Today is the Day
After slamming my fist on the alarm clock, I forcefully rub the sleep from my eyes. "Today is the day," I whisper confidently. "Today is the day."
I throw back the covers and bound to my feet. Walking towards the window I pull back the hangings and observe the street below. The pavement is littered with a thick carpet of gold, red and brown leaves. Some of the sturdier leaves still cling to their branches, but very soon they will have to give in and join their companions on the sidewalk and in the street. I push open the window and take a deep breath of crisp autumn air. Fresh and cold, it fills my lungs and temporarily leaves me feeling elated. I walk over to the mirror hanging above my desk and smile at the brown Gelert staring back at me, ignoring the dark circles under my eyes.
"Today is the day," I tell my reflection forcefully as I carefully brush my hair. After carefully selecting an outfit, a pair of blue jeans, a green T-shirt and a pair of black sneakers, I bound down the stairs to join my family for breakfast.
"What are you doing up so early?" Mikken says with a derisive snort, his mouth full of eggs and bacon. "You have nowhere to go. If it were me, I'd still be sleeping," he adds reproachfully, taking a bite out of his buttered toast. Stung, I look at him carefully. He is an unusually short and burly grey Zafara with an earring in his left ear and is renowned for his horrible mood in the mornings. In a few hours time his body would be covered with soot and sweat, he would come home with his muscles aching, tired and grumpy, but satisfied all the same.
I open my mouth, hoping in vain to retort something witty. Instead I let the moment pass, choosing to keep the peace and slouch to my usual chair at the kitchen table.
"Mikken, don't be such a prat," Sam says. "Just because you are too lazy to breathe, doesn't mean Julie has to be." Sam is the eldest of the family, a feisty green Gelert with dreadlocks and a solid opinion. She works at the Neopia Central Bookshop and never misses an opportunity to defend me from Mikken's offensive comments. I envy her for working at the Bookshop, I would easily give an arm and a leg for such a job.
"I'm just saying," Mikken says thickly, "it's not normal to get up at the crack of dawn of your own free will." He gets up with a grunt and quickly puts his jacket over his overalls, picks up his backpack and leaves without another word. Mikken works in the Battle Magic shop. He helps invent, develop and fix weapons, both old and new, under the watchful eye of the shopkeeper and owner. The word "proud" couldn't even begin to describe how he feels about his job and the skills he gets to develop.
"Love you too, have a good day!" Sam shouts tauntingly as he slams the front door shut. "Grumpy bug," she adds under her breath, winking at me.
Feeling better, I add some milk to my cereal and dig in.
"Right then," Sam says, "I'm off too. We get a big delivery today and there will be loads of restocking and labeling for me." She gets up, kisses me on the brow and wraps a thick scarf around her tall frame. "Be good today, and make sure you wake Trae if he isn't up in half an hour. He can't be late for school, again... Cheer up, Jules; don't listen to a word Mikken is saying. You know what he can be like sometimes. I know you will find something. You're too brilliant to be stuck at home for the rest of your life."
I smile and try to nod in a reassuring way. Watching her leave fills me with sadness and jealousy.
I finish eating breakfast and proceed upstairs to wake my brother. Trae trashes around in his sleep as I poke him sharply in the back.
"Ouch," he yells loudly. "Why did you do that?" The young blue Lupe shoots a look of loathing at me and turns over, burying himself in his blankets.
"Trae, come on, you have to go to school," I insist forcefully, poking the same spot on his back again, earning a deep growl of frustration from him.
"All right," he bites out sullenly, throwing back the covers and sitting on the edge of the bed.
"You have fifteen minutes to get ready."
I watch him as he picks up his books and crams them in his bag, casually slinging his stethoscope around his neck. Trae is but one year younger than me and exceptionally intelligent, he's in the medicine program at the Neopian Hospital. I'm sure he'll be a brilliant surgeon one day. I envy him for still being a student. I wish I could go back to that time and would never have to leave it behind. I studied languages and literature. Yes, it's a degree, but it's worthless.
With a deep sigh I leave him to it and head back downstairs, stopping by my room to retrieve my leather briefcase. I put on the most professional-looking blazer I own and check my reflection in the mirror appraisingly. I tie my long brown hair back in a bun, as such neutralizing the faerie princess –effect that long hair can have when first meeting people. Taking a very deep breath, I open the front door and step out into the world.
I walk at a brisk pace, trying to generate positive energy, but Mikken's words painfully echo in my head. I am so very tired of being envied for having "free time" and being told off for trying to act as though I too have a purpose in life. "Free time," I mutter, kicking a few pebbles. "Big deal."
