6 min read

A Mercedes and A Saleswoman

The man looked at his Mercedes worth well over $200,000, and then back at me.

My feet were sore from standing too long. 10 hours was enough to shatter anyone’s sole, and yet Andy was still light on his feet as if he just stood up from a recliner chair.

It was nearing the end of my Australian student visa, and my job hunt was limited to an interview every fortnight. The last one was with a hipster creative director who couldn’t have been much older than I was; although his man bun and plaid shirt could have just been a ploy to relate to his underlings. Before the interview I had slipped my crisp resumé in a plastic folder, but he never asked for it. Instead, we had great banter until I slid my visa status in between the jokes.

“I’ll need a sponsorship,” I told him softly.

He shifted in his seat. “Here’s the thing,” he started.

I walked out of the office still clutching my folder.

Not long after, I had landed a full-time job as a car detail salesman at gas stations; a far cry from the corporate office desk job I had been aiming for, but enough to fill the time until my visa expired. I had learned the spiel about how the wax was finger-proof, fog-proof, and dirt-proof; a monologue I had retained after a week’s worth of training. While people filled up their tanks, I had to clean the grime off their tyre rims and wipe their car panels and windows to demonstrate the phenomenal product of this waterless car wash. If they’re convinced, I’d bring them back to the booth outside the station convenience store and sell them as much as their wallets would allow. 

Early in the morning, Andy and I had set up our booth in front of the 7/11 of a gas station in the outer suburbs of Victoria. By the end of the day, my commission was at $135, and Andy’s in the high $200. Every hour I would count the cash in the front pocket of my neon safety vest. It was a cash-in-hand job which paid more than I could ever ask for. Andy looked at his watch. One more hour, he said.

Andy and I had built a rapport during our week together. The week before I was paired with an older Afghan-Australian ex-refugee and an 18 year-old German nomad, and I had the time of my life. Somehow the older Australians who do this for a living had become glorified babysitters for the backpackers and international students making use of Australia’s lenient work system.

While standing around the booth, I saw a black Mercedes-Benz pull over to the gas station. Andy nodded at me.

“Your go.”

I looked at the large man waddling out of the Mercedes drivers seat. “No, you can do that one.”

Andy took a bottle and patted his dirty microfiber cloth in his back pocket. “Nope, I’m going for another one.” He gave me a wink of confidence before sauntering over to a beat-up silver commodore.  

I approached the Mercedes, rehearsing the sales pitch I had repeated countless times over the course of the past few weeks. I had learned that fancy car owners will never let a random salesperson put anything on their auto, so I had to work with words. But the closer I got, the more I noticed how the curves of his Mercedes resembled my car back home. The sleek headlights reminded me of the S400 my dad just bought back in Jakarta.

“Hi!” I greeted the man.

He barely looked up from the number count on the small screen of the fuel dispenser. “Oh. Hello.”

I usually started with an introduction to the bottle I was holding, but for some reason I blurted, “my dad has the exact same car.”

The man looked at his Mercedes worth well over $200,000, and then back at me; sweaty from a hard day’s work and grimy from cleaning all the cars and motorbikes.

Your dad has this car?” He scoffed. He returned his gaze to the price on the dispenser.

“Yeah. This is the 2015 model, right?”

He nodded and put the pump back in its place.

I carried on. “I’m here to talk about this great new product. It’s a waterless carwash, all you need is a cloth—“ I took out my microfibre cloth from my pocket—“and this bottle.”

He started walking towards the 7/11. I followed him.  “Do I look like I do my own car?” He said half-jokingly.

I paused. “I mean, this is a great product for the people who do do your car. It’ll make their lives much easier.”

“Then what am I paying them for?”

I felt sweat drip down my neck. “You don’t have to use this on your car. You can clean the kitchen and your bathroom—“

“Now you think I clean my own kitchen?” He laughed.

I forced a chuckle and lifted the bottle to his face. “Well, now you can start!”

For the first time, he flashed a genuine smile. “No thanks, sweetie.”

As he walked into the 7/11 to pay for his gas, I rested the unsprayed bottle on the makeshift booth table. Andy flung his grease-stained cloth over his shoulder and patted my back.

“You know Jasmine, sometimes I think you’re scared of talking to rich people.”