Not the turn Tina will be expecting gainful employment will be taking her:

 

Once the fire died down, Tina glanced over to Devon, an uncertain grin on her face. The throw has been kind of a muffin, a floater, but had kind of worked anyway. He didn’t have another ball in his hand though, and instead was glancing around apprehensively as though something was wrong, something else. From all around she started to hear something, the sound of distant shouting. It was getting louder.

“What’s that?” she wanted to know. “Is there another game going on somewhere?”

She hadn’t seen another arena when they’d arrived, but with building’s set so close to one another and several stories high it was possible that this place was some kind of sports complex or whatever they called it in this place and this time.

“I think we need to cut this practice session short,” Devon said, glancing up at her and then towards the nearest archway off the arena floor. He then started heading towards it, waving urgently for her to follow.

“Why?” she asked. The sounds grew louder, was as much a wave as a noise. “What’s happening?”

He turned around, hustled up as fast as a his short legs could move him and grabbed her still sort of oven mittened hand.

“Because there’s a riot going on out there. And the arena is kind of a gathering point for the two sides to duke it out. It’s a thing that happens here, from time to time. Pretty soon that riot out there is going to be a riot in here.”

“A riot?!”

“Yes,” he told her. “Don’t you remember what you’ve read? Constantinople was-is rather famous for its riots.”

He pulled her along haltingly. She wasn’t exactly mobile in this armored outfit meant to protect her from flying balls of fire.

“What are they rioting about?” she asked trying to recall.

Horse races? Food shortages?

“Who knows?” he asked. “Who cares? Let’s go! There are usually hundreds involved and it gets very violent.”

That wasn’t good. And worse, even before they got to the edge of the arena floor, people, mostly men, had started streaming in through the other arches and onto the stands above them.

Tina wanted to move fast, but her clunky armor wasn’t helping at all. They barely got to the athlete’s entrance archway before the crowd and a big one started surging down the walls to meet the ones who were already down with them.

“Shed it!” he told her. “We’re not going to make it if you don’t get a move on. We’ll get something better. It’s not the best fit anyways.”

That was a fact Tina could agree with him on.

She managed to get a couple things off. The mittens were easy, the skirt a bit harder, but it was enough to free up her legs for effective running. By that time they were engulfed in the shouting and jostling men and women who were now screaming and fighting with one another all around. She couldn’t even tell what side any of the people were on, there really wasn’t any apparent uniform or color or anything to tell who was fighting who and why. It just seemed like a mass brawl.

In moments She was just lost in the crowd of screaming and shouting and punching and kicking people.

“Devon!” she shouted, but couldn’t see him anywhere, and tried to back away from the largest clusters of fighting people and find a way out of this.

She was hit and almost lost her balance. Someone grabbed her hand, helped pull her back to her feet, then up straight. Tina tried to pull her hand away, but the looming figure who had grabbed it in the first place held on hard.

It was a woman in robes, face and hair wrapped up so she could barely make out what the woman looked like. She was at least tall, taller than her even. The woman offered a ghost of a smile

“Come with me,” the woman insisted. “Or would you rather they rip you to pieces?”

 

First, the present day:

 

The middle-aged woman across the desk gave her that look; slightly narrowed gaze, slight downturn of the mouth.

There’s a certain way people look at you when you’re unemployed and they know it. Or at least that’s how it had always seemed to Tina. That slight air of disappointment, disapproval, superiority even if she had make sure to dress to the nines to impress in her best and most professional looking navy pantsuit which were the best for toning down how out there and rebellious her red hair and freckles tended to be perceived by people in authority.

Yeah, that look, as though they’re better than you for being employees, or there’s something wrong with you. Or that you’ve come to take from those who are actually working. And this woman worked for Employment Insurance so make that all double.

So, she hated the experience, and always tried to get through it as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Because, Employment Insurance was like any other kind of insurance, or at least was supposed to be. There were always ways that the powers that be tried to squirm out of paying up for any reason possible, especially with the ‘let them eat cake’ kind of government that had gained power last election. Maybe you didn’t go to the Thursday seminar on how to write a resume, or how to search online for work. It was all so patronizing. She had picked up a few online jobs through the freelancer sites. It just wasn’t enough to pay the bills in an expensive to live in city like Toronto.

