I feel like I’ve been sleepwalking through the days following Brexit. The world doesn’t feel real. Or the world I thought I knew anyway. Cameron’s stepped down. The parties who led millions to vote Leave suddenly don’t mean there would be £350 million for the NHS. So many lies. And for w h a t?
Dad is also still adamant about Dubai. We’re going for a holiday for a week in July, to see if we’ll like it there. I can’t believe he actually wants to go through with it. I don’t mind the free holiday – I just don’t want to move. This is home. I think.
“What does this say?” Rebecca asks, waving a piece of paper at me.
I look at the hieroglyphic she’s gesturing to: seriously, was there a decoding seminar I missed when I joined work? Trying to decipher an editor’s handwriting is like trying to read morse code.
“Ub..mmmphh..hurny?” I guess.
Rebecca shakes her head, laughing. “Hurny?”
“I don’t know, there’s like a ‘h’ and an ‘r’ and a ‘y’?”
“Why can’t they use actual letters?” she sighs, taking the page back.
“Keeping you on your toes,” I reply.
She grimaces. “Blah.”
I go back to my Twitter page and keep scrolling through. A tweet catches my eye: ‘CLOSING SOON! #Job opening for an Editorial Assistant at Spyro Books, home to the biggest YA authors…’
Reader, I’ve never applied for a job so fast in my life. Listen, I’m all for fantasy books but working on stuff set in this century about issues closer to my life experiences would be SO MUCH FUN. Then again, would I get it? Then again, who cares. I might as well give it a go.
On my way out for lunch, I bump into Jason at the door out of the building. I’m going to pretend I didn’t see him because I’m not sure if he remembers me from the first and last time we met all that time ago.
“Hey!” He says, smiling at me.
It seems he does. “Hey, how’s it going?” I reply. I know his fit points were deducted but he’s still cute. And tall. Good genes.
“Not bad, slow day though. And it’s so bloody hot!”
“Tell me about it, I hate this weather.” I am always up for a bitch about aunties and the heat.
“Same!” He says cheerfully, evidently pleased we have something to bond over. “Aren’t you hot under all that then?”
Must. Not. Roll. Eyes. “My scarf has built in air conditioning,” I reply.
Jason’s eyes widen. “No way? That’s so cool!”
Lord. “Yeah, and then in winter you can change the setting to make it a heater.”
Jason looks so gobsmacked I almost feel bad. Almost. “That’s seriously awesome. How do you control it?”
“With my mind. There’s an operation you do to have a chip with wifi built in to control it.”
Jason’s awe turns to confusion. “Operation in your mind? That’s a bit dangerous, isn’t it?”
I look back at him blankly as we walk up the road.
The penny finally drops. “Oh, you’re just joking? Jesus, really had me going there.”
I grin unapologetically. “Sorry.” NOT SORRY. NEVER BE SORRY.
“So, how are you finding work?” He asks, a little red in the face.
“Yeah, it’s OK.”
“Where are you again?”
“Reckon you’ll be there long?”
Has he seen my web history? “Uh, I think for a little while yet.”
“Great, well I’m this way,” he says, stopping at a café behind us just as I’m about to cross to the other side.
“Cool, see you around!”
“Yeah, we should do lunch sometime,” he says, smiling. “See you later!”
“Yeah, sure,” I say with a surprised smile. “Bye!” Exit swift left.
Was that? Did he just? Hm. *Flicks hijab over shoulder*
A week of checking my emails relentlessly all week finally pays off on Friday when I get an offer for an interview on Monday morning. Jheez, no time like the present I guess.
Monday comes around all too quickly though. I’ve managed to get the morning off for a “doctor’s appointment” and roll up to the office for Spyro Books.
It feels weird to be interviewing for a job again. I’m also feeling very nervous. Calm, deep breaths Suraya, I chant at myself all the way into the shiny new building. I head up to reception and give my name (slowly) to the lady manning the desk.
Five minutes later, I get taken through to an office on the ground floor by a woman called Denise and into a meeting room with her and another woman, who introduces herself as Zahra. I try not to double-take at another brown person in the room.
A week later
I HAVE BEEN REFRESHING MY EMAILS ALL WEEK BUT I HAVEN’T HEARD ANYTHING FROM THE TEAM AT SPYRO. I THOUGHT WE REALLY HIT IT OFF. OH GOD WHAT IF I MADE TOO MANY JOKES AT MY INTERVIEW? I THOUGHT WE WERE ALL HAVING A GOOD TIME!!
“Why do you look so constipated?” Rebecca asks.
I throw her a dirty look. “Times are hard, OK?”
“Sit back, relax,” she says calmly. “You’ve been acting like you’re on the edge of a nervous breakdown all week.”
“Sitting next to you takes so much patience– oh God.” The gasp slips out of my mouth before I can help it.
“What is it?” she demands.
