This is not how it was meant to be.
It was supposed to a good day.
I wasn’t supposed to end up lying a ditch. In the pouring rain. Rain water mixing with my own blood.
There was one thing for which I was thankful. It was cold. I was going numb. And the throbbing had dulled.
Today really had been one long string of bad luck.
This had come about because of one job advert.
Full-time housekeeper required for urgent start. £8ph + Accommodation. Phone Dan on 07595288544.
It was too good to be true. Perfect for working holiday.
I’m Evelyn. A simple country girl with a sack full of dreams and quickly trickling bank account.
The strangeness of the country had already tired me. I had been here for only a month. The tourist spots were overripe with capitalistic pestilence. I was tired of hard hostel beds. And beginning to give up on coping with difficult northern accents.
So I called the number. My first impression of Dan was good enough. He was the manager of a small private estate. Threw around too many phases like ‘ran a tight ship’. My best guess was Dan sat behind a desk all day and let everyone else do the work. I’d never know hands on manager.
The ‘small private estate’ was actually an expensive hotel secluded down one of the numerous, terrifyingly narrow, hedged lanes. The place bled wealth. I felt uncomfortable just driving up to it. It was not the sort of place I could afford to stay. I felt my account collapse at the thought.
The job? It was a straight forward as the had suggested. Stereotypical cleaning tasks that went with the territory. Early starts and late finishes. Pig-slop meals free off charge. The benefits where reasonable though – I had free access to the hotel; including access to affiliate companies such as the nearby equestrian centre.
The work was gruelling as one would expect. Every night I collapsed into small, narrow bed provided for me in a converted loft, too tired to so much as shower the days grime off.
Day were spent in a hectic flurry of repetitive cleaning tasks and menial service tasks. At some point I think I stopped registering the turn of the weeks. Time ceased to have any more function then to keep me on their schedule. If it weren’t for the characters I worked with, perhaps I would have ceased to acknowledge time at all.
Dan I’ve already mentioned. I steer clear of him after hours. He has a single-minded obsession with work that would make anyone mad. He has a penchant for surprise inspection that leave you with a tripled workload and he assumes because you live here you’re always on duty. If I ever need him though, I can find him out of sight by the garden shed with his paper and his pipe; ran or shine.
My housekeeping duties were shared with a couple of Africa girls whose names I’d long since given up trying to pronounce. For the sake of us English speakers they called themselves Michelle and Leanna. They moved as pair – loud, jovial and constantly on the look out for a chance to skive. They taught me all the best hiding places where you could sneak out for a quick cup of coffee and 5 minute chat. Of course, I wasn’t one of them so I had to watch my back. They were quick to lay blame in self-defence.
The chef, Eugene, was large, greasy looking Frenchman with a thick accent and a sharp wit. His kitchen was personified by the multi-layered smell of cooking and the blasting of soft radio stations. He was the sort who would let you get away with murder providing you complimented his nauseating cooking. Compliments were easy to make given the rumours of what happened to the dinners of those he felt wronged him.
These are characters I don’t think I will ever forget. The most unforgettable, much to my infinite chagrin, was Cameron. Cameron was a lanky man close to myself in age with a degree in business management and a sense of personal entitlement that could sink a continent. I had pieced together a semblance of Cameron’s story from a smattering of half-truths from Eugene and the girls. Cameron was the son of the owners of the chain of hotels. Rumour had it that he had been placed here on management duty as a vain attempt at teaching their son about the real world. The sheer idiocy of placing a student fresh out of uni with no real work experience in a position of responsibility stank of particularity rank brand of nepotism. Only the wealthy had the privilege of believe that shunting your child into a cushy job was a way of letting them experience the world.
The man was a constant thorn in my side. At some point he had become attached to me. He seemed irrationally interested in hearing about Australia. I had become accustomed to the English fascination with ‘Down Under’ since I arrived here but he managed to take it to whole new level.
Perhaps it was because we were in the middle of nowhere, cut off from many sources of amusement. Perhaps it was because he was truly sheltered from the world. Or maybe it was more simple than that. I was the only member of staff whose English was fluent.
What ever the reason was I found my day began to revolve around casual interruptions and pathetic excuses to engage me in conversation. I found myself walking a very thin line.
He was pretentious, self-absorbed; an unreasonable narcissist. I found myself holding back on my true reactions much of the time. I wanted to keep my job after all. My inability to express the appropriate level of distaste for his presence lead to my free time being spent entirely with Cameron.
