Azu stood outside the shop trying in vain to stop her hands from shaking. The August heat blared down from the sky, sending beads of sweat rolling down her forehead. She knew that the longer she waited outside the door, the worse it was going to be, yet her feet seemed just about glued to the sidewalk.
It was going to be her first day as the manager of Kraken Books and Cafe. It paid well and the commute wasn’t half bad, it seemed from the outside like a great opportunity. There was only one problem, Azu was pursuing med school, not business, and management of any store much less a bookstore was as foreign a concept as any. She wrung her hands together contemplating turning around and pretending it was all a mistake. Surely it was, she had no experience with business at all outside of one entrepreneurship camp back in high school. Then again, the interviewer had looked so incredibly desperate as he skimmed her resume.
As unprepared as she felt, this was her job now. She’d figure it out, she had to. Her bills weren’t going to pay themselves, and if she wanted to resume pre-med classes, she’d have to work up even more in savings. Experienced or not, Azu needed this job. She took a deep breath, steadied her hands, and pushed the shop’s door open.
She was greeted by a blast of cold air and the gentle ringing of bells signalling her entrance. Standing on the dark carpet she was able to take in her surroundings. The shop was as lackluster as the last time she had been there for the interview. The books lining the many monotone shelves provided the only color in the place. There were no displays, no signs, and no decorations. The shop was silent, save for the clinking of glass that came from a downwards ramp labeled Zolf’s Cafe in arial font so small Azu had to squint to read it. She made a mental note to check that out later, for now she had to find the employees.
She circled the main room, finding herself the only one. Swallowing the panic that she found rising in her chest she clutched the key that hung on her lanyard. Surely it was only empty because the shop had not yet opened, surely the employees were in the stock room, or maybe the office (although Azu could’ve sworn that only she was supposed to be in there). She took another deep breath and checked the stockroom, only to find it as empty as the first room had been. The office didn’t provide anything different. Azu swore quietly under her breath. Maybe she hadn’t been qualified for this position, but she was certain that she wasn’t supposed to be the only person in the shop.
“Hello?” Azu called to the empty bookstore. She was starting to suspect this was some sort of cruel trick, what other explanation could there be for how strange the circumstances that gave her the job were.
“Hello?” a voice called back from the bottom of the ramp. Hope bubbled in Azu’s chest. It was the only place she hadn’t yet checked, the others had to have been waiting down there.
The hope fizzled away as soon as she reached the cafe. Azu did not find the entire missing staff, instead she found a single man sitting behind the counter in a wheelchair, staring at her.
“So you’re the new one?” he asked, picking up a dripping mug to dry. He had a formidable white beard, yet aside from the occasional crease around his eyes, he didn’t seem all that old. “You’re very dressed up for the job.”
“Uh, thanks,” Azu looked down at the pink blazer she had picked out, she had been certain that as a manager it was the appropriate amount of ‘dressed up’, yet the man across from her sat with a plain blue t-shirt under his apron.
“Did you want something?” he asked.
“Yeah, I was wondering where everyone is?”
He raised an eyebrow, “You’ve gotta be kidding me?”
“What?” the panic in Azu’s chest began to bubble over again.
“They really didn’t tell you?”he ran a hand through his hair, “I hate to break it to you, but it’s just you and me over here.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“It’s just us. There are no other employees.”
“So… who does the register then?”
“And the shelving?”
Azu rubbed her temples, this was not how she expected the day to go, and the shop wouldn’t even open for another hour. “Let me guess, I do the orders, and the customer service, and the displays too?”
“Yeah, although we haven’t had displays in forever,” he set the mug down and picked up another.
“Really? The last manager didn’t do them?”
He scoffed, “Bertie? That man did nothing, I practically had to run the store for him!”
“That sounds awful. I am sorry you had to deal with that, but why didn’t they hire more people?”
He laughed humorlessly, “Beats me.”
They stood in awkward silence for a minute before Azu finally remembered, “I don’t think I got your name?”
“You didn’t read the sign?” he raised an eyebrow.
“Oh- yeah I did, I just assumed…” Azu sputtered, feeling her cheeks grow warm with embarrassment.
“No worries, I’m usually wearing a name tag anyways” he added upon seeing her discomfort, “I’m Zolf and this-” he gestured to the counter and various machines behind it, “-is the cafe.”
“Well, it is very nice to meet you Zolf.”
“You didn’t say your name.”
“Azubuike, but Azu is fine.”
Zolf nodded. “Well Azu it’s been nice talking but figures, you best get to work. We’re opening late for you today so I imagine there’ll be more people than usual when we do open.”
“Oh yeah, about that… do you mind showing me how this place works?”
He sighed, “Look Azu, you seem real nice, but I want to be really clear with you, I am not here to do your job for you. I am here to run this cafe and as long as you do your part we won’t have a problem. However, knowing the owners of this place and their hiring habits, I don’t hold out much hope.”
“Excuse me?” Azu narrowed her eyes.
“I’ve run this cafe for the amount of time it took three managers not to do their jobs, it’s not easy for me to do all that work on top of this cafe especially when I already have one less leg than they do-”
Azu’s face softened, “I am sorry, really, I want to be able to do my job but I cannot do that if you won’t help me.”
“Tough luck, you’ll figure it out. I certainly had to,” he sighed, “I’m sorry, that was harsh. If you need a break come by and I’d be happy to chat, I just can’t do your job for you, that’s all." He opened his mouth as if to say something more, but simply ended up shaking his head gently. "Good luck Azu," he said before piling the mugs onto his lap and carefully wheeling himself into the cafe back room.
Azu shook put her head in her hands. According to her watch, the shop would be opening in ten minutes. She pulled out her phone, opened up her browser and began typing:
How to run a bookstore?