In the end, I did remember the acronym of that United Nations agency I would be interning for. Indeed, in many ways knowing for whom one is working is a prerequisite of working for them. Perhaps not a necessary prerequisite, but a prerequisite nonetheless. I took a quick glance at my offer letter on the morning of my first day of work. I was happy to ascertain that I would be working for the United Nations Development Organisation. UNDO for short.
Ypres feels the acronym should have been given more thought. I find it a fine acronym, and do not see what she has against it. Yet, she made the same face as when I suggested the formation of a Federated Association for Researching Tourette’s Syndrome. It was the kind of squint one would find on a scallop. I have given up philanthropy ever since.
I did not get much sleep with Ypres by my side. She does not snore or make any ghastly noises in her sleep. Indeed, far from it. She sleeps in complete silence. No noise or movement comes from her person. This gives one the rather unsettling feeling of sleeping next to a tepid corpse. A rather harrowing experience for one who is set to perform well at one’s first day of work.
I was at a loss at what to wear. A rather unusual situation for me. To be safe, I went with a nice deep aubergine dress, accentuated with white pearls and a black Mount Blanc belt. A pair of large dark country green sunglasses, the kind one wears while touring Kent in a convertible, completed the ensemble.
I was all nerves, but Ypres insisted I have breakfast. Fortified with a bowl of oatmeal and some berries, the whole washed down with mint tea, I left the Park Avenue flat. The morning doorman wished me a good day, in that particular American way of forced enthusiasm, as I dashed out towards Lexington Avenue.
Like an intrepid bank robber plotting a heist, I had plotted the best route to get to my new corporate HQ. In many ways, bank robberies and working are the same. The ultimate goal is to gain money. Whether one serves a life sentence in a prison or at one’s desk, the semantics, if that is the word I am looking for, remain the same. Of course, the former does involve putting stockings on one’s head. This appears like a guaranteed way to dislodge one’s carefully coiffed hair.
My escape route, as it were, involved getting on the 6 train at Lexington Avenue and 77th Street down to Grand Central. From Grand Central, I would be free to roam the offices of United Nations agencies stationed in the mid-forties between Lexington Avenue and the East River.
I reached 77th street sans soucis, as I believe Frederick the Great used to say between shouting matches with Voltaire. I felt relief that the first part of my plan had gone so well. Having taken the tube in London on a number of occasions, I felt prepared for the New York subway. Evidently I was not.
I did not so much go down the steps into the stations as I was pushed down. It took me a moment to realise that I had reached the ticket turnstile, as opposed to a gruesome warehouse murder scene. A murder scene with a particular profligacy of bodily fluids. With each step, the soles of my shoes stuck to the sticky floor, which, evidently, had not been washed since the Great Depression. The station had the charm of a Cold War chemical armament factory undergoing decontamination.
I waited on the platform with most of the Upper East Side. The heat was excruciating. I would have been cooler crossing the Sahara in tweed. When a train finally arrived it was full. Yet, people still pushed on. In the silent jostling, I was left on the platform. Another train filled to capacity passed by as I stood powerless in my own sweat.
Finally, lubricated by my own sweat and an unknown liquid that had fallen on me from the ceiling, I squeezed on to the third train that reached the station. Pressed against what I assumed to be at least another dozen lifeforms, I felt capacity had been reached. I was soon disabused of my illusion.
My terrified eyes met the determined gaze of a mother on the platform. Then, quickly moved down to those of her child in a stroller. The mother took two steps back, and then two forward. “What is she doing?” I whispered to myself as I prayed that the train leave the station and get on its way. She repeated the process a couple of times until I realised, with my limited knowledge of basic physics, that she was trying to gain momentum. Using her stroller and child as a battering ram, she forced her way across my ankles and over my toes into the subway car.
I spent the journey to Grand Central holding in my breath, with wounded feet, and squished like a sardine. I was finally able to exhale once I climbed the stairs out to street level by the Chrysler building. I was a mess. I quickly needed to find a ladies’ room to put myself back together. I had barely survived the subway ride.
Of course, this being Manhattan, there were no ladies’ room to be found. I reached the reception of the office building in which UNDO is located. I was a few minutes early so I dashed into a corner to rearrange myself. I felt that I had successfully camouflaged myself behind a pillar to attempt to dislodge a particularly unrelenting wedgie, as I believe they are referred to on Ivy League campuses. (Is it campuses or campi?) I was midway in what would turn out to be my second and successful attempt when a voice called my name.
I was about to issue a melodious “how may I help you”, when I caught sight of a sight I had feared to see since the previous summer at the Serpentine in Hyde Park.
There stood Michael Beaconsfield-Outremont: the muscular-thighed Montrealer. He was wearing a grin and the same black Mont Blanc belt I had affixed on to my waist two hours earlier.
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