BellaOnline Literary Review
The King and I by Karen Sorbello

Non Fiction

Looking For Work In Galway

Susan McKinley

It was the paved pedestrian streets of the old city, lined with buskers and the sounds of cheering and singing spilling out of bars that drew me back to Galway. I was backpacking around Europe and it was time to refill the coffers. I remembered the bookshops in Galway fondly and imagined myself working there earning enough to live in one of those colourful townhouses you see on Irish postcards, with red geraniums in the window box.

At Dublin airport the friendly men checking my working holiday visa had joked about the likelihood of my finding work. I was sick the morning I was due to leave Dublin, then I actually managed to miss my flight to Galway being so engrossed in conversation with an American woman that I missed the fact that my plane was boarding. They weren’t encouraging omens.

Because it was summer and the students were elsewhere, I stayed at the university student accommodation not far from the centre of Galway. The single room smelt musty and the shower was cold, but for the same price I could be sharing a six bed dorm in a youth hostel nearby and the desire for privacy won out. A free shuttle bus regularly ferried guests to and from the centre of Galway to see the sights or pick up a bite of dinner, but I walked.

My optimism about finding work in an ambient bookstore or indeed any shop in Galway lasted about 48 hours. Armed with a sheath of resumés I popped into all the gorgeous stores in the old city; Charlie Byrnes Bookstore with its rooms upon rooms of poetry and fiction, self help and travel guides; Easons – clean and neat and well stocked; a little independently owned store with its shelves covered with staff recommendations…and later The Body Shop, the Shop, the café where I ate dinner. The answer was always the same. Sometimes they wouldn’t even take my resumé to place reassuringly in a folder beneath the counter. Consistently the person I approached would look at me with a sorrowful, pitying expression as though someone had just died and no-one had bothered to tell me: “…what with the economic crisis and all, dear, even my full-time staff aren’t getting all the shifts they need…”

But the economic crisis didn’t take away the beauty of Galway. The bay was still blue-green. A misty morning stroll through the cosy streets of Nun’s Island still made me dream of living in one of those little townhouses. A walk along the pier where the fishermen’s boats bobbed in the water and dozens of swans ate stale bread some ‘wee lad’ and his grandmother tossed them, and the houses opposite that dared to be painted pink and blue and yellow in a way the Australian government would never allow… all these things made me glad to have made the journey.

I enlisted the help of a recruitment agency, but even there my prospects looked grim: “I have no hesitation recommending you to our clients,” the agent said, “it’s just that there’s no work coming in…”

I met a traveling academic at breakfast in the student accommodation one morning and told her about my search for work. A few nights later we ran into each other in a Chinese restaurant with a statue of Buddha in the window wearing rosary beads around his neck. Over a pot of green tea we talked about travel and life and death and mortgages and love and money and, as wonderful as she was, I realized with horror that I could become her; wandering around the globe alone, without a significant other, free and yet somehow ungrounded in an unsettling way. I delight in the feminist movement for giving me the freedom to take this adventure independently, but suddenly I craved the security of belonging somewhere, with someone. Endless adventure was not what I was seeking.

The swans and the steeples and the busker lined streets, the soft Irish accent and their famous sparkling eyes, the colourful buildings and bustling bars, all the things that had drawn me to Galway continued to charm me, but as my Euros disappeared so did my desire to stay.

As I boarded a bus heading back to Dublin where the prospect of finding work was less grim, a bright, young lass approached me: “Are you Susan McKinley?” she asked politely. I answered in the affirmative. “Congratulations. You are our 10,000th customer.” She handed me a bag of chocolates and treats which I promptly delved into and shared with the driver and other passengers. As the bus pulled away I was filled with chocolatey goodness and was well satisfied with Go Bus’s high level of customer care. I settled back in my chair, put my iPod in my ears and watched as Galway disappeared behind me.

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