The Inklings: Chapter 60

D’arby arrived home at dusk. As he approached the block of flats he could see something big out the front. He had to tell himself that it wasn’t reasonable to be scared because it couldn’t be a monster, but when he got close he realized that it was something monstrous. It wasn’t too dark for D’arby to be able to make out the writing on the “Expressions of Interest” sign, but even if it had been too dark to read it, he’d have known, by the shape of it, that it had something to do with the owner wanting to sell the building. D’arby wondered what John would think about it. D’arby was a bit scared that John would decide to go and live with Fanta and leave him to fend for himself. Without John’s income D’arby wouldn’t be able to find anywhere new to rent. D’arby hated feeling so helpless. “At least I can always go and stay with Jinabu for a while if things get really bad” thought D’arby and as he opened the flat door he began to imagine what it would be like to have to travel from Jinabu’s place to uni and back everyday.

D’arby didn’t often feel lonely when John wasn’t there but tonight he did, so he turned on the TV as he ate dinner. The only channel without ads was screening a live debate between politicians. D’arby couldn’t decide which was more moronic – ads or politicians, and he got up to turn the TV off, but then he saw something that made him change his mind. As the TV camera panned over the audience D’arby thought he saw Guitarman sitting in the front row. D’arby smiled, anticipating that something unusual may be about to happen.

And so D’arby left the TV on and watched the treasurer and then the shadow treasurer give long talks about what they were going to do for the country if their party won the upcoming election.D’arby wondered who they were talking to – none of the things they promised to do were particulary appealing to him and many were abhorrent.  When D’arby heard “More roads” he pictured more fat people and more hazy days. “When he heard “growth” he pictured more forests being chopped down, more land being dug up, more high rise flats packed with suicidal people and higher mountains of rubbish. Even “more jobs” made D’arby feel uneasy because he didn’t see how there could be more jobs without more work being needed and why was that good when most people longed to be able to have more time for recreation?

To be fair, the shadow treasurer did utter a couple of sentences that D’arby could agree with, like how we needed to reduce the gap between rich and poor, but when he explained how his party would do those things he lost D’arby’s favour again.

When the shadow treasurer had finished speaking, the journalist who was running the evening came to the centre of the stage. D’arby wondered why she was wearing a headset and guessed it was because live transmissions need someone behind the scenes to be able to give instructions if something goes wrong.

“I’d like to thank both our speakers for being so passionate and also so concise – we are running ahead of schedule” said the journalist. “There is plenty of time for questions so….. wait…. I’m just being told that we will give the remaining time to a third speaker – a wildcard. Please welcome Dr Kaye.” And she started clapping enthusiastically.

The camera panned the audience again. People were clapping but didn’t seem comfortable with what was going on. D’arby wondered whether the major parties had stacked the audience. Then the camera stopped on Guitarman. He stood up and walked up the side stairs onto the stage.Instead of his usual white robe he was wearing an outfit that looked a bit like pyjamas because his shirt and pants were made of the same fabric. As Guitarman arrived at the microphone stand D’arby’s skin began to tingle.

Guitarman took a deep breath and scanned the audience. He smiled. Then he took another deep breath and began.

“First I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land – the Ngunnawal people – and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I hope I don’t sound insincere. I must admit my ignorance made me so scared I’d say something wrong that I copied what I’ve heard people say before.”

Guitarman paused. He seemed to be trying to decide something. Then he continued.

“Even though I’m scared of saying something wrong I’d like to add that I believe I have felt love for country and so I can imagine what it would feel like to have the place you love taken from you. I think it would strike me down forever and that I would never be able to forgive or be generous again. And yet the original custodians are able to share their land with us. Even when we stand here and outline plans for destroying it” said Guitarman and he turned to look at the treasurer and shadow treasurer.

It was the audience’s turn to take a deep breath. The journalist began walking towards Guitarman as if she was going to stop him talking but then she must have been given instructions through her earpiece to leave him alone and she walked back to her seat at the side of the stage. Guitarman noticed and smiled. Then he continued.

“We are part of this land. All of us. We cannot exist without it. That’s something we all have in common, rich and poor, right and left, crazy and sane.”

“Home is not just our house and family. Home extends down through the earth beneath these things and up into the sky above but also to the places around us and the things in them. It includes the clouds, the birds, the trees, the worms and caterpillars. And it includes us. This land would not be the same without us. Whatever we touch, we change. Wherever we walk we leave traces, no matter how lightly we try to tread. If nothing else, we leave a trail of exhaled air.”