It wasn’t all bad. We shared an interest in riding. I also often found myself being dragged around local villages. I think he believed as a tourist I was happy to see identical village after identical village. Whenever he had get together with his mates I was unwillingly dragged along. When a few friends, Lisa and James, flew in from Morocco we caught up in London. Despite many protests I found myself accompanied. Of course, they found it hilarious when I explained later on. And I guess I have to thank him. I didn’t end up feeling like the third wheel…
I guess at some point I had become used to his presence. It irks me to no end that my run of bad luck began with Cameron leaving for a business trip. I was looking forward to having my time to myself. The first occurrence was not the result of bad luck in itself. I received a response to my visa renewal request – looked like it was time to leave the country soon, after all.
The actual bad luck started with a guest.
Mrs Beasley struck me as typical of an elder, financially well-off English lady. She seemed pleasant enough on the offset, if a little prim and proper for the tastes of a modern girl. She soon proved to be quite demanding; detail oriented to a fault and very particular about how her room was to be kept. I yo-yoed back to her room on several occasion to correct small cleaning imperfections – most of which I’m sure she caused as some obscure cry for company. Dan had seen her so much over the cleaning that day that he was on my case constantly.
The first drama involved Eugene and Mrs Beasley. When I came down to help with the dinner service Eugene was in the middle of escorting the meddlesome woman out of the kitchen. He was more wound up then I’d seen him before. I was unsurprised to find out she had been telling Eugene how to do his job. Dan was forced to escort her back to the room on the pretext of listening to her many complaints about Eugene, while I hung back in the kitchen to help the kitchen staff get back on track. Eugene stormed around the kitchen after that, muttering in French, a large vein throbbing in his temple. I suspect the irritation was more over the knowledge that he couldn’t do anything to a guests dish.
The second drama was far more serious. Mrs Beasley had lost a valuable set of jewellery, and like most trusting individuals, had quickly claimed it was stolen. She was quick to blame Michelle, who had come to collect the laundry, for thieving the valuables but true to form the Michelle-Leanne pair covered for each other – behaviour that only made them seem more suspicious. Before the missing items were found hooked onto a pillow case in the laundry hours later Dan had already had to have to police to appease Mrs. Beasley’s anger. By the end of it I was glad the next day was my day off. I was looking forward to the peace and quiet.
The timing was bad but I dropped off my resignation that morning. I would have done so irrespective of the previous days drama but as tension levels were high so perhaps it was taken the wrong way by Dan. I didn’t pay it any mind at the time. I just decided to head out with a horse like I normally do.
The mount I usually rode was a placid dapple gelding. It seemed he had been pre-booked fro one of the private lessons run by the stable and so I had to settle for a less friendly horse – a bay mare with snappish look that sidled nervously for no reason. I was not filled with confidence but I decided to head out anyway.
By the time I had gotten a mile down the trail I was already regretting taking the mare out. She fought me for the bit. My arms were getting tired. I began to see why they had taken her off lesson rotation. The sky was beginning to turn foul overhead. Sensing the rain coming I decided to turn around and head back. Of course, my skittish mount chose that moment to shy violently and with little grace I found myself unsaddled, head bleeding and leg unreasonably painful.
This brings me back to being thankful for the cold. I soon forgot pain in my leg. I lay in the dirt, wet autumnal leaves sticking to me. I stared up at the sky in a dazed defiance, rainwater blurring my vision, unwilling to succumb to the quietly nagging about the dangers of lying injured in unknown location. I decided to get up and limp my way back down the trail eventually. But first I was going to rest – this was the most relaxed I had felt for months. I didn’t even care that I was becoming steadily soaked by the rain.
I guess I lost awareness at some point. It was my own fault really. I should have gotten straight up, even if I had had to fashion a walking stick out of rotting branches. Only idiots lie around in the rain on a cold English day.
When I can too I was already warm in a safe moderately uncomfortable hospital bed. Cameron was hovering around my bedside like a bad smell. “Jesus, couldn’t you give me a day of peace?” I hadn’t realised I had said the words out loud until he was all over me like a puppy that’s realised it’s master’s returned. After pushing off with what seemed to be the reserves of my strength I noticed something odd. His eyes were bloodshot and red-rimmed. He was also unusually dishevelled. “What’s with that face? That’s the last thing I want to wake up seeing!”
“I’m sorry for caring! Next time I’ll leave you in the ditch!” He spat back at me. It occurred to me then that I may actually be slightly out of line with my words. I ruffled his hair like one would a child. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound unappreciative. Thanks… Do me a favour though, go wash your face. You look awful.” Much like a child, he acquiesced without resistance. He looked tired.
