’t say hello or smile or introduce herself. Her hair stuck out straight at an odd angle to her head and it was a ruddy reddy brown colour. She even had a wart on her nose. She looked more like a witch than I had when I dressed up as one last year.
“Spencer?” She asked in a Welsh accent. I blinked. “They said they’d send a man called Spencer?”
I looked down at myself. The uniform is not in the least bit flattering, I’ll grant you, consisting of black shirt, black trousers and black shoes. But I had hoped my face retained some feminine features that would clue her in to my gender.
“No I’m not Spencer, I’m not a man.” This was a depressing sentence on a Friday, Halloween no less. I made a point later to let my hair down and wear a dress. In the meantime, Welsh lady looked pissed. “Maybe he’ll come later?”
She walked me to the lift in silence. We ascended and she said: “I’ll probably have to send you home.” About a third of me, the shrivelled, alcohol-poisoned section of my brain, rejoiced. The rest of me wanted to punch her in the face. I do not get up at 5.30am lightly.
“They promised me Spencer so that I could train him and he could join me next week.” ‘They’ sounded ominous. I knew she meant my agency but on her forked tongue it sounded as if she referred to the gods, sending her offerings to sacrifice. I was going to die on Halloween.
She left me in the kitchen, the tiny, boiling hot kitchen, sneaking glasses of tap water that I had a feeling she would smash against a wall if she caught me with, while she rang my agency from a mysterious downstairs location. The basement, perhaps, where the altar table and cauldron must be.
She burst back into the kitchen, smashing the door into a cleaning lady who had just popped in to bring empty bottles. She proceeded to yell at said lovely cleaning lady, for getting in the way of her door. It’s awful to admit but my first thought was: ‘oh thank goodness, she hates everyone, not just me’. Maybe I would make it out alive.
She had a chef’s uniform on now and her hair was tight-bunned. She was more terrifying. She would be wielding knives later. I considered taking up her offer of being sent home.
“You’re staying. Spencer cancelled the shift. But you have to work next week as well.”
I stared at her. I do not get paid nearly enough to voluntarily endure another five days stuck in a small room with this Welsh psychopath. So I said no, barely bothering to scrape a lie together. I might already have shifts, was the pathetic excuse.
“For goodness sake. They promised me someone who could come back, after I trained them. This was the whole point of today.” She was exasperated, contorting her face into bizarre shapes. At this point I started to sympathise. This wasn’t really her fault, after all.
But this sympathy soon evaporated. She started barking half-formed instructions, such as ‘load the crate’, before flinging herself from the room. I had no finer details, such as which crate, with which items. I blundered my way through it, relieved that I could get on with guessing blindly on my own and sneaking lots of water.
But then it got worse. An hour in it was time for her to prepare the food. So we worked together in silence. She made a vague and pathetic attempt at small talk, to which my chatter was treated with complete disinterest. I asked her questions but she had clearly given up. She barely responded and never asked back. Maybe I should have asked what spells she knew, what potion was her favourite, where her familiar was. ‘Are you going to kill me and eat my heart?’ nearly came out a couple of times.
Then she began the barking orders routine and I was blundering again, but this time in front of her. So this time I asked her, which? Where is that? And she rarely responded. She would huff, sigh and bang things. I was trapped in a tiny stifling room, with a hangover and a woman who hated me. Possibly a witch who hated me. Possibly a witch who wanted to kill me. So I started banging things and huffing and sighing too. In fact I was quite satisfied that my banging and huffing was louder than hers.
She made me a duck wrap for lunch, which I thought was a nice gesture, until I asked where I should eat it.
Her reply was: “you have to stay in the kitchen. I usually sit in that corner on the bin.” Yes, ladies and gentleman. I ate my lunch sitting on a bin. This sums it up rather poetically. I had been put out with the trash.
It finally got to the end of the shift and she said I could leave. I was going to make it. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. But as I picked up my coat and bag she changed her mind.
“Oh wait wait, clear room 105.”
So I did. I wondered if this was the trap that would end it all, if she’d be waiting with her candles and a star drawn on the ground with chalk. But it was just an empty room filled with coffee cups. I came back and she said ‘good’ then walked away. I had no idea if that was a dismissal but I sensed that it wasn’t. What would you do? I only had one option as far as I was concerned. I grabbed my things and I ran from the building without looking back. And then I got drunk all over again.
Moral of the story? I have no clue. If you’re hung-over, don’t go to work, perhaps. Or maybe, just don’t go to work in general? If someone threatens to send you home, run for the door immediately? Don’t follow a pissed off Welsh chef into a small room? Especially if she looks suspiciously witchy and it’s Halloween?
I prefer to look at it like this: that day could have been an absolute disaster. I could have screamed at Welsh witch and stormed out of the kitchen. I could have been cut into little pieces on a cold altar table. Instead, for one thing, I got a free duck wrap that tasted damn good. Not to mention some free coffee, poison free.
Emily: 1, Halloween: 0. I win this round.
But there may be many more rounds to come, my dear friends. Stay strong. I have told my story. Be warned, take heed, and don’t turn your back on any Welsh chefs. It may be the last thing you ever do.