“If I were Treasurer I would start by acknowledging this: That we are part of nature, that we depend on nature and that our very existence has an impact on nature. It can’t be otherwise.”

“And so if we are wondering what will be good for our economy, we need to consider what will be good for nature, and what will be good for us – for human society, because it seems we’ve somehow been tricked into serving an economy that is no good for us or our land.”

“Because somehow we’ve been conned into believing that we can generate wealth from nothing – that our wealth does not depend on the wealth of nature. That what happens in the economy has nothing to do with our land – that there need be no interaction. That we can have more and more stuff without hurting nature and that even if we hurt nature it won’t have a bad impact on our lives.”

“But lies only work for so long, because eventually the truth becomes evident.”

“Nature needs to feel some love from us. We have an impact on nature, we can’t help it. But that doesn’t mean that what we do must be bad for nature. There are people who manage to regrow forests, clean up creeks, repair erosion, build soil, bring back birds and bees to their farms. Where is the support in the budget for more of them? Why do they have to do all the heavy lifting while lazy money worshippers flick cash back and forth between themselves? I’d like to see fewer money worshippers and more tree worshippers.”

“Have you even looked at a tree lately” asked Guitarman, as he looked at the treasurer and shadow treasurer.

“They rise up out of the soil (the stuff lots of people call ‘dirt’ and try to avoid) and stand there in all weather, churning out the oxygen we can’t live without and turning sunshine into leaves, branches, fruit and seeds. Food for us and other creatures. Mulch for the soil. Wood for houses, paper for books.”

“They cool us in hot weather, protect us from the full force of the wind, and provide us with a place to climb up and survey the landscape from.”

The camera moved to the treasurer and shadow treasurer as Guitarman said the bit about climbing trees and the audience at home couldn’t help thinking that they didn’t look like they’d been climbing any trees lately.

The camera returned to Guitarman. He smiled then continued.

“We have incredible brains – perhaps far too powerful for the things we usually use them for – so let’s use them for something that’s never been done collectively before. Let’s stop worrying about a budget surplus and go for a nature surplus – the budget surplus will work itself out because money and budgets are all man made. We control them. We may think we can control nature, because we’ve seen that we can affect it. But it has nothing to do with control. We need nature.”

Guitarman paused for a while. People weren’t sure if he had finished or not. Someone started clapping. Guitarman gave the thumb’s up and continued.

“Don’t sit back thinking your say on the economy happens when you vote in the election. Everything you do has an effect. What do you spend your time doing? Is it good for nature without being bad for people? Or is it good for people without being bad for nature? If you can’t answer “yes” to one of those questions, don’t go back to work tomorrow. Quit. Sit home and work out what you can do that IS good for nature AND people, and then do THAT. And if you are one of those lucky people who already earn their living doing things that are good for nature and people, then your job is to support those people who are transitioning from the old economy to the new one. If your friend has quit their job and has no money, let them stay with you while they find a way that they can support themselves without undermining our future. Listen to their plans enthusiastically then give well thought through advice.”

Then the warning bell rang and Guitarman knew he only had one minute left to finish his speech. He took another deep breath, but didn’t seem as calm as before. He started speaking a little bit faster and his tone became more urgent.

“Don’t turn your nose up and people for looking poor. Wealthier people take more from nature than poor ones, even if they try to spend their money on eco-friendly stuff. Flashy office buildings and smooth roads don’t grow themselves up from the dirt. Nor do overseas holidays, posh schools or even high-tech hospitals. And how do you know whether that person in the street with scruffy shoes, a stained shirt and dirt on their face hasn’t started farming their backyard so they can give the money they normally spent buying food away to organizations that are working towards a nature surplus?”

The bell rang again to tell Guitarman he only had 30 seconds to finish.

“It is time to change our personal and collective aims. Instead of aiming to die rich, aim to give back more than you take – from nature as well as other people.”

Guitarman paused before his final two sentences but didn’t smile this time.

“Don’t be scared of taking that step into the unknown. We are all more adaptable than we think. Be scared of being too scared to do anything good.”

Guitarman bowed his head and the audience knew he’d finished. Then he turned to the treasurer and shadow treasurer and bowed his head again. Even though the things Guitarman had said had conflicted directly with the policies and collective wisdom of both major parties, the audience applauded loudly and enthusiastically. The camera scanned the audience and paused on the people who were showing the most emotion. Some people were even crying.

The treasurer’s staffers had already started playing back the video of Guitarman’s talk so they could transcribe it and would spend most of the night analyzing it before concluding that it was not just the words that made people respond so emotionally, but his sincerity.

