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How To Be A Waitress by Victoria Proctor

This story is to remember Marie Naylor who planted her tree on 9 April 1910

The bar is empty and in the bright daylight, appears shabby. There is obvious dust on surfaces. Exposed wiring can be seen protruding from speakers near a DJ booth. Empty glasses with the remnants of the previous night’s cocktails stand on tables. The central bar is a marble island, hundreds of bottles can be seen on shelving. Seating comes in the form of booths upholstered in cream, rose gold or teal fabric, much of it is stained. There are also stools around the bar counter. An older woman in an apron vacuums the heavily patterned carpet with headphones in.

A young woman stands in the entrance, checking the room.

D: Hello? Is there anyone here?

The young woman’s accent reveals she is not English. She is wearing a pair of dungarees and a tank top plus sneakers.

D: Hello? I’m here for the interview. My name is Dot.

There is no answer from the vacuuming woman. Dot shrugs and takes a seat at one of the bar stools, pulls out her phone and checks it. Then puts it away and waits.

Ten minutes of continuous vacuuming later, a man jogs into the room. He is wearing a cream blazer, an untucked shirt and an untied tie, loose around his neck.

M: (Breathing heavily, wipes sweat from his brow and ties his tie.) You must be Dot?

D: That’s me.

M: Have you been here long?

D: Not really.

M: That’s good. Gave you a good opportunity to get better acquainted with the bar, am I right? Did you have a wander around? What do you think?

D: It’s beautiful.

M: We like to think so. Looks even better at night. (Looks at Dot’s choice of seating.) Shall we move somewhere a little more comfortable, though?

D: Sorry, I didn’t know where to go.

M: That’s alright. You’ll learn soon.

Max guides Dot with a hand on her lower back towards one of the booths.

M: We call these the VIP tables.

D: (Laughs.)

M: Sit down. (Looks over at the cleaning woman.) Wait one second. (Goes over and has a word with the woman, who turns off the vacuum.) Dot? Do you want a coffee?

D: No, thank you.

M: Ok, just one flat white then, and a croissant. Bring me the receipt, ok?

The woman leaves the bar, carrying the vacuum cleaner. Max returns to the booth and shuffles onto the bench next to Dot, even though the seat opposite is free.

M: I have your CV here somewhere. (Rummages through jacket pockets and pulls out a folded sheet of A4.) You came recommended by one of our old waitresses, Katrina? How do you know her?

D: She’s my friend from home. We went to university together.

M: Great girl, so full of life. Wonderful with the customers. We were sad to lose her. What did you study?

D: Photography.

M: Photography…yeah, that rings a bell. And where’s Katrina now?

D: At a gallery in East London.

M: Great news. Is that something you’re hoping for?

D: I don’t know. I’ve only just arrived in London, but with my degree, I want…

M: (Talks over Dot.) …Because we’re looking for waitresses who are prepared to commit for the longer term, you see. Katrina was a lovely girl, don’t get me wrong, but we want someone who can join our little family here at Samba Samba—a joiner.

D: (Nods.) I understand. For the first few months…

M: (Continues to talk over Dot.) You see, it gets busy in the bar, almost every night, and everyone needs to be one hundred percent focused and ready to pull their weight. Otherwise someone else needs to pick up your slack. You understand? I need someone I can rely on.

D: Katrina said…

M: That’s not to say the girls don’t have other interests. A lot of them are artists, models, dancers, actresses. We’re a very creative bunch. And, we go for drinks together, hang out after work. What was it you said you studied?

D: Photography.

M: (Laughs.) I’m a bit of a photographer actually. (Pulls out phone and shows Dot something onscreen. Scrolls down for a few minutes.) Pretty good right?

D: Very good.

M: I’m really into people. The human form; so fascinating.

D: (Nods.) It’s true.

M: (Scans Dot’s CV then leans back, spreading his arms wide over the back of the bench.) So why us? Why Samba Samba? What is it about here? What brings you to London, chica?

D: Well, many artists come here to drink, that’s what Katrina told me. I thought, because of the photography, maybe I can meet some of these people, you know. She said it’s how she found her…position at the gallery. (Pause.) Sorry, I didn’t mean…

M: Really?

D: No. No, that’s not what I meant.

