Sam Roberts

The Worst Job in the World

Content Warning: Images of suicide, instances of suicidal thought and ideation, bodily harm, and light gore.

The worst job in the world puppets you awake with the five-thirty alarm. There was a dream, which is gone. While others sleep you tie a knot around your neck, fold down a collar and fasten your cuffs. It is still dark. The birds are quiet except for those confused by the street-lit dawn; they may have sung all night. 

The train station is busy. Everyone looks like you. No one speaks. You queue for a return ticket to the city behind a foreigner. The foreigner jabs his finger at the protective glass, hard.

“Way duh diket moor spen sive ere dan on da prahce?” he asks.

The counter clerk screws up her face in incomprehension, leans her ear towards the foreigner and says, “Sorry, what?

The foreigner jabs his finger and says, “Duh diket moor spen sive ere dan on da prahce! Da prahce! No?”

He presses a train ticket against the glass, jabs it with his finger and says, “Da prahce! DA PRAHCE!”

The clerk shakes her head. “I don’t understand…” then inspects the ticket and says, “The price is different for off peak tickets, sir.”

The foreigner smiles. “Yes duh prahce!

“Yes the price!” says the clerk, also smiling.

“I won de chipper prahce!” says the foreigner.

“Off peak tickets are valid after nine o’clock sir.”

The foreigner checks his watch. It is 06:47. “Dis no good!” he says. “Eye ave mitting at naan! Why I cannot make next train for chipper prahce?”

“You need to buy a peak ticket at full price, sir, or travel after nine o’clock.”

In a raised voice the foreigner says, “Waat? Dis is out-raj-us!”

Behind you, one of the commuters in the lengthening queue shouts, “For fuck’s sake hurry up! You’re making everyone late!”

The foreigner ignores this, probably because he is either completely unaware of the inconvenience he is causing or is fully aware and does not care, and repeats to the clerk, “Eye wan chipper prahce!”

You look up at departures and watch the minutes closing in. Your train leaves shortly. If you miss it you will be late. 

The counter clerk mutters something into a radio and repeats the same words to the foreigner who simply reiterates his demand. The impasse continues until two security guards arrive and move him to the side.

You buy your ticket and run for the barrier, feed it in; it spits it back at you. You are late for the train but the train is delayed and you just make it. The carriage is overloaded. You stand by the doors in the crush, in silence, feeling cheated.

The journey is uneventful until the train approaches the city when it pulls up and there is a delay. Being late is now unavoidable. The commuters stand together, heads bowed, unmoving like cows at an empty trough. There is an announcement. Someone jumped in front of the train ahead. 

One of the commuters catches your eye. He says, “How bloody inconsiderate! We are all going to be late! Why couldn’t they have killed themselves at home?”

You reply, “I was hoping for a derailment and many deaths. But a suicide will do.”

The commuter turns away, disgusted.  

It takes a bus ride and two hours to get to work. These hours are unpaid.

The office manager, a squat pear-shaped man with notorious breath, informs you as you enter the office, “You are late!” and taps his watch.          

“There was a suicide on the line,” you reply. “The train was delayed.”

“Get an earlier train.”

“An earlier train? I got up at half-past five to make the five-past-seven train!”

The manager shrugs, taps his watch and says, “We expect you to be here on time.”

“I expect the train to be on time,” you say. “Take it up with the railway operator.”

The others peek at you above their monitors as though you are a dog vomiting on the floor.  

You occupy a swivel chair and a desk which are referred to as yours although the back of the chair is tilted forward and the height of the seat is too high; this is not your usual chair. Someone has pinched it! You get up and hunt the office for your chair, wheeling the wrong chair loudly in front of you until you locate it underneath the skinny behind of an administrator. 

“That is my chair,” you tell her. 

She peers up at you, an old thing in cardigan, glasses and pruned cheeks. 

“Is it?” she says.

“Yes. I scrawled my name into the back with a knife.”

She gets up and searches for the name; finds it. You claim your chair and push the other one at her.