The Inklings: Chapters 58 and 59

Chapter 58.

When there was a knock at the door John jumped. He wasn’t expecting anyone and so couldn’t help thinking that maybe the police had finally come to arrest him. He crept over to the door and looked through the peep hole. Phew! It was Fanta.

Fanta hadn’t slept much all night and when John saw her he could tell. He immediately started to worry that she might be about to break up with him and felt a bit like crying.

“Sit down, poor thing. I’ll make some tea” said John, and then he winced at how much he’d sounded like his grandmother.

As John stirred milk into the cups of tea he tinkled the teaspoons against the inside of the cups extra loudly, to cover the silence. Then he picked up the cups and turned to face Fanta. She was smiling.

“Phew!” thought John.

“Lenny has disappeared so I don’t have a job” said Fanta.

John took a little sip of tea and coughed. It was too hot.

“What do you mean ‘Lenny has disappeared’?” asked John.

“He ran away from the Police, I think.” said Fanta.

“Why?” asked John, but Fanta didn’t know. Neither of them would have been surprised if Lenny had broken the law though. He didn’t seem to care about being a good person.

“Do you want to work at the restaurant?” asked John.

Fanta laughed. She’d expected that John would say that. What worried her was that she knew waitresses didn’t earn enough to pay her mortgage.

“How could I say ‘no’ to that” answered Fanta. “But you know I would be looking for another job at the same time. I guess this might be what it takes for me to get a job related to my degree.”

“Fine” answered John. What he really wanted to ask was whether he could pay Fanta’s bills for her. But how could he word that offer without sounding condescending.

“My money is your money, you know” said John, finally.

“All of it?” asked Fanta, trying to look annoyed, but she was feeling happy.

And so John and Fanta agreed that Fanta would work at the restaurant for the weekday lunchtime shift when her sisters were back at school. Then it was time for John to set out for the restaurant. As they left the block of flats they noticed someone was putting up a giant sign out the front. It said “Expressions of Interest” and had a picture of the block of flats with the land dimensions marked.

“Looks like you might have to move” said Fanta. “Developers would love this site.”

John looked worried. He wondered how D’arby would cope with having to move while trying to finish his thesis. John would be sad to leave their little old flat.

Chapter 59.

When Syafika arrived at work at 9:05am there was a note on her desk to let her know everyone was in the meeting room. Perhaps someone had told her that every day started with a team meeting at 8:30am and she’d forgotten. Syafika could hardly remember anything that she’d been told the day before. She hadn’t slept well, probably because she’d been feeling hungry. Then when she tried to eat some toast for breakfast it had made her feel sick. Even a cup of tea hurt her stomach.

Syafika opened the meeting room door as gently as she could. All the chairs at the table were occupied so she stood at the back of the room and listened to Christine give a presentation, but she had no idea what Christine was going on about so she tried to work it out from the slides she was showing, but they were just as incomprehensible. Christine seemed to be giving them a maths lesson and Syafika couldn’t work out why. Syafika began daydreaming about Anthony coming to rescue her.

Then after the meeting Nelson rescued Syafika instead. He suggested they go for a coffee at the café in the Botanic Gardens. Syafika looked at her watch – it was only 10am – and couldn’t believe her luck.

On the way to the café Nelson asked Syafika how she was finding the job and whether she was enjoying it. Syafika admitted that Christine’s team was much more intense than her old one and that she was having trouble keeping up.

“I have an idea” said Nelson. “I am speaking at a conference on the Central Coast tomorrow. It starts in the morning and finishes on Saturday afternoon. Everyone is staying at the conference venue, which is a nice hotel near the beach. You should come too. It would give you a very good overview of our work and how it fits in with what other people are doing.”

Syafika nodded. She thought that going to a conference would be more fun than spending Friday at work but was a bit worried she’d fall even further behind if she missed out on what happened at work tomorrow. Nelson could see the indecision in her face and suggested she sit down and have a think about it while he ordered their coffees. This time they were going to be able to drink their coffees at the café – another luxury that Syafika had been missing.

When Nelson returned he was carrying a tray with two coffees (in real cups!) and two pieces of cake. Syafika decided at that moment that she would go to the conference tomorrow.

Perhaps it was because Syafika had a full tummy for the first time in days, but that afternoon at work went well for Syafika. She was able to pay attention to everything that went on. Christine even had some good news. They had been given a bigger budget and could afford to have two more people in their team. Christine emailed around the job descriptions and Syafika was excited to see that one of the positions was for a graduate and would suit Fanta perfectly.


