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LIZZIE'S WORLD: A rough patch at work

Saturday February 16 2019

Fatma is silent for a very long time.

Fatma is silent for a very long time. ILLUSTRATION | JOSEPH NGARI 

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“Fatma,” I say, bracing myself for what is likely to be a very difficult conversation.

“Yes, honey!” she says so enthusiastically that I feel terrible for what I am about to do to her. “I saw you in the papers today!” she continues, sounding like a warm, sunny beach day. “I am so happy for you! Congratulations!”

“Eh, yes,” I say, reaching for the glass of water on the table besides me to whet my mouth a little, as I am feeling suddenly parched. “In fact that’s what I am calling about.”

“Right, you want us to do an advertisement for the media about your job?” We both laugh at that preposterous idea. “You know, now you’re the ‘in charge’, so anything you want, we can do.” More laughter — except that mine is tinged with a hint of nervousness. Thankfully Fatma can’t tell.

“Listen, you know I won’t be able to handle marketing any more, and I have had to find a replacement.”

“Of course,” she says brightly. “So who shall we be working with?”

I take a deep breath. Here it comes. “Louise. You will be working with Louise.”

Fatma is silent for a very long time. In that time, beads of sweat break out on my forehead. The collar of my top feels rather tight, and I become aware of a throbbing vein in my temple.

“I see,” she finally says. The sunshine in her voice has been replaced with a chill that could freeze a beer in seconds.

“So, um … I mean … I know it’s, ah, going to be …” I start. Fatma interrupts.

“How could you do this to me?” she spits. “You know how it is with me and her. Are you trying to take your business away from us? Why don’t you just say so instead of playing these silly games?”


The nervousness I am feeling is replaced with a spark of anger; it’s like Fatma has let our friendship go to her head and completely forgotten that I am a paying client and I do not expect her to interfere in internal staff matters.

“Fatma, first of all, I do not appreciate your tone,” I say firmly, using my best business-type voice. “You must remember who you are in relation to this job — and you are not the person to tell me who I can and cannot hire.”

Fatma interrupts me again. This time it sounds like she is about to cry. “Why would you do this to me Liz?” It’s like she hasn’t heard a thing I have said previously. “Of all the girls, I’m the only one who has always stood by you through thick and thin! I have been there for you since the beginning and now you want me to hang out with that Jezebel as if we’re friends?”

“Fatma, I’m sorry,” I capitulate. “I just have to have someone who understands the business …”

“And what do you want me to do?” she spits. “Withdraw my company? You know I can’t work with her. You know that!”

“But Fatma, please …” and then I remember who I am, and re-think what I am about to beg. Instead, I tell her: “Fatma, I like how you and your people work. You also won the tender and there’s no way I can reverse that at this stage. So I will have to ask you to grow up and find a way to make this situation work. Am I clear?”

Fatma sucks her teeth. “Yes. Very clear,” she says. Then she hangs up.

I take a deep breath, and then pick up my extension to call Louise. “I want you to call a meeting with the agency for next week,” I tell her.

“What?!” she yelps. “You want me to summon Fatma? She won’t listen!”

“Yes, she will,” I say. “You’re the client. She is client service. She will listen.”

“I don’t have the courage-,”

“Shhh,” I emphasise. “Just do as I have told you. She will adjust.” Then I hang up and roll my eyes; why must certain clear-cut terms of engagement become so difficult just because of a personal issue?