I am sitting at my desk in our new open plan office, it has been decreed that open plan will break us out of our silos. Funnily enough, all the bosses seem to have ended up with desks right by the windows, with good views. So much for the "democratization of the open plan office" we were promised.
I hold the phone away from my ear as the person at the other end prattles on about "pushbacks" and "dependencies", I wonder where they pick these phrases from. Why is it unacceptabel to speak simple plain English in a business context? As I put the phone down, gently rubbing my ear, my mobile phone buzzes in my pocket. I've had it on permanent vibrate mode ever since the embarassing mobile phone going off during eminent professor's lecture incident in my early years in London. But that's another story.
I glance at the screen and see that it is one of my favourite aunts from Nigeria. She has been unwell and I had sent her some CDs of religious choral music (that old favourite of the aspirational Nigerians of my parents' generation,Handel's Messiah and some psalms) that she had requested, together with the inevitable "little" something. As it's nearly lunch time, I slip discreetly into an empty meeting room to take the call. As I look out onto the bustle of central London, the cars locked in a seemingly purposeless circling, our conversation begins
"Auntie, Good afternoon, how are you?"
" I thank God my son, thank you so much for the things you sent- and you even put in some money"
"Ah, auntie, it's nothing, what's this about you not being well, what's the matter?
"Hmm, Naijaman, it was not easy, for months I felt like there was a sharp pobject bearing down between my shoulder blades.I couldn't sleep, I could hardly turn my neck..."
"Ah, that sounds serious, did you see a doctor at the teaching hospital?"
"Yes I did, I saw several..."
"And what did they say?"
"Well, they couldn't find anything wrong, not even after all their tests, and that's when I realized it was a spiritual attack. They were trying to get my brother and because they have been told that I'm a prayer warrior with a ring of fire around him, they decided to get me away first. But they have failed....to the Glory of God"
There are a million possible responses to all of this- I could ask who "they" are, I could ask why her brother needs to be got, and so on, but I stay silent, murmur soothing sounds, marvelling at the incongruity of the worlds I inhabit and slowly, pressing the end button, head for lunch
Lunch is at my favourite Thai restaurant a stonethrow from the office. They do a fabulous 3 course lunch. I nearly always have the same thing, crispy wontons the crisp pastry bursting with the juicy prawn filling, then the Pad Krae Prow (pork in a basil and chilli stir fry sauce) and then the banana fritters served with a small scoop of vanilla icecream- the hot fritters and fozen ice cream meeting in the mouth to create a sensation....
As I eat, I read Petina Gappah's amazing new collection, An Elegy for Easterly, which lays bare the various facets of contemporary Zimbabwe. I do not know Zimbabwe, have never been there, and yet reading these stories, I feel that I know it so well that I could recognize the characters in it if I met them on the street. And the wit, the delicious humour, almost Wildean is stunning. Petina has visited this blog in the past and I'm pleased that she's produced an excellent first offering. Watch out for her, coming soon to a bookshop near you! My favourite quote (not from the book but from an interview) was (I paraphrase) "The publishers came with this blurb, it read, she is the Voice of Zimbabwe and I said, take it off, the Voice of Zimbabwe is a radio station"
In any case it appears her publishers won and there is a blurb saying she is the voice of Zimbabwe