When Syafika left work she went straight to Fanta’s place (making sure she called Rose to tell her first). Syafika had a printout of the job advertisement in her bag and was feeling excited. She imagined how nice it would be to have Fanta working with her.

As Fanta waited for Syafika to arrive she was also feeling excited. She was looking forward to working at the pizza restaurant for a while and was feeling more secure now that she knew that John would be there to help her if she needed it.

When Syafika knocked on the door of Fanta’s house she could smell something delicious cooking, probably pasta.

As Syafika and Fanta and Fanta’s sisters sat at the table enjoying a dinner of pasta, salad and a cold fruity tea they told each other about their days.

Syafika gave Fanta the job description. As Fanta read it she felt happy that Syafika and John were both looking out for her.

“You better stop telling me how hard Christine makes you work if you want me to apply for this job” said Fanta. Fanta read the job description and saw that it was something she was qualified to do, but then she read that it was full-time and realized she didn’t want a full-time job.

Syafika noticed that Fanta had started to frown.

“What’s wrong?” asked Syafika.

“Do you think I’d be able to do it part time?” asked Fanta.

“I don’t know” said Syafika. “I’ll ask Christine on Monday. But I think you should apply anyway.”

Fanta was feeling a bit slack for not wanting to work full-time. She wondered if it was lazy of her to want to be able to keep some of her time for herself and her sisters.

Best Left Alone

My teenage son is lazy. He doesn’t try hard at school and won’t do any jobs. What should I do?

Humans are silly at the best of times, but possibly the silliest humans, and the ones most avoided by Sparks, are teenagers.

But to be fair, how can you expect a human being to behave rationally when they’re under the influence of a surging cocktail of adrenal stress hormones, sex hormones, and growth hormones? Not to mention at the same time being completely obsessed with their own bodies?

If only humans were able to grow cocoons and go into hibernation for 4 – 8 years. It would be a far more graceful transition. But alas, no, the biological complications of long-term hibernation on the human body would be very complicated, and since new experience is such an important part of human development, teenagers really need to be cognizant throughout the transitory period.

Teenagers remind me a bit of foals galloping for the first time. Cautious, yet thrilled by their own strength. Suddenly their bodies feel awkward and the way they appear to the world becomes a major preoccupation and source of anxiety to them. Unfortunately some humans never really grow out of it this body neurosis, but most humans eventually begin to accept the way they look and make the best of it, particularly when there are other things to interest them like money and food and other substances.

It interests me to see how teenagers react differently to the transition. Some teenagers behave like clumsy fools, drunk on adrenaline, doing their best to draw attention to how idiotic they look, while others withdraw, seeming to do everything they can to hide from the world and avoid all interaction with it.

It sounds like your son is more the reclusive type, which is probably the best type of teenager to live with.  It may not look like it on the surface, but there will be far more activity going on in his mind than you would imagine. The world is becoming a more complex and daunting place to him and his brain has to process and deal with all the new information.

You could be forgiven for assuming that he is completely self-absorbed, lazy and oblivious to others, but he’s actually very busy observing how other people react to him, and believe it or not, the way you react to him does affect him and does matter to him.

My advice is to give him a break. Growing takes a lot of energy and he’s probably just really tired a lot of the time. Your frustration will only add to his anxieties and if you nag him he’ll retreat further and resent you for it. Give him room to grow and time to adjust. Let him know you care about him in non-intrusive ways. Show interest in the things he enjoys doing without interfering. Let him occupy himself. Be less demanding and more encouraging.

Have patience and he’s far more likely to emerge from his cocoon a confident, articulate, well adjusted, motivated individual who will appreciate, respect and surprise you.

The Spark.

The Inklings: Chapter 57.

Wednesday was a blur for Mamadou. He spent most of it in his head, walking around imaginary gardens, although he was vaguely aware of Ousman and Binta coming and going, and he remembered drinking a very nice cup of tea.

As the sun was setting, Ousman watched his father as he walked back and forth on the footpath outside the house. Mamadou frowned as he worked out the last details of his design. Then mosquitos started biting him so he came inside and worked frantically until midnight – drawing a bird’s eye view of the garden and the doing several sketches of what it would look like to be in different parts of the garden.

Mamadou woke on Thursday morning with a sense of purpose. He had done his homework. The plans for Rose’s garden were ready. By 8:00 am he was ready to go and drop them off.

“Where are you going?” asked Binta when she saw Mamadou heading out the door.

“To give Rose these plans. She needs them today” answered Mamadou.

Mamadou noticed that Binta was ready to go somewhere also. She was wearing a brown suit and nice blue earrings.

