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Paradigm Shift (by Louis Harris )

This is the gay version of "Until Today".

Work to strict, enforced, deadlines. Never leave the office early. Follow the rules as though your life depended on them. I was about to become the recipient of the downside of having my boss for a lover. Roland had made it quite clear the day I joined his company to bring in an account within three months. Days spent lounging about the office as a casual staffer seemed a thing of the past. Gold bars and pearl necklaces waited at the end of this rainbow.

Amarula Wine Estate, in the heart of Paarl, led by bright, get rich quick, metrosexual males, required the agency to broadcast a simple ‘people’s message’. At the start of the weekend I had made it quite clear to Roland that he was not to come near me.

He stared at me in horror and I knew I had said it wrong.

‘What do you mean don’t come close to you this weekend? Are you sick?’

‘The Amarula Wine presentation is on Monday and I need to be on top form. You’ll make things worse. Stay away.’ I warned slowly.

My cheeks burned as he brushed his fingers along the contour of my neck. ‘Danie, I’m counting two days without you!’

As much as I wanted him to stay, I couldn’t allow it this weekend. Distraction.

I sang out loud, ‘You want us to get this account, right?’

‘You have to. The business depends on it. If you fail, well, we both fail and…history will make idiots of us.’

‘I won’t fail, Roland. You’ve seen most of the presentation and only had good words to say about it.’

‘Whatever you do, be calm, confident and gutsy and make sure the stakes are raised so high that these guys simply have to accept our proposal above all others. Afterwards we’re going on a long trip. It’s a surprise, so don’t ask.’ He taunted.

‘Now do you see why I need to be alone. I have to deal with every aspect of the presentation and I don’t want you hanging around. I’ll see you Monday morning, eight sharp.’

Roland sighed,
‘You’d better be there.’ He said, leaning forward, kissing me gently on the cheek.

I smiled back at him, ‘Only an earthquake will keep me away.’

Monday morning arrived with files carefully packed into a leather briefcase. This is the day I had worked for all of my life, to be in a boardroom with a gang of over-deodorised males, including Roland, and be heard. Strands of fear remind me of my roots. A glorified admin guy who likes to wear jeans and listens to Barbara Streisand.

Failure features in loser’s lexicons, Roland’s ego declared him a winner, and I couldn’t disappoint him or his company. He taught me everything about advertising. Being me wasn’t enough. I couldn’t compare with the strength of distinguished intelligence and power hunger. They’d wear grey. I dressed black.

I opened the front door and stopped dead.

The child stared at me.

She was large and brown, eyes swollen from crying, runny nose and grubby feet, toes curled into a grip on the step. Not much older than three. Barely out of crawling.

‘Hello, little one…’

I searched, no adult around. ‘What on earth brings you to my doorstep?’

Innocent eyes begged for help. Strings of silver tear-drops stained dirty-brown cheeks. A thumb plugged her mouth. No children here to scream at or play hide and seek. No mother to do the homework. No nanny. Refrigerator bare. Children’s toys scarce. No hands to pick up the little darling, both occupied with files and keys and briefcase. Leave the child dash to the car; she would come upon another person with more time to make a logical decision. A heartless thing to do.

I crouched beside her and softly said, in stilted Zulu, ‘Mena Danie, wena?’

The child smiled, at last, I thought, some kind of understanding,

‘M-o-o-s-a.’ She said, sad eyes flashing.

“Musa, What am I going to do with you? This is the most important day of my life and I have no idea where or who your parents are. I could call the police, but that will mean my job because they take such a long time to respond to anything.’

I took her hand, buckled her into the passenger’s seat, and dialled Roland’s number on the car-phone.

‘I have an emergency on my hands, and I don’t know what to do.’

‘Jesus don’t tell me you’re going to be late. Three of them are here drinking coffee. Where the hell are you?’

‘Don’t get ratty. I found a little lost girl on my doorstep this morning and I’m stumped here.’

‘You what? How the f**k did that happen?’

‘I haven’t got a clue. I suppose I have to phone the police about this but what if they tell me to stay put. Isn’t this supposed to be a scene of a crime? If I move her isn’t that kidnapping? Shit, Roland, I don’t know what to do.’

Fire and brimstone hurled through the line, the receiver was safer away from my ear. ‘You can’t bring her here, Danie! Who the hell’s going to look after her? I don’t want a screaming kid running amuck. Listen, you get rid of this kid and get here by eight. Get rid of the kid, Danie, or …’

‘What, Roland, or what?’

A serious whisper, ‘Consider this your last day.’

An unreasonable being. Roland’s absurd priorities didn’t include the child. It was obvious to me when he told me to get rid of her, that heartless human beings did exist. Laws protect children. Get rid of her sounded like a death knell.

Someone had rigged my morning. Perhaps my guide enjoyed sleeping. Faced with a risky solution involving a little lost girl and a life changing business presentation, I had to do what was best for both of us.

The call to the police brought an immediate response from a man who introduced himself as Inspector Tshabalala.

The inspector’s voice was deep, ‘Where is she now?’

‘I have her with me, in my car on my way to work.’

‘We received a report of a missing girl this morning. Her mother lost her at a shopping mall in the area and has been frantic all this time. If you stay there we will come and get her.’

‘I have a presentation at eight fifteen and can’t be late. Can you pick her up from my work?’

Boardroom doors, rosewood heavy, wide open like the jaws of an agitated ancient predator. The enemy gathered in the foyer, none whom I cared for or knew but guessed they held high positions at Amarula. Musa held onto me and I placed her into the chair beside me.

Grins like crooked sticks revealed smart curiosity but no one dared ask. None of their business. Roland walked in, noticed the block of flesh in his chair and immediately called me to one side,

‘What the f**k is this, a kindergarten? Are you a nanny? How can you bring her in here? I thought I told you to get rid of her.’

I said, ‘Shuffling of problematic priorities.’

‘We’ll talk about this later. Let’s get started.’

A few days ago Roland inspired with these words: Men in the boardroom are testosterone business machines, their minds perfectly attuned to anomalies in the speaker, one slip and the presentation self destructs. They get off on that.

Destruction, annihilation, anger and hate came to mind as the presentation drawled on, convincing these heartless heathens with every word, that our campaign was the best, it could easily have gone the other way. Standing ovation.

The police waited patiently in the foyer. A raggedy brown doll, the child’s mother, planted thick red lips on my forehead, thanking me for finding her little lost Musa. ‘Our lives would be forever intertwined.’ She said.

Destinations wreak havoc in the daily lives of the unwary. Musa’s appearance was the wake up call that catapulted me to a place I feared, loneliness.

I returned to my office feeling empty. A few moments later, Roland stormed in waving his arms in excitement.

‘You were simply marvellous. They loved every second of it. You’re the best!’ He reached for me.

I stepped away from him.

‘I’m happy you’re happy, Roland.’ I said, collecting my briefcase and car keys from the table.

‘Where are you going?’

‘You’ve lost the right to ask me that question.’

‘Lost the right? What are you talking about?’

‘What I want in life doesn’t include people who abuse their moral worth. It doesn’t mean much to you, but that child has a soul and a heart. That child deserves to be with people who care for her. This is a crisis in her life, yours, and mine and you fail.
I loved you so much, hoped we would build a huge empire so that we may never want for anything in life except the best, until today. You’re not the man I met, and you certainly aren’t the kind of boss I would like to work for, knowing that you could get rid of me at any time for any reason. Like you told me to get rid of Musa. I don’t know who you are.’

‘I’m your lover remember. We want to get married, remember.’

‘Not anymore.’

I walked out and didn’t bother to look back.
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