“Forms,” the woman told her after Tina offered her full name. She said it in a tone that suggested Tina hadn’t filed them all out.

Not this time, thank God. This time she had all her ducks in a row.

“Here you are,” she told the inquisitor. Although you’d think in this day and age it would be more efficient to use the internet for everything. Apparently the premiere had wanted to turn back the clock. But again, that sort of thing was going on all over, just turn and look south, or across the Atlantic.

Still, she had it all, forms printed, paperwork from her former employer in hardcopy (although she’d had to go back to the office three times to collect it), proof that she hadn’t left of her own volition (she’d had to fight with Stan, the guy at HR who told her it was cutbacks, then tried to weasel in a poor job performance note in retaliation), proof that she’d been looking for work (yes, eight sterling interviews and eight sterling rejections so far). It had been a rough week, but her share of the rent was due next Friday. And she did everything that was asked of her, all the little things, including signing up for the ‘mandatory’ classes on getting re-employed (as if that was going to help her in this recession). Honestly it made her sick to think she’d be late. Just last month the landlord had even called in the cops to evict one of their neighbors.

The woman collected the papers, checked them over like she had all the time in the world. And then she looked up and offered Tina something she hadn’t dared hope for. An smile!

A smile that lasted for about nine one hundredths of a second.

“You’ll get your next payment on the first,” the woman seeming to have lost all interest in her case. “Your next appointment is on the third. Have a nice day.”

She sure would, Tina thought gloomily. She knew she’d be checking her phone and her account all day on the first the moment the money was deposited, and praying every hour it got closer to the end of the day. The rent had to be delivered by five on the dot.

On a whim, she checked out the free if archaic computer stations where you could search for work through the EI system. She could have done this at home or on her phone, but what the hell. It would get her mind off things for the moment, like getting through the next five days with next to no money and little left on her credit card. And who knows, she might actually find something this time, as opposed to having to go home and sit in her room in the apartment she shared with University, her cousin Claire,  and bid on a job online amongst the crush of hundreds of third worlders promising to work for free or nearly so, while her fluffy tuxedo Trouble did his level best to distract her by demanding noogies, attacking her sneakers or otherwise being a cat. The other day he’d had caught a bird and brought it home, played with it for a good hour, leaving feathers strewn all over the kitchen. Her roommate had been mortified.

At least she knew if push came to shove, Trouble could take care of himself, even in the age of the Toronto Animal Services Gestapo. Too bad she hadn’t figured out a way to rent him out for cash. He was adorable after all, who wouldn’t pay for his services?

With whatever money she still had in her account and on her card and would be coming weekly, Tina was still going to have to scrimp until she found a new job, whatever that was going to be. So much for a university education, degree and all. You just had to have one of  She didn’t have any idea what she was going to do, other than maybe land another temp gig, hopefully one that would get extended by some miracle. And considering what she’d done in the past to get by, it could be just about anything that involved office work. Hopefully she’d find something that would involve travel.

Hah! Like that would ever.

Just before she left the employment office, she stopped by the old style job board that for some reason people still put up little cards with writing scrawled on them. Like why?

It was an oddity in an age where smartphones,  social networks, sexting, and swiping ruled. Where what you had in your pocket could to everything her parents desktop had been able to and tons more and where themonsterthateatsawayyourselfesteem.com that was a source of constant job application humiliation. But there it was, a dumb wall covered in people’s bad penmanship, like you used to find at supermarkets, some block printed some scrawled in lousy cursive to the point you had to guess what jobs people were trying to offer. Did no one teach penmanship anymore? Tina mused. No of course they didn’t. This was the 21st century.

Yep, unemployment did send you to the dark ages, didn’t it?

That reminded her to check that out, the supermarket. After all, she’d gotten her last job just that way. And all those pet sitting jobs, too, the first year out of University.

Go to Chapter 02