Binta had assumed that Mamadou would be looking after Ousman while she was at work, and only just realized that they hadn’t discussed it. She wondered how she should best explain the situation.

“I have work today” said Binta. “I’d assumed you would be looking after Ousman. He doesn’t need much looking after really, but he isn’t used to waking to find nobody here. What if you wait until he wakes up and take him with you to see Rose? It is still a bit early to call on Rose anyway”.

Mamadou understood. He realized he had a lot to learn about how things worked around here. He wondered at what age children were left to fend for themselves.  Mamadou watched Binta walk off down the street, then closed the front door and sat down to wait for Ousman to wake up. At 8:15am Ousman quietly opened the door to Ousman’s bedroom and slowly walked in, watching his feet as he stepped and treading as lightly as possibly on the floor boards. Ousman was still sleeping soundly. Mamadou looked at Ousman’s face. He could see things that reminded him of himself and of Binta, but at the same time Ousman was completely different to them both. Mamadou hoped that he’d be able to let Ousman be his own person.

Mamadou was sitting at the table looking proudly at his garden plans when Ousman woke up. It was 8:30am. Ousman ate a banana for breakfast as he and his father walked to Rose’s place. They arrived just before 9am.

“I think we might be a bit early” said Ousman. “Did Aunty Rose say to come this early?”

“No, she just told me she needs to have the plans today so I thought earlier is better” said Mamadou.

“Let’s check whether she’s up and about yet before we knock on the door” suggested Ousman. He wasn’t sure when Rose got up in the morning but he imagined she wouldn’t be ready for visitors before 10am.

So Ousman crept up the front steps and peeped in through the crack between the curtain and the window frame. He could see two figures in the lounge room and from the shape and the way they moved he thought they must be Rose and Amanda. They seemed to be having an animated conversation and he could hear laughing. He took a step back, walked to the door and knocked. Ousman thought he heard someone rushing up the stairs. Then Rose opened the door.

It took Rose a couple of seconds to compose herself when she saw Ousman and Mamadou. When she noticed the roll of papers in Mamadou’s hand she realized what the visit was for.

“Come in!” said Rose enthusiastically, giving Ousman a hug.

Mamadou was feeling nervous. He hoped Rose would approve of his garden design.

Rose unrolled the drawings and gasped as she looked at them. After looking at each of them she laid them out on the table so Ousman could see.

“Magnificent!” said Rose, when she’d seen them all. Ousman looked at Mamadou proudly. Mamadou smiled, but was still feeling nervous.

Then Mamadou explained how the garden tied-in with the house. How the greywater would be cleaned as it trickled through the series of ponds and how it could then either be sent to the greenhouse or along a channel he liked to call ‘the river’, watering the fruit and nut trees, flowers, berries and veggies as it wound through the garden, all the way to the frog pond in the back corner.

Rose giggled and explained that if India was there she’d probably know some term that experts used to describe such a system. Rose gathered up the drawings and they all went out to the backyard to see how the design would fit with the topography of the yard. Luckily for Rose’s budget, the land sloped downwards to where Mamadou wanted to locate the frog pond and it looked like it would be possible to gravity feed the whole system. Mamadou wanted to get started straight away and asked Rose for a shovel. Rose laughed and told Mamadou that they couldn’t start anything until Zikpi had been to film the ‘before’ scenes.

Ousman, Mamadou and Rose spent the rest of the day alternating between caring for Festus and creating a project plan for the renovations and garden. Ousman liked the way they had to work out how each step of the various jobs would fit in with the rest. Mamadou liked the way that it looked like he was going to be very useful. Rose loved being able to be part of a team, and Festus liked the way that Rose’s plans were going ahead despite his broken leg. He looked forward to being able to help though – he was glad that, according to the project plan, his leg would be better before the project was over. He imagined that the last few scenes of Zikpi’s documentary would show him working really hard to get things finished on time.

The Inklings: Chapter 56.

On Wednesday morning Syafika was just opening the door to leave for work when she heard Rose say “Oh no! Oh dear! Syafika!” so she went to find out what was wrong. She had the phone in her hand and was pressing buttons in a fluster.Syafika could hear the answering machine saying ‘You have no saved messages’.

“There was a message on the answering machine for you but I think I accidentally deleted it” said Rose.

“That’s probably ok” replied Syafika. “Just tell me what the message was or who called”

“A man… Anthony? The message was left last night. He asked whether you wanted to go somewhere for dinner and to call him. He said his phone number, but of course I can’t remember that!” explained Rose.

