Sibylla sat toward the front of the bus, hugging her large handbag on her lap. She was in unfamiliar territory and was depending on the bus driver to remember and set her down close to her destination. With every turn of the wheels her anxiety increased. She became ever more certain that her journey – her appointment – was simply another exercise in futility.
Two women seated behind her conversed loudly, words and phrases intruding as she struggled to compose herself; to prepare herself for the interview. She considered moving to another seat but was afraid that the bus driver would forget her or think that she had already left the bus. Besides, the bus had been filling steadily as it progressed. She sat still and tried to concentrate.
“And there you would be, I told her, but for the grace of God!”
Startled by the emphasis of the strident voice behind her, Sibylla wondered who the woman was talking about. What were her circumstances? What difference was made by the grace of God? She rummaged in her pocket for a tissue, pulled a couple of strips free and tucked them into her ears. She could still hear the voices but they were no longer loud or clear. She could relax a little.
“And there you would be, I told her, but for the grace of God.”
The phrase was already in her mind. It was firmly planted before the tissues deadened the rest of the conversation.
Sibylla opened her handbag and pulled out her CV. Perhaps she should run through it one more time, refreshing herself, reminding herself that she really did have the qualifications required. The letter heading swam in her sight. What if she hadn’t made that silly mistake? She was really looking forward to going to that conference; to being the chosen representative. She heard again her sister’s tearful voice, “Oh, Sibyl, what if you had gone? It is only the grace of God that you weren’t in that dreadful smash!”
Sometimes she wished she had been. Anything was better than feeling left out, second-rate; to know that with one stupid mistake she had let herself down and missed out on a wonderful opportunity. Everyone in the office knew. That was why she had resigned against all advice; why she had left the town. Was that what the grace of God was? Making sure that everyone knew she didn’t measure up? That she was incapable of making a simple decision?
What did the grace of God have to do with anything?
The bus driver turned his head. “The next stop is yours, Ma’am.”
Sibylla panicked, barely making the effort to acknowledge his words and to thank him for his courtesy. She almost fell from the bus as it rolled to a halt. Standing on the pavement she looked from the letter in her hand to the buildings close to her. The address she wanted was a short step away. She glanced at her watch – there was time for a quick cup of tea, and a small tearoom at her back.
The room was hushed and dim, redolent of tea. Once her eyes had adjusted to the gloom she saw the vase on her table held real roses. Sipping slowly, she became aware of a soft-voiced conversation almost at her elbow.
“So you see,” a voice said, “but for the grace of God I would have missed my interview, and that would have been a disaster! The interview staff at Baldry’s told me that there are only three more interviews and I am definitely one of those chosen to start next week. They were simply fantastic – you wouldn’t believe how easy it was. They looked at my CV but were more interested in the way I answered their questions. They told me they are looking for team players but not clones, and they had their own guidelines for determining who would fit in.”
There was the grace of God again, but this time it was an encouragement rather than a disparagement. At the mention of Baldry’s Sibylla found herself caught up in the conversation – hers was one of the last interviews. She wondered briefly whether she would meet the guidelines, but the panic was gone. Perhaps after all it was by the grace of God that she had seen the advertisement; maybe in the grace of God she too would measure up, be a successful team-player.
Perhaps it was time to find out more about the grace of God.
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