“It’s just a chair,” she says.

“It’s just my chair,” you reply.

You wheel it back, sit in it; it is all wrong. You fiddle with the adjustments until it is how you like it: low to the ground and reclined far back, nearly horizontal. You then pick up your headset, log in and begin. First check the emails: complaint, complaint, spam, complaint. Internal message. Spam. Complaint. Nothing worth dealing with. You then look at the list of customers, select one and dial.

The manager stands behind watching you work, occasionally leaning close to point at data on the screen that interests him and gasses you with his breath. 

“I would of called this guy first,” he says, pointing at a name.

“It’s would have, not would of,” you correct him. “God.”

He is one of the dullest and most awful people you have met and you have met many dull and awful people. He loves his work. He believes that you should love your work. He offers insights, comments, criticism, recommendations, different pitches and different questions all of which you know because you have worked this job for years and are probably slightly better at it than he is, although he is motivated and you are not.

Your telephone rings. The caller complains about the same problem that the last two hundred callers complained about. You repeat the same lines in the same order from the same script, accepting their abuse with gratitude until they are satisfied. 

You will never meet these customers but you still must dress in shirt and tie because the Managing Director believes that smartly dressed employees are better than well-paid employees. The clothes make you sweat. The office is equipped with air conditioning however some of the employees, like the administrator, complain about feeling cold, so it remains unused. You begin to sweat and the sweat begins to stink.

The window you are facing cannot be opened. It offers a view of the car park and the expensive sports cars of the management. A brick wall surrounds the car park. 

Break time. You use these fifteen minutes to stand in the car park, away from the others and chain smoke cigarettes. The others stand together laughing and talking about work. You manage to smoke five in a row before returning to the office thirty seconds late. The manager taps his watch at you. The others, who are already working, feel superior to you.

The worst job in the world requires you to accept the verbal abuse of customers who are richer than you; they have prettier wives and mistresses than you. They own houses in Chelsea and Mayfair and holiday in Caribbean islands you have never heard of and will never know. They will retire decades before you retire. Some of their children will retire before you. The verbal abuse you receive from these privileged people is common and dull. When the abuse is finished you reply respectfully, pretending to care about them and their problems. You have been awake for six hours, after four hours of sleep and it is not yet lunchtime. 

The hour between now and lunch is the longest of the day. You begin to fall asleep but the phone rings. The customer offers the same words in the same order and you reply the same way as you did before. The part of you that speaks and types does so while the rest of you withers. 

Lunch ticks over and the clock speeds up. The manager summons you as you are rushing out, cigarette and lighter in hand.

“Have you got a minute?”

“No. What is it?”

“That last call,” he says, “you sounded flat and detached, like you didn’t really mean it? This is what I would of said…”

“Would have said! Have! Not of!

You suppress calling him a fucking idiot with great difficulty. 

His bullshit explanation occupies five minutes of your sixty minute respite. Lunch is unpaid. You spend the next five minutes smoking and trying to figure out how to claim those five minutes back from company time, however you remember that you were late; equilibrium has re-established its choke hold and it is useless fighting elemental forces. Instead you lock yourself in the disabled toilet where there is space to lay on the floor, rest a toilet roll under your head and fall asleep. 

The worst job in the world requires you to work for a further four hours and thirty minutes. The embryonic joy of lunch flushes away. Even the others feel beaten. Managers begin to work on all of you, driving you towards impossible targets and imaginary benefits. Their drive is money and the fear of no money. Your drive is to get them off your back.

In the hours following lunch you begin to question why you are here and arrive at the same conclusion as before, that you are here because you know no different. You are here because you cannot escape here. You were conscripted after leaving school, there was a war, the enemy won and you and everyone else became prisoners. The worst job in the world hides this from you until the moment you discover the truth and then it is too late to change. You must remain their prisoner until the sentence is served in full. 

