• Grietje Y. M. François

Hidden Figures 1/7

episode 1/7

Photo by Paul Wong on Unsplash

Japanese - "Many of them wear masks!" he says while his eyes look straight into mine. He takes a sip of his tea.

I sit on the couch across from him, letting these words sink in. I look at him, at his teacup, avert my gaze towards the window to study the view of the river crossing this town. What masks could they be wearing? Who would be wearing one? I start counting them. See their faces flashing by.

"They're afraid. I've seen it happen in many cases. It's fascinating what a professional environment can do to people. How it can keep a person’s true potential behind bars." He interrupts my train of thought.

I nod.

"Just promise me you won't go digging for anything. Focus on what makes you happy, on who you want to be."

A smile appears on my face. I nod and say "Yes!"

"Let's call it a day. See you next week! Same time," he confirms while he gets up from his chair and accompanies me to the front door. I put on my coat, my backpack and my shoulder bag, thank him, confirm the next appointment and leave. Off to work I guess. I really don't feel like it. I never feel like it after a session. Luckily, I get to eat first. I wonder what today's lunch menu will be: tonkatsu*? My favourite Japanese restaurant is on my way to the office, it would be self-inflicted cruelty to not take advantage of it. I can put some thoughts on paper while I wait for my food. It's always so silent there, so meditative. I love it!


The welcoming comes from the kitchen right in front of the entrance. I look around and enjoy this short trip down memory lane. Everything in this restaurant is authentic. It reminds me of my time as a student in Osaka. I inhale the faint perfume of freshly fried food. Only one table is taken. Four Japanese people enjoy a quick business lunch and chat discretely amongst each other.

"Hitori desu," I confirm to the owner of the restaurant. "I'm alone."

She points towards my regular table. I take off my backpack and shoulder bag and put them on the chair next to mine. I restrain myself just in time from grabbing my phone. What a horrible habit! I take off my coat and go to the bathroom. Done, I wash my hands and look at myself in the vintage mirror. Get a hold of yourself woman! My thoughts wander off to the office. Who would be wearing a mask, and why? So much for my promise not to dig.

Back at my table I grab my notebook and tear out a piece of paper, somewhere at the center of the binding so it goes smoothly. I take my pen and hold the nib close to it. Let me think. Not a good idea, it should come fluently, like pouring out fluids. My right ring finger feels wet. "Shit!" A tiny drop of black ink stains my skin just above the nail. It will take a few trips to the sink and some decent soap to get that off. I don't bother and start writing.

"Where is my Shangri-La*?" I whisper while I write it down.

Where is that imaginary place I can find refuge when things become too stressful?

"Hai, tonkatsu desu!" says the waitress while she slides a large wooden plate towards me. Lunch has arrived. I put my stuff aside and admire the dishes in front of me."Itadakimasu*," I say to myself with my chopsticks in my hand and start eating.

In my car on the way to the office I allow myself to murmur that first sentence again. I didn't take the time to write any further. I need to picture it first, that always helps. I'm a visual learner, so I'm better off respecting that talent.

"Where is my Shangri-La?". Nothing! My inner sparring partner seems to be off. This is going to be a very grey afternoon, as grey as the weather. Looking on the bright side: I'll be on time for my meeting. That's the spirit!

Upon arrival I park my car somewhere on the grass parking lot between an older version of mine and an SUV. I get out, throw my backpack over my shoulder, grab my other bag, start looking for my keys that I usually leave hanging underneath the steering wheel - yet again, there they are - close the door and go inside. I pass by some ladies down the hall chatting about the upcoming weekend and find my way to my cubicle. It's quite empty; today I don't mind.

"Hitori desu" I remind myself out loud.

"Hey, girl friend, how was your session?" Christopher asks from behind me, unable to dim his enthusiasm. "Have you finally decided to quit your job?" he adds with a smile on his face.

"Ssht, lower your voice, people don't need to know everything!" I'm slightly irritated and he notices it.

"Was it that bad? Or good?" he asks while taking a seat on the empty chair next to mine. Puts his hands on either side of it, crosses his legs and fixes me with those big brown eyes of his. They always fill me with the sensation that any attempt to keep a secret from him is in vain.

"Hey, M. did you get my email?"

I turn around and see Anthony hanging over my cubicle.

"I just got here" I answer bluntly.

"You mean you don't check your emails on the way?" he responds theatrically.

"No, I drive over here." I pull out my computer from my backpack and plug it in. Put my notebook, pen and cell phone next to it. Take off my coat and sit down with the two guys looking at me as if waiting for something spectacular to happen.

"Anthony, give me a minute to get started and I'll check whatever it is you've sent." I take a deep breath and start typing my password.

"Don't bother, it was just a message saying D. wants to see you in his office asap. It has something to do with the designs you left him yesterday. Oh! And he seemed troubled. See ya!" Anthony stalks away and leaves me with an even bigger feeling of shame about myself.

Assumptions start popping up in my head and I can't get them to stop. They go from bad to worse. I close my eyes and hear someone whisper: "Find your Shangri-La!" I open them and shake my head slightly.

"Relax Maggie, it can't be that bad! Maybe he wants to give you a promotion, because you're so talented!" Christopher says while getting up. He starts massaging my head which messes up my hair. He grabs my shoulders firmly and wishes me good luck. I take one more deep breath, get up from my chair, redress my hair and start walking up the stairs to my boss’s office.

The first ray of sunlight of the day blinds me when I set foot on the carpet floor at the top of the stairs. All curtains are open, so the sunlight gets to cover all the office furniture with a warm glow. This floor is even more empty than ours. Out of the five floors our company rents, the top one is almost always empty. The rest of the employees are divided over the four floors below. The structure reflects a typical drop down corporate culture. Our company's senior management gets to sit above the worker bees. Except for official matters, we hardly see any of them. Maybe they prefer to avoid the stairs? Maybe there is no senior management?

I continue walking on my uncomfortably high heels towards the office of our newbie sales and marketing director. "DAMIAN FRANCIS", it says on the glass door at the end of the lane. That's him, mediocre by nature and not too cocky to bring his ass down to the 4th occasionally. I straighten my skirt, scratch an itch on my leg with my stiletto, knock at the door and await a response. I get only silence. I knock again. So much for asap and I'm skipping a meeting because of this. I knock once more, wait, but nothing. I start to sweat. It feels like I'm standing with my back against a heater. I turn around and look straight into the pitch-black eyes of a gruesome white mask with long bushy grey hair. My heart skips a beat and I feel my breathing become shorter. I can't utter a sound. Only my eyes seem to be working. I move them down the suited creature and notice black needle-like nails growing from its sleeves. I clap both hands over my mouth and can feel my lips mouthing "What the f


*tonkatsu: Japanese dish of fried pork.

*irasshaimase: Japanese for "welcome" in a store or restaurant.

*Shangri-La: is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton.

*-teishoku: added to the name of a dish, it refers to a set meal with a main dish and side dishes included.

*itadakimasu: Japanese expression of gratitude for the food that you receive.


author Grietje Y. M. François

edited by Christopher Dunkley - chrisdunkley.biz

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