My cousin Belinda is like the Candy Man; say her name three times and I swear she appears. By the time I got to work at nine on Monday morning, there were already three emails waiting from her:
Hey cuz! Guess what? I’m getting married. Your mum begged and begged me and guess what? I’ve decided to make you my maid of honor! You must be so thrilled! I’ll send your more info later as I’m totes busy at the mo! Stay slim, bitch!
Oh, don’t bug your mum. She only asked because she wants you to meet someone decent at my wedding.
Seriously though, are you fat? Cos you were kinda a chubster when we were kids. Hilar! You and that loser boyfriend, what was his name? I’m sure it’ll come to me.
As I read the last one, another message pinged in my inbox:
Greg! Gobbling Greg! Haha!
“Argh!” I pounded the space on both ends of my keyboard. I glanced at my watch and dialled four numbers and waited. When I heard the click I dialled the country code I needed followed by the number. He picked up at the first ring.
“You never call me from work,” he said. “Actually, you never call me.”
“So how did you know it was me?” I asked.
“Who’s this?” he asked. “Susan? Patricia? Ada? Bims?”
“Very funny, Greg. Listen, I have to get back to work but I just had to tell you myself that…”
“…Belinda is getting married,” he finished for me.
“You knew? And you didn’t tell me?”
“I was going to, but I forgot to care one way or another.”
“Greg! How could you forget? This is Belinda, remember? BELINDA. She made our lives miserable every time she came to stay for long holidays. Stop shrugging.”
“I’m not,” said Greg.
“Yes, you are.” I paused. “You know she’s still calling you ‘Gobbling Greg’?”
“Fair enough, I did eat a lot in those days. I think I was eating my feelings.”
“And now?” I asked “Are you still writing?”
“This and that. Are you still working for the jerk that builds mega hotels everywhere putting locals out of business?”
“Are you still on that?”
“Are you?” There was silence on the line.
“Well, it was nice talking to you,” I said.
“Yes, let’s do this in another two years when another person I don’t give a crap about gets married.”
“I’m coming back for Christmas.”
“Why? Did a huge star appear in the sky and tell you to follow it?”
“No, a huge star appeared in my email and asked me to plan her wedding!” Greg started laughing.
“Man, she must really hate you. Good luck with that.”
“Are you still in bed?”
“You are! I heard it creak. You know you cannot call yourself a writer unless you actually write, right?”
“I don’t call myself a writer. Screw you, get off my case. What are you my mother?”
“What is with everyone sounding American these days?”
Greg yawned. “If you’re done, I’d like to go back to researching the mind of a man who spends all day sleeping, only waking to indulge his deepest, darkest fantasies.”
“You’re going back to sleep to dream of sex,” I said.
“Yup,” the line went dead.
I stared at my computer for a moment, and then I started typing my reply to Belinda.
I waited until the last of the suits had left the meeting before asking. “Will that be all, sir?”
“Shut the door, Abby,” said Nigel. I did as he bade me. “Sit down”. He spent a while perusing the document in front of him. “You’re from Africa,” looked up. I opened my mouth to speak. “Yes, yes, I know, it’s not all one country. But you’re bright. I see the way you look during the board meetings. You’re always alert, your eyes never glaze over.” Nigel stroked his chin.
“Was there something you wanted to ask me, sir?” I clasped my hands by my thighs and waited.
“What do you think of Todd’s report about investing in the Gambia?”
“What did I think in what way?” I asked.
“Com’on Abby. I saw your lip curl up a lot of times. You think it’s a bad idea investing in the country?”
“I do not. I just think that Todd’s proposal suggests going into a saturated market in the same way that everyone else is doing. There will be nothing different in what we offer – if we go ahead with it.”
“I see. And I suppose…” He raised a finger as his phone rang. I looked towards the door. Nigel waved me away, swivelling in his chair to face the window.
There was a blond head bent over my desk, reading from my computer. “What are you doing at my desk?” I shut the door behind me. I noticed one of the girls hovering by the doorway to my office and nodded. She vanished with a swish of skirts.
“Aren’t they sweet?” Blondie tucked her hair behind her ear and turned to face me, crossing her legs. “They tried to stop me coming in here though. Whatever for? I swear you must be absolutely dotty to have fought to keep them here. They so do not fit in.”
“What are you doing at my desk, Alicia?” I resisted the urge to cross my hands over my chest.
“Waiting to see Nigel,” said Alicia.
“And you were reading from my screen because?” I crossed my arms.
“Don’t be tedious, darling. I had to read something.” Alicia ran her hands down her skirt suit. I looked around my office slash waiting room at all the books and magazines arranged on their appropriate stands. “Fair enough. I was snooping, sue me.” Alicia brushed past me and made for the door to Nigel’s office.
“I’m sorry,” I blocked her “My Foyles cannot see you now. He is on an important call. And you do not have an appointment.”
“Perhaps you would like to make an appointment with the Marys outside?” Alicia laughed.
“Now you’re just being ridiculous. Why would I want to do anything with your crones? They depress me, bringing down the tone of this place. They don’t fit and neither do you.” Alicia moved closer until she was almost standing on my toes. “You should just take them and go, because I am not going to stop trying until I have this job, your job, which I deserve.”
“Why? Are you tired of blowing Peterson?” I whispered in her ear. Her head whipped back, ash-blond hair looking like lightning in the middle of the day.
“You are common and crass and I don’t see what Nigel sees in you.”
“I’ll tell you; fantastic organisational skills, a great education and a knowledge of the tourism industry that goes beyond partying in Ibiza or trying to pick up rich men in Monaco. Go away, you’re lowering the tone of my day,” I said. “Please make an appointment before you come back. Mr Foyles will gladly see you them.”
“It wasn’t very high to begin with. Let me tell you, one day everyone is going to get tired of this whole exotic Africa thing and you’re going to be out on your enormous arse.”
“Don’t you mean ‘behind’? You’re betraying your roots.”
Alicia stepped back. “I’ll be back,” she said.
I sat on my desk and buried my head in my hands.
“Tea?” The Tall Mary held out a teacup and a saucer. I sniffed it.
“Lemongrass?” I asked. She nodded. Behind her, Plump Mary held out the carved wooden box for me to take a biscuit. It always reminded me of coffins. I shook my head. “No biscuit for me today, thanks.”
Tall Mary nodded as I took a sip of my tea. “I heard.”
“I didn’t, but Mary told me,” said her counterpart. “You should report that, you know. You’d be in the right.”
“The company hates troublemakers. And I can handle Alicia. At least we all know what she wants – my job. I admire her actually. At least I know she’s coming for me.” I took a sip and closed my eyes. “This is heaven. Thank you girls.” Plump Mary blushed, fiddling with the buttons on her jacket.
“You said ‘at least’, said Tall Mary. “Meaning there is someone you cannot figure out?”
“Ugh. Don’t remind me. I need to call my mother.” I handed over the unfinished tea and glanced at my watch. “You can take off for lunch now, if you want. I’ll leave your jobs at your desks as usual.” The nodded as one and walked out.
I rubbed my temple, reaching under my desk for one of the bottles of water I kept in my fridge. A pain tore across my lower belly. “No.” I clicked on my phone. “No.” Riffling through my bottom drawer for my emergency stash, I exited through the outer office, turned left and walked as quickly as my heels would allow. I locked the door behind me and peeled my skirt upwards, wiggling to free it. I yanked some toilet roll out of the wall and wiped.