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The Gate Keeper (Chapter 12: In which Mama E thinks)

Date posted: August 22, 2012

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by Andrew Miller TBW Smith Jones Wallace Broadbent and Ndimande is an agency in crisis. Their ‘basket of boutique services’ strategy has bombed. Only a massive new project can keep the doors open – all eyes are now on the corporate tent at Mangaung. Far in the background, an emergency replacement executive PA with decades of experience makes important decisions. Interns rise, board members take unexpected steps and things begin to change…

Mama E faces the facts of her life, considers the truth about advertising and begins to reassess how it all went wrong…

The Gate Keeper (Chapter 12: In which Mama E thinks)

Mama E parked her silver Daihatsu Sirion in the empty parking garage and snorted deeply, the taste of drain cleaner slipping terribly down her seventy year old throat. She was, she knew, far too old to be indulging like this. Now she had a terminal headache and an olfactory system that would be completely contaminated for days. Still, it had been fun – there was no doubt about that. And she was particularly proud of her restraint when it came to the table dancing. Maybe old age did bring a modicum of wisdom after all.

She walked gingerly through the creative commons to her desk. At 8:00 am on a Saturday the place was bizarrely quiet. Later, she knew, the slaves would start to dribble in and click, but now it was eerily empty, like a post apocalyptic chicken farm.

She turned on the filter coffee, flopped down at her desk and wondered why she had come in. She had given Gerald some pretext about fetching files but the truth was she couldn’t sleep, or be in the house, or even think about breakfast. She was, she admitted, almost possessed by the need to come in and sit at her desk, where she now was, thinking about why such a thing should be as true as it was. She snorted again, winced and swallowed, and chased it with some filter. Something was most definitely wrong. She just needed to figure out what it was.

The thing with Tim Broadbent was ever present, but she knew – as she was sure he did too – that she had come too far with Gerald to risk throwing it all away, again. The vibes would have to just stay where they were, lingering and tantalising, up in the air.

Maybe, she thought, it had something to do with the Jeff Hacket story, which she had heard for the first time the night before. She found the whole thing quite shocking and sad. Not even the hard, cynical edge of the Columbian could stop the frequent rushes of empathy, to the point where once or twice she was forced to retire to the ladies to compose herself. Now, sitting snorting and wincing and sipping early on a Saturday morning, she thought about why. Such stories were hardly new – they were, in fact, pretty much par on the advertising course. Maybe, she thought, Jeff Hackett tapped into a strange recurring feeling she had had since she returned to the business. A feeling that she was, in a metaphorical and metaphysical way, actually looking down on her earlier self. And this time round, her vision was much improved. She considered now how arrogant she had been while in the business, and worse, how perversely confident too. How much she had believed. In the value. In the art. The creativity. The edge. The talent. The industry.

Now, coming back as a simple secretary – and yes, she would admit, a simple fat and old secretary – she had a new frame of reference completely. And what she saw was far from pretty. Ironically, though, she found the Jelly Babies themselves quite charming and considerably more attractive than when she was one herself. They were all so slim and funky and shiny. As individuals, she saw each little one only within the frame of his or her own life and loves and challenges and ambitions. It was as a group that the grime really showed. And in the middle of that group she saw her earlier self, aged forty something, marching up and down the corridors proclaiming and teasing and mouthing off and being oh so clever and successful and all that.

She cringed. Her shoulders actually contracted and hunched as she took another sip and faced this interior view of herself. There it was. There could be no denying it. She was ashamed.

All of which led her back to Gerald. He who had blown their entire savings on that Man Expo, he who she blamed for pretty much everything that had gone so shockingly wrong in their pre-retirement years. But when she looked back now, from the all seeing eye of the head PA’s chair, she saw the truth. The Man Expo could have worked. Expos had made people money before, and since, their ill fated venture.   It might not have been the best idea on the planet, nor the shrewdest way to use their savings. The Northgate Dome may not have been the best venue for an LSM 10+ event, but they had, truth be told, gone into it together.

And beyond the Man Expo, there was a deeper truth – Gerald was never like that. He was never an ego bloated industry sucker fish. He had never done what she did. There was no trail behind his life that would be better swept away. He was, fiscal foolery aside, a solid, honest and lovable man.

And suddenly, like a faucet bursting, Mama E began to cry.

Part 1 -12. Part 13: August 29.
Author: Andrew Miller Illustrator: Lebohang Goge