I was standing near a corner of a big grocery shop in town, a little lost in thought. I soon discovered I was not unapproachable as I believed. A youth, possibly in his early twenties, cautiously approached me. He, too, was lost but not in thought.

I noticed he had a file with him, thick with CVs (Curriculum Vitae), those black and white copies we often hope to win the interest of the often uninterested with.

He apologised for his intrusion. No worries, I assured him, and gave the directions to the place he was looking for. From here it was close: “Go straight, turn left and there’s your place, my friend.” I made sure to contain my gestures, in fear of exposing that he was lost. Some nice town’s people tend to put on a show when helping with directions, pointing emphatically there and there, like they are giving the whole city directions.

Watching him leave, a young South African armed with his CVs, I imagined reasons for his visit at the clothing store, which was his destination. Somehow I knew he was going there not as a customer, unless the guy decides to buys himself, say a lekker shirt, after asking for a job in the same store. That would be strange, I would boycott.

Above us, the sun was like a part time employee, fading and reappearing behind a haze of clouds. I could not help recreating my friend’s morning, leading to our encounter under this sun in downtown. In my make-belief morning, South Africa, unfortunately, was still as frustrating as it can get; the face of unemployment still mighty and high, along with its regular culminations: hopelessness, poverty, stress, all this mess.

I imagine my friend woke up to a morning that promised sun for him. Not the sunshine sung about in an upbeat summer song. Nah. A day of potential begging was imminent for my friend, because on a desperate scale that’s what job-hunting often results in: begging, and more begging… My friend was probably aware of another desperate resort of job-hunting, common in street corners of rich suburbs: men in boots, expectant faces, and work overalls, all waiting and hoping for a ride to labour in someone’s garden.

But, for my friend, it had not reached that point yet. He planned a walk to downtown, to those retail stores. He would discover the journey to town, on foot, was not half as exhausting as drifting from store to store, dragging his CVs, seeking a job, his dignity and respect.

When he arrives in town, at the heart of it, he would sure be crucified by its mad, restless stir. A minute in town is all it can take to wane all the excitement of visiting it. It’s sad how employment seems to only rest in the folds of this chaos.

I imagined he finally slipped into the clothing store, searched for the manager’s office, didn’t find him or her, and immediately considered the exit. One staff member would arrive to my friend’s rescue, maybe hoping to sell him something. My friend, clutching his CVs, would face the staff, a young lady about his age, and confess he was a job seeker, “Not a customer my sister, sorry.” Then a wave of empathy would linger around him, something he did not need, unless it came attached to a job.

I imagined the store manager eventually intervening. They have a trained ability for spotting job seekers miles away, in this case from across the cashier section full of eyes and curiosity. Immediately after glancing at my friend’s CVs, the manager’s face would become a ‘No Job’ sign, resembling the one outside the gate of a cash-for-metal shop. The whole staff, even some observant customers, must have witnessed this – my friend’s humiliation. When my friend leaves, the eyes he feels around him would make him walk a little wobbly at first. But a man must soldier on. He would walk briskly out, feeling vomited by the clothing store, splattered back onto downtown’s pavement.

My imagination faded here.

It was probably that store my lost friend came from before he approached me, finding me in that corner, “lost in thought”.

I hope, for him, things were less traumatic as I had imagined. Sometimes, CVs, motivational letters (oh! heaven help us if we are expected to write those again) and cover letters evoke the harshest memories. Maybe I had viewed my friend through a lens of my insecurities.

I hope, for him, it was surely a good sunshine; that his country exempted him from this horror, that he has “connections” to thrust him through the crack of unemployment, into the dignity of work. Or that I misread completely the whole situation, that my assumptions were inaccurate; that he already has a job, the CVs were not his. That he was an HR guy late for work, starting his first job, that … he could give me a job.


Tell us: What other struggles do job-hunters face when going to look for work?