my first job
Switchboard Symphony
by Maria Nestorides

Summer, 1981. I’m thirteen and I’m starting my first summer job, standing in for Crystal, the phone operator at a local company, so she can go away on holiday. On my desk, sits a huge state-of-the-art digital telephone switchboard. Its flashing lights wink at me menacingly as if to say: fat chance you’ll learn how to use me.

On day one, Crystal comes in for an hour to show me the ropes. She says that each night, before I leave, I have to program the switchboard to divert all calls to the General Manager (a ruddy-faced Frenchman who chain smokes unfiltered Gitanes and leaves a faint whiff of sulphites and tannins in his wake). She demonstrates how I should do this, her fingers flying over the buttons as if they have the precise order ingrained into them. With that, she wishes me good luck and wiggles her fingers in a happy, farewell wave.

I sit behind the switchboard, order a Nescafé and set to work answering calls. The day goes by smoothly and I’m ready to go home at five.

Time to divert the calls.

How did Crystal do it this morning? I tap a few buttons.


I tap a lot more buttons and suddenly the whole switchboard comes alive. Lights flash on and off and a sharp, siren-like screech emanates from it, screaming bloody murder. The blood rushes to my head and pounds hard in my ears. I find the scribbled notes I jotted down for the correct sequence and stab at the buttons, hopefully in the right order. The possessed switchboard shuts down.

By the end of the month, I too am a pro at answering the phone and diverting calls, my fingers flying over the buttons as if they have the precise order ingrained into them.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: The telephone switchboard I used that summer was very similar to the one pictured here.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maria Nestorides was born in London, England, in the swinging sixties, but her whole family relocated to the Arabian Gulf when she was just seven years old. She now lives in Cyprus with her two teenage children and her husband. Several of her short stories have appeared on Inkitt  and on The Story Shack, and she has also contributed a six-word memoir to the book Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak: by Writers Famous and Obscure, by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser (Jan 6, 2009). Visit her facebook page: Maria Nestorides.