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The IBS got her in the morning. She was stuck on the toilet like she often was before work. She brushed her teeth sitting down. It was probably the caffeine, or the dairy. Maybe it wasn’t even IBS. She’d heard a radio programme about bowel cancer the other day, but you had to have blood in your shit for that and she didn’t have blood in her shit. Just water.
She stood up. Her parents had already left the house for work. She touched her belly over her blouse and felt its bubbling. She put on the blazer with the wide sleeves. She went down the stairs and put her shoes on to leave. The thing about dressing like this and having a face like this is that no one thinks you are the source of the gas on the tube.
Twenty-five minutes later, at the end of the West End street she walked through big glass doors and swiped her swipe card. Standing in the lift she would remember to feel grateful.
It was unusual to get a good job like this straight out of uni.
In the lift, she thought to herself – It is unusual, and I am very lucky.
Or, as her dad had insisted – But they are very lucky to have a young kid like you with your languages and your cultural know-how.
Sometimes she got gas in work meetings but so far it had been manageable. She was a researcher for a new documentary about plastic surgery in Brazil. All the women in Rio were getting plastic surgery – in their butts and tits and noses and out of their stomachs. Her job was to find potential participants, to make sure they were the best ones and then get them to agree to appear on the show. They had given her her own thick plastic landline telephone with the curly wire that called Rio directly and a desk and an email address and a chair she could swing her feet under. We want ordinary women, the producer Fiona had said in the kick-off meeting. Women who have been saving for months and months, who are going into debt, you know?
Her first task had been to use online directories to make a spreadsheet of all the beauty salons and surgeons and pageants and modelling agencies in Rio. Today she would begin calling the salons. She scrolled up and down the spreadsheet. She dialled the number of the first salon. Typed it in, typed it wrong, typed it in again. Beep
She waited. She heard a click and an older woman’s olá bom dia voice on the other end. She took a breath –
Bom dia. Eu sou uma jornalista inglesa –
She looked around the office. Her feet under the chair. She could have been saying anything.
Bom dia. Eu sou uma jornalista inglesa –
The woman on the other end was the owner of the beauty salon. She did not hang up the phone.
So, that afternoon, having spent twenty years spelling out her foreign name to English people, she spelt out her foreign name over the phone to the woman in the beauty salon.
She said – I’m sorry it’s quite long and it’s got an English bit in it. Sorry –
Her email address was a nightmare. She braced herself before announcing its interminable phonemes, steeling herself for the relief of the @.
She was always careful to reassure the participants that they would come off well.
That morning she had come in late (there’s no point you being in before people are up in Brazil, the producer had said) and so that evening she left the office late when it was fully dark.
On these days, when she came home late after calling Brazil on the plastic landline telephone, she always got a seat on the tube. She played tetris. Sometimes she played candy crush. She had one audiobook on her phone which she listened to on repeat.
This station is Oval (no it’s not)
At home at the house, she found the bowl of spaghetti with toma- toes and cheese covered in clingfilm that her parents had left out on the stove for her. She unwrapped it and touched it with her finger. She held it under her nose. It smelt wholesome with the taste of bay leaves from the garden.
She put the bowl of spaghetti in the microwave. Her parents had not heard her arrive. They were still watching the news on the sofa. She leant on the kitchen counter with her eyes closed. She heard the ping. She went up the stairs quietly.
In her room, she took off her skirt and her tights. She ate the warmed up dinner under the covers in her childhood bed. She opened her laptop and turned on a TV series that she had seen before. She closed the curtains. When she finished eating, she left the bowl on her bedside table and opened tetris on a second window on her computer. She closed the curtains. When she couldn’t focus her eyes anymore she turned the volume low so that the TV voices became speaking sounds with no words or phrases.
And in the night images of the pink and yellow shapes slotted and reslotted in her mind and when she went to sleep they covered the faces of all the people in her dreams.
The above is an extract from Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler, which was nominated for the 2019 Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award.
For more on Stubborn Archivist, visit Little, Brown.