by Margaret Drummond
Helen hesitated, unsure if the card on the doormat was really meant for her. Gingerly she shook icy raindrops from her umbrella onto the mat in the hall. The card was already smeared with London dirt and rain but she could see her name “Miss Helen Rawlings” scrawled underneath the stamp of some gaudy exotic flower she knew she was never destined to see.
“So great. Staying on for longer. Planning bush-trip with new guy I met. Maybe off grid for a while. Keep the home fires burning! Gemma.”
Typical Gemma! Living it up in some idyllic location with a series of fawning admirers whereas she, Helen, had that very afternoon endured yet another unsuccessful interview where her lack of qualifications, experience and leadership potential had been analysed and rejected.
“Gemma, now that’s a girl to look up to,” mum always said. Gemma, the girl from the Derby Comp who had done so well for herself in spite of everything. Exams, uni, a great job in the City, a beautiful flat and enough savings to enable her to take a year out and travel around the Pacific, whereas Helen......
Helen knew. She was a disappointment. Dropping out of school with not a GCSE to her name, a series of dead-end jobs, no real home, no family to speak of except mum....but it was difficult to be nasty about Gemma because Gemma was nice.... really nice. And she’d had such a hard time growing up, in and out of care, losing both her parents like that. Hadn’t Gemma even offered this house-sitting job to Helen? “I’m just grateful to have someone I can really trust looking after the place,” Gemma said at the airport. “Help yourself to whatever you need. Soul sisters and all that.”
Gemma had some nice clothes and some very expensive shoes. Helen felt a little guilty trying them on one evening after a glass of wine. “Obviously I’ll replace that bottle before she comes back,” she vowed. Those shoes were so comfortable. Helen had even worn them to the interview. Gem wouldn’t mind. Hadn’t they always swapped clothes as teenagers? It hadn’t done her any good, of course. In the feedback they had mentioned how well she had done in the interview, but the lack of qualifications, experience and a good reference....they just couldn’t justify employing her with a CV like that- she just didn’t fit the spec.
If only she had knuckled down at school like Gemma! Helen knew about the box of documents in the wardrobe- she’d found it the day she tried on the black suit. So smart, really she should have worn that for the interview. It fitted like a glove. People always commented on how alike the two of them were. “Soul sisters?...You two could even pass for twins,” Mum used to say.
A couple of evenings later and after another bottle of wine from the wine-rack in the kitchen Helen retrieved the document box from the wardrobe. All those certificates and documents even an old passport with stamps showing all the places Gemma had been... What must it be like to really walk in Gemma’s shoes she wondered.
Maybe it was the wine, but the photo wasn’t that good. With a bit of styling, she could even pass for Gemma, certainly in a photocopied or a scanned version. Of course she would have to go the whole hog, apply in Gemma’s name and use her old school certificates.
The new company were thrilled when she presented the glossy file with her CV and accompanying documents at the interview. There had only been one awkward moment when they had asked for bank details, but the new account was easy enough to set up and what with online banking- well she never had to go into the branch.
After six months or so she really began to enjoy life as Gemma and she didn’t even have to think twice about things like signing the correct name. Mum of course still knew her as Helen, but visits to Corporation Terrace grew increasingly infrequent.
“Ever hear from Gemma ?” asked Mum. “Certainly gone walkabout on that Pacific Island of hers. Hope she’s alright.”
Helen/Gemma just smiled. The flat was cosy- Gemma had thoughtfully arranged for all the bills to be paid by standing order- and it was so lovely to be able to buy exactly what she wanted, to go to new places she’d only heard of. And she had a career! They’d even promoted her after only a couple of months. Assistant HR manager with her own office and her name.... well Gemma’s actually, on the door.
“March is our busiest time,” said Greg. “We’re recruiting for that new government scheme. “ Fresh Start.” You can go through the paper work for the shortlisting. The idea is that we appoint people from disadvantaged backgrounds, people who didn’t do too well at school, poor exams you know. But we need to be careful with the candidates. Anyone with gaps in the CVs, possible police cautions, criminal records – put them straight to one side. In this industry you can’t be too careful.”
Helen- or Gemma as she thought of herself now- sifted through the pile. There were a great number from the Midlands and even one from Derby that caught her eye. Of course there were no photos, names or even dates of birth in the short-listing process. “Avoiding bias” they called it.
A couple of candidates stood out- there was one that she warmed to especially. She thought of the person she had once been and decided to give 178 a chance.
“Let’s pull out the ones for interview,” said Greg. “178- is from Derby. You too eh? I remember that from your interview.” He pulled out a photograph of a hollow-eyed woman with smokers’ parchment skin and uneven teeth. Helen/Gemma flushed. The date of birth beneath the photo looked sickeningly familiar.
“Here we are,” said Greg. “It’s a Miss Rawlings, Miss Helen Rawlings.”