Tuesday, 26 June 2018
It wasn’t until our meeting was over when my boss made an announcement without having cleared it with me first.
“I hope you’ll enjoy your stay overnight at the hotel we’ve booked for you Mademoiselle Tombal,” he said with a smile, “Victor will meet you at seven this evening for dinner, and then he’ll take you to the theatre to see a performance of our beloved William Shakespeare!”
“What?” I thought to myself silently, “I have other plans for this evening …”
Mademoiselle Tombal said she looked forwards to a pleasant evening and left with one of our executives to be chauffeur driven to the luxurious hotel we had booked for her.
My boss apologized profusely as honestly as he could possibly lie and explained that he had planned to take her out himself but because of urgent family business he’d be for ever grateful if I did it instead.
“And you speak French so well,” he said flattering me, “she’ll be so impressed by it!”
I didn’t believe him but had no option but to accept his unwelcome decision.
I made sure I was impeccably dressed and my shoes very well polished when I picked her up at the hotel and took her to a first class restaurant. We made polite conversation about this and that and I prayed that this evening would soon be over.
After our meal we were chauffeur driven to the theatre for a performance of Hamlet by some of our top British actors.
My boss, who certainly has style, had booked us balcony seats all to ourselves. There we were, Veronique and I in our own balcony, when two men came in pushing a trolley with a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket, two glasses, and a large box of the best chocolate truffles you could imagine.
“My boss is certainly keen to win this contract …” I thought to myself, “he hasn’t missed a trick so far … luxurious hotel, chauffeur driven car, grand restaurant, a balcony at the theatre and now this … I’d better be on my best behaviour … I wouldn’t want to be the reason why this contract is lost!”
Before the performance started I tried to make small conversation about Shakespeare and Hamlet in particular, trying hard to remember what I’d been taught at school all those years ago. But it soon became apparent that Veronique was very well educated in English literature having spent some years at a top British University in her youth.
“Something else which my boss had omitted to tell me …” I thought to myself cursing him in the process.
Thankfully, the performance started giving me the opportunity to remain silent and praying that the evening would soon be over without me making any more silly mistakes. Once this play is finished, I’d accompany her to the hotel and hey presto … I’m free to go home to my family!
As the play progressed I noticed she held a handkerchief to her eyes several times.
“Was she getting emotional?” I thought, “Hamlet is not exactly a comedy, but I saw no reason for tears … Maybe she remembers her time at University in England … an old friend perhaps had come to mind … some handsome young man she once loved maybe … and now she wonders what could have been …”
I didn’t know what to do. I looked ahead pretending not to notice her and every so often I looked sideways at her without moving my head. I think she was crying all right. She kept raising her handkerchief to her eyes every now and then.
If I said nothing she’d think I was an un-caring so and so … and if that’s the way I deal with a person who is clearly upset then our Company certainly doesn’t deserve this big contract. And if we were to lose the contract my boss would blame me and most possibly fire me for ruining it all for him.
On the other hand, if I tried to console her and say something she’d probably resent it and be embarrassed by the whole affair and blame me for making it obvious that she’s distressed. And we’d lose the contract and my boss would fire me anyway.
Perhaps if I offered her another chocolate truffle? No … that might remind her of her boy-friend who used to take her to the theatre and buy her chocolates and …
My mind was doing somersaults and I did not know what to do for the best.
Maybe I should pretend to cry too, wipe my eyes every now and then … that would show her that I am a sensitive man well moved by this magnificent performance of Hamlet. But then, people expect business men to be tough … and we’d lose the contract and …
On the other hand, she might think that it’s nice for a man to show his feelings … in touch with one’s feminine side and all that …
To cry or not to cry? That is the question which repeated in my mind.
It was then that she said, “Would you assist me please? I seem to have lost one of my contact lenses. It just fell to the ground.
“I have another pair in my handbag. They are in a little tube. Would you mind getting them for me please?” And she handed me her handbag.
I placed her bag gingerly on my knees and put my hand in to try and find a little plastic tube containing her spare contact lenses.
Why do women have to carry the whole world and his uncle inside their bags? Why do they need all this stuff?
The first thing I picked out was a tube of lipstick … I put it back in. Then a small bottle with some cleaning fluid for lenses, a tube of cool mints sweets, a small box with needles and thread, a packet of French cigarettes … and several other items too … !!!
“The container is in a side pocket on the left” she said.
I looked left and right and left again but it was far too dark to see anything in her handbag. I pushed my head almost right into the handbag resting on my knees but I could not find her contact lenses.
Then I found a cigarette lighter and I thought “Aha … let there be light!”
I lit the lighter … held it in my hand and carefully put it in the handbag … I put my face right into the handbag and peered down in the darkness therein to see if I could find the contact lenses.
And that’s when it happened.
As the man on the stage was saying loudly “To be or not to be” I set my hair on fire.
I dropped the handbag and its contents on the floor … tried frantically to put the fire out without drawing the attention of the whole audience to a separate comedic performance in our balcony … whilst Mademoiselle Veronique emptied the bottle of champagne on my head, followed by the bucket of ice, and then proceeded to hit me several times with her theatre program to ensure the fire in my hair was well and truly out!
I was soaking wet with champagne and freezing water and quite a few of my curls had perished in the forest fire which took place on my cranium.
Eventually the fire was out and we found her spare contact lenses.
She thought the whole performance was hilarious … and I don’t mean Hamlet!
We did win the contract but I had great difficulty explaining my singed hair to my wife and family … and my boss is pleased that I’d go to any lengths to gain a contract for him.