From: Zahra Waqqas
To: Suraya Ali
I am pleased to be emailing you to say that we would be thrilled to offer you the role as Editorial Assistant at Spyro Books…
I sit in stunned silence for a few minutes while Rebecca tries to prod the answer out of me. Before I say anything to her, I email back my acceptance. Finally, I turn to her. “Fancy some tea?”
“What’s going on?” she asks suspiciously., getting up.
We head to the kitchen where it’s relatively quiet. I deliver the news in whispered squeaks of excitement.
“Oh, my gosh, congratulations!” Rebecca says. We hug, almost jumping up and down but in a professional way, of course. “This is bloody brilliant, well done you!”
“Thank you!” We pull apart. “Right, now how do I tell the boss?”
“You’re on your own there, mate,” Rebecca says, patting my shoulder.
Telling Kathryn, however, goes swimmingly. She’s both surprised and pleased for me. My notice is officially handed in. I even managed to wrangle the team into doing my leaving do at Pizza Express. #win
Saying goodbye does feel weird. The month leading up to my last day has been a mix of elation and sadness. There’s one person in particular I haven’t been looking forward to saying farewell to.
“All right, Suraya?” Mike says as I walk into their office. My last prayer at work. EMOSH.
“Yeah, how are you?” I ask. “No Joe today?”
“Nah, he’s off on hols.”
“Ah, too bad,” I lie. “Tell him I said bye.”
“Of course.” Mike looks at me with a sad smile. “I’m gonna miss you coming down every day.”
“Mike, don’t. I’ll cry.” I’m not joking.
“Well,” Mike sighs. “I wanted to give you something as a goodbye present.”
My mouth drops open. “Mike, you didn’t have to get me anything!”
“I wanted to,” he says, smiling. He pulls out a purple gift bag from under his desk. “Think of it as a belated Eid present if you’d prefer.”
“I’m literally gonna start crying,” I say, taking the bag from him. I’m almost scared to look into it. “You really didn’t have to.”
“Shat up and open it,” he laughs.
I take a deep breath unintentionally and open the seal of the gift bag. Something large and square is wrapped up. I pick it out: the wrapped thing is soft, a bit like a blanket but stiffer. “What is it?”
“Open it!” he says with a grin.
Heart pounding a little, I tear open the package. A pale blue prayer mat decorated with a gold border falls out. “Mike!” I gasp.
“For your new workplace in case they don’t have anything for you to pray on,” he says.
I stare at him and back to the prayer mat in shock. “You have no idea what this means to me.”
He smiles, blue eyes crinkling around the corners. “So you like it? I wasn’t sure what kind of design you might like.”
“It’s beautiful, thank you so much! Where did you get it from?”
“Oh, some shop outside that big mosque in Whitechapel. I asked my Muslim friend where to get it from.”
“I don’t even know how to say thank you,” I say, feeling a lump swell in my throat.
“Come and give your Uncle Haram a big hug!” he laughs.
When I’m done crying (and praying on my pretty new mat), I go back up to our office to get ready to head out. I pack up the last of my stuff, throw away the last bits and bobs and then head with the team off to the restaurant.
The mood is light and buzzing with conversation – which comes as a relief because imagine a leaving do where nobody is talking because they hate you and would rather be anywhere else but only turned up for the free food and drinks?
“Ahem, ahem, ahem,” Kathryn calls out.
A hush falls over the restaurant.
“So, I’d just like to say a few words about our lovely Suraya who is leaving us for a new job!”
A few people cheer. Someone – pretty sure it’s Bex – boos.
“Suraya came to us as a fresh graduate and has always been a keen team player. I just want to say we’ve all loved working with you and can’t wait to see how your career goes. So, from us at Salem to you, cheers!”
“Cheers!” the company yells.
“And now for presents!” Kathryn sings.
I hope they didn’t get me any champagne. Or is it Prosecco they give as gifts?
Kathryn hands me a gift bag and a card. I reach in carefully, nerves starting back up again. I find a moleskin journal and a dusky pink coloured hijab. Lord, my eyes haven’t even dried from Mike’s prayer mat yet.
“This is so kind of you,” I say through the lump in my throat. “Thank you so much!” Kathryn and I hug and then before I know it, I’m hugging the whole company. The night goes on a bit longer until the sun begins to set and I need to get home.
“Don’t be a stranger,” Rebecca says as I say goodbye to her.
“Me and you, Nando’s every fortnight,” I decree.
“You and your bloody Nando’s.” She shakes her head “Take care, babe.”
“See you soon!”
I say goodbye to Kathryn, Natasha, a very drunk Robert and the other assistants. I finally make it out into the street.
I’M OUT OF HERE BITCHES.
Thank you for reading along with Suraya’s story – congrats if you made it to the end. But good news – or bad, depending on how sick of this blog you are – I’m writing a book! Follow me on Twitter to find out more and stay in touch!