Cats is right – the moment something happens you don’t really understand what is going on. The felines are talking about happiness but the idea works for fear as well.
At the time, I saw my first job overseas as an example of my strength/ my abilities – I was such a formidable person to work overseas in a small town. Now, I see my survival and my victories were all from listening to someone tell me what to do or me trying to do the right thing, failing and being forgiven. It wasn’t power that saved me, it was etiquette that saved me.
This story might make more sense if you read this first: [ Old guards and newbies overseas ]. I was in my new job for only a short time when the secretary of the unit invited me to her sister’s wedding. I asked the wife of the CFO for help and she arranged for a car to come and take me to a hotel close to the party venue where I would spend the night. She told me the arrangements were made as a way to support the staff; the company had only recently started to hire expat females in non-secretarial positions.
But along with the help, I was given specific instructions [don’t dance, don’t eat or drink anything and leave when the chauffeur tells you] and told I would have “assistants” to help me dress, which made me feel little on edge and slightly Cinderellaesque. I was also told that the wedding was of the secretary’s neighbor, not sister, as if this was very important information – the significance of that escaped me at the time.
On the morning of the event, I was told when May’s chauffeur (Jackson the Handsome) would pick me up and reminded that I should bring a change of work clothes. Bringing work clothes when I was going to a wedding party did not make sense, but then very little made sense that year.
Jackson was on time and I felt ridiculous as he put my two suitcases into car for a one-night trip. The hotel was about 45 minutes away – he drove in silence and when we arrived he told me when I was supposed to be back at the bell-hop’s desk for him to pick me up. My first taste of being bossed around by the hired help.
As I checked in, two gorgeous women came and stood next to me. I assumed they were trying to check-in as well but they told me that they were my “assistants.”
“How did you know it was me?” I asked.
They smiled and didn’t answer. We trooped up to the hotel room, they politely sneered at the two dresses I had brought with me, unveiled three monstrosities, picked the worst, applied make-up with a trowel and tortured my hair. At 7:59 I was unrecognizable and they were pleased.
I started at myself in the elevator mirror – I somehow had three times as much hair all elegantly looped and pined, long eyelashes, sculpted cheeks and a much larger bust.
Jackson gave no sign of my complete transformation, just repeated the previous instructions: don’t eat anything, don’t drink anything, don’t dance and out in front of the hotel at 11:30pm.
“Hotel!?!” I asked, “but if the party is at a hotel, why didn’t I stay there?”
He just shook his head and in another minute, he pulled up to the entrance. I could have walked in the same time it took to drive.
But he had my door open before I could formulate more questions. I followed the signs to the ballroom and was profusely greeted by the secretary who assigned two cousins, strikingly handsome men, to watch over me. They tried to get me to eat, drink and dance and I gamely refused although I couldn’t think of good reasons. More handsome men came to our table, chatting and flirting. Oh, I thought, insane amounts of make-up really does attract men. Who knew?
The secretary came over several times; I had told her I had to leave “early” at 11:30 and as I didn’t have a watch, I asked her the time.
“Only 10:30,” she said.
“It seems much later,” I answered, and she extended her arm to show me her huge, fancy watch. 10:30 indeed.
But after she left, I excused myself from the five men currently flirting with me and went to the washroom. I asked the attendant what time it was and she pointed to the small clock on the shelf above the sink: 11:28pm.
I panicked, “I have to go – now – now – how do I leave…”
And the attendant walked to the far wall and pushed it open. The wall moved and revealed a small room in which another attendant sat; they said something to each other in a language I didn’t understand.
“Lobby,” I babbled, “lobby, now, lobby,” and the woman pushed me into the small room and shut the wall.
Lovely, now I was stuck in some kind of secret cupboard with a woman who didn’t speak English and I was going to be late and Jackson would leave and I had no money and… second attendant pushed a wall, which opened, and she started walking down a corridor. I followed.
After a few turns we were in a service elevator, another few corridors, she pushed a door – and we were in the lobby. I could see the entrance and Jackson standing by the car. To my eternal salvation, I didn’t run to him, but turned back to the woman, pulled off two of my gold bangles and held them out to her.
She looked at them for a moment, took one, twisted in into two small circles and walked away.
I ran for Jackson.
I was hyperventilating as I got into the car so it took me awhile to realize that the ride to the hotel took about 2 minutes, but the ride back to where I was staying was taking more than ten minutes. Then we pulled up to a hotel I didn’t recognize.
“I am not staying here.”
“It has a nice fountain, go inside and look at the fountain. Next to it is a little cart, ask for a special sandwich to go.”
If he had asked me to scoop a frog from the fountain and eat it – I would have. I had passed way beyond my mental strength, beyond understanding and beyond caring – nothing made sense, nothing would ever make sense again. I had left a slew of handsome men who were flirting with me for hours, walked through walls, seen a woman bend mental and now I was supposed to be enjoying scenic hotels at 11:45pm. Fine. Next up: flying on a broomstick, transfiguration, defenestration, mummification – it was all the same to me.
to be continued…