story about hope

Her head spins, her feet ache, and the ‘Idle’ icon counts the seconds since her last call, while the on-screen graphic transitions from green to amber, about to turn red. With a sigh, she rolls her neck and stares at the blue icon that says ‘Free’.

In her last review, concerns were raised about her performance statistics. She can’t delay. Her mouse twitches, and she’s back in.

‘You’re through to Sandra, how can I help?’ she says, answering the call.

Mr Jones is annoyed that he’s waited twenty minutes to get through. After apologising, she completes authentication.

‘What’s going on with my Direct Debit?’

‘Oh, which one is that?’

‘The one for my car insurance.’

‘Let me check…  Oh, it looks like it was unpaid.’

‘Yes, I know that, but why?’ His voice rising.

‘Unfortunately, there were insufficient funds available.’

‘You’re kidding me. I was only paid four days ago.’

‘Yes, you were paid on Friday, but other payments have left your account, leaving insufficient funds—’

‘Well, why didn’t you return some of the other payments instead? Like the gym, or the internet, or council tax? Why did you have to stop my bloody car insurance?’

‘I’m sorry, they just—’

‘How am I supposed to get to work if I can’t drive my car? And if I don’t work then how am I going to pay these bills next month? Answer me that.’

Sandra checks for overdraft and loan recommendations. She hopes that he will have some options, but the system indicates that he is overindebted. There’s nothing she can do. The sky outside is starless, and the colossal floor-to-ceiling windows reflect the open-plan office like a mirror. She sits tethered to the desk by a corded headset.

‘Are you still there?’


‘Get me a manager.’

‘A manager?’

‘Yes. That’s what I said.’


‘I don’t need to give a reason. Just get me a manager.’

Sandra searches for a manager above the sea of weary heads reflecting the greenish glow of monitors. Laura, her manager, is at Andrew’s desk, on another complaint call, probably.

‘Unfortunately, no manager is available at the moment. I can arrange a call back?’

‘No. I want to speak to a manager now.’

Sandra takes a deep breath. Rubs her belly. The harsh strip lights above flood the office with a blinding, white light. She swivels side to side.

‘Please hold the line,’ she says, jabbing the hold button and yanking off the headset. She makes her way to Andrew’s desk, where Laura is standing, her cheeks flushed as she stutters.

Sandra catches Laura’s eye, but only receives a helpless look and a slight head shake in response.

‘It’s going to be a long one,’ Andrew says.

‘Great,’ Sandra mutters.

She sinks into her chair at her desk. The clock reads 18:45. Two hours and fifteen minutes left.

‘Hello, Mr Jones,’ she says. But the line is dead.

She had worked there for five years. Despite countless applications, nothing better had come along. The job at the local health authority is the one that stood out. Walking through the grounds before the interview, she had envisioned a professional setting where she would dress smart and sit behind a proper desk, without this stupid headset and without these stupid customers. However, two weeks later, a letter arrived: Thank you for applying… and then unfortunately jumped off the page. They had decided to go with someone else.

Cooped up in their tiny flat, she and Tony had made a plan: career, mortgage, marriage and then a baby. Tony insisted they would get there, eventually. He wasn’t saying that anymore; spending more time at work, coming home late, tired.

The red bar is blinking again, calls are queuing.

Back in her seat. Two hours and ten minutes left of her shift.

Calls come and go, financial transactions, queries: Mr Reader making a payment of £84,000 to a solicitor; Mrs Smith transferring £10,000 to her son; Mrs Roach cancelling a loan standing order to leave enough to pay the council tax.

Mr Ryan registers for online banking, and Mrs Thorpe had been flagged for security checks. Amidst the chaos, a gravelly voice speaks. ‘My card was declined.’

Sandra empathises, completes security with Ms Linley and checks the customer’s account. The payment was declined due to insufficient funds – only £0.58 available for a £21.99 purchase.

‘Well, I need to make it, I’ve no food.’

Sandra suggests transferring money from another account or asking a friend or relative for help. But the customer has no other options and no one to rely on. Hopelessness swells inside Sandra’s chest as she searches for a different solution, only to find adverse information recorded with credit reference agencies.

Ms Linley raises her voice. ‘I’ve got four kids. Have they got to go hungry, then?’

Sandra feels helpless, frustrated. She pinches the bridge of her nose. Takes a deep breathe and checks the data again.

‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what to suggest.’

‘Well, what use are you then?’

Sandra is beginning to wonder. She feels blood rushing to her head. Her heart beating faster. She wants to ask Ms Linley the same question. But if she does, she could lose her job, and she can’t afford for that to happen. Not now.

‘You’re absolutely useless. You know that?’ Sandra endures the verbal assault, struggles to find the right words. She is powerless to help the customer, or herself.

As the call ends, Sandra offers to escalate a complaint. Fills out the form, promising a call back within two days. Exhausted, she finally logs out at 21:00 as a wave of fresh faces arrive, ready to take on the unending stream of calls into the night. She puts on her coat and makes her way out of the office. She bids farewell to her colleagues as she leaves the building. In the atrium, she spots Andrew.

‘Another day, another dollar,’ Andrew says.

Sandra nods wearily.

‘Lots of challenging customers today?’

‘That’s one way of putting it.’

‘Must be a full moon or something.’

She smiles.

The conversation shifts to Sandra’s upcoming departure, her remaining time at the job. Andrew inquires about the due date, wonders if it’s going to be a boy or a girl.

‘Early January. And it’s a girl.’

‘Ahh, Capricorn. Determined and self-reliant.’

‘I hope so.’ Sandra smiles.

‘Got any names lined up?’

‘No. But I’m working on it.’


At the station, the departure board shows the train is delayed. Feeling lightheaded, Sandra finds a bench to sit on. She caresses her bump, reassures her baby, whispers, ‘Everything’s fine, baby. Everything’s fine.’ She takes deep breaths, and promises: ‘Just a few more weeks, and you won’t have to go back.’

Eventually, the train arrives, one carriage passes after another, each filled with tired bodies and tired faces leaned against the glass. Like Sandra, they will do it all again tomorrow.

And as the doors slide open and bodies spill out.

Hope kicks.




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