When he came back, not only did he look refreshed, but there was also an angry smoulder in his eyes. “When were you going to tell me?” To say I was confused would have been an understatement. His words came out of nowhere. “Tell you what, exactly?” Quicker he caught me up the quicker I could defuse the argument that was so clearly coming. “About resigning! I had to hear about from Dan!” I stared at him in a non-pulsed fashion. That’s what he was worried about? I had to resign at some point, surely he realised that. “I only just made the decision. I would have told you when you got back.” Surely he didn’t expect me to call him up while he was on business; I was just an employee, for christ sake. “Before or after I heard it from Dan?” I began to watch him with fascination. I had never seen Cameron get angry in this way. It was complete different about the way he behaved. It was as if a layer of habit had sloughed off mid conversation. “I don’t see why it matters. The decision is made. What would you have done if you’d known sooner?” His attitude was completely throwing me for a loop. “I would have tried to talk you into to staying, of course!” That phrase gave me a start. Why on earth would he be interested in that? I shook my head. “There’s nothing that you could say that would change the situation. It is as it is.” The situation was quite simple, really. I had a flight to catch. But why did Cameron look so very sad at my words. He sat down by my bedside with an expression of defeat. “Evelyn, I know there have been a few problems at work recently. But that’s really no reason to quit.” Oh! So that’s what the idiot was thinking. That made the situation a whole lot clearer. I chuckled and patted him on the shoulder. “You should really get your facts in order before you go jumping to conclusions, ya know.” He looked utterly baffled. It was a good expression on him. “What? You’re not unhappy with working for us?” That made me chuckle some more. This was almost cute. If he had been like this the entire time I might have gotten on with him better. “I wouldn’t say it’s my dream job but it pays.” At this point I looked out the window, thinking of the blue, blue sky I would soon be exchanging for the grim greyness. “My visa has nearly run out. I’ve got to go home.” A hand on my wrist drew my attention back to Cameron. He looked utterly serious. It felt like I had just pronounced a death sentence. “Are you seriously saying it’s not something I’ve done?” Dear lord, how many times was this man going to send me spinning today? Where was the usual self-confidence?? This was almost unreal. “You’ve been an irritation since I started working for you,” I said with a cruel bluntness. It felt for the first time I could say what I meant, but his expression fell a little at that. “But you have never done anything horrible or untoward, so I don’t dislike you enough to want to leave because of you.” It was quite obvious to me that Cameron didn’t know how to interpret that.
“But, you never told me you were leaving.” There was a little more accusatory hurt in that tone that I was prepared to accept.
“I didn’t say because I assumed you knew. Not like I’ve made my visa status a secret!” There was a dawn of rational thought in his expression as Cameron processed that tid-bit of information. It felt like kicking a puppy today. He had obviously worked himself into a depression over whatever unreasonable ideas he had. “I just thought our relationship was closer then that…” He trailed off as though he was saying something incredibly difficult. Oh please don’t tell me that this is what his whole attitude comes down to. I thought I had been very careful to set up distinct boundaries for us. Guess I never counted on self-delusion… “Whether or not we are close is rather irrelevant at this point, don’t you think? I still have to leave the country.” That seemed diplomatic. I didn’t outright say we had no relationship. It made the point that I had to go regardless. But then he made it clear leaving my words open to interpretation was a biiig mistake with his next line. “Why don’t we get married then? You’d be eligible for residency then. You wouldn’t have to go anywhere.”
Okay, I fully admit that laughing at Cameron was a but harsh. It was not one of my better intentioned moments after all. The hurt was clear in his expression. “There’s no way in hell I’m getting married. Ever. To you or any other man.” Well, when you’re on a roll, you may as well stick with it and damn the consequences. “But if you are really so determined to stick around me I have an uncle in Sydney looking for staff.” Oh dear. Perhaps I should have thought that one through a little more. Cameron looked a little to happy. As though he had taken it as an invitation to elope. He all be flew out of the hospital room, begging forgiveness for deserting me, claiming that he would go and sort out travel documents for himself straight away; leaving me in a numb shock that I had only myself to blame for. I should have known better then to crack a joke like that, really.
Oh well, I thought, as my senses returned. Working with Uncle Tom will be a learning experience for him. It will probably even out his attitude. And it’s not like he has to know that I’ll be staying in Brisbane. At least, not until I’m getting on the domestic flight, that is.