A Lesson Well Learnt
Ivan hesitated at the door marked ‘Maintenance Department Manager – Phil Adamson’, gathering courage to face the scolding and possible ridicule he’d surely receive.
Well here goes. Knock, knock.
‘Come in.’ Mr. Adamson looked up and gave a start. ‘Hello Ivan!’ There was an awkward pause. ‘Where in the hell have you been these last six weeks? You didn’t even send us any word, for God’s sake. How about updating me man – you owe me that,’ Mr. Adamson indicated the chair with an angry flip of his hand. ‘You couldn’t wait to go on holidays, last time I saw you, and you had a pretty damaged face then, as I remember. Now, what happened next?’
Mr. Adamson knew all about Ivan’s difficulties at home. His mother’s partner was a bully, and when Ivan had asked why she didn’t leave him she’d always answer: ‘We couldn’t get by without his money coming in.’ One night Ivan stood protectively in front of her and shouted: ‘Leave her alone you ape.’ With his slim build he was no match for the thick-set man who left him covered in bruises and with a cut face. At work next day he’d had to explain to his workmates and boss.
‘Well, I didn’t tell anyone before, but he threw me out of the house as well – stood over me while I tried to pack a few things, and shoved me out the door. Mum was crying like anything. After that I didn’t know where to go. At first I thought I’d have to sleep in my car or doss down on a seat in the park.’
Mr Adamson screwed up his face in disapproval at the idea. ‘I earned so little here as an apprentice, Mr Adamson, I couldn’t afford to go anywhere. It was raining, and I wasn’t keen on either idea. So I tried my mate. He’s used to his own room, but he let me sleep on his floor for two nights. I came to work that last day from there and then started my holidays.
‘God almighty,’ said Mr Adamson under his breath.
Ivan stared at the desk with non-seeing eyes, remembering the misery of that moment.
‘While I was there a couple of his mates came round. They told me they were about to take off on a work-and-travel trip around Australia and it sounded great – earn some money and see the country at the same time. When they found out I had a car, even though it’s old, they reckoned now they had wheels there was nothing to stop them. They said they’d put in for the petrol. Another mate had told them about jobs on the Sydney wharves being easy to pick up. He’d said the pay was unbelievable, and although you worked hard, you forgot all about that on payday. There were cheap digs that he’d used when he first started. He was in better digs now because of the good money, so I was all fired up. That’s when I decided to chuck in my apprenticeship and go with them. And that’s where I’ve been for so long.’
‘Well, it obviously didn’t work out, so what happened?’
‘At first it did. In Sydney, we all booked into this big room, and when we landed good jobs, we were having a ball. It was only labouring on the wharves, and although it was hard, we were working together. On payday, we couldn’t believe our eyes. None of us had ever seen as much money as they paid us, and it was great to have plenty of money in our pockets for a change. As fast as we were given it we spent it. We didn’t take any notice of how much money it took to live off fast food all the time.
‘I think I know what’s coming.’
‘After five weeks, without any notice, we were put off. They told us the job they’d hired us for had finished. Just like that. None of us had kept any money, see, we thought the jobs were permanent. We didn’t know what to do. Instead of moving on, like that great plan of theirs, suddenly they all wanted to hitchhike back home to Melbourne. Didn’t bother about me – they just left me there. I couldn’t hitchhike home because of my car, and, as it didn’t have much petrol in it, I had to earn some cash somehow in Sydney before I could even take off. I found a temporary job with a crowd cleaning at a school at night near our digs, and I did that for a few nights; then further down the Highway, I dug spuds for a farmer, and helped him pack them. Actually I didn’t mind that job. I answered an ad on a board in a supermarket in Albury and walked some dogs, and then packed shelves in another supermarket in Benalla for a couple of days. The pay was peanuts, but each bit took me a bit further on my way, and that’s how I came home. I kept eating to a minimum because I needed the money for petrol, and I was able to supplement that at one of those supermarkets, where they were giving away sample burgers in a roll. Someone was flogging them for free. At one town, early one morning at a bakery I was able to get some stale rolls. They didn’t taste too bad either. It’s taken me about a week to do all that. Mum took me back in; and when the moron came home she stood up to him for once. She told him it was her house and I was staying. If he didn’t like it he could pack up and go. I was surprised at her. He’s been like a lamb to us both since, but I still can’t stand him. Mr Adamson I’ve come to ask for my old job back. I’ll do anything to get it back, sir.’
Mr Adamson sat still for a few moments, digesting the story. ‘Well that’s quite a lesson you’ve learned, young man! Frankly, I’d love to have you back, but your job is reserved for a Fitter and Turner apprentice only, and you’ve been missing from night school for over six weeks, so I guess they’ve written you off long ago at the Apprenticeship Commission.’
Ivan sat there silently, so downcast Mr Adamson felt extremely sorry for him. As he looked at Ivan he thought: what a rotten start he’s had in life. It’s been one long battle to survive; but if he doesn’t get himself a job, goodness knows what’ll happen to him.
‘Leave it with me for a while,’ he said. ‘I’ll ring the Apprenticeship Commission, and see what I can do.’
Ivan’s face brightened with a smile. ‘Thanks Mr Adamson.’
‘Don’t get your hopes up, the Commission has rules, and I don’t expect they can do much about it, but I’ll try my best. Come back at about four o’clock and see how it went.’ Ivan walked out with his head down, and moved over to say hello to some of his old workmates, telling them the story he’d told his boss.
‘Well, if anyone can get them to take you back, Mr Adamson can with his “gift of the gab”,’ said one sympathetically.
‘Don’t know. He doesn’t think so.’ They all tried to jolly him out of his depression, although no-one was confident for him.
With a heavy heart Mr Adamson rang the Commission. He told the representative the whole sorry tale with much feeling, including the bit about having to live frugally with food in favour of petrol and finished with: ‘I wish all my apprentices could be given such a lesson to make them realise how valuable their apprenticeships are. This lad has learnt his lesson the hard way.’
Ivan tentatively opened Mr Adamson’s door right on four o’clock.
‘I’ve got good news and bad news for you lad,’ Mr Adamson told him. ‘The good news is you have your old job back, and the Commission will take you back too, thanks to a sympathetic representative. The bad news is … you have to attend school tonight or the deal’s off,’ he said grinning broadly.
Ivan felt so elated he could only stammer his thanks and wiped a small tear of relief quickly from his eye. He pumped Mr Adamson’s hand as he assured him he would certainly be there at school that night.
Afterwards, Mr Adamson sat at his desk feeling relieved at the outcome and looked up at the quotation framed on his wall: ‘All work is seed sown. It grows and spreads, and sows itself anew. – Thomas Carlyle.’
Bio: Shirley comes from Rosebud, Victoria. This story tells how a bit of understanding can make a tremendous difference to someone’s future life.