Still, never mind, I tell myself. It’s my new job at Ally Smith today — so at least I’ll be earning some extra money there.
And I’m quite excited about it. Here starts a whole new career in fashion! I spend a long time choosing a cool outfit to wear on my first day — and eventually settle on black trousers from Jigsaw, a little cashmere (well, half cashmere) T-shirt, and a pink wraparound top, which actually came from Ally Smith.
I’m quite pleased with the way I look, and am expecting Danielle to make some appreciative comment when I arrive at the shop — but she doesn’t even seem to notice. She just says, “Hi. The trousers and T-shirts are in the stock room. Pick out your size and change in the cubicle.”
Oh, right. Now I come to think of it, all the assistants at Ally Smith do wear the same outfits. Almost like a. . well, a uniform, I suppose. Reluctantly I get changed and look at myself — and, to tell you the truth, I’m disappointed. These gray trousers don’t really flatter me — and the T-shirt’s just plain boring. I’m almost tempted to ask Danielle if I can pick out another outfit to wear — but she seems a bit busy, so I don’t. Maybe next week I’ll have a little word.
But even though I don’t like the outfit, I still feel a frisson of excitement as I come out onto the shop floor. The spotlights are shining brightly; the floor’s all shiny and polished; music’s playing and there’s a sense of anticipation in the air. It’s almost like being a performer. I glance at myself in a mirror and murmur, “How can I help you?” Or maybe it should be “Can I help you?” I’m going to be the most charming shop assistant ever, I decide. People will come here just to be assisted by me, and I’ll have a fantastic rapport with all the customers. And then I’ll appear in the Evening Standard in some quirky column about favorite shops.
No one’s told me what to do yet, so — using my initiative, very good — I walk up to a woman with blond hair, who’s tapping away at the till, and say, “Shall I have a quick go?”
“What?” she says, not looking up.
“I’d better learn how to work the till, hadn’t I? Before all the customers arrive?”
Then the woman does look up and, to my surprise, bursts into laughter.
“On the till? You think you’re going to go straight onto the till?”
“Oh,” I say, blushing a little. “Well, I thought. .”
“You’re a beginner, darling,” she says. “You’re not going near the till. Go with Kelly. She’ll show you what you’ll be doing today.”
Folding jumpers. Folding bloody jumpers. That’s what I’m here to do. Rush round after customers who have picked up cardigans and left them all crumpled — and fold them back up again. By eleven o’clock I’m absolutely exhausted — and, to be honest, not enjoying myself very much at all. Do you know how depressing it is to fold a cardigan in exactly the right Ally Smith way and put it back on the shelf, all neatly lined up — just to see someone casually pull it down again, look at it, pull a face, and discard it? You want to scream at them, leave it alone if you’re not going to buy it! I watched one girl even pick up a cardigan identical to the one she already had on!
And I’m not getting to chat to the customers, either. It’s as if they see through you when you’re a shop assistant. No one’s asked me a single interesting question, like “Does this shirt go with these shoes?” or, “Where can I find a really nice black skirt under £60?” I’d love to answer stuff like that. I could really help people! But the only questions I’ve been asked are “Is there a loo?” and, “Where’s the nearest Midland cashpoint?” I haven’t built up a single rapport with anyone.
Oh, it’s depressing. The only thing that keeps me going is an end-of-stock reduced rack at the back of the shop. I keep sidling toward it and looking at a pair of zebra-print jeans, reduced from £180 to £90. I remember those jeans. I’ve even tried them on. And here they are, out of the blue — reduced. I just can’t keep my eyes off them. They’re even in my size.
I mean, I know I’m not really supposed to be spending money — but this is a complete one-off. They’re the coolest jeans you’ve ever seen. And £90 is nothing for a pair of really good jeans. If you were in Gucci, you’d be paying at least £500. Oh God, I want them. I want them.
I’m just loitering at the back, eyeing them up for the hundredth time, when Danielle comes striding up and I jump guiltily. But all she says is “Can you go onto fitting room duty now? Sarah’ll show you the ropes.”