M: She’s right, of course. Our clientele are mostly celebrities. We’ve had Andrew Lloyd Webber, Spiderman—you know the actor, Mick Hucknall, Tracy Emin, Tracy Chapman, The Chapman Brothers, the William’s sisters, David Walliams, David Cameron, Cameron Diaz… And the girls are great with them all. Discrete, they treat them like normal people you know, that’s what they want and that’s what they are: normal people. They’re just the same as you and I. Do you think you could handle that?

D: I think so. I don’t know who any of those people are.

M: At Samba Samba we provide a safe space for celebrities and for everyone. It’s a special place. It has an atmosphere, a creative vibe. I should know, I’ve been here since the beginning. The owner’s a friend of mine. Artists, musicians, actors, even politicians, can come here without fear of the paparazzi and they can have anything they want. (Gives Dot a serious look.) ‘No’ is not in our vocabulary.

D: What do you mean?

M: For example, last week one of our regulars wanted one of our waitresses, Ruby, to join him and his guests for a glass of champagne. Some great guys. I trust them completely.

D: But, she’s at work? She cannot?

M: Yes and no, that’s the beauty of it. She can have a glass with them for ten minutes, if she lets her team know. Then, they can cover her section for her. Do you see what I mean? Then she can keep everyone happy. That’s what it’s all about: keeping as many people happy as possible.

D: So, we can drink alcohol?

M: Not really. And certainly not you in the beginning. You’ll learn when it’s appropriate after a few months. I’ll teach you. It’s about judging the crowd. A little drink can help sometimes, improves the mood, makes you friendlier.

D: Right.

M: Another example, one of our regulars wanted to bring his little dog into the bar, a chihuahua, great dog, lovely dog—that’s fine too.

D: (Looks relieved.) I understand.

M: Another one wanted me to order him a pizza. So, I just did it. That’s what we do here.

D: (Laughing now.) A pizza? No!

M: And strictly no dating the customers, that’s another rule we have here. (He winks.) Managers, sure. Customers, no access. Access denied.

D: (Laughs again.)

M: I’m serious though, it happens. You’d be surprised.

D: Wow. Katrina didn’t speak to me about this.

M: So, tell me, what’s your prior experience like? Have you worked in bars? Restaurants? Clubs?

D: I worked in the university bar back home.

M: (Covers his mouth with one hand.)

D: Then I worked at…

M: (Coughs.) Shall we just say no prior experience then?

D: There aren’t any bars like this where I’m from. It’s a small town.

M: Oh my god, I can tell we’re going to have fun together. But seriously, I think you’ll get along with the other girls fine. They can be a bit bitchy to begin with, you know, a bit uptight. Girls are like that everywhere, all over the world—even where you’re from. It’s important to persevere, they’re all extremely kind people underneath it all, good people, otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen them. They’re my girls.

D: That’s good.

M: So, when are you available?

D: I can start this week.

M: Where are you staying, out of interest?

D: Just at my friend’s house for now. I only arrived in London last week.

M: Where is she? Or is it a he?

D: She lives in Stoke Newington, is that how you pronounce it?

M: Clever girl. Your English is really, very good.

D: It’s Katrina’s house.

M: Of course it is. Katrina. Well, you’ll want to move out of there as soon as possible. Get somewhere a bit closer to the West End. (Pulls out a silver case from his inside pocket.) If you need any help finding a place, give me a call. I know quite a few people. Here’s my card. You’ll need it anyway.

D: (Reads aloud.) Max Finch, Bar Manager. Does this mean I have the job?

M: I don’t just hand me card out to anyone. (Holds out hand as if to shake on it. Dot places her hand in his and he raises it to his lips, then he laughs.) Only kidding! Have you done any modelling, by the way?

D: No! No one has ever asked me before.

M: I have an eye for these kinds of things. I told you, I’m a photographer.

The cleaning woman returns and hands Max his coffee and croissant along with the receipt. He seems annoyed with the interruption. She stands near the table, expectantly.

M: I’ll give you the money later. Wait outside.

Cleaning woman disappears again.

M: Sorry about that. How old are you, by the way?

D: I’m twenty-one at the end of the month.

M: No! Well at least you’re over eighteen. I thought you were at least twenty-six.

D: My friends say I look old for my age.

