I liked my studies in ecology and was writing a thesis about a frog species, but at the time I felt that university hindered my growth so I dropped out. I was thirty years old. My long lasting partner had just left me. This was when a strange sort of jubilant feeling started visiting me at occasions, deep down in my stomach. I had felt dejected for as long as I could remember so this was something new to me. I got a job at a snack bar before leaving my studies and leased a room in the Carlsberg district.
The new job turned out to be atrocious. I ran around like a haunted chicken while waiting on angry customers until I got fired for some wrongdoing with a canister of water. I think they looked for an excuse to fire me.
My first impulse was to call the university, but they refused to take me back at the time. I had never been able to save money so I would soon be broke. I got down to my favourite bar and ordered a beer while trying to think about something to do. I did not have time to make formal job applications before my money would run out. And I did not know anybody who would employ me. So I decided to do the only reasonable thing a woman could do in this situation. I took to the streets.
I walked about two hours from my part of Copenhagen to Bispebjerg. It was autumn and dark. Bispebjerg was terrifying. This was where the authorities put immigrants and people on welfare in the vain hope that they would leave the city and look for something better. I knew this was my opportunity to get dough; the emergency social services were located here.
There was a huge queue in front of me, mostly immigrants who did not have a choice but to be here and also lots of men, young and old, with or without beards. None of them seemed to fit into the modern employer’s wish list. As I came eye to eye with the unemployment agent I could not help looking fixedly at her robust jawbone. I felt sorry for her.
“I have been sacked and do not have union qualifications. My name is Lise...”
“ID please,” she rudely interrupted me.
“Yes.” I opened my red purse and dug into it until I found my passport. She eyed it for a long time and looked at me again. “Do you have proof that you were fired?”
“Yes.” I found some gritty papers that I gave to her.
She looked at them but did not give them back. Instead she handed me a small card with a number and told me to sit down by the tables and wait for the interview.
“What interview?” I asked. She did not answer me and I stopped feeling sorry for her as I went to the tables.
I sat down and had a plastic cup of tea. Two academic looking men in their thirties sat next to me; they were eating sausages. I glanced at them; they were laughing constantly. There was a strange smell about them. At one point one of the men dropped his sausage on the floor and took it up and then continued eating. I drank six cups of tea before I was called up to room number twelve and went upstairs to a small office curtained by papier-mâché. The new staff person was considerably better looking than the previous one.
How old was this person? Forty seven?
“Hi,” I began. Suddenly I remembered. “I will show you my identification card.”
“No, no, you have already showed everything to Alberta. We are just here to talk. My name is Kris.” Kris smiled and we shook hands. I relaxed, sat down in the opposite chair and waited for him to continue talking. “Tell me why you are here.” I talked and talked. After half an hour Kris asked if I wanted tea. I was afraid that he would find me dull, but I only heard encouraging sounds. “So, you studied drama and ecology?”
“Yes. I was thinking that maybe I could request some sort of degree and do something. Is there anything I would be qualified to do?”
“Well.” Kris looked unconvinced. “The thing is… It is an unusual combination.“ He seemed unhappy.
I took another sip of tea. “I know. You know, I do not want a regular job. I have an allotment where I grow fresh vegetables. I would like to have my own eco-café.” I got excited. “It would not be expensive. I could grow vegetables instead of buying stuff.”
“But what would you do in winter?”
“Oh. Is there any grants?”
Kris smiled gloomily. His eyes were clear blue. “Lise, everyone wants the start-up allowances.”
“Oh.” My hopes sank.
Kris leaned over. “You would need more money than that. Can someone give you money?”
He grinned. “My organization gives loans to a few unemployed people with good prospects to succeed.”
“I would succeed. I promise.” The feeling in my stomach increased.
Kris smiled sadly. “Everybody says that. I meant that you have to apply. I have hundreds of applicants.”
I suddenly hated him. “Well, forget it.” I stared at the cup and felt miserable when I suddenly imagined how it would be to own that café. I wanted it badly. I looked him in the eyes. “Let us meet at a pub somewhere. You will not regret it. Promise.”
Kris looked back at me in a surprised manner. His translucent eyes were round and his face red-looking. “I do not drink. Sorry.”
I smiled in a bitter sweet way and prepared to leave. “Can I leave?”
“Do you want one more cup?”
“No thanks. By the way, where is the toilet?
“I will show you, Lise.”
Lise Larsen lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. She is opportunistic and loves writing and growing spuds.