See this cheap door handle? Notice the design right at the top there? I first saw these door handles in 1997 when I moved into a muzigo in Bugolobi. They could have existed earlier but I was at university and, before that, either home or boarding school – all of which were old buildings with old, near-antique fittings and fixtures. My days in that muzigo in Bugolobi are understandably hazy, but I clearly recall the angst with which I’d approach my door handle every night after the nightly post-work alcoholic interlude. I always had my key in hand about ten whole minutes before getting to the door itself, and would start thinking of the different ways in which it had confounded me on previous nights. Occasionally, when I least expected it, the key would turn on the first try and the handle would bend downwards, and the door would swing open. For hours after that I would be emotionally unsettled at the experience, and the ensuing lack of sufficient sleep always made my hangovers even more complicated the next day. But I didn’t suffer too much – most times I would get to the door and then begin finger gymnastics with my lock and key. I would ‘surprise’ the lock by slamming the key into it and turning suddenly; or I’d gently slip it in while humming a tune and pretending I wasn’t there, then turn ever so slightly in the hope that the lock would be distracted and forget to seize up. Sometimes I’d get to the door talking at the top of my voice about how murderous my current mood was, hoping that the damn lock and its door would burst open in fear. These ‘tactics’ rarely worked. And I suffered for years. Fast forward to the day I moved into this office, some years ago. When I saw the lock, my eyes flickered a little bit like this guy: I actually hoped, the first time I inserted the key into the office door, that it would be different from the other one… I was wasting time.
The damn lock bullied me just as its cousin in the muzigo had done all those years ago.
I played along for three straight days before giving up and assigning my man in the office – Dalton – the added responsibility of ‘Doorman’ with strict instructions to ‘be at the door and open it as soon as I approach the office building’.
After about four days, he also showed signs of waning – which I noticed because his shoulders slumped a little every time he approached the door. Suspecting that he was getting ready to abdicate, I threatened to insert a clause in his contract around the management of the lock, and he straightened his back on realizing that the damn door was becoming a threat to his entering into an eighth year of uninterrupted service.
In the course of his being doorman, we became good friends, mostly because we found ourselves spending lots of time standing at my door as he fidgeted with the key and lock trying to get it to open up. Small talk frequently ensued, sometimes threatening to burst out into lengthy discourses on the meaning of life.
But most of all, we developed a joint, deep-seated hatred for the lock and it’s door.
Fast forward to October last year, when I decided that enough was enough and issued fresh instructions: (“Get rid of this damn lock!”) which I repeated every four days or so with increased sternness till the holidays broke out and the spirit of Christmas made everything mellow.
Until last Monday.
Returning to the office from a frazzling customer meeting, I inserted key into lock while running a lengthy phone call and finished a long discussion on the merits and demerits of a proposal I was pushing through to some client, when I realised that I had been turning the key to no end for about two whole minutes.
The lock appeared to have given way!
A little excited that this was probably it’s last day, I summoned Dalton at the top of my voice and pointed him to the offending lock.
Without a word, though I could see his disappointment at having to deal with this even though I had gotten to the door before him, he jumped right in and began turning the key.
I watched him and became hypnotized until it hit me that another two minutes had gone by with him turning the key non-stop in one direction.
“Stop!” I shouted, a little excitedly at the prospect that this was finally over.
And looked at me.
“So?” I asked him.
“The door has refused to open,” he responded.
Dalton does this a lot. He finds no irony or mirth in standing there and expressing the obvious as if he has made a mind-blowing discovery. At this point, for example, he had made no consideration that I had been standing there watching him try to open the door for two whole minutes, or that I had already tried for about the same time and failed to unlock the door. He also wouldn’t have appreciated a wisecrack response such as, “The door cannot refuse because it is inanimate…”
He did, though, appreciate a stern look that he was quite familiar with which said, “It’s your job to find solutions, not to state problems. If I can’t get into that office then you are not doing your job, which means that you won’t be entitled to a salary – which I technically cannot even write a cheque for since all the necessary paraphernalia for this are on the other side of that door.”
That look, though, only penetrated after another two or so minutes. And my only clue that it had penetrated was his jumping up suddenly and saying, “Let me get a carpenter.”
I took refuge in the boardroom and emerged an hour later to find the good fellow patiently waiting for the carpenter, at which point I realised that he might be … “Wait…what is the carpenter coming to do?”
“To fix the lock.”
Controlling my temper considerably, I launched into a discussion around the amount of angst that the damn lock had caused to both him and me, and concluded my submission by politely asking him if he really wanted someone to repair the wretched thing and therefore keep our misery going for a while longer.
I managed to persuade him.
Like the Terminator on a fresh mission, he headed straight for the Administration and Accounts people, and within minutes he was out the gate.
Off to buy a new lock.
I retreated to the board room, my mind at peace. My heart was racing just a little bit faster in anticipation that I would soon be walking into my office cubicle with a minimum of fuss and far less stress than ever before. I pried the old key off my key ring and actually laughed at it straight in the face.
Three hours later, Dalton was the board room door.
“Sir. I have finished!”
The smile on his face brightened up the day further, and I marched behind him ramrod towards the door and our brand new, hassle-free, quick opening, modernistic, double-action door lock:
(See picture above)
*Dalton was not harmed in the recount of this tale.