Waiting’s the hardest.
I vividly remember the first time I stepped into her shoes. Wearing all black, wearing my badge, wearing some smile on my face. It was 30 minutes before my shift and I found her putting shoes in the racks. She looked at me, and I’m not so sure if she smiled but told me to go in the stock room.
The stock room was probably the biggest I ever saw in my entire life. To how and what I can compare, I really don’t know since I don’t recall walking past another stock room. I just like to say it’s the biggest. It’s better that way, I felt challenged.
Then I met her. Mi was the Assistant Manager. She asked me if I knew how to clock in. I said I did even though I was clueless. Face to face with the register, I stepped back, letting others hurry themselves to clock in. I watched and learned. Watched and learned, watched and learned.
Since it was my first day, I was paired up with them stock people. I met Ma and Ro who were responsible for labeling shoes so that we, sales associates, wouldn’t get lost
(we don’t need more of that). The rest of the day was spent meeting more of the group- stock people and sales associates.
That day I met two people from the stock room who have been working there for years. My first lunch’s a success, I thought- I had some people with me. I ate their food and listened to what they had to say. That was the last time I ever spent lunch with somebody else. As the days went by, I realized that all had the same thing to say to me. I heard four things: don’t get married soon, be thankful for this job, work hardest, and there’s no going back. I guess they forgot to tell me how to not trust anyone. It’s okay, I learned that later on from Xu.
Xu, a young woman, was one of the people I felt l can be friends with. She had a long black hair which went swinging whenever she hurriedly runs to get shoes. I always looked at her when we were in the stock room. Looking at her gave me some kind of inspiration. She worked fast, smiled warmly at the customers, and didn’t seem to look tired. Looking at her feels like this job gave her so enough joy. Until she told me that people who tried befriending you wants your money. Sadly, it wasn’t the first time I heard about it.
There was another girl who I felt I can be friends with. She was Ali. Ali graduated from accountancy back in her country and was the newest hire until I came in. I felt safe in asking her questions about things I didn’t know and didn’t bother to know. I felt that with Eri too, until she got kind of mad at me for helping her customer- even by mistake. That’s about the same time I stopped being friends with Ali, if one can even call it friendship. It brought me back, thinking, about the first time I sat with her during a meeting when she told me that people didn’t value space as much as they did in her country. I wasn’t very sure about that space, but from then on that’s what I gave everybody else.
Soon enough I learned that everybody else was like that. Sales people were paid by commission and apparently, it meant a lot. They worked hard, greeted you every now and then, told you things you ought to do- some nicely said, some just ordered you around. I stopped asking for help altogether, because asking for help means taking their precious time and not having the initiative to learn things yourself. I felt like I was being watched. Especially by Ka. She’s one of the older women who had been working there for no one knows how long. I had my first taste of the real world through her. I can’t find a missing shoe. She told me I would not find it if I did not want to work. I was stunned. That was not fair.
It was not fair either when a younger sales associate seemed to find a fault in everything I did. It was not fair when my manager told me to clean up. That was not my area and those were not my drags. It was not fair when an older associate was telling me to not just stand in a corner and walk around. It was not fair that I had to put out several boxes for one person. It was not fair that I had to run back and forth. It was not fair to climb ladders and stairs repeatedly. It was not fair when I was told that I can use my brains for remembering different faces. It was not fair that most of them had been working there for years. It was not fair. Or at least, it didn’t feel like it.
That’s when I realized I had two choices. One, I can get stuck with that feeling. I can choose to subscribe to this thinking that everything was unfair, hard, and act on my presuppositions. Or I can choose to prove them wrong. That people can be trusted.
From then on whenever I saw someone putting shoes back, I offered help. I cleaned drags which weren’t mine and I picked up papers on the floor. It sure didn’t feel good to be doing those, but it felt better than being defensive. And that’s when Ka started smiling at me, and when I’m lucky I’ll get a “good morning,” too. That’s when the other sales associate stopped talking to me. Which was good because talking to me meant reprimanding me.
That’s when things started to feel lighter. That’s when an older cashier would tell me how I am his favorite. That’s when Ba, an older associate, would help me find shoes. That’s when Ste would grab shoes from my hands so as not to tire me. That’s when I met Je, another cashier, who told me she could ring up purchases for me anytime. That’s when I spent most a lot of times laughing with Gra, another stock person. That’s when I met Sa, who taught me how things worked, who did speak with me for longer than 10 minutes. That’s when I started joking around Dus. That’s when I met Nor who has been there for more than a decade already. She said that her heels hurt, but she doesn’t know enough English to find another job. That’s when I met Mar, someone to share my breaks with. That’s when I realized that even though it’s as if I’m finally connecting with this group, I still eagerly waited for 5.45pm. Everyday I wished it was already 5.45pm- the time when my shift usually ends.
That’s when I realized I had to walk in another shoes.
My last day was a surprise for most of them and I don’t think it was because I did not tell them. Probably because I did not even last 2 months. Unexpectedly, they were happy for me. My manager wished me luck for “the rest of my life,” Ba kept on hugging me and telling me that I’m going to be missed, Sa gave me a long, warm hug and she need not say anything. She looked me in the eye and told me to “be brave and strong.” I joked with Dus for the last time and said he learned a lot from me like *insert bad words in Tagalog here* (which he did not learn from me I’m sure), and hugged him to say goodbye.
I bought shoes for the it’s the last day of my employee discount and promised Nor earlier that I’d let her ring it to help her meet her goal. When I couldn’t find her, I saw Ka, and decided that she deserves a little help for her goal. Not that I bought much, but it’s my way of thanking her for bringing me out of my comfort zone. She hugged me, and told me that “you’re a good and smart girl.” I want her to be right.
I clocked out for the last time and as I stepped outside the entrance, I know that I was stepping in the real world yet again, and it’s waiting for me to walk in another shoes.
That’s what I’m going to do today. I hope these shoes don’t give me more blisters than I can bear. I know that I like these shoes today though I’m not sure about tomorrow. I can only hope that it lasts for walking a hundred miles. And I hope it takes me places (where I can’t walk barefoot).