The Inklings: Chapter 63

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

There was only 30 minutes between the end of the talks for the day and the start of the conference dinner so Syafika rushed back to her room. She wanted to have a bath, or at least a shower, before the dinner and make sure she looked her best. When Syafika opened the door to her room she saw a folded piece of paper on the floor – someone had slid a note under the door. As soon as she saw the handwriting on the note she knew it was from Anthony.

“Have to go home early so no drinks tonight. Sorry. Call me when you get home.

A”

Underneath the writing was a phone number.

Syafika was disappointed but also a bit relieved. She carefully copied Anthony’s phone number into her address book before folding the note up and putting it in her wallet. Then she went and had a bath and worried about having to call Anthony when she got home. Thinking of home made her remember about Zikpi. She quickly finished her bath so she could call Rose before dinner.

Binta answered the phone and told Syafika that Rose had gone to have a sleep because she’d been exhausted by the day. Then Binta had to get back to cooking so she put Ousman on the phone.

“Syaf! Your house looks so beautiful today. There are bunches of flowers in every room and the floor boards are shining” said Ousman

“What did Zikpi think?” asked Syafika

“Zikpi kept saying how interesting everything was and how hard it was going to be to finish on time and under budget. She made your Mum cry a bit”

Syafika felt sad when she heard that and almost started to cry herself. How dare stupid Zikpi barge in and make Rose cry! And how awful of India for making it all happen in the first place. But Syafika didn’t have time to say those things. It was time for her to go to the conference dinner. She asked Ousman to let Rose know she’d called and that she’d be home tomorrow afternoon, then said goodbye and walked to the conference hall.

The hall had been set up nicely for dinner. There were long rows of tables set with white table cloths, cutlery, plates and sparkling glasses. There were candles burning and the overhead lights had been turned down low. Syafika was happy with the lighting. She knew that candle-light was flattering. Then she remembered that Anthony wasn’t going to be there and felt disappointed. All she could hope was that there was something nice to eat and that she didn’t have to sit next to someone annoying.


The Inklings: Chapter 62

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

Rose had been up since 4am and was feeling exhausted, but at least the house was finally tidy. Mamadou and Ousman arrived as Rose made herself a cup of tea. Zikpi was due in ten minutes so they all had tea and discussed how nervous they were feeling. Festus was on the sofa, pretending to be asleep. He preferred Rose to think that he was sleeping than lying there watching her clean. He wished he’d been able to help.

There was a knock on the door five minutes before Zikpi was due. Rose opened it and there was India and standing next to her was a lady that must have been Zikpi. Rose invited them in and made them cups of tea. Zikpi had been visiting India while waiting for the film crew to arrive.

Zikpi wasn’t very interested in drinking tea. She started looking around the house, making comments and asking questions. Twice Rose had to ask her not to go upstairs because nothing was being renovated up there and Amanda was sleeping.

Ousman looked out the front window and saw a blue van pull into the driveway. Two ladies got out and started unpacking equipment from the back of the van.

Ousman opened the front door for the crew and as soon as Zikpi saw them she was instructing them on what to film.

After filming parts of the house and garden for about an hour, the film crew set up in the lounge room and filmed Zikpi interviewing Mamadou, Festus and finally Rose. Rose was feeling so tired by the time she was asked a question that she started crying and had to take a break to regain her composure.

Zikpi and the film crew left three hours after they’d arrived. Rose ran upstairs for a sleep straight away. Ousman and Mamadou wondered whether Rose was going to be ok. Festus told them not to worry and that they should just relax until Binta got there. Binta was coming over to make dinner and hear about the day.


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.

 


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.


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