"Now, is it Dee or Day-ola?"
Anne may well begin to curse and kick and Deola would merely take a step back. It surprises her how naturally this habit of detaching herself from her colleagues comes. They walk outdoors and into the humidity and racket of the ground transportation zone, two women in sensible suits and pumps. Anne waddlesshe is pigeon-toedand Deola strides as if she has been prompted to stand up straight.
"How was your flight?" Anne asks.
"Not bad," Deola says.
Lying like this is also instinctive. She wouldn't want to come across as a whiner. A bus roars past, the heat from its exhaust pipes enveloping them.
"Did you get enough sleep?" Anne asks.
"I did, thanks."
Anne regards her sideways. "I'm sure a few more hours won't hurt."
Deola's face has revealed more than she would like. They head toward the loading bay as Anne suggests she go to her hotel and start her review the next morning.
"If that's all right with you," she says.
"Of course," Anne says.
"Thanks," Deola says.
She has been working at LINK for three months, following a lackluster stint in a consultancy that specialized in not-for-profit organizations. LINK, an international charity foundation, has a hierarchy, but not one that encourages rivalry as the accountancy firm she trained in did. LINK's money comes from well-meaning sources and goes out to well-deserving causes. She is the director of internal audit at the London office and Anne is the director of international affairs at the Atlanta office.
Anne leaves her at the loading bay and returns with her car, a cream-colored Toyota Camry. The mat on Deola's side of the car is clean compared to Anne's, which is covered with sand. Anne has changed into sandals and her feet are pale, even though it is summer.
"So how is Kate doing?" she asks, as she drives off.
"Kate's very well," Deola says. "She's back at work this week."
Kate Meade is Anne's counterpart in the London office. She is pregnant with her second child and was sick with toxoplasmosis.
"It must be catching," Anne says.
"No, pregnancy, I mean. When last we spoke she said someone else in London has been on maternity leave. Pamela?"
"Pam Collins." "It must have been hard, with all the absences."
"Pam will be back soon."
"Yes. She's just had her baby."
Deola could be more forthcoming, but she prefers not to talk about her colleagues. Pam is on maternity leave until the end of the summer. The administrative department has been in a state of backlog. There was some talk about hiring a temp, but Kate decided not to. They had a temp from New Zealand once before and he took too many smoke breaks.
"Ali and I would like to have one," Anne says. "What did Pam have?"
"Um a boy, I believe."
"Ah, a boy. That's what I would like. Ali wants a girl."
Deola assumes Anne is married to a Muslim man, which makes her regret her moment of anxiety when, on her way to the bathroom on the plane, she saw a man who looked Arab reading an Arabic-to-English translation dictionary. He was dressed in military khakis. She was not the only passenger giving him furtive looks. Now she wonders if he was working for the US government.
She has reservations about the orange alert the US is on. She has referred to the alerts in general as Banana Republic scare tactics, like Idi Amin or Papa Doc trying to keep people in check with rumors of juju and voodoo, and has compared the Iraq war casualties to Mobutu sacrificing human blood to the gods to ensure his longevity in office. She is in the US to learn how the Atlanta office managed their launch of Africa Beat, an HIV awareness campaign. She and Anne talk about the UK launch, which is a few months away. Her colleagues in Atlanta have not been able to send all their financial records by e-mail or to explain figures via the phone.
From A Bit of Difference by Sefi Atta. Copyright © 2012 by Sefi Atta. Excerpted by permission of Interlink Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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