IT is my intention, one of these days, to print new Identity and Business Cards for some of my employees and co-workers, bearing the well-deserved legend ‘Office Clown’.
It’s taken me many years of casual study and unimaginable frustration to get to this point and I believe that my frequently flabbergasted expression will be easier on my ageing face if I implement this.
Today’s candidates for the title are two domestic staff and one market guy I frequently use for ‘mobile phone shopping’ (where you call the guy and he gets a boda-boda to run around buying what needs to be bought, and gets paid in mobile phone airtime).
Office Clown 1, call her Carol, got sent to the nearby supermarket to buy a pack of Pampers Size 5 or 4. Ideally, she should have called us earlier in the day to notify us that diapers were running out, in order for us to pop by a shop on the way home. As usual, she forgot to do so and earned herself a trip to the shops.
“Go with your phone and call me when you’re there so that you don’t make any mistake,” the missus instructed.
“Okay,” responded Carol, creating the general impression that she meant, ‘Okay’, a word normally used to mean, “I have understood what you are saying and confirm to you verbally that I will do what you have asked me to do.”
I discovered, eventually, that I don’t know enough english.
Fifteen minutes later, the missus was on the phone dialling and re-dialling Carol’s number and muttering her continuous and frustrated disbelief that the damn phone was off.
Half an hour later, Carol was back, and happily handed over a pack of Pampers Size 3, bought at just over Ushs23,000.
It still fascinates me how workers of a certain cadre do not consider numbers to be important factors in general, which is why they sign contracts agreeing to report to work at 0800 every day and stay till 1700 but somehow get in consistently late and find the time to leave early.
The missus, frustrated at the thought of having to either squeeze the infant into small diapers or drive down herself to Kitintale, began fighting off a fit of anger. I stepped in and called the askari, Bernard – just to show how simple these things can be – and gave him the receipt, the wrong-size diapers, and a hand-written note to give to the shop attendants. He, I should mention, was going anyway to buy a pack of dog food, which task is included in his job description.
His new job title, Office Clown, will also contain this task in its description.
“Go there and tell them – you see here where it says three/3? Tell them you want one like this that says five/5. Same money.”
“So, wait,” I said again, all very slowly and being careful that I didn’t move too quickly while doing so, “You understand? Give them this. And show them this three/3. Tell them you want one that has five/5. At the same money.”
“Okay,” he said.
I fought the temptation to test his understanding of the word, “Okay”
Life moved on and forty-five minutes later my phone rang. It was the market guy I use for boda-boda shopping.
“Sir,” he said, “These things you wanted.”
“Which things?” I responded, quite puzzled.
Dumbfounded. I could not connect his phone call with the errand I had sent the askari on.
That, it turned out, was mostly because I am dense – as evidenced by my apparent misunderstanding of the word “Okay”, for more than thirty years.
Succumbing to my reality, I complied as follows:
“Diapers…” This, I should interject, is further proof of my imbecility, trying to correct the market guy I use for mobile shopping on boda-boda pronouncing the word ‘diapers’, but I quickly came back to my senses.
“What do you see?” I instead said, having done this before.
“There is one here that is Size 3.”
“We have been looking but they are not there.”
“Are you sure?”
“Er…let me check.”
Which made me wonder what his earlier mention of them having looked actually meant.
“There are some here.”
“Good. Size 5?”
“No – Size 3.”
I was getting confused.
“Didn’t I send you back with Size 3?”
I turned to my wife with a quizzical look, only for my market guy to say clearly and without any hint of irony, sarcasm, humour, malice aforethought, angst, or inherent idiocy, “You didn’t send me. You sent Bernard.”
Office Clown 3.
“We need ones that have the number 5.”
“Eeeeh-eeeeh. Okay, there are these ones.”
I waited a bit, then realised I had to ask, “What do they have written on them?”
“Hoog?” I seriously considered the possibility that there was a Chinese knock-off of Huggies but again, I am dense like that.
“Spell it, please?”
“Er…H-..um…double U-…no, er…double H-U-…eh…no, er…it is H-double U….”
“Is it H-U-double G…?”
“Okay. Bring those.” But just before I hung up, I thought to ask, “Eh – how much are they?”
“Eighty thousand (Ushs80,000).”
I started thinking about perhaps buying this massive pack of diapers so my life could just move on swiftly, but then thought to ask further,
“But they’re Size 5, right?”
I couldn’t believe I was back to around Square One.
“Please put it down. Can you see anything like kilogrammes written on the packets?”
“Okay, walk around and start reading kilogrammes written on packets.”
Four minutes of reading out kilogrammes written on packets, we arrived at a pack that offered 12-22kilogrammes.
“Stop! That one. How much is it?” I was on tension. My heart had stopped in wait for the right amount, regardless of the make of diapers, their country of origin, their size, colour, smell or any other factor.
Fatigued by my phone walk round the supermarket, I gave up but the missus needed to confirm one last detail.
“What colour is the packet?”
She nodded her assent of purchase.
“Buy those ones,” I instructed. The moment was not heroic. I needed to do something intelligent to redeem myself, but before I began searching for a crossword or jigsaw or Sudoku puzzle, I asked the Clown,
“What Size is it?”
(Note the colour difference from the one in the photograph, by the way)