A Hire Insight
—Fiction by Janet Olearski

The day before the new faculty interviews, Sophia fell off her horse and took a resounding blow to the head. Her brain reverberated within her skull as if it had been clouted with a frying pan. At the hospital, she was pronounced sound and went about her business as normal, but inside her body an atavistic sense had been awakened from its divine slumber.

I sometimes feel that Clifford is in another world and certainly not knuckling down to the job in hand. We have barely a week in which to sort out the new hires. Ahmed in HR always drags his heels on this, so we can’t afford to waste time at our end. We’ve got our short list. Surely it can’t be too much to ask Clifford to show a bit of leadership and hurry up with the interviews? As for Sophia, what was she doing anyway riding a horse in the desert?

The hospital bit was just attention-seeking on Sophia’s part. I would have thought that anyone falling in sand would have had a soft landing. She always has to be one up on everyone. I’m not impressed with people who injure themselves. Clifford put her on candidate-lunch duty. Clearly that was all she was fit for.

Sophia is meeting the job candidates for lunch. I had to lean on her rather heavily to do that much. Everyone else was either tied up, or simply didn’t want to be bothered. However, one could say that Sophia went the extra mile, or so I soon discovered. As in the days when she first learned and dabbled in Tarot, that old instinct, that sniffing out of feelings and impressions and inner thoughts, started to take her over.
At least that’s my take on it.

Our most promising candidate … that chap Peter. She didn’t like him. Can you believe it? After the lunch, she followed me to my room and she said, ‘Graham! Are you listening to me, Graham? Make sure Clifford doesn’t hire him.’
Eve asked me what the problem was. I said it was nothing. Just Sophia having a bit of a rant. What Sophia had actually said was that this chap Peter was going to cause an awful lot of trouble. Honestly, I’m at a loss.

Sophia gave me one of her looks. Graham said I was being paranoid. No, I wasn’t. Sophia has never liked me. I think she’s just mean and embittered because I have a husband and she doesn’t. Well, who would have her? She’s just plain weird. Her latest thing is that she doesn’t want us to hire Peter. He seems fine to me. Maybe a bit earthy, a bit too up-close and personal? I don’t know. But, what do you need from a teacher? We’re not hiring a president or something. He’d be fine.

I rather liked Peter. I thought him intelligent and cultured. Just the kind of teacher we need for our Institute. We need to up the standard. This is the way to go. As I was saying to Caroline last night at dinner, ‘For goodness sake, we’re not a summer school. We need a touch of gravitas.’

So I said to Sophia, ‘What’s your problem, Sophia?’
And she said, ‘Mark my words, Graham, you’re going to be so sorry if we hire Peter.’
I said to her, ‘And what gives you that idea?’
‘His handshake,’ she said. ‘Maybe you didn’t pick it up, but I did.’
I said, ‘Pick what up, Sophia?’
‘It was speaking to me,’ she said.
‘The handshake?’
‘Yes,’ it said, “I am short-tempered and irritable. You are inferior to me, but I will put up with you for now because of the interview situation.”
‘And what was all that then,’ I said, ‘intuition?’ 
‘Insight,’ she said. ‘It was insight. And I’ll tell you something else,’ she said. ‘That Peter has a roving eye.’
There’s no two ways about it. I’m going to have to talk to Clifford about Sophia. We can’t have a loose cannon like that in the department.

Graham is complaining about Sophia. I tried to explain to him that as one of the longest-serving faculty members, her opinion counts for something. I told Caroline about it. She’s never been a fan of Graham.
‘He’s terribly ordinary,’ she said. ‘He’s probably worried that if you hire Peter, he’ll lose his foothold in the department.’
She could have a point. I told Graham to be patient with Sophia.

It’s pointless speaking to Clifford. He’s like Sophia. As I said before, he’s in another world.
He said, ‘Oh do be patient, Graham. Sophia is not herself at the moment.’
Is she ever herself? The woman’s deranged. Clifford sees Peter as intelligent and cultured and she’s going around saying, ‘We don’t need troublemakers like that working alongside us.’

If you ask me, Sophia was always a bit strange even before the horse-in-the-desert incident.

I don’t ask for Graham’s opinion, but he gives it to me anyway. Caroline told me – and I think she is absolutely right – that the sooner I take this whole matter into my own hands, the better. I need to make haste and take some decisions.

Why do we have to interview so many people anyway, asking the same questions over and over, looking out for the tell-tale body language and listening for slips of the tongue? There’s nothing wrong with Peter. Maybe Sophia fancied him and he didn’t respond to her cues. That’s why she doesn’t want us to hire him.

Bad news. Sophia’s sabotaged another candidate. Ernest. She held his notebook for him as he repacked his briefcase. According to her it spoke to her … again, and it told her he wanted security for his wife and two children, but that his drinking flawed him and sentenced them. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. She told Clifford. I’m guessing we won’t be hiring Ernest.

One more candidate to go. Brenda. I think I’m ready to take a decision about Peter. Ernest is off the list.

Here we go again. Brenda, it seems, ‘had hidden something deep in her heart.’ This is the inside story from Sophia. We’ll have to stop her going to these lunches with the candidates. But it’s like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. I suppose Sophia knows something about bolting horses. It seems that Brenda’s husband lived ninety percent of his time in the capital. He told Brenda he was tired of the commute, but what he hadn’t told her was that he had a mistress in the city. She knew anyway.
            ‘Her calm exterior belied the tormented soul within.’ Sophia’s words, not mine. According to Sophia, Brenda ‘coveted all she saw in the present and all she would take in the future.’
What on earth does that mean?

Sophia has left. That’s it. She’s gone to China. I drove her to the airport. I said to her, ‘So you want to eat, pray and love.’
She looked at me coldly and she said, ‘No, only pray, and you should too.’
I told her, ‘You just couldn’t forgive me for hiring Peter and Brenda.’
She said, ‘You’re the director. It’s your decision.’

Well, that all ended rather badly.

Yes, I know. I should have listened. Who would have thought so much could happen in six months? Peter has moved to Qatar. It was quite sudden. With him he took his new four-wheel drive, and my wife Caroline. Six months on Brenda stole Eve’s husband. We start interviewing for new faculty next week.

What is his problem? All I said was, ‘Clifford, this CV you’ve given me … it looks good but, you know what, I’ve got this funny feeling about it.

Janet Olearski is an Anglo-Polish author, born in London, based in Abu Dhabi, but of no fixed abode ... effectively, an urban nomad. Her short fiction and poems have appeared in various publications including Jotters United, Far Off Places, Bare Fiction, Beautiful Scruffiness, and Pen Pusher. She is the founder of the Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop. Website: http://www.janetolearski.com

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