M: I’ll bet they used to get you to buy the cigarettes back home? You were the one who got the beers? Am I right? Older boyfriends?

D: Not really. I don’t smoke.

M: No? You will. Some of the girls can help you out too.

D: With what? Smoking?

M: Funny girl. With the modelling. A lot of them found more work here at Samba Samba. So many designers come here, fashion designers. Karl Lagerfeld, you know him?

D: Oh, great. Wow.

M: Yup. You’re going to love it. Ok, so I just need to go over a few things with you. Wait right here and I’ll get the documents.

Max leaves and Dot sits in the chair, smiling to herself. She takes a lipgloss out of her handbag and applies some.

M: Here we are. (He is carrying a little black dress made of silk on a hanger in one hand. In the other hand he holds some documents.)

D: What’s that?

M: This, is your uniform, mademoiselle. You’re a size eight right?

D: Yes.

M: Why don’t you try it on? See if it fits. The customer toilets are just in the lobby.

Dot takes the dress and leaves to find the bathroom. Max leans back into the bench and spreads his arms and legs wide. He drinks from his coffee and eats some croissant while he waits. Crumbs flake into his crotch.

Five minutes later, Dot returns and stands near the entrance wearing the dress, which comes down to mid-thigh. She is barefoot.

D: It fits, I think?

M: Well, you need some shoes, that’s for sure. Come over here, let me see. Give us a twirl. And you’ve definitely not done any modelling?

D: No, I told you. (Laughs.)

M: But you’d like to?

D: Sure, why not.

M: You look really great. (Looks her up and down). The dress suits you. I’ll bet you look good in everything though, don’t you? Come and sit down again, next to me. Now, Samba Samba will loan you the dress while you work here and we’ll clean it for you too so you don’t have to pay for a dry cleaner. Isn’t that fantastic? They’re so great here. You’ll have to provide the shoes though. (Pulls out a catalogue and points to a page.) These are the ones we recommend. Buy them this week. In fact, buy them tonight if you want to start as soon as possible. I’m keen to get you started.

D: (Gasps.) They’re two hundred pounds.

M: You’ll make the money back in a single shift, trust me, in tips alone.

D: I can’t afford that.

M: What? You don’t have two hundred pounds?

D: That’s why I need the job.

M: Still, it’s a bit irresponsible. Not smart, if you ask me. You must have come here with some savings.

D: (Shakes head. Doesn’t make eye contact.)

M: Ask your parents to lend you the money? I’m afraid you can’t work here without them. Those shoes, all the girls have had to buy them.

D: I can’t. (Her voice cracks.)

M: For god’s sake, don’t cry. I’ll lend you the money for the shoes. I’ve helped girls out before.

D: (Sniffs.) Really?

M: Sure. It’s nothing for me.

D: Thank you so much.

M: Don’t mention it. (Rubs her back.) Now, the documents I have here are your contract for you to sign and the rota, so we can find a day for you to start. How does that sound?

D: So good. Thank you so much, really. You see, I really do need to start as soon as possible.

M: You’re going to have to begin as a runner, mind. With no experience, you won’t be allowed to work the tables for at least a few months. That’s just the way it is. You’ll carry the drinks for the other girls. Clean the tables. Help the boys polish the glasses. But you’re a fast learner, right? You must have been a good student, I can tell.

D: I was, it’s true.

M: There, you look so much nicer when you smile. What did you get for your degree?

D: A first.

M: See, you’ll be on the tables in no time. Now, if you’ll just sign here. This is the non-disclosure agreement.

D: What?

M: It means you won’t talk to the press about anything that happens here. It’s to protect our guests. Like I told you earlier, they just want to live their lives like normal people, the same as everyone else.

D: Oh, yeah. I can’t believe anyone would do that, stop them, you know.

M: You’d be surprised. (His hand remains on her back while she signs.)

Victoria Proctor is usually a comedic writer with a penchant for the darkly funny, the absurd and the satirical. A recent graduate from the UEA’s Creative Writing MFA, she has reasonable hopes for her first novel, Hugh, a fictional imagining of the demise of Hugh Grant at the hands of a poorly-driven Range Rover. Victoria lives in Norwich and has worked with the Suffragette Stories project over the past months in workshops across Norfolk.