Thursday, 10 August 2017

Maike // Shop Assistant

The only significant scar I have is faded and about one inch in length, on my lower back, roughly where my kidneys are.

Sadly the story accompanying it is not as exciting or tragic as I would have hoped (depending on which way you look at it). When I was seventeen and saving up for a post-A-level Teletext holiday to Greece, I got a job at Matalan. It was on a drab retail estate on the outskirts of Huddersfield - which was as depressing as you might imagine.

While crouching down to fold my fiftieth pair of Zantos jeans I felt a sharp pain in my lower back, I touched it and found it wet with blood. My fingers traced a thin, deep cut. I realised I had caught myself on a shelving bracket as I was crouching down and it had sliced into my back. This would not be the last time I would be stabbed in the back at Matalan.

This is not the story that led to my dissidence, but Matalan is where it took place and the scars from it run just as deep.

I arrived for my shift one Saturday to find a heated discussion happening in the staffroom. We had been informed by management that we would be required to stay an extra two hours even though we had not been given the statutory 24 hours’ notice. There were rumblings of a walk out. As the child of two former members of the Huddersfield Anarchists, I felt it was my duty to lead it.

I started by riling up the workers, perpetuating a sense of outrage that the disruption of any teenager’s plans on a Saturday night was criminal and the ultimate act of oppression, that the overlords must be vanquished at any cost. I was dizzy on the power, imagining the impotent looks on the manager's faces as we left en mass.

Next, I infiltrated the shop floor, sidling up to anyone I thought simpatico to the cause and whispering "walk out at six o'clock" they would signal their agreement covertly, a flash of recognition in the eyes, a subtle nod, whilst continuing their task under the watchful gaze of the management.

As the afternoon dwindled on, bored shoppers shuffled down air conditioned aisles to the asinine piped music, unaware that Bolsheviks were lurking around every corner wearing the polyester uniform of the oppressed, plotting, primed.

Six PM came. We were all allowed a ten-minute break before beginning our extra two hours. We convened in the staffroom. As I went for my coat and bag a silence prevailed which made me uneasy. My comrades shifted in their seats, looked down at their hands, no one was able to meet my gaze, I knew what was coming. "Er, we were thinking, it's only two more hours." - my stomach sank, "Yeah, and I think we get time and a half for it" one by one the strikers dwindled until eventually we were reduced to two. Me and this other mousy girl who said we could probably get out of it by saying our parents had arranged to pick us up.

Defeated, I turned my back on the bunch of scabs and made the long walk to the shop floor. The glorious walk out and the defeat of the oppressors ended with a whimper rather than a bang, a garbled explanation about how our parents were waiting for us, a sigh of mild annoyance from the manager as he permitted us to leave.

With a heavy heart, I trudged through the car park towards the ring road. Dusk was coming, the red lights of the Matalan sign still glowed, taunting me, the colour of blood, the colour of revolution. I looked back ruefully - death to traitors.