Syafika suddenly felt like crying. “I don’t have his number” she said. Syafika had a go at retrieving the message but it had definitely been deleted so she headed off for work, hoping that Anthony was going to be running in the Botanic Gardens at lunchtime.

When Syafika arrived at work she found a note stuck to her computer screen saying to call Glenda and her number. Syafika didn’t know Glenda but had heard about her and decided to have a cup of tea before calling her. As the tea was drawing Syafika turned her computer on and saw that she’d been copied in to a string of emails regarding the advice she’d given the Minister’s Office on Monday. She opened the first one and was just starting to read it when Glenda appeared.

“Why didn’t you call me?” Glenda demanded.

“I was just about to” answered Syafika. Glenda didn’t look like she believed her.

“The Minister is furious” said Glenda.

Syafika was frightened and wondered what she’d done wrong.

Glenda started explaining but Syafika didn’t understand what she was talking about. Glenda kept mentioning names and projects that only sounded vaguely familiar. Then Christine walked in and told Glenda that Joe needed to speak to her. Joe was the Executive Director that Glenda worked for.

“I’ll be back” said Glenda as she left.

Syafika looked at Christine. She remembered what Nelson had said about Christine and expected to be yelled at, but instead Christine was calm and friendly.

“Joe gets Glenda to be his attack dog” said Christine. “She doesn’t always know what she’s talking about. Neither does Joe. None of this is your fault but you have been blamed for it.”

Christine explained what had happened. Syafika’s advice had been fine but it wasn’t the information the Minister needed because she’d been asked the wrong questions. She’d been asked the wrong questions because Joe hadn’t bothered clarifying with one of the other Executive Directors before passing them on. And so the Minister had been made to look like a fool in a press conference, and someone had to be blamed.

“So you are going to have to leave this branch and come and work for me” concluded Christine. She told Syafika to pack up her stuff and come down to her office on level 2.

As Syafika packed her teapot, cups, diary and pot plant into an empty printer paper box she contemplated going home instead of down to level 2 but then Syafika remembered what had happened last night and that it was now her responsibility to earn money to support her family. As she walked down the stairs to level 2 she still wasn’t sure what was going on. If she had been she’d have been crying with rage.

Nelson was in Christine’s office when Syafika arrived. Christine was on the phone. Nelson led Syafika to her new desk and introduced her to the rest of the team. Then everyone went to the meeting room to discuss their current project. It was lunchtime when they emerged but Syafika wasn’t hungry. Her head was foggy though and her hands were shaking. She looked around and saw everyone else settling down to eat lunch at their desks and felt like she should copy them but didn’t want to. Fortunately Nelson gave her an opportunity to get out of the office by asking whether anyone could go and get him a coffee if they were going to buy lunch.

“I have to go and get something” said Syafika, wording the sentence carefully to only make it sound like she didn’t have her lunch because she had a generous packed lunch in her bag.

“Great”said Nelson and handed Syafika a coffee cup.

Syafika was just about to ask Nelson what kind of coffee he wanted when he changed his mind and decided to come too. Syafika tried to not show her disappointment. She’d been hoping to do a quick walk around the Botanic Gardens, but how could she do that if Nelson came too? Then she had a brilliant idea. Syafika picked up her cup and as she and Nelson walked out of the office Syafika told him that her favourite coffee place was the café in the Botanic Gardens.

“There are plenty of good coffee places closer than that. The coffee there must be good if you walk all that way” commented Nelson.

“Maybe it is the walk that makes the coffee taste so nice” answered Syafika, carefully. She’d never actually had a coffee from the café in the Botanic Gardens.

As Syafika and Nelson walked through the gardens Syafika looked around as much as she could without making it too noticeable. Nelson was telling her lots of things about the work she would be doing but Syafika wasn’t paying much attention. She was waiting for an opportunity to ask about Christine because Syafika hadn’t found her to be a bully at all and couldn’t believe she would be corrupt either.

As they waited for their coffee orders, Nelson finally stopped talking long enough for Syafika to speak.

“Christine doesn’t seem to be the way you told me she was” said Syafika

“Maybe she isn’t” answered Nelson. “I don’t think you know her well enough to judge yet. Also, sometimes people say things to see how you respond, not because they are necessarily true.” As Nelson said this he put his hand on Syafika’s shoulder. Syafika glanced over Nelson’s shoulder as she tried to think of a response and saw that Anthony was sitting at an outside table and looking at them. Syafika smiled at Anthony before being distracted by Nelson, who was handing her her coffee.

When Syafika turned to look at Anthony again he was gone.


