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.

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