The bus pulled up to the curb with a tired-sounding wheeze and Cassie looked at the driver, waiting for him to unlock the back door. He took a minute to fiddle with his radio but finally pushed the button opening the door, and the heavy summer air hit Cassie as she stepped onto the sidewalk. There had been storms earlier in the evening and the ground seemed to be trying to give back all of the water it had taken. At 3am the sky was clear, but the air was still warm and wet just waiting for tomorrow’s sun to generate another storm.
Cassie listened to the bus rattle off down the street as she looked around at her neighborhood. At this hour she was the only one on the street, but the evidence from the day’s activities was all around her. She sighed, it seemed as though every summer people became more and more careless of their trash. Soda cans and beer bottles were almost as numerous as cigarette butts. Children, seeing the lack of concern over littering from their parents, had left their ice cream wrappers and Popsicle sticks wherever they happened to have been when they finished their treats. Waste from dogs (and perhaps even humans in a couple of cases) lay in piles on the sidewalk leaving its odor in the oppressive heat. Cassie sighed again, she understood people needing to get out of small, non-air conditioned apartments in the heat of the summer, but she didn’t understand why that always seemed to translate into turning the neighborhood they all shared into a landfill. She pulled out some plastic bags and put on some disposable gloves and started picking up the garbage that was along her route home. It wouldn't be necessary for her to carry anything very far; the neighborhood had a sufficient number of street-side garbage cans. None of them were more than half full.
As she tried not to think about what she was picking up, Cassie thought about the argument she’d had with her boss just before she left her 12-hour shift at the call center. Her boss had pulled her into his office to lecture her about the amount of time she was spending on the calls she took. She had tried to explain to him that she was only trying to listen to the customers to make sure she fully understood their problems and so would be in the best position to try to help them. She knew that most of her coworkers held the customers in contempt but she had taken the job as a customer service representative and so was trying her best to help customers. Many times she had been able to make customers happy just by listening to them and showing some concern over whatever had upset them enough to call. So many of the people who called her were just lonely people who wanted someone to talk to, someone who would listen and show some interest in their problems. But waiting for customers to finish expressing themselves and then finding a solution that both satisfied them and conformed to the company’s policies took time. Her customers nearly always (sometimes it was impossible to please people no matter what you did) ended the phone call feeling satisfied and as though the company she worked for actually cared if they were happy with the products and services they purchased.
Her boss had curtly informed her that the goal of customer service was not to serve customers but to get them off the phone quickly. He told her the company was obligated to provide some outlet for people to complain, but that her job was to move those complaints through as fast as possible. It wasn’t necessary to make everyone happy, just try not to piss them off so much that they’d want to complain to someone higher up. Her boss went on to explain that while her customer satisfaction scores were fine, that wouldn’t be enough for her to get a raise, or even secure her job, she needed to improve her turn-around time on calls. He then reiterated that her job was to take calls quickly, not make people happy. How depressing!
At 28 years old Cassie was still trying to find her niche in the world. She had worked at many menial jobs, the call center was just the latest, trying to find something she could tolerate until she could earn enough money to go to school. She was trying to save enough so that she could afford to finish a degree (not just start one) without taking on any debt. The problem was that tuition kept going up while her salaries did not. She’d tried working as a retail clerk at a clothing store, as a waitress, as a cleaning woman, and most recently as a customer service representative. At all of these jobs she’d been informed that she didn’t have the drive to do well. That her dedication to doing the job well, while admirable, was not what management wanted; management wanted fast not good. She’d had people tell her over the years just to give it up and borrow money to get an education, but she had never owed anyone anything and she wasn’t interested in starting now. Besides, she still wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to study.
Most of Cassie’s off hours (of which there weren’t many) were spent at the public library. She and most of the librarians were on a first-name basis because they often helped her explore her latest topic of interest. Cassie was interested in just about every subject she had read about, so she was having trouble narrowing it down to just one subject to study. Her passion, if she had to pick one, was helping others. She had hoped the call center would help her fulfill that need, but apparently not. From everything she had read about careers that focus on helping others (social worker, school teacher, police officer, councilor, etc.) they also focused on speed over thoroughness, and she didn’t think spending years and tens of thousands of dollars to be just as frustrated as she was now sounded like a good idea. So Cassie planned to keep working and saving and hoping she’d figure out what her calling was one day.
As Cassie picked up a dirty diaper that someone had left lying next to a garbage can instead of in it, she realized she’d reached the point on her walk home where she needed to make a decision. She could either continue on for another two blocks and cross over to her street via an open, well-lit thoroughfare and then have to walk back two blocks to her building, or she could cut through the narrow, dark alley she was standing next to now and save herself four blocks (and about ten minutes) of walking. She knew the alley was often a hiding place for thieves and other criminals, but the streets were so empty at the moment, except for her, and she only had about five hours before she’d have to go out again to her second job as a barmaid. She was tired and she thought it would be safe enough to take the shortcut at 3am because the criminals were normally home in bed by that time (she hoped). Cassie looked around one more time and saw nobody; she heard nothing except for the normal hum of traffic a few blocks away on the highway and the electrical buzz of the street lamps. She took a breath and decided to risk it, she really did need to get home and get some sleep.
About the Author:
Mistral Dawn is a thirty-something gal who has lived on both coasts of the US, but somehow never in the middle. She currently resides in the Southeast US with her kitty cats (please spay or neuter! :-)). She has written two novels, Taken By The Huntsman and Bound By The Summer Prince, and has lots more planned! To receive updates on her latest published work, please follow her on Amazon HERE. If you'd like more frequent updates, you can get her latest musings and excerpts from her work on her blog HERE
You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and she would love to hear from you, or through her Facebook page posted below, or Twitter her at @MistralKDawn. She thanks you humbly for purchasing and reading her first book and hopes you will do her the honor of rating and reviewing her work.