Just before dinner, I got a call from the government. Talk about bad timing! It’s never a good time to hear from them, but before dinner? They said I was in deep trouble. My bank accounts would be frozen, if I didn’t comply. I acted immediately. I asked their location, grabbed my coat and I was off.
A day and a half later, I arrived. I was late, because it was in Mumbai. I hadn’t counted on that. I was tired. I thought it would be more local. They seemed to understand, but were surprised to see me. I guess they weren’t used to upright citizens taking immediate action. They hastily lead me through several rooms full of people, busy on telephones. I joked that it looked like a call centre. They didn’t seem to think it was funny. They said all government offices looked like this. Oddly, I didn’t see any Canadian flags anywhere. Soon I was at the boss’s office.
The boss was young and wore a grey NYC hoodie, blue jeans and a pair of fake Converse. He was not what I expected. His name was Sandeep, but he insisted I call him Jeffrey. I asked him how he was spelling that; he said he didn’t care. Hadn’t counted on that either. He didn’t get up to greet me, just stared at me blankly. When I leaned forward to shake his hand, his grip was uncertain. I wanted to get down to business. I began discussing my case. His mother was doing some dry cleaning behind him, so he politely asked her to leave. She left quietly, but didn’t seem too impressed. I noted a lot of
dry-cleaning in this government office. Lots of noisy machines issued steam. Roughly half the office was phones and the other half dry cleaning. I guess they had a lot of dirty laundry. Sand… Jeffrey asked the other employees to leave too. We had to wait while one of them steamed an area rug. Once you get started, you can’t stop. Jeffrey ran a tight ship.
When we were finally alone, Jeffrey told me there had been some sort of mistake. The person I spoke to on the phone was only supposed to get my banking details. Wanting to be cooperative, I listened intently. But I couldn’t resist asking about the lack of Canadian flags. Jeffrey muttered something about them being dry-cleaned. Seemed to make sense. I thought I was being the ideal guest, but Jeffrey was visibly uncomfortable. I guess he had too much on his mind. He suddenly burst, asking who I was and what I wanted.
I told Jeffery that I hadn’t eaten in a day and a half. Jeffery said the government canteen was closed. He asked if there was anything else. As if by rote, I asked to see the ambassador. Jeffrey was taken aback. I had just upped the ante. He looked around blankly; then he called over the man who was steaming the rug. Now, I don’t want to seem judgmental, but I was a bit surprised that he was the ambassador. The ambassador told me he did not have time to talk to me; another rug had just come in. Say what you will about politicians, they certainly have a lot of responsibilities.
Now that the ambassador was gone, Jeffrey asked if I’d be leaving soon. It was obvious that I had overstayed my welcome. I reminded Jeffrey about the frozen bank account. He said it would be cleared up. He said the ambassador would take care of it – when he was finished steaming the rug, I guess. I thanked Jeffrey for his time. He nodded, listening intently (or so it seemed), sweat gathering on his brow. I complimented him on his service; much faster than trying to call the government back home. Jeffrey seemed to understand this, but perhaps he was anxious to get back to work; maybe he didn’t take compliments well. I told him he was doing such a good job on behalf of Canadian citizens that I’d recommend everyone come to see him personally to deal with their calls. His eyes opened wide. I guess he’d never received such an accolade before. The end of our meeting was signalled by the arrival of the ambassador, rug slung over his shoulder, asking us if we were finished; his steam machine was right next to Jeffrey’s desk. I admired his tenacity.
And so I said my goodbyes, leaving this particular branch of Canadian civil service to continue serving citizens every dinner hour, across the country.