*Features adult language and themes.*
A new year but the same old routine.
Daisy stood outside the job centre sucking the life out of her last shred of tobacco. It was a wholly unsatisfactory smoke. She had spent five minutes trying to pinch the last crumbs from the bottom of the pouch. It was like trying to smoke powder. There’s no point smoking powders unless there’s a decent pay-off.
She’d been thinking hard about the rest of her day once the chore of the job centre interview was over for another fortnight. The familiar itch had been bothering her since she woke up but there was nothing she could do to cure it. No stash and no money to score. She wouldn’t get the money from signing on for a few days. She hoped something else would turn up. Two days without a hit was unthinkable. She’d managed to blag some weed from her roommate the night before, but that had hardly taken the edge off. She woke up that morning feeling shit. It had taken a super-human effort to get out of bed. Her limbs ached from lethargy. It felt like there was a rave going on inside her head; a constant pounding that wouldn’t stop.
The biggest drawback was the hunger. Meth suppressed her appetite, which was perfect. She had never enjoyed eating. When she went any length of time without a hit the hunger returned. It was excruciating. She had to choose between spending money on food or drugs. Easy decision usually. Trouble is if I’m starving in the morning I can’t take a bump if I’ve run out and the dealers aren’t about til the afternoon. They’re self-employed, they should really work unsociable hours.
The job centre seemed hidden away. It was as if the council were ashamed of it. The first time she’d visited, Daisy had been late because she couldn’t find the entrance. You had to go down an alleyway between Italian and Indian restaurants. The alley was full of bins and the mingled smell of both cuisines that were extracted from the kitchens. The combined smell was unpleasant yet, somehow, inviting. It always reminded Daisy of the reek that lingered around Subway sandwich shops.
The alley opened up into a little courtyard which had the job centre’s main entrance as its focal point. It had the depressing air of a prison exercise yard. Everyone had the same reason to be there. Unless you worked at the job centre you had no business to find the place unless you were signing on or looking for a job.
Daisy flicked the rollie away. The sliding doors opened as she approached. A large bald man in a shirt and tie wearing a luminous armband stared at her as she passed. Daisy did her best to ignore him.
It always struck her that the job centre could do with a major interior makeover. It had an oppressive air about it. Not just because of its function, or the people that populated it. Those things accented the feeling but were not the cause. The huge expanse of carpet was cheap, hard-wearing and grey. The walls were painted that dirty yellow magnolia public spaces insisted upon. The windows were covered by cheap blinds that let in, then trapped the light making its quality stale and unchanging.
Daisy went to the front desk and let the receptionist know she was there to sign on. Daisy moved away towards the stairs that led to the waiting area before the receptionist asked her to do so.
As she sat looking around the open plan office on the first floor she noted that it was populated by three kinds of people. First the staff. They were mostly middle aged, dressed smartly and wearing stern expressions. Daisy scanned their faces for any hints of emotion. Nothing. The second and third kind were made up of people on the other side of the desks. The unemployed. They fell into two distinct categories. Those that were ashamed of being in a job centre and those that simply didn’t care.
Daisy didn’t care. At the end of the day the government are offering the money. I’m entitled to take it.
She reached into her bag to read the magazine she’d bought with her. She’d got it free with a voucher but couldn’t remember where it had come from. Daisy had read through it already, but she’d been high and hadn’t taken much of it in. She remembered an article about happiness and leafed through the pages to find it again.
She leafed through and noticed that she’d started to fill out the exercises already.
* * *
1. Never have a constant supply of drugs.
2. Don’t have enough money for drugs.
3. Have to do stuff I don’t like to get drugs.
4. People look at me like I’m crap.
5. Justifying myself to people that look at me like crap.
1. Getting high.
* * *
Her head was still thumping and she couldn’t think of anything else to fill the blank space. She was trying very hard to think of something else that made her happy when her name was called.
Daisy stood up on her aching legs, walked stiffly to a desk and flopped down in the seat opposite the woman that had called for her.
“Morning Miss Baxter, how are you?”
“Not feeling too well today.”
“That’s a shame. I won’t keep you long.” The woman was like all the other job centre drones. She was in her forties, wearing a white blouse so bright that it hurt to look at it directly. She had an ID lanyard around her neck that let everyone know her name was Paula. Her thick rimmed glasses made her look bug-eyed. Unlike the others Paula attempted a sympathetic smile, but it came across as condescending. “How have you got on with your job search the last 2 weeks?”
Daisy reached into her bag and pretended to look for something. She ruffled through the contents making sure to look worried and frustrated as she searched desperately. She made her eyes big and tried her best to look pathetic. “I’m really sorry. I’ve forgotten my paperwork.”
Paula sighed and made a barely audible “hmmmmm,” noise as she swivelled her chair and began tapping at a computer. “It’s Daisy Baxter, isn’t it?”
Paula sat back in her chair with a strained expression. “Well, Daisy. It looks like you’ve been with us for quite a while.”
Uppity bitch. I know how long I’ve been signing on. The only reason to say something like that is to try and make me feel bad. You’ll have to do better than that.
“It’s not the first time you haven’t given us proof that you’re actively seeking work either.” Paula leaned forward planting her elbows on the desk and looking at Daisy over the top of her glasses.
Daisy tried to swallow her irritation and keep the sweet and innocent act going. She looked down in her lap, refusing to look in the woman’s eyes, as though cowed by her judgement. “Well, things aren’t too good at home…”
Paula interrupted her. “Young lady, take a look around this office.” She thrust her arm out and waved it in an arc. “There isn’t a person in here that doesn’t have problems at home, but most of them can still do the meagre tasks we set them every two weeks, so they get some money.”
