A moment that changed me: ‘Applying to be a spy felt thrilling – until a stranger approached me on a train’

2 months ago 69

In 2010 I was 23, and had conscionable moved to London from Manchester, wherever I had trained arsenic a journalist. I had a imagination occupation – a inferior relation connected a mag – but it turned retired to beryllium rather a miserable place. My manager was unfastened astir regretting having hired maine and my confidence, which had ne'er been high, plummeted. I was single, my friends were scattered each implicit the city, and I was renting a basement country with nary windows that outgo precisely fractional my monthly salary.

It was connected 1 of these lonely days that a nexus popped up: MI5 was moving a recruitment thrust and it sent you to a verbal reasoning trial that was portion of the exertion process to go an quality serviceman – a spy, successful different words.

Espionage had ne'er occurred to maine arsenic a career, and my lone thought arsenic I clicked connected the nexus was that it mightiness beryllium a much absorbing usage of my luncheon interruption than scrolling done Facebook.

I finished the trial wrong the allotted clip and went backmost to work, checking the prices of lipglosses we planned to diagnostic successful the magazine, and gave it nary much thought until aboriginal that afternoon, erstwhile I received an email from MI5 inviting maine to an appraisal centre the adjacent week.

The adjacent fewer months were a blur of exams and interviews successful anonymous London buildings, nary of which – for evident reasons – I was allowed to sermon with anyone. From a region it seemed similar immoderate different postgraduate recruitment process, but of people it wasn’t. MI5 employees person to beryllium wholly unfastened astir each facet of their lives, to support them against being blackmailed. I was asked astir my intersexual preferences and for the names of each the radical I had ever slept with, and had to manus implicit slope statements. At 1 interview, a fastener of my hairsbreadth was chopped disconnected to trial it for drugs.

It was each surreal, but I didn’t mind. In fact, I recovered the progressively intrusive hoops I had to leap done strangely comforting: they gave my days and weeks a signifier and consciousness of intent that had been missing. I had been lost, and it felt arsenic if idiosyncratic had recovered me.

I lived successful westbound London astatine the time, and took the Piccadilly enactment to work. The bid had often travel from Heathrow, afloat of travellers, immoderate of whom could beryllium chatty. So I thought thing of it when, 1 morning, the antheral lasting adjacent to maine struck up a conversation. He was somewhat older, with an accent I couldn’t spot and a pleasant but persistent manner.

Whereabouts did I live, helium asked. What was it like? How agelong had I been surviving there? Was it convenient for my office? Where did I work? I was inactive instinctively wary: adjacent astatine 23 I had lived agelong capable to cognize that interactions with unusual men connected nationalist transport, nary substance however innocent, seldom ended well.

After a mates of stops, helium turned to maine arsenic the bid slowed to a halt. “Well, this is me,” helium said. “It was bully to conscionable you, Emma Hughes.”

It wasn’t until the bid started moving again that I realised I hadn’t told him my surname.

When I got disconnected the train, I stood connected the platform, fizzing with adrenaline. Although it was imaginable helium had glanced into my bag, I had thing easy disposable connected maine that could person told the antheral my afloat name. I remembered a friend’s sibling, who had applied for a occupation with MI6, telling maine they had been approached successful the thoroughfare by a antheral speaking their 2nd language, an antithetic one. They suspected it was portion of the recruitment process, to trial however guarded they were.

Had this antheral followed me? Had helium been told to speech to maine connected the bid to suss maine out? What other did helium cognize astir me?

For the archetypal clip I felt overwhelmingly uneasy: the afloat unit of the nonaccomplishment of bureau that signing up to enactment astatine MI5 deed me. It sounds ridiculous now, but though I had travel circular to the thought of watching radical for a living, swept up successful my flight phantasy I hadn’t fixed overmuch thought to however it would consciousness to beryllium watched myself. Or having each my enactment monitored, on- and offline, and disclosing each promising caller narration to my employers earlier we were adjacent official.

This isn’t what you want, a dependable successful my caput whispered. This isn’t the answer.

I ne'er recovered retired who the antheral was. A mates of weeks later, though, aft a last interview, I received a missive from MI5 telling maine I had failed my developed vetting – the information clearance required earlier a occupation offer. No crushed was given, and I was told I couldn’t appeal. It hurt: I felt arsenic if I had been dumped aft a whirlwind romance. But heavy down, I was relieved.

My beingness moved on: I got different job, reconnected with aged friends, made caller ones. I was capable to bash things I ne'er could person done had I go an quality officer: having flings, dyeing my hairsbreadth large colours and penning a novel. The idiosyncratic I americium present would marque an perfectly unspeakable spy. Whenever I question connected the Piccadilly enactment I consciousness overwhelmingly grateful that I got the accidental to turn up into her.