When Syafika and Nelson got back to the office everyone had finished their lunch and had started another meeting and so Syafika’s packed lunch went un-eaten. She didn’t have time to feel hungry though. The afternoon flew by, as the time was eaten up by one meeting after another. Syafika took lots of notes as she tried to make sense of what was going on. After the last meeting Syafika walked home as fast as she could. She wanted to call Fanta. There was so much to talk about!

“Where have you been!” said Rose as Syafika walked in the front door at home.

Syafika was confused until she realized the time. She was two hours later than usual and hadn’t called to say she’d be late. Then Syafika saw that Fanta and her sisters were sitting at the kitchen table.

“I tried to call you at work lots of times” said Fanta “but you didn’t answer”.

“Sorry” replied Syafika. “I had to move offices” and she realized she hadn’t asked whether she’d be keeping her old phone number, nor had she sat at her new desk all day.

“We were worried” said Rose.

“Sorry” said Syafika. “I had such a big day that I forgot about all the normal things”

“I had a big day too” said Fanta. “When I went back to work today I discovered the shop was closed and I don’t know where Lenny is”.

“On holiday?” suggested Syafika. Syafika was impatient to tell her stories so wanted to hurry Fanta up.

“No, the police were looking for him too. He’s officially a missing person” said Fanta. “And without Lenny, I don’t have a job”

Syafika was interested now. “What are you going to do?” she asked.

“I don’t know” answered Fanta. “Look for a new job I suppose. But I don’t know when or if Lenny will turn up again. And I’m not going to be popular with other agencies because nobody likes Lenny.”

Syafika didn’t like the sound of this. She could see that Fanta might end up with a job that made her less available. This made Syafika feel depressed and she no longer had the energy to explain her day. Fortunately Ruby was tired and asked Fanta if they could go home. Fanta explained that they’d been there for two hours and had already had dinner. Syafika and Fanta organized to meet for dinner the following night. Then Fanta and her sisters walked home.

Syafika watched Rose tuck Festus into his temporary bed on the sofa. The stairs were too hard to climb while his leg was still so sore. Syafika decided not to bother her parents with her work troubles that night. She said ‘Goodnight’ and went to have a shower.

Rose watched Syafika go and then told Festus that Syafika hadn’t shown any interest in dinner and hoped she was ok.

“So do I” said Festus, because he was feeling so powerless that all he could do was hope.

The Inklings: Chapter 55

Mamadou felt anxious. Not long after he and Ousman returned from the gallery Rose called Binta and asked them to come over urgently.

“Relax” explained Binta “Rose probably just wants me to cook dinner”

But it was worse than that. When they arrived, Rose was crying.

“What is wrong?” asked Binta.

Rose pointed to the lounge where Festus was lying asleep with his leg in a plastic cast. He had scratches on his face and bruises on his arms.

“Festus broke his leg and its my fault. I asked him to get up on the garage roof to check the condition because sometimes the roof leaks and I wanted to know whether we should replace the roof when we convert the garage into the new bathroom and laundry. But then Festus trod on a rotten patch and fell through.” said Rose

“And it isn’t just that. He won’t be able to work for two months. So we won’t have any income until he is better nor will he be able to work on the renovations. And in case you thought it couldn’t get any worse, this morning India came over to tell me that her producer friend Zikpi, who is making a TV show about ambitious renovations, wants to make an episode about my project – filming it from start to finish. Just before Festus got up on the garage roof I spoke to Zikpi on the phone and agreed to meet on Friday to explain my renovation plans. This is despite me not knowing what I’m doing. I just didn’t want to show India that.” Rose added, before flopping down on a comfy chair and looking at the ceiling.

Mamadou offered to help and asked to look at the plans. Rose told him where they were – she didn’t feel like getting up yet. Mamadou spread the plans out on the kitchen table and his eyes soon lit up at the prospect.

“Can we do the garden too?” he sang out to Rose.

“I can’t cope with the house, let alone the garden” replied Rose

“Sorry” replied Mamadou “I just had an idea for a beautiful garden to go with the beautiful house. I’ll do the work. I need a project”

Rose’s eyes lit up. She got up and went to the kitchen. Binta followed. Rose looked at Mamadou. He was skinny but probably strong. Rose imagined Festus sitting on a chair instructing Mamadou.

“If you help Festus with the house, you can do the garden” said Rose.

Binta didn’t think that was very fair, and was about to tell Rose when she noticed how happy Mamadou looked.

