Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Back to the future!

So I pull up at the entrance of my old office. The security guard squints into my car, his eyebrows raised inquiringly. Recognising me, he gives a tired sort of smile and I grin right back.


"I'm here to see one of the reporters. A meeting." Hah. I'm actually here for tea with her and can't be bothered to find a parking space outside. If you want to park inside, you have to have an official reason to be there. Them's the rules. I almost wish I dressed more conservatively. Light blue slacks and a brown velvet blouse don't actually suggest business meeting. But then, I don't fit my business suits anymore. I barely fit into the blue slacks. Jogging, yeah, I'll go jogging tomorrow.

This is the first time I am entering my old office since I've been back. Another guard looks at me, and with typical security guardlike charm tells me that I have become incredibly fat. He puffs out his chubby cheeks and says, fat, fat, fat, just in case he hasn't managed to get his point across the first time. He must be twice my size. It's incredible how nothing ever changes here.

Another one takes my driver's licence (I need a security tag here, important newspaper after all) and asks if I will be returning to the newspaper. I say no. He asks what I'm doing now. I say freelancing. Which is sort of my noncommital answer to this question. It's better than saying, um, just bumming you know. Which is what my sister said for eight whole months, before she got her job. It was time well spent though. She watched M*A*S*H reruns for eight hours a day and tuned out when the folks bugged her about it.

My friend comes down to join me. She says, let's go to the mamak place outside. And I say, but I've parked the car inside. Won't the guards kick up a row? And she says, not if you're with me. Sure enough, they nod smilingly at us as we ease ourselves out of the tiny aperture at the side gate, left open to allow human bodies (but not cars) through. She has a surprise. She has been transferred to another section and promoted to editor. Effectively immediately. I laugh and congratulate her and she fixes with that penetrating look of hers:

"So what are your plans?"

I shrug nonchalantly: "Dunno. Freelancing for the moment."

Her forehead creases: "Kuti*, that's not very stable. And you know, freelancers get paid pittance and like months and months late."

Many people have told me that. They say you need a real job. Come work for us. Either that or we'd love you to come work for us, but I think you'd be too expensive.

"Yeah, but that's the newspapers and magazines. I want to do projects for the corporate sector. They pay well and quickly," I smirk. Actually I have just come from two significant job-type meetings at Megamall. At least one is good to go, which means I'll have some cash, come next month.

She tells me about her new job: "My mandate is to turn my section around. I don't want anymore PR bullshit interviews with some stupid salesgirl selling cosmetics. And if they have to write about handbags, why not write something interesting, like what sort of handbag would suit someone with a big ass like me. Valid fashion question, what?"

I start to giggle. I can just imagine how her first staff meeting must have gone.

"So, you want to write for us?"

Oh oh. I didn't realise that this was quite the turn our conversation was taking. "Um...well, what kind of stories did you say you were looking for?"

"I told you. Real stories. About real people. In-depth stuff. Something people would actually like to read. Come on, prove to me that you actually deserve the degree they're giving you."

The thing is, I'm never good at proving anything to anyone. Especially someone like her, who is terrifyingly intelligent and tends to intimidate me with her black, beetling brows. Besides, I took the degree to have a three-year time-out from life. And learn something along the way, obviously. Here I am, three years later and...well, I can quote Shakespeare with the best of them, tell you that Julius Caesar was not politically relevant over here (they should have staged King Lear instead), explain why I hate the Futurists, consider the prospect of a Virginia Woolf novel without blanching, not gaze blankly at you when you mention Foucault or Bakhtin, but really, how do I prove I can write?

By writing, obviously. Ah, yes.

We finish our teh halia si kosong (ginger tea with milk, no sugar) and I saunter up to her office with her. I find I have committed to writing at least one article for her. It's one of those things that will require a doglike determination. The people in question don't want to talk, I am gonna have to turn into aggressive, ruthless journo to go after it, and frankly, I hate being aggressive ruthless journo, but she is all excited.

Her boss strolls over and looks at me curiously. "You look familiar, haven't I seen you someplace before?

Duh! Like I only worked here for 11 years!

"No," I smile limpidly at him. "I have a common face. You must be mistaking me for someone else."

My friend quips: "Yeah, you probably met her evil twin."

He continues to stare at me, so I help him out: "Jennifer."

"Oh yeah. I remember you. How are you? What're you doing now?"

"Oh nothing. Just bumming. Have to go now. Bye."

It's the end of the day now. I find I have committed myself to at least four different jobs, all with deadlines within a short space of each other. Maybe I was a little over-enthusiastic.

Oh's been nice.

Just bumming.

* Child. In Malayalam. Our common language.


goldennib said...

Nothing like giving yourself near impossible assignments to get the ole blood flowing. Procrastination and next day deadlines are what I live for, how about you?

Jenn said...

I thrive on deadlines when I'm enjoying the work. Otherwise...

I just wanna go watch another episode of The Waltons.

Goodnight sweet princess...

goldennib said...

I love The Waltons. They are escapist family life. I often thought I'd like to live in their family, but way too many people in the house for me.

Jenn said...

I know. It's completely unreal in today's context but you know, it may not have been all that time ago. My mom's family was very large and very poor (nine children who lived) but they seem to have had a really good time growing up and never realised they were poor. And they shared whatever they had with people who came to stay. And there were always people who came to stay.

lemontree said...

hi jenn
and i want to read the story on the right bag for the huge ass
congrats on all those assignments
and hearing about watching all that television- i so want time off. i do. i do. i do. anybody listening.

Jenn said...

Lemon, hi, welcome back. Take it from don't really want all this time on your hands... a short break may be nice. Maybe you could go to a hill station and start on that great novel...

goldennib said...

I took time off when I had my daughter. The first 3 weeks were great, then I couldn't stand it anymore. Everyone I knew, except other mommies, were at work. What brand of diapers you use does not hold my interest. I had to go back to work.

Jenn said...

Diapers, LOL...

Although I think I could be persuaded to stay at home for an extended period of time, making desserts and doing craft projects.
Like two days?