The arrival section of the airport was buzzing with people who looked like they knew where to go. There were plenty of “Hiyas” and “How are yous?” shouted across the room. In the middle of families reuniting and backpacking tourists, Elena, still clutching her passport in one hand, stood with her luggage. This was it. She scanned for the international taxi sign and followed the arrows. Huge doors slid open upon Dublin – or the outskirts of it or another city for all she knew. Rain and hair slapped her face. Was that hail? No matter, she thought, her winter coat would withstand all. She mentally thanked her mother for convincing her to wear it even though it was only beginning of November.
No one else was waiting for a taxi cab. The elderly man insisted on putting her heavy baggage in the trunk (boot?).
She gave him the address of the hotel. He started chatting away with her but she couldn’t understand half of what he was saying. The most she said during the conversation was “I’m sorry?” She was too tired to focus on decoding his accent and admiring the city fly by through the window at the same time. The off-white concrete townhouses were mostly two stories high, sometimes a dark blue-grey house popped by; amidst those, red brick apartment buildings that seemed newer sprang. In some neighborhoods, the houses had large front yards, in others - like the one they were currently in - the buildings rose straight at one end of the sidewalk.
From what she had understood from the driver, the hotel was situated in a business and embassy-filled neighborhood, not too far from nightlife and good restaurants. At least she wouldn’t be too disoriented in that regard, she thought.
“We’re here, miss.” She looked on her left side, as they entered the driveway of the hotel.
The hotel seemed very modest - a mostly grey building. The first floor had a burgundy facade that was warmly lit. She stepped out of the car carrying her tiny purse and her relatively light carry-on. The rain had subsidized but it was still chilly.
The kind driver helped her again with her luggage. He shook her hand and insisted on her being careful walking around alone in the city. “Ya ken neva’ be too carrr’fol,” he winked.
She thanked him and handed him a 5 Euro bill as tip. With large round eyes, he thanked and blessed her as the hotel staff came over and helped her with her luggage.
She looked around her and took in a deep breath. Well, this was it.
Ellie head out for a quick bite. The sky was overcast, it was still windy. She had worn her knee high boots, not knowing where she would end up eating and not wanting to look under dressed. But the first few people she saw on the street wore sneakers - men and women alike. She passed a couple of small restaurants that advertised fried foods - including fish & chips - a Chinese restaurant that had a mix of Chinese, Indian and Japanese foods on the menu, and a pizza place before she wondered if she would find anything that did not involve frying.
Too hungry to care more, she walked back to the pizza place. To her surprise, it was only take-out. There were only seats to wait for orders, no table where you could actually eat. It was for the best she realized as she was too tired to be in public. The world didn’t need her in that state.
She made her way back to her hotel, holding her phone in one hand, regularly checking Google Maps, just in case. It did not matter that she had mostly walked in a straight line, she didn’t trust her geographical sense in her current state. She was so tired she could have turned left somewhere while thinking she was still going straight.
Ellie sat on the floor of her junior executive room, not paying heed to the table in the living area. The TV played a rerun of a soap opera she didn’t know. She had bought a bottle of wine from a liquor store - she had quickly learned the term for the Irish SAQ was “off licence,” although she doubted the government had the monopoly here.
Alternating between a bite of pizza and a sip of wine, she quickly filled herself. It was only 8 p.m. but she felt like it was the early hours of the morning. It didn’t help that night had fallen so quickly. The entire city had been covered in complete darkness by 7. It had thrown her off; it was only after checking the geographical position of Dublin and realizing the city was roughly 8 degrees north of Montreal that the darkness had made sense.
“Great, so I’m going to be even more sun deprived here,” she thought.
The next morning, Ellie nervously got ready. She had had three cups of coffee by the time she was done with her makeup. Her first-day outfit had been planned and vetted by everyone, including her parents, weeks before - even though this was technically not her first day of work. Even so, she stared at her reflection in the full-length mirror, twisting and turning to get a better look. Was she appropriately dressed? Everyone had agreed she should go for formal business attire.
She packed her black heels in her bag and left. The hotel room was a ten-minute walk from the office. She had Google-maped it, screenshot it, and written directions in her agenda. It was still fairly dark when she stepped out. She was in the office thirty minutes early- which seemed fairly acceptable to her. Except no one was there. The lights were not even on in some parts. She walked around to get an idea of the vibe.
It was an open space, with a few separate offices in the back and on the side. All the walls were made of glass - there was no way to hide from anyone. On the other end, there was an actual wall and a door on the side which led Ellie to believe there was a room there. She carefully walked over. The kitchen. Fridge, microwave and electric kettle. A rectangular table was stuck to the wall on the left side.
