Saturday, October 28

Quiet French

Within an office, organised and stagnating, the smallest trifle is an event. What outside the office would be nothing at all becomes amplified and momentous inside. The office in which I work goes through peaks and troughs of noise; one moment you cannot hear yourself think, the next you could hear a pin drop on the dirty, trodden carpet. Of course all carpets in office are terrible things and a pin dropping upon it would not be the biggest stain. I will never walk barefoot on an office carpet because to do so would be an injustice to my ten toes. During half-term all the children are out of school and sometimes they come into the city on a day out. During the week it is not uncommon to see a suited man pushing a pram along the pavement and it is not uncommon either to see him quite irritated by the interruption to his working day; perhaps my eyes are deceitfully unkind, but it appears to me they are not glad for the visit during their lunch-hour when, to take the hour, is an affront to one’s employer. The mothers seem exhausted, the children excited, the fathers irritated.
It was on the last day of the working week, walking in habitually late, that I jumped at the sight of a child in the office.
Jumped, no less, and I smiled.
She was Y—a’s daughter, a child of no more than five (although I write this as someone with many young cousins and not a single idea of how old children look at a particular age). She was perched on a faux-leather chair at the side of Y—a’s desk and had her (mother’s) thick black hair tied up in two bunches that bloomed wildly on each side of her head. I jumped and I said—‘O hello!’ as I walked past and smiled. Despite my niece, I am still very uncomfortable around children but I had met this child before and as I was friends with the mother, Y—a, it seemed no effort at all to wish the little girl hello. She eyed me suspiciously and I sat down, still smiling. I smiled so much because she is, what some may call, the sweetest little button. She is big black hair like her mother and big black eyes like her mother and a little nose and cherubic to the last and she was dressed, like her mother still, in cutely uncoordinated attire and bright accessories.
I got up to get myself a glass of cold water and Y—a was arranging a laptop for her daughter and plugging some headphones into the laptop and speaking to her daughter in quiet French and the daughter was talking back in quiet French, and I smiled widely. Often I heard Y—a on the phone to her family talking in French, but to hear them communicating in person was so much to me that I could not help but smile as I poured the cold water. They both spoke quietly, the daughter following her mother’s cue and adjusting the headphones about her tied hair.
We were all working, all the employees, and it was one of those moments when the office was silent. The sound was so loud that it startled everyone; the daughter laughed and she laughed so loudly that everyone laughed back at her, although she could not hear. She giggled loud and sharp! We all laughed and I turned around to see her laughing at the film she was watching. She did it again and everyone else laughed again. ‘This is brilliant,’ I said. When I went to the photocopier I stared at the daughter watching the film and I smiled and she looked at me and she smiled as well. ‘Is it good?’ I asked. She told me it was.
For the rest of the day, our working silence was interrupted by the sound of her giggling and laughing, shrieking with glee at the films she watched.
At one o’clock Y—a emerged from a meeting saying (in French)—‘You poor girl!’ and took her for lunch. When they got back, she introduced me to her daughter, C—a. She spoke again in French and I understood a few words, as well as my name, before her daughter came over and shook my hand.
Mostly I find children unlikeable in the extreme, but this little girl was so sweet that I bent down and shook her hand and said that it was nice to meet her. Her hand was so little. Maybe she was so much an echo of her mother – whom I am very fond of – or maybe because she had blessed the office with her laughter all morning, but it really was very nice to meet her.
Later on she was watching another film on a faux-leather sofa in the breakout area. The laptop was propped up precariously on the arm and the cord from the headphones ran to her head as she wiggled and flailed trying to find a comfortable position. I saw her when I went to & fro for a cigarette. I asked her—‘Are you watching Puss in Boots?’ and she nodded. She said—‘Puss is a good fighter!’ I asked her—‘Is he using his sword?’ ‘Yeah,’ she said, and she pretended that she had a sword.
It was Friday night and I had packed away some work I had to do over the weekend. I am not in the habit of saying good-bye to anyone other than my close friends, so I got up and walked out. As I did, I passed C—a and said—‘Bye C—a, have a good weekend!’ and she said good-bye and I said good-bye to Y—a, too. As I walked to the toilet she caught up with me and said my name and—‘Look what I can do!’ and she did the world’s worst and slowest roly-poly. I laughed and said—‘Very good!’ and she ran away. I peed and then I walked home. It was cold and the wind blew into my shirt. I bought a lot of beer from the cornershop and said to the cashier—‘I ain’t seen you in ages! I’ve been coming in the morning, when I need baccy.’ I bought some sweets too. I went home and kept all the lights off. It gets dark so early now. When the clocks go back it will get dark earlier still.

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