My feet automatically carry me all the way to the Neopian Plaza and to the all too familiar grey building I've come to know very well in the past few months. Exactly six months ago the Faerieland Employment Office opened a second branch in Neopia Central.
Eyes closed, I take a deep breath and tightly grasp my briefcase filled with resumes. Opening my eyes, I exhale and push open the familiar glass doors to enter the pink and purple lobby. To the right is the waiting room, crammed with different kinds of chairs and poufs. The coffee-tables are littered with fading copies of the Neopian Times and the walls are decorated with posters of various smiling Faeries shaking hands with ecstatic Neopets. The whole place gives you a feeling of hope and well-being. But I know better than to trust the appearance of the Agency.
There are two other Neopets waiting. A rather scary-looking black Grarrl clad in leather from head to toe and an agitated yellow Lenny. The Grarrl looks quite bored and haughty. The Lenny's legs are shaking and she keeps picking at a spot on her chin. Soon enough they are both whisked away by a couple of Faeries and I'm left alone. Nervousness slowly seeps into my body. I can feel it in the pit of my stomach. The anticipation, the hope, the dread.
"Jules?" A very freckly Earth Faerie pokes her head around the corner and smiles reassuringly. I jump to my feet and eagerly follow her to a small mahogany desk littered with scrolls and books.
"Right," the Faerie says, "let's have a look and see if we have something for you today."
"Yes," I reply, breathlessly. "Anything, you know, anything you have."
"I know," the Faerie says somewhat sadly as she starts scanning a very long list fastened to a clipboard. She runs her finger down several pages and finally sighs heavily. "I'm sorry, Jules, we have no job openings you are fit for, at the moment."
"Are you sure?" I ask desperately.
"I'm afraid so. The problem is you have no experience," the Faerie says sadly. "Come back in a few days; maybe I'll have some new job openings."
"But how am I supposed to get experience if nobody gives me a chance to get some?" I shudder at the exasperation my voice betrays.
"I'm sorry, Jules, that's how it is. Most employers want somebody with a first experience. I can't help you."
I know the drill. The interview is at an end. After I've taken a new appointment for the next week, I leave. I can feel my body sagging under the weight of shame and desperation. Shame at being unable of securing a job. I quicken my pace. Desirous to put as much space between me and that place that brings me nothing but grief and an enhanced sense of failure.
My real problem is that I'm average. I'm neither frightfully brilliant neither alarmingly stupid. I'm somewhere in between. I've been given all the chances to get myself an education and I did, accordingly to my talents. I speak several languages and wish to translate or work in publishing. I'd even take a job in a coffee shop. But here I am. Average. When you read job descriptions the word "average" is never mentioned, though. There are words such as: brilliant, winner, shark, no-nonsense, etc. I find it very hard to relate to those and obviously any potential employer seems to be thinking along the same lines. The true frustration resides in the fact that many average Neopets do succeed in finding great jobs, because they have convinced themselves that they are brilliant. It's all a bluff. But I don't know how to bluff. I can't bluff my way through a job interview. I just can't.
As I mull over these thoughts for the millionth time, I bump into my best friend Akra and someone accompanying her. Akra embraces me and introduces me to her friend, Lisa. Lisa is a very lively Acara, she talks for at least fifteen minutes about herself and her glorious life before asking me the question I dread most these days: "So, what do you do for a living?"
I force myself to smile and explain that I'm currently looking for a job, all the while forcing myself to not kick her as I see a smug expression plaster itself on Lisa's face.
"Oh, right..." Lisa says, feigning embarrassment. "And what sort of job are you looking for?"
Dreaded question number two. I avoid answering by looking at my watch and explain I really must dash. I know Akra sees right through me and I also know she wants to kick Lisa for being rude and a show-off. I leave them standing there and take off at a run. As I reach the street my house is in, I stop running. Panting, I shove my key in the lock and let myself in, quickly slamming the door and shutting out reality. In a few hours time my brothers and sister will come home and they will expect me to have dinner ready, because I have nothing better to do. I know full well that our Owner supports us and we are free to work but not obliged. There are plenty of Neopets without jobs. I just refuse to be the failure of the family, even though it seems I am destined to be.
Dinner goes by in a haze. Our owner and my brothers and sister talk excitedly about their days at work as I clear the table and do the dishes. I slip upstairs unnoticed and lock myself in my bedroom, willing myself to not look at my desolate frame in the mirror. I climb into bed and bury myself beneath the duvet.
The alarm clock lets off its usual shrill sound and I punch it to the floor. I see dark circles under my eyes.
"Today is the day," I tell my sad reflection, "today is the day."