She pulled out a chair and sat. “Might as well make a good first impression,” she thought, “and change into my heels.”
She spied around for a coffee machine of any kind. Next to the microwave, there seemed to be an ancient coffee drip machine. A thick layer of dust covered it.
She frowned. Evidently there was an espresso machine, a Keurig or a Nespresso laying around. But she couldn’t see it. And there was no way it’d be in a drawer. She got closer to the kettle. Next to it was a tall glass cylinder jar with a metal lid that contained tea bags. There was a shorter one with sugar, and another one with dark grains. She gasped loudly. "Instant?!" Suspicious, she picked up the container. Stared at it. Opened the jar. Sniffed it. Shook it. Stared at it again. "Instant." She put it back in its place.
It took her a second.
Instant coffee? This must have been a mistake. She checked again. How would she survive on instant coffee?
Voices in the main room caught her attention. She stumbled out of the kitchen, but regained her composure as the people came into view.
Max and another girl turned at the sound of her heels.
“Oh, you’re the new girl!” The platinum blonde girl shouted and extended her hand, “Hi! I’m Kate.”
Ellie took it confidently - albeit confused. She smiled, “Hello, I am Elena.” Max stifled a chuckle. She glanced at him, then at Kate. Was Monday the Irish version of Friday casual? Or was this like the instant coffee incident?
“Elena, it’s been a while. Here, let me show you around.” Max smiled warmly. His confident, strong demeanor, one that made you feel secure around him, had only gotten stronger since Ellie had last seen the young man.
“Oh Max, don’t go on boring her too much now.” Kate chirped before walking away to her desk.
Slowly more people poured in, and as all introductions were made over and over again, she came to believe Monday was in fact Friday casual.
One of the men she had just been introduced to, Philip - or Phil as he had insisted, asked her if she wanted “a cuppa.”
“Excuse me?” She stared at him.
“A cup of tea,” Max butted in. Ellie nodded in thanks.
“Or coffee,” supplanted Phil.
Ellie perked up, “Coffee, please.”
She’d get to the bottom of this instant coffee business. They walked into the kitchen; hawk-eyed, she watched Phil fumble around. He filled the kettle then turned it on. After lining up mugs, he dropped tea bags from the jar. So far so good.
“So, how do you like Dublin so far?” He spoke very quickly, with a different Irish accent from both Kate and Max. In fact, so far, it seemed to her that everyone had different Irish accents.
In the last two mugs, he dropped two spoonfuls of the instant coffee. Ellie’s heart dropped a bit.
“Oh, I haven’t been able to see much of it yet. Only been around the hotel. But it looks nice.”
Then he added a bit of sugar to all the mugs, and poured the hot water from the kettle. On top finally, a drop of milk in each mug.
“Thank you,” she murmured.
She brought her mug of fuming instant coffee back to her desk. The surroundings might have changed but the job remained the same. (Instant coffee aside.) So she soon fell into her usual work trance.
Kate walked over to her desk and sat on the corner.
“Okay, so let me tell you how it works around - are you actually almost done with that?” She said after peering at Ellie’s computer. The blonde girl shrugged. “We take our lunch breaks at 1pm, in the kitchen. I go for a walk after, you’re more than welcome to come with me. It’s great- having another girl around is awesome!”
Ellie nodded. The Dublin office was overpopulated with men - the only other woman was the Dublin branch boss.
Max walked over as Kate explained who was who and did what.
“Kate are you chatting away again instead of working?”
“I’m working! Giving her the people tour.” She nodded in Ellie’s direction, nudging her, “eh? Eh!” She giggled at her own joke.
Exasperated look aside, Max turned his attention toward Ellie. “Thought you had a room viewing this morning.”
Max had sent her the night before an e-mail with the viewings he had scheduled for her that week, as well as information about SIM cards.
“Oh yeah, the guy messaged me back to tell me the room got rented out already.”
Max signed, “Yeah, the rent situation in Dublin is a bit mad. Sorry about that.”
“It’s not your fault. There are like 6 other places. I’m sure one of them will be nice.” She replied.
As noon rolled around, her phone started gradually buzzing with texts from family and friends in Canada who were just waking up, among which Diego (“Hey beautiful, how are you? How’s the first day?”) and Jason (“Hello Elena, I hope everything is going well - and that Max is taking good care of you”).
She ignored them.
During lunch time, Kate talked to her some more about the work at the branch, the people and her own particular job, “I’m a graphic designer by trade like, but here I do a lot more of research sometimes. It’s grand though, you know?” Elena had nodded. She figured grand meant good. And somehow, by the end of the day, Kate had organized drinks with the office that Thursday for Ellie.
It wasn’t too bad. She just had to find a place to live.