"Don't you think she sounds British?" Anne asks them.
"Well," Susan says, "there's some Nigerian there."
There is some Chinese in Susan's voice. Her thick-rimmed glasses are stylish. Her jacket is too big for her and her slender fingers poke out of her sleeves.
"I think she sounds British," Anne says.
"She sounds like herself," Linda says.
Her braids are thin and arranged into a neat donut shape on her crown.
There is a Linda in every office, Deola thinks, who will not waste time showing a newcomer how much her boss annoys her. Why she remains with her boss is understandable. How she thinks she can get away with terrorizing her boss is another matter.
"I should say English," Anne says. "What does British mean anyway? It could be Irish or Welsh."
"I don't think Ireland is part of Great Britain," Susan says, blinking with each word.
"Scottish, I mean," Anne says.
"I can't understand the Glaswegian accent," Deola says.
"I couldn't understand a word anyone said to me in Scotland," Anne says.
"They probably wouldn't understand a word we say over here," Linda says.
Deola notices leaflets on "commercial sex workers" and is conscious of being between generations. Old enough to have witnessed some change in what is considered appropriate. Her colleagues walk her through their system and she reverts to her usual formality. They show her invoices, vouchers and printouts. It is not relevant that they are in the business of humanitarianism. There are debits and credits, checks and balances. Someone has to make sure they work and identify fraud risks, then make recommendations to the executive team.
As an audit trainee, she was indifferent to numbers, even after she followed their paper trails to assets and verified their existence. How connected could anyone be to bricks, sticks, vats and plastic parts? Her firm had a client who did PR for the Cannes Film Festival and it was the same experience working for them. With Africa Beat, the statistics on HIV ought to have an impact on her and they do, but only marginally. The numbers in the brochure are in decimals. They represent millions. The fractions are based on national populations. Deola knows the virus afflicts Africa more than any other continent, women more than men and the young more than the old. Her examination of the brochure is cursory. She has seen it before and it is the same whenever she watches the news. Expecting more would be like asking her to bury her head into a pile of dirt and willingly take a deep breath in.
Ali is a womanor a Southern girl, as Anne refers to her. Her name is Alison. Deola doesn't find out until later in the evening when Anne treats her to dinner at a Brazilian restaurant. Ali is from Biloxi, Mississippi, and she is a florist. Anne is from Buffalo, New York, and she used to be a teacher there. They don't watch television.
"We haven't had one for let's see five, six years now," Anne says. "We read the newspapers and listen to NPR to keep up with what's going on."
"I watch too much television," Deola says.
She chides herself for finding belated clues in Anne's stubby fingernails as Anne gesticulates, so she brings up the title of the Lifetime Movie Network film.
"I thought, this has got be a joke. She woke up pregnant?"
"The networks in general don't credit women with any intelligence," Anne says. "Mothers especially."
"I can well imagine," Deola says.
Their table is under what looks like mosquito netting dotted with lights. Behind them is a fire with meat rotating on spits. The waiters wear red scarves around their necks and walk over once in a while with a leg of lamb, pork roast, filet mignon, scallops, shrimp and chicken wrapped in bacon. The bacon is more fatty than Deola is used to.
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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