I'd expected her to be late – like your average parasite – but her timing was impeccable. The second surprise was that she'd actually followed my advice and tried to take more direct action. According to her form, she'd posted her CV on monsterboard, sent her portfolio to a casting agency and went into the Old Bond Street Prada store to apply for a role as store manager.
“Do you have any managerial experience?” I asked.
“That's what they wanted to know.” She shook her head. “But in my defence: the staff doesn't have to know that. I can pretend, you know, that's what I do.”
I gave her the old eyebrow, she copied the gesture innocently, and before I knew it, I was laughing. For customer care, laughing at a jobseeker is about as bad laughing at Madonna's manager is for a stage manager at the O2. I tried to stop, pinched my nose, coughed and excused myself, but when I looked up to her face again, she only needed to lift one eyebrow to make me crack again. I just couldn't help it. Two weeks worth of nerves forced their way out in the most inconvenient way possible. I was well aware that this was applying for a seat at the other side of my desk, but couldn't stop tee-hee-heeing. After a while, I didn't even remember what had set me off. People at the nearest free phones and vacancy machines were looking over their shoulders to see what was going on, and even the security guard noticed.
When I finally caught my breath, I managed to give the worst advice in Job Centre history: “Ever thought of stand-up comedy?”
But Elaine didn't seem to mind. She just smiled. “It's a shame the rest of the world doesn't share your sense of humour,” she said, “otherwise I certainly would.”
“I'm sorry,” I said, “that was very unprofessional. I don't know what's gotten into me.”
She looked at my hands, emphasising how I was fumbling the golden band around my ring finger again, and asked: “So you're married now?”
“I... er... this?”
“I didn't even know that was possible for people like you. Or have you chosen a side now?”