The Inklings: Chapter 61

To read the serial from the start go to https://the-inkling.com/catch-up-with-the-inklings/

Syafika slept well on Thursday night but had to get up earlier than usual so she could catch the 7am train to the Central Coast. She had to get a taxi from the train station to the conference venue and arrived at 8:30am – just in time for registration.

Syafika collected her badge and room key from reception then took her suitcase to her room. Syafika was pleased to find that the room had a bath, and that there was a good view of the beach from the balcony. She wished she was there for a holiday instead of a conference. Still, she was hopeful that she’d learn a lot at this conference and be able to feel more confident about what she was supposed to be doing at work.

Syafika was walking back to the foyer when the door of a room she was passing opened and Anthony came out. He smiled when he saw Syafika but then looked a bit scared. Syafika looked down at his name tag and noticed that it said “Lawrence Tucker”. Anthony must have noticed because he quickly explained that he was attending in the place of a colleague who wasn’t going to be able to arrive until tomorrow and that it had been easier to just take Lawrence’s name tag than to explain to the people at reception what was really going on.

“Lucky your colleague isn’t female then” said Syafika, imagining Anthony having to wear a dress. Anthony seemed relieved and smiled. Then a bell rang and over the intercom a voice called all conference attendees to take their seats in the hall. As Syafika and Anthony walked to the hall, Anthony asked Syafika if she’d like to go for a drink after the conference dinner. Syafika agreed, even though the thought of it terrified her.

Nelson was already sitting down in the hall when Syafika and Anthony walked in. Syafika thought she better take the seat next to Nelson. Anthony went and sat on the other side of the room.

The first couple of talks of the morning bored Syafika, despite her best efforts at concentrating. There was just too much jargon for her to be able to understand what the speakers were going on about. She began to wonder whether she had wasted her time by coming. Syafika looked through the conference program for any mention of Anthony before remembering that he was attending in place of Lawrence Tucker but Lawrence Tucker wasn’t presenting any talks either. Syafika looked at Anthony and saw that he was busy taking notes. Then she realized that she should probably be taking notes too, but she didn’t want to disturb people by rummaging through her bag to find a pen and so she sat there awkwardly until the end of the talk.

The third speaker was much more interesting to Syafika because she used some of the words that Syafika had been hearing in work meetings. Syafika was glad she’d been able to get out a pen in time. The speaker was explaining how criteria could be used to decide whether a project should go ahead or not. Syafika was interested because she’d always been confused about how the executives at work decided which projects would go ahead and which wouldn’t. From what the speaker was saying, the decision could all be boiled down to the numbers in a table. Syafika wondered how many executive jobs those tables could replace and smiled.

Nelson was the next speaker and his presentation followed-on suitably from the previous one. He explained how the government was going to use this ‘decision making matrix’ to make decisions consistently and how they were going to do even more – that to make the modelling behind the numbers consistent, all modelling used in decision making would be done by the same team – Christine’s team. Finally, Nelson explained how they were going to modify the criteria by multiplying them by an additional matrix of factors to make sure only really worthy projects could proceed. Syafika thought this was a great idea, until question time. The lady who’d been the third speaker asked Nelson to clarify how the additional matrix of factors was going to be used and asked whether, if it was possible to use it to make the criteria tougher, wasn’t it also possible to use it to make the criteria weaker and if they realized that they were really creating a loophole that allowed the Minister to use discretion in determining decisions when the whole purpose of the criteria was to avoid that. Finally, she suggested that if they wanted a way to allow the Minister to make the criteria even tougher, they should add additional criteria instead.

Nelson explained that the approach he had presented was only a suggestion, that they would be taking comments on board and that of course they only wanted to make the process stronger and more consistent and less open to political manipulation but that at the same time they needed to leave room for Ministerial input for the times when issues arose that the matrix hadn’t been able to forsee. He called it ‘future-proofing’.

Syafika thought again about what Nelson had told her about Christine on Tuesday and wondered whether all government decision making power had just been handed over to her new team. She thought it was a dangerous thing to let the same team that was in charge of the decision making matrix also be in charge of all government modelling.

Many hands in the audience were still raised when it was time to stop asking Nelson questions and have morning tea.

Syafika stood up and looked around to see where Anthony was, but she couldn’t see him. She wanted to tell Nelson how much she’d enjoyed his talk, but he was surrounded by people who still had questions. Everyone wanted to know more about how government was going to be using and modifying their decision making criteria – some because they wanted to know the implications for good decision making and others because they wanted to know how to get their developments approved.

Syafika went and made herself a cup of tea but when she took a sip all she could smell was coffee. Then she noticed that Anthony was at her side, holding a cup of coffee.

“Did you enjoy the talks?” asked Anthony.

Syafika told him how the first two had been beyond her comprehension but that she’d enjoyed the next two.

“I saw you with Nelson at the café the other day” said Anthony. “Are you working with him now, or friends?”

“I moved to the same team” said Syafika, choosing her words carefully. She wasn’t ready to explain how she’d had to move there because she was in disgrace.

Syafika didn’t pay much attention to the talks between morning tea and lunchtime. She was busy thinking about Anthony and what their after dinner drinks were going to be like. She started to feel nervous and almost wished she could go home.

By lunchtime Syafika was feeling really hungry. Plates of sandwiches were brought in and put on tables around the edge of the hall. Syafika wondered how many she could eat without looking greedy and she was just about to select her first sandwich when Anthony walked over and let out a disappointed sigh as he looked at the sandwiches.

“Sandwiches aren’t a real meal” said Anthony. “Let’s sneak off to the restaurant for lunch”.

Syafika didn’t really want to, but then she noticed Glenda selecting sandwiches from a nearby table and so she agreed.

As Anthony and Syafika walked upstairs to the restaurant Anthony said “Did you see Glenda? I’m glad to avoid her. Do you remember how I had to work with her before I left? She is very nosy and loves to gossip”

Syafika couldn’t help replying “I’m glad to avoid her too” which lead Anthony to ask why and before she knew it, Syafika was explaining what had happened to her at work that week. Anthony listened sympathetically, nodding a lot. He seemed interested to know all the details and so Syafika told him as much as she knew.

When Syafika finished her lunch she realized that she and Anthony had been talking for along time and looked at her watch. It was already time for the next lot of talks to start. The waiter must have known because when she came to clear the plates, instead of asking whether they would like any coffee or dessert she just asked whether everything was ok. Anthony smiled mischievously and said to Syafika “Let’s miss the first talk” and he asked the waiter for the dessert menu.

It was almost time for afternoon tea to start when Syafika and Anthony finally left the restaurant. As they walked back to the hall Anthony looked at the program and then said “I’m not really interested in the speakers this afternoon. I think I’ll go and have a siesta. I’ll see you later” and he walked off in the direction of his room.

Syafika wouldn’t have minded a siesta either, but was feeling guilty for already having missed three speakers so she walked quietly back to the conference hall. As she walked, she remembered that by now Zikpi would be at home filming the ‘before’ shots for the renovation program.

 

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