First Line Fiction (17)

The first line of this fictional short story was sent to me by the Indian blogger Swati, from

Another chaotic day at work. Sae contemplated leaving ever since she was appointed a new manager.

All that time studying, and perfecting her English to a very high standard. Now the best that Sae could do was to get work in a call-centre. At least her salary was good, and she wasn’t having to work on the telephones. Working in the personnel department and participating in interviewing new applicants was far preferable to calling customers and having them constantly hang up or be rude to you.

It had been great at first, until her line manager Mrs Desai had retired. Then the new boss had arrived, and given them all a pep talk on his first day. He wasn’t that old either, but spoke to the staff as if he knew it all. Rumour had it that he had been educated in England, and had come home to work for the company on promotion. That seemed about right to Sae, judging by his clothes, and his over-confident attitude. And Mark Banerjee had an English first name too, which went along with his light skin to suggest a mixed marriage.

Sae thought it was a shame that he came over as so full of himself and bossy. She had to admit he was quite good-looking, and not much older than her too. But he didn’t seem to notice her, even when she made sure to give intelligent reponsnes to some of his questions. That first day had ended badly, with Mark calling them all in at the end, and making a strong statement.

“Now I have noticed that a lot of the people you have employed are not reaching their call targets. You should have been on top of this, and getting them in for performance reviews. I saw some people on the main floor looking at their phones, and even talking to each other, when they should have been taking or making calls. This has to stop, and it is up to you in this room to make that happen. I tell you now, if things don’t improve, you will all find yourselves redeployed as customer assistants, taking phone calls. Now go home and think about that”.

That evening at home, Sae went to her room early, and did just what Mark had said. As she went to sleep that night, she was smiling. She had a plan.

It took some time to make things happen of course. Sae couldn’t rush into anything, as that would be too obvious. With over one hundred staff being called in for the suggested performance reviews, the days had never been busier. She had to skip lunch to get in her quota of interviews too, as Mark was embarking on a plan to expand the call centre onto the vacant floor above. But by the end of that month, she was no longer thinking about leaving.

Not just yet, anyway.

For someone to pay attention to you, it doesn’t take too much effort. Perhaps just a little more make up than last week, and changing the way you wear your hair. That would do to start with. Three days later, Mark approached her in the corridor. “Well done with all your hard work recently. Some of those new entrants are excellent, and the employees who were slacking have started to be more careful and hard-working”. She just smiled, and said four words.

“Thank you for noticing”.

A shopping trip with her younger sister that weekend provided the opportunity to buy three new outfits. Smart, western-style clothes, similar to some she had seen online. Mixing and matching those over the next working week, the next time Mark approached her, he was smiling. “You have really smartened up, Sae. I’m pleased to see it. You look like the young women who work at head office in the City of London”. This time, Sae had more to say.

“Oh really? That’s kind of you. I would love to move to London and work at head office. I have cousins living in Neasden, and they would give me somewhere to stay. Do you know Neasden?” Mark smiled, and relaxed, leaning against the wall. “Yes, I know it well. I lived with my uncle in Wembley, and that’s close by.” Sae nodded, and went back to her office to appear to be conscientious. She couldn’t help but notice that Mark was still leaning against the wall, watching as she sat down behind the glass partition.

Over the next six months, things worked out very well. The call centre was expanded, and Sae applied for the job as personnel manager for the new staff up there. She had to be interviewed by Mark, and had her hair trimmed and styled for the occasion, as well as buying a pinstripe jacket and skirt. She had got the job, and a small increase in salary. But more importantly, she had been noticed, properly noticed.

One late afternoon, when she had completed her last performance review, Mark tapped politely on her office door, and walked in.

“I remember our conversation about London, Sae. They have approached me to go back, and to implement some of my ideas in a new call centre. It will be located near Neasden, and that made me think of you and your relatives there. Is that something that still interests you? There will be a big pay rise of course, not to mention a lot of contact with head office in The City. I have vaguely suggested I know someone here I would like to take with me, to be my personnel manager. But if you have changed your mind, that’s okay”.

No point trying to hide her delight, so Sae smiled from ear to ear. “I would really love the opportunity, Mister Banerjee. Thank you so much”.

As he turned to leave, he hesitated a moment.

Oh, I think you should call me Mark, don’t you? After all, I’m sure we will be seeing a lot of each other in London”.

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