Susan Wilkins arrived at the offices of ‘Osborne-Kerr Enterprises’ for her interview as a typist. Just turned 18, she felt a flutter of excitement in her stomach as she entered the building with trepidation.
The little confidence Susan had, deserted her the minute she opened the door and entered an oak-panelled reception area. She was impressed with the surroundings. A glamorous girl sitting behind a desk gave her a professional smile “Can I help you Miss?”
Susan broke into a cold sweat. “I’m here for the interview”, she blurted nervously, instantly thinking of a hundred better ways she could have introduced herself. “And you are?” asked the receptionist, “Wilkins, Susan Wilkins”, replied Susan. “We’ve been expecting you Miss Wilkins”, replied the receptionist. Susan’s pulse raced. Was it her imagination or was the receptionist reprimanding her? She looked for a clock to check if she was late.
“Miss Wilkins” asked the receptionist a few moments later. “Sorry” Susan apologised, conscious she had not been listening. “Mr Osborne-Kerr will see you shortly. Would you like to have a seat while you wait?”
“Thank you”. Feeling clumsy and awkward, Susan walked over to one of the chairs around a low table set with neatly-arranged magazines. She would have liked to pick up one, but lacking the courage to disturb the display, she studied the room instead. The oak-panelled wall looked and smelled as though it was cleaned four times a day and the floor was so polished Susan was terrified she’d slip and fall when she left her seat. Every single piece of furniture was delicately and strategically in place. Everything looked so clean, so ‘de lux’. She could not imagine touching anything, let alone working in the place.
What on earth made her think that she could get a job in a manager’s office as grand as this? As her last traces of hope evaporated, she began to tremble. She also realised that her feet hurt. Her shoes had fitted her well when she had bought them, so why are they tight now? She must have blisters but, she told herself, she could bear it – just as long as she didn’t limp when they called her in. That would be the final humiliation. They might think that she had borrowed someone else’s shoes for the interview because she could not afford her own.
Opening her handbag, she pulled out her small mirror to check that the sprinkling of powder she’d put on her face hadn’t disappeared, or that the lipstick she had applied so carefully a quarter of an hour before was not smudged. She wished she had the courage to ask the receptionist if she could go to the ‘Ladies’. If there was a larger mirror she’d be able to check that her hair was still all right and the seams of her nylons were still straight.
“Miss Wilkins?” she heard a voice say behind her. “Yes, yes, it’s me”, she replied timidly. “I’m Odette Olsen-Jones, the secretary to Mr Osborne-Kerr” said the young woman, exuding self-confidence, who was dressed in a navy tailored suit with mid-calf, pencil-slim skirt and light-grey blouse. Her hair was swept neatly behind her ears, her make-up glossy, and her perfume subtle, yet effective enough to be picked up from six feet away.
No matter how much she earned, Susan knew that she’d never achieve that degree of sophistication – the right accessories, gold button earnings, discreet and tasteful, complimented by a gold lapel pin and a half-hoop of diamonds on the third finger of her left hand. Susan wasn’t surprised that she was engaged. She could imagine men vying to be seen with her and not the sort of men who lived in her neighbourhood – but rich men with well-paid jobs who drove new cars and owned houses.
The secretary extended her hand. Susan stumbled to her feet, one shoe getting in the way of the other. “Pleased to meet you” she said. “Mr Osborne-Kerr will see you now. Can you please follow me?” “Thank you”. Clutching her bag and the envelope containing her certificates and testimonials, Susan slipped, tearing the thin strap that held her left shoe together above her toe.
“Are you all right Miss?” asked the secretary as she came to her aid, helping her to her feet. Susan fought back tears of pain and mortification. “If you’d like to postpone the interview, I’m sure Mr Osborne-Kerr would understand” said the secretary. “I’m fine” lied Susan. “If you’re sure” replied the secretary, supporting Susan’s arm as she opened the door that led from the reception area to the offices. “Mr Osborne-Kerr may look stern but he’s fair” encouraged the secretary.
Instead of calming Susan, the words set her nerves jangling even more. If she walked carefully, Mr Osborne-Kerr might not notice her broken shoe. “Good Luck” said the secretary as she pushed her in and closed the door.
Mr Osborne-Kerr stood behind the largest desk Susan had ever seen. He had an imposing figure with thinning grey hair and pepper and salt moustache. He peered short-sightedly at her over a pair of half-moon reading glasses. “Miss?” He checked the paper on his desk. “Wilkins” replied shakily Susan, “Susan Wilkins”. “Sit down girl, sit down”, Mr Osborne-Kerr muttered impatiently while leafing his papers. “You’ve applied for the position of typist?” “Yes Sir”, she replied. “I have not been knighted yet, so call me Mr Osborne-Kerr please”, he replied immediately.
“It appears from your certificates that your typing needs to be improved and your shorthand speed need to be better, but your spelling is good. Also you don’t have any experience in office work I see ……” said Mr Osborne-Kerr. “Its true Mr Osborne-Kerr, but I learn quickly” replied Susan, her hopes now dashed to the ground. “You will need to do better to work in our office” he insisted. “I certainly will. I’ll practice and get my typing and shorthand up to date, if you give me the chance”, she replied.
Mr Osborne-Kerr pressed the buzzer on his desk and seconds later the elegant secretary entered the room note book and pencil in hand. “Yes Mr Osborne-Kerr” she said. While Susan was still sitting in the chair in front of his desk Mr Osborne-Kerr addressed his secretary – “Miss Wilkins’s typing and shorthand fall short of our expectations, she has no experience of office work …………..” he said to his secretary. Susan’s heart sunk. That’s it. I’m finished. ‘Why did I think that I could get an office job?’ she thought. Mr Osborne –Kerr continued his instructions to his secretary “ ……………but she is honest and determined to reach our standards. Get her the necessary papers in order that she’ll start on Monday as a typist and she will also assist you in your duties”.
Susan gasped; her hand went to her mouth. “Thank you Mr Osborne-Kerr, oh thank you”, she exclaimed certain that the good Lord, the Virgin Mary and all the saints in heaven must have interceded on her behalf and a miracle must have just happened today.