|......As he stood waiting, Daniel Carter experienced a loneliness and isolation he had never felt before. How much longer would they take? In an attempt to subdue his worried impatience, he studied his surroundings again. Though the room was huge, there was little to distract him. Except for the door he had entered by, the walls were unbroken; decorated in what he supposed was intended to be a restful shade of pastel blue that failed to calm his nervousness. If only there was a window or picture to focus on, to distract him from this awful waiting - but there was none.|
......It felt like he had been standing there, shuffling from one foot to the other, for two hours or more. In reality, it had probably been no longer than two or three minutes; still a long time to be kept waiting in unfamiliar surroundings. He switched his gaze back on the only item of furniture in the room, the long, heavy wooden desk he was standing a few feet in front of, and the three people seated behind it.
......The old man in the centre, the one who had asked Carter to wait a moment while they examined his curriculum vitae, was the most imposing of the five. His grey beard, wise eyes and authoritative air easily marked him as the head of the group. The other two, though younger, were no less impressive, especially the one woman, who was so strikingly beautiful, it was difficult to avoid staring at her. She and the remaining man, each in their own way, had a presence that elevated them above the commonplace, so much so that Carter, fretfully clasping and unclasping his hands behind his back as he stood in the centre of the room before them, felt pitifully ordinary. Nonetheless, it was to the old man that the others bowed as he made comment on various items in the documents on the desk in front of them.
......Carter strained to catch what they were saying, but they spoke in such subdued tones that he was unable to distinguish any of their conversation. Neither could he determine what judgement they were making of him. Their expressionlessly calm, passive faces betrayed no clue as to what deliberations they were forming.
......At last, after another eternity of waiting, the old man looked up from the desk and spoke, "Well, Mr Carter, we have studied your details. Is there anything else you can add?"
......"In what way?" asked Carter, confusedly. Surely, everything they needed to know was contained in the résumé they had so carefully examined?
......"Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself that you believe makes you more eligible than all the other applicants we have to interview?" the old man expounded, patiently.
......All three were looking intently at him now, and Carter felt at a loss what to say. He had never expected this.
......"Well, as you can see, I've done a lot of good work."
......So have many more, Mr Carter."
......"I'm law-abiding and trustworthy."
......"No more so than any of the other people waiting to be seen."
......"I've never done anything seriously wrong."
......"Nor have so many others."
......"In that case, I can't think of anything else I can add."
......"It would appear so."
......Carter was becoming increasingly confused, they seemed to be putting barriers in his way, to what purpose, he could not fathom. "I don't understand, why am I being questioned in this way? I realise I'm just an average sort of person, but isn't the fact that I'm here at all enough? Don't I have the one qualification that is needed?"
......As if to placate him, the woman now spoke, "You see, Mr Carter - Daniel," she said in a soft, calming voice, "At one time, yes, you would have been automatically accepted, but these days we are having to be a little more stringent in who we admit. It's not like it used to be."
......"You can appreciate," the second, younger man took over, again in a gentle voice, "These are difficult times. I'm sure you are aware of the current climate; many more are finding themselves in your position. We are becoming inundated with applicants and, I'm afraid to say, frankly, we are becoming full. We have almost reached capacity, and, well, we now have to be highly selective."
......"I'm not sure what you're telling me."
......"We have carefully gone over your records," continued the younger man, " And I am sorry to have to say, Mr Carter, that you are not a suitable candidate; there is nothing here that sets you above the rest. To be blunt, we cannot take you in."
......"But ... I don't understand ... what do you mean, you can't take me in? Surely, you have to?"
......"No, Mr Carter," said the old man, "We do not have to. You will have to go back."
......"Yes, Mr Carter, I'm afraid you will have to go back. I'm sorry"
......Suddenly, there was a brilliant blinding light, a sensation of floating, then a rushing, surging, spinning. Then, just as abruptly, a great calm and stillness.
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