Waitakere Writerss

A furtive glance around the room revealed to Al-Jamil that he was, in fact, the only sane one present. The faces of his competitors betrayed their repugnance and arrogance; they spoke mostly of the fatness of their wallets, the extensiveness of their resumés and the thickness of their cigars (or worse). One such man had even barked his qualifications at the organisers before the meeting had begun.

Al-Jamil racked his brain for relevant work experience to thrust into the conversation and came up short. Sweat was accumulating at the armpits of his cheap business shirt and he prayed fervently that no-one would notice. It took a few seconds before he realised that the interviewer was speaking directly to him.

“How about you? What’s an achievement that you’re proud of?” Her smile was perfectly white and even. Her voice seemed to smile, too. “You’re allowed to brag. Don’t be shy!”

Al-Jamil grimaced, knowing that she was only making this easy for him because he had been sitting in silence for so long. He glanced around again at the plastic faces; facades on clean-cut edifices, smiles with nothing behind the eyes. And something in him gave way, like a brittle twig snapping in winter. The words spilled forth; snow tumbled down from the tree.

“When I was very young, we lived in a small village. We lived mostly on grains from the plantations. We shared everything just to survive ... it is not like here.” He laughed nervously. “My sister Naranya, she was always playing in the forest nearby, running and climbing through the trees. She was like a monkey, she was friends with monkeys — real monkeys. We loved her a lot.” He swallowed. “She died of a disease when she was fourteen. There were no hospitals for her, no doctors.”

“The day she died, I planted a tree. The forests surrounding our village, they had been burnt down to make way for the plantations. I knew that Naranya had needed the trees, just like the monkeys. The day that she died, I planted a tree. And I kept on planting trees, every day. For ten years.”

Even the boorish man who had waffled on about his qualifications was stunned into silence.

”It is now known as the Naranya Forest. That is my achievement. I am not proud of it, it was a foolish thing to do. My mother thought I had gone mad — the whole family was starving, and instead of planting crops, I was planting trees. But it was the only thing that felt right. It was the only thing that made sense.”

Al-Jamil could see only uncaring faces and was chilled to the marrow, so he simply thanked the interviewer for her time, and left the room. But upon arriving home and checking his emails, he felt warm again.

Dear Al-Jamil,

Thank you for your honesty and humility at the interview today — it’s refreshing to see in this line of work!
We’d love to have you on board the team. The role is due to start Monday, but we understand that you’ve just relocated, so feel free to take as long as you need to settle in.


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