Between abusive telephone calls, the others discuss news stories they observed as they took lunch at their desks. An airliner crashed in Indonesia killing one hundred and fifty six passengers! A trawler capsized in the English Channel; four missing! A bridge collapsed, a hurricane ripped up a city, a petrol tanker exploded on a motorway, etcetera, etcetera. None of this matters because you are trapped in a horror story that no one will ever read. 

A second and final fifteen minute break arrives, vanishing into smoke. You are back on time yet no one notices. Victories and conformity are ignored; only failures are highlighted. You slouch in your chair, recline as far as possible and observe the second hand of a clock slowly finding its way around the afternoon like a blind beggar’s stick. The worst job in the world interferes with the progress of time, shortening breaks and lengthening the hours that hurt you the most.

Today is Tuesday. There are still three days of this left before the weekend. Three days. Of this. And a fortnight until pay day. And more months and years of this. Forever.  

The end does not come last. At five thirty the worst job in the world spits you back onto the pavement nearly twelve hours after you left your rented room. It busses you to a train station platform where you stand amongst hundreds of others, staring up at a large digital clock with your destiny flashing upon it in orange characters, guessing at the reasons behind the latest delay. Terrorist attack? Not enough railway staff? Too many? None? No one knows. You watch that clock eating into your time, claiming your numbers for itself. One day that clock will murder you. Time is the worst genocidal maniac of them all.  

Eventually the train pulls in, a sad flat-faced commuter loco with five airless carriages, rumbling along the platform. 

It is fifteen yards away when you lower yourself onto the track, stand between the rails and close your eyes. There is a screech of breaks. Screams. For some reason you remember this morning’s dream. You were laying on the edge of a cliff. It was a long drop. You were trying to hold on but could find nothing to grip. You did not want to let go but had to. And fell. 

The clean-up crew have seen it all before. There are four of them. All dressed in orange high-vis. The police erected screens around the front of the train so that no one could see and the platform is closed. The incoming trains have been diverted to other platforms. The announcements keep coming over the public address system but there are no longer any passengers to hear them. 

The clean-up crew boss unrolls a black body bag and unzips it. The others bring a pressure washer on a long hose, buckets of soap, detergent, scrubbing brushes and disinfectant. Then they approach the loco and stand either side, staring at your remains. Your head and torso are on the far side; your legs and feet on the near side and your entrails splattered in front of the driver’s window. 

They gather your legs first. Your left leg is bent backwards. Your right leg is undamaged and in perfect condition. Already the police have found and removed your wallet and phone, so no point searching your pockets for money. They simply bag you up ready for the morgue. 

“Boss,” says one of the crew. “Look. The eyes. Why are the eyes like that?”

He walks over to the far side of the train, where your head fell. The back of your head is crushed into the front and your eyeballs are several feet away. 

“He must have turned around before it hit him,” says the boss. “That’s what happens when a train hits you in the back of the head. Your eyeballs fly out, just like that,” and he makes popping noises with his lips.

“Fuck me,” says the crewman.        

“Pick them up, then.”

The crewman stares at your eyeballs and your crushed eyeless head and back at the boss. “No fucking way am I touching that!”

The other crewmen say absolutely nothing in response to the boss’s questioning gaze. 

“Bunch of melts,” says the boss. 

He walks over. Kneels down. Picks up your eyeballs. Stands. Says, “Want to see my party trick?”

He juggles your eyeballs in one hand, the balls getting higher and higher until he catches one, then the other, bows and says, “Eye eye shipmates!”

They laugh. All of them. As they are supposed to.

The crew boss will drink himself to death within three years.

The crewman who found your eyes will spend the rest of his life on powerful anti-depressant drugs. 

The other crewmen, who bagged your legs, will become clean-up crew bosses. One will die of a heart attack in his fifties. The other will die by accidental overdose on his twenty-third birthday. 

The sole surviving member of the clean-up crew will remember your eyes. He will think about your eyes every day until he dies. Your eyes. Spinning in the air, the optic nerve flicking blood and gore into the hair. 

The worst job in the world was seen through your eyes and theirs.

Your revenge.   

It would have made you smile.

Sam is self-taught. He believes that writing is war on death.