“I’ll draw my plan and bring it to show you” said Mamadou

“I need it by Thursday” answered Rose


When Syafika got home she found her parents sitting in the lounge room while Binta prepared dinner, and Mamadou and Ousman drew pictures of gardens.

“You’ll have to cancel the renovations” said Syafika

“I can’t” replied Rose “Zikpi is going to film it all and put it on TV for everyone to see. I’m sure they’ll enjoy the bit about Festus having a broken leg and him having to instruct Mamadou on how to install a greywater system.”

“I don’t think he can do that. We’ll have to get a plumber in – have to do it properly if it is going to be on TV.” said Festus. But then he thought a bit more and added “Or he could become my new apprentice!”

“But if Dad isn’t working how are you going to pay an apprentice or pay for anything?” asked Syafika.

“Just as well you are still working!” answered Rose. “You’ll be the breadwinner while Festus gets better”

“So I’m going to be paying for the stinking renovations that I don’t want?” asked Syafika. But she was really only pretending to be angry. She wanted to support the family because it would make her feel important. It was the best convincing Rose had done so far – Syafika was no longer against the renovations. She sat down next to Mamadou to look at the plans.

The phone rang but nobody could be bothered getting up to answer it.

The Inklings: Chapter 54

Tuesday at work was much quieter for Syafika. Nobody emailed her, and nobody called her. She could only assume that the Ministers Office had been happy with the information she’d supplied the night before. After the excitement of the day before, Syafika actually felt a bit bored. At lunchtime she decided to go for a walk in the nearby Botanic Gardens and enjoy not having to keep an eye on the time (if she was late nobody would be there to care and she’d already finished everything on her list of things to do that day).

Syafika wandered along the paths enjoying the smell of damp leaves and some strange fluffy white flowers. She was humming to herself and not paying attention to where she was going when around the corner came a runner and they collided. Syafika nearly lost her balance but he quickly put his arm out to support her. She looked up, not sure whether to be angry or apologetic and saw that it was Anthony. Instead of taking a step back to reclaim her personal space, Syafika stayed where she was and took a deep breath.

“You ok?” asked Anthony

“Yep” answered Syafika and tried to think of something else to say to keep the conversation going.

“I didn’t know you came here” said Anthony.

“I didn’t know you came here either” said Syafika

“Or you wouldn’t have come here?” suggested Anthony.

“No! I mean….” said Syafika. Then she was too embarrassed to say anything else.

“How’s Vincent?” asked Anthony.

“We broke up. I guess he’s fine” replied Syafika.

“Again?” asked Anthony.

“For the last time. We neither care for each other anymore” said Syafika.

Anthony smiled then said “I need to finish my run and get back to work. I’ll call you”. Then he ran off.

Syafika sat down on the first seat she could find. She felt shaky – she had that Anthony-induced feeling again. It was unsettling and made her feel a bit anxious but it was also delicious – warm and happy. Syafika remembered what it felt like in those seconds she was standing close to Anthony and didn’t want to move. She thought about following him to see where he went, but it was too late – she didn’t know which way he’d gone.

Instead Syafika went back to her desk and was engrossed in reading an article Fanta had emailed her when she realized that someone was standing behind her.

“Ah, so this is why you have to stay so late to finish your work” said the man from the lift. He introduced himself as Nelson and explained that he was hiding from his Executive Director Christine – the lady Syafika had seen him coming out of the lift with the night before.

“I can’t believe you are really hiding” said Syafika.

“I am” Nelson replied. “Christine is a bully”

Syafika was unsure what to do or say so she wheeled a chair to the empty desk next to her and said “Sit down if you like”

Nelson sat down and didn’t say anything. After a few minutes Syafika couldn’t stand the awkwardness anymore and started laughing nervously.

“Do you want some paper and pens so you can do a drawing?” she tried to joke.

Nelson looked Syafika in the eye while he took a breath.

“Can I tell you something?” asked Nelson.

“Ok” answered Syafika, sounding a bit worried.

“Sorry, but I need to tell someone. Christine is doing something really bad and I don’t understand why” said Nelson

“What is she doing?” asked Syafika.

“I think she is helping the Minister steal money” said Nelson.

“You should report it then” said Syafika.

“Yeah, that’s easier said than done” answered Nelson. “She’s had me organize the dodgy modelling and sign-off on all the paperwork so it looks like I’m the one who’s doing the wrong thing.

Syafika didn’t know what to say. She felt scared because she didn’t know whether it was Nelson or Christine who was the bad one and she wished Nelson hadn’t told her anything.

Luckily for Syafika, her phone rang and as she answered it Nelson got up and left.

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