Shit. The innocent act aint’t going to work with this one. She looked so nice too. Daisy flicked her head back up, her face was hard, her eyes closed to slits. They glimmered darkly like dirty gemstones. Her head was still pounding and it was difficult to find the energy to argue with the bitch. “I’m having a bad day. Quite a few bad days in a row actually. I forgot my paper work. I’ll hold my hands up for that. But that don’t give you the right to accuse me of trying to cheat you out of money.”
Paula was visibly taken aback at the change in attitude. She sat up and leaned back into her chair increasing the space between them over the desk. “I made no such accusation. The trouble is I can’t let you sign without proof that you’ve met the criteria in your Jobseeker’s agreement.”
“But I’ve done all the stuff I need to.” Have I bollocks.
“OK, lets assume that you have. I can put in the information, but you’ll have to bring proof of it next time you come in.”
“So your agreement states you have to write to 2 employers a week, phone 2 employers, visit 2, come into the job centre once and look at the newspaper once a week. Have you done all these things.”
“Yeah.” No. I’ve been too busy working to find a job. She’d managed to find a few casual, cash in hand jobs. Bars and restaurants were the best places for moody work. Most of them already had ‘casual workers’ in the kitchens. Daisy had been very careful about who she approached. In total she had four places she could go to if she was in need of cash. Sometimes she’d wash pots, other times she’s shift stuff about in the stockrooms. She’d even done a bit of bar work in some of the more unsavoury pubs in town. The bottom line was that she could show up at these places do a nights work and come away with £20 which was usually enough to cover her costs and grab some gear for a few days.
This was getting desperate, apart from the most pressing concerns she needed a bit of cash to give to her friend. She lived in her flat, sleeping on the couch. It had been a casual arrangement that had lasted for six months.
“In the past the records show you haven’t been able to fulfil all these criteria,” said Paula, interrupting Daisy’s thoughts.
“I got screwed when the agreement was made. The advisor I had set them all too high. It’s impossible to do all that each week. You run out of places to try. It makes you look stupid when you keep badgering the same places.”
“That might be the case, but the agreement still stands. If you don’t live up to the agreement we are well within our rights to stop your payments.” She paused to look at the screen again. “You know. On second thoughts I can’t let you sign. Your history is against you. I’ll need proof of your job search activities.”
Daisy couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She saw where this was going. It wasn’t just the lack of money, it was the enforced sobriety it implied. Her head was thumping harder, the ache in her legs was unbearable and the itch was spreading all over her body. She started to shake, a flush of anxiety exploded in her chest.
She couldn’t keep still.
“This is bullshit. You owe me that money. I’ve done everything you’ve asked.”
“Please calm down Miss Baxter.”
“I will not calm down. I need that money. How am I supposed to live, huh?” Paula was unmoved. She wore a mocking smile. “You get off on this don’t you. You love the little bit of power the system gives you. Just cause I’m claiming don’t make you better than me. You sit there all superior and judgemental. You don’t know anything about my life, the way I live, what I have to do just to exist. What do you want from me? You want me to beg, get down on my knees before you give me MY money.”
Paula stood up. “Miss Baxter, if you don’t calm down I’ll have to call security.”
Daisy stood up as well. It might have been more intimidating if she stood taller than Paula’s chin. “Call ‘em, see if I give a fuck.” Her hands were shaking. She tried to cross her arms to stop them, but it made her whole body tremble.
Paula planted her hands on her hips. “Young lady, I suggest you leave now before you do or say something you regret. You can come back in two weeks with proof that you’ve done everything you’ve promised, and we can start your payments again.”
“’Young lady?’ Who do you think you are? You’re not my fucking mother. You high and mighty bitch.” Daisy reached back to hit out. Paula saw what was about to happen, her eyes went wide. That’s right you old cow. Taking me seriously now?
Daisy was about to force her fist towards the old woman when she was grabbed from behind around the waist, pinning her arms to her sides before being lifted in the air. She began to swear, shout, wriggle and kick as the big security guard carried her out of the office. “Don’t think I’ll forget this Paula, that’s right I know your name. I won’t forget this…”
Once they were in the stairwell Daisy had lost her fight as tiredness overtook her again. She felt shame rise up within her as she was carried outside like a child. When the security guard let go Daisy didn’t have enough strength to find her feet and crumpled to the courtyard paving.
The security bloke looked down at her. “You alright, love?”
Daisy looked up at him. He seemed like a kind enough bloke, just doing his job. “Piss off, Lurch.”
Lurch stood in front of her blocking the entrance to the job centre. He pointed down the alley that led back out to the Street. “Best you make tracks, love. Otherwise I’ll have to call the police. By rights I should’ve done already. I’m doing you a favour, so fuck off.”
Daisy picked herself up, managed to keep her mouth shut and retreated down the alley. She was shaking all over, her stomach was rumbling and her chest felt tight as the adrenaline faded.
The light was bright when she left the alley. Where the fuck am I going to get money?
She started watching the people as they passed her in the street, looking for a target. Then her eyes strayed over to the car park on the other side of the road. Hmmm, that’s a bit out in the open, but I bet I can find a few secluded ones about town. People leave all sorts in their cars.
Many thanks for reading. If you have any feedback or thoughts, feel free to comment below.