It didn’t start well and it has been downhill since. First impressions did not look favourable for sharing the office with Yaya Boudica. That’s not her real name. I can’t recall her real name because when we first introduced ourselves she mocked the way I pronounced her birth name which was Chinese; a language with linguistic hills, valleys, oceans and deserts I find impossible to traverse with my flat footed American tongue. Since she responded with derision to my friendly and multiple attempts get her name correct, I rechristened her Yaya Boudica. She then proceeded to correct my English. This would have been almost acceptable except she was wrong. My error was her misunderstanding and I assured her of this, and insisted this against her repeated arguments to the contrary. Rather than continue this dialogue, I decided it was time for a cup of tea.
“Can I get you a cup of tea?”
“Yes. Have you eaten?” I thought this was an invitation to go to lunch and despite my misgivings, my gregarious nature won over.
“No. I haven’t. Would you like to get some lunch at the canteen?”
“No. Just the tea.”
“Okay.” I said confused and walked out trying to parse the confusing interaction, trying to decide if there was a cultural disconnect occurring or if I now had a jack ass for an office mate? I soon found out it was something else. I had for an office mate, a mad woman.
This became clear later in the day when she came into the office in a panic. She was near tears over the loss of a jade ring. She interrogated me about the other office mate, a quiet Belgian with whom my interactions with were limited to him leaning over from behind his monitor to smile his morning greeting.
"Can he be trusted?"
"Yes. I think so. I am sure he wouldn't steal your ring." She did not question me about the other office mate, a Chinese man whose name plate was on the other desk but whom I had never actually seen in the building.
"It's my guardian." She explained of her ring.
"Okay. Where did you have it last?"
"In this office, I took it off. What about the cleaning man? Or maybe someone else came in here and took it."
"Was this an expensive ring?"
"No. I got it in China. But it is my guardian."
"I think a thief would probably take one of these computers or your laptop if they were going to take anything." I continued to try and help her, assuring her that it was lost, not stolen.
"I am going to call my mother. She will send me a new ring." I cannot fairly describe the conversation that followed after she dialled the incantation to raise her mother to a telephone on the other side of the globe. I have no sensitivity to the nuances of spoken Chinese. I can tell you that the first time I had heard such noises was when I used to live in a neighbourhood that had too many tom cats and their night battles took place under my window. Except tom cats don't cry and blow their nose. When she ran out of the room trailing sobs, the Belgian leaned over, looked at me and shrugged his shoulders.
"Well put," I said. The next day, as she sniffled and repeated the importance of her guardian ring, she was going through a folder from which dropped the missing ring. I feigned excitement at such a fortuitous conclusion to this drama. What a fool I was. Loud crying bubbled up and burst forth anew. This as she explained meant she will lose face. She would have to explain to her mother that the ring was not stolen. I asked what would happen if she was given a new ring instead. She shrugged her shoulders. I asked for her ring and then left the room. I returned immediately and said, “Yaya. I got you a new guardian ring to replace your lost one.” To which, she smiled and laughed and thanked me. I said, “No problem” and wrote on my to-do list, ask boss if I can work from home three days a week. I have come to know that these panics and tempests are a weekly occurrence but not before I had given her my mobile phone. On the upside, the Belgian has started to talk but it’s mainly to trade theories on the particular mental malady that afflicts our office mate.