Merida gazed at the man across the desk.
His light-brown hair flopped over his forehead, draped over his crystal-blue eyes. His business shirt was Ralph Lauren, a firm fit, tucked into his suit pants. She’d glimpsed his shoes as he directed her into the office: clean, shiny, black.
‘You can always tell a good man by his shoes, pet,’ Dad had said, countless times to her. She’d sat on the tiled laundry floor to watch him polish his shoes once a week. A day-old newspaper covered Mum’s washing machine, protecting it from black shoe-dye stains.
This man, Michael, by her father’s reckoning, must also be a good man. But what had he just asked her?
‘I’m sorry, could you please repeat the question?’ Merida asked. Her career counsellor had advised her that asking such a question was an effective way to stall time, to allow a pause to collect thoughts and devise an answer.
‘Of course. I asked if you could please outline your strengths that align with this role.’ His bottom lip curled out and he blew a shot of air upwards to puff the stray, floppy hair away from his view.
Adorable. Merida would be willing to place a bet that he didn’t even know he’d just done that.
‘I’m observant,’ she answered confidently. ‘I have a great ability to blend in to the environment and watch the goings-on. Most of the time, people don’t even realise I’m observing them.’
‘Great,’ he answered, jotting notes on the paper in front of him. ‘Anything else?’
‘I’m introverted. So, when I say something, it has come from a deep place within. I’ve taken my time to mull it over before speaking. I’ll never blurt out needless chit-chat.’
He smiled. His eyes crinkled in the corners, and the blueness of his irises seemed to glow, or shine.
Merida continued, ‘I have great attention to detail.’ She continued, on a roll now. Merida spent five more minutes outlining her attributes, why she was a good fit.
After Michael had shown her out, Merida took to the city’s laneways. She found a small cafe, offering lunch and a glass of wine for $15. She wanted to delay her return home. She wanted to extend this feeling of confidence. She was all of those things she mentioned to Michael.
Merida ordered. She mused over Paulette, her housemate, while she waited. She sipped her wine.
Paulette, only that morning, had called her useless. Fat.
‘…and you’re stupid. You’ll never amount to anything,’ Paulette shouted before slamming the door behind her.
Merida had sat at the kitchen table. Her shoulders slumped, heavy with the realisation those labels had stuck. She rested her head on the place mat in front of her, toast crumbs crunching on her forehead. Tears slipped down her cheeks. Her mobile had rang. She wiped her eyes and nose, answered in a chirpy tone. It was Michael, apologising for the short notice, asking if she could meet him in his office, later that day. Merida straightened, realigned her thoughts. Wondered why she’d moved in with her sibling. Vowed to move out as soon as possible.