Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Handout (04/14/11)
By Lois Farrow
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Pathetic individuals! I take their details as they come to the counter, false smile of compassion on my face, sharp eyes on the lookout for anyone double-dipping.
Don’t know why I’m here. O sure, my mate Phil asked me, just one day a week, Mark old boy, we need you, won’t do you any harm. I could have said no, I suppose, but I’ve never been good at that, so I gave in. So here I am, filling in one day of my precious retirement time each week among these losers. Why don’t they get a job like the rest of us? Why don’t they help themselves, instead of being a drag on society?
I wipe the sweat from my face and take off my jacket, putting it well out of reach so it can’t be taken by mistake. Someone brings me a steaming hot coffee and a giant bun. I feed my face as I attend to the paperwork on the long table.
Here comes Sophie with her snivelling crew, regulars. I fill in her details with one ear on the radio in the background. She is shaking with the cold. No, she says, to my query about heating. Her house is draughty, her fire is unusable; the promised new heating hasn’t arrived. I send her to the clothing room and see her leave swamped under a huge woollen coat, the kids in new jackets. The buggy almost buckles under a bundle of blankets and a giant food parcel.
Radio news is full of the latest far away disasters; nothing there to interest me. I’ve worked hard for what I’ve got, not like this lot here, and I’m going to enjoy it.
The line seems never ending; people pass me by in a blur and collect their food parcels by the door. They are grateful, as they should be. Thank you Mark, you are so kind Mark, this makes a huge difference, Mark. Just as well they can’t see inside my head.
The announcer says a big announcement is coming up. Won’t be anything to concern me, I shouldn’t think, but I’ll keep an ear out anyway. Roll on lunch time when I can get a break. Roll on five o’clock when I can go home to the lovely dinner Marcie will have ready.
Could someone stop that door banging in the wind? It’s driving me crazy, and now here’s Tony is his torn jeans and dirty jersey shuffling in. Wonder what he’ll rabbit on about today.
‘Here is a message of great importance,’ the announcer says in an anxious tone, ‘brought to you by the Prime Minister.’
‘With deep regret the Government announces a world wide collapse of the financial system. Because of our massive overseas debt, all bank accounts are immediately frozen. All benefits, including superannuation, will cease. We are sorry we could not give notice of this serious situation. We apologise for the hardship this will cause. Our thoughts are with you all.’
What? What is going on? How could this be? Surely they can’t be serious. Every ear is listening as the announcer continues, but I’ve heard enough.
‘Here Phil,’ I call, ‘I’ve got to go.’ He takes my place as I grab my jacket and race to the car past the long line of drop-outs. Who knows how they came to be in this position, but horror grips me as I think I might be one of them next week. How pathetic! Me and Marcie lining up for a food parcel? Not likely, but I am frightened. If I can’t get money from the bank, what will we do?
I race home to tell Marcie the dreadful news and find her collapsed in a heap. She is giggling!
‘What?” I cry, and she giggles afresh.
‘Mark,’ she says, ‘don’t you know the date?’
I look at the calendar. April 1st. I’ve been had, and I fell for it.
Maybe, just maybe, I think later, that is just what I needed to give me real compassion in the food line, instead of my pathetic attitude. After all, it could be me.
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