Buoyed by a sentiment of possibility, I entered the UNDO office with a confident trust. I was rapidly informed by Mr. Ducale that I was to be dispatched to the Security Council for the morning. As he was mid-espresso, and wore a look of crafted yet polite exasperation, I did not press him further.
I found my way to the august chamber with the aid of a security guard. He was most friendly. In complete contrast to the one who manned the door of the Security Council. She treated the room as her own fief. By not considering her as my liege, I became the recipient of a grunt. Treating me like a disoriented tourist, she insisted on scrutinising my UN pass. Had she not been distracted by an actual disoriented tourist, I might never have got in. I would have been stuck answering her series of riddles to gain access to the room. She was a gatekeeper troll, I was a confident comely princess seeking access to the enchanted forest.
I entered the Security Council to find a seat with a placard which stated “United Kingdom”. How fortuitous, I thought to myself. It was doubly fortuitous, as fortuitous was my new word for the day. Ypres had informed me that phosphorous has an entirely different meaning. As such, I was informed by Ypres, I should not refer to my dress as a phosphorous purchase.
I sat in the seat behind the placard. It was most comfortable, and in a prime location. It was just right. Not too hard, or too soft. As a Briton, I appreciated that a seat had been set aside for my nationality.
I began to hum Land of Hope and Glory. The instrumental version, not the one with all the words. I got to the part with the horns, when a gentleman of the three-piece suit variety taped me on the shoulder and asked me to move.
“Why, pray tell, should I cede my seat? As a feminist, I see no reason to leave my seat to accommodate a man when there are plenty of seats available.”
“This is the Permanent Representative’s seat.”
“Well, he can’t be that permanent if he’s not here,” I harrumphed with dignity. “I shall have to have my lady’s assistant write to the British ambassador. My Uncle George works for the Foreign Office. If push comes to shove, he will contact the ambassador in person.”
“This is his seat,” came the reply.
“Then the ambassador should stand for his seat instead of lying about.”
I got out of my seat of my own accord. Although my daily subway rides made me more assertive than usual, my innate quiet dignity prevented me from going further. I had been bumped from orchestra to the dress circle.
I decamped to a red seat a few yards back. It was rather soft, and lacked the comfort of its predecessor. I received a revival tap on the shoulder, this time from a gentleman of the stripped tie variety. I was not in the mood to phone in a repeat performance.
I was finally directed to the green seats in the public gallery. The space where the legions of UN interns are stationed to take notes, and non-governmental organisations are exiled to irrelevance. This was the peanut gallery. My seat was hard and uncomfortable. It reclined too far, which meant that if I sought back support, my gaze ended up meeting not the assembled, but the top half of the back wall. And on that wall, art which Ypres would no doubt qualify as post-war Scandinavian. I soon discovered that a small writing table could be unfolded to write on.
An earphone was also provided. I untangled mine from my seat, and put it to my ear. Nothing came out of it. No sound. Until, rather suddenly, a torrent a guttural sounds emerged. It was interspersed with what I recognised as French and non-Commonwealth English. I put the earphone down.
Uncomfortable, I surveyed the room.
On the floor reserved for those whom history favours, men in suits greeted each another. All were perpetually pleased to see one another. Handshakes were firm. Elbows and shoulders were grabbed with warmth. Whispers were exchanged. It had the air of a Pall Mall club. Instead of taciturn waiters with silver salver hosting a bottle of port, there roamed staff from the Secretariat burdened with papers. Stacks and stacks of papers, stapled together and precariously balanced. Paper being rushed from one secretary to another, up to the translators’ booth, or in no particular direction.
As I finished to survey the room, I was faced with an eager smile from a young woman two aisles back. She pointed to my belt and then hers. We were wearing the same Mount Blanc belt. Before I could do anything, she rushed over and sat beside me.
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