Branislav Antov Mikulić – Mr. Desai

It was in Glasgow, at a time when I was heedlessly running after success and money, looking for more, always more, and something better. I was there to do an interview for a job with the Overseas Development Agency. It seemed to be an interesting job, a prestigious position, and with excellent pay. The last point was especially important to me, more so than the secure job and comfortable life I already had back in the Netherlands.

I arrived late that afternoon, checked into a hotel and started my final preparations for the interview. I tried to foresee the flow of the conversation, to imagine the awkward questions I might be asked and my answers to them; I looked for ways to formulate answers that would garner their approval. It was well after midnight before I went to bed that night.

I rose early so that I would arrive at the designated address on time. The taxi, a typical English cab, took me to my destination, where I arrived in front of a large, sparkling palace, a real castle. A young lady greeted me in the reception area and led me upstairs. The interview room was at the end of a long corridor, which was lined on both sides with portraits of figures in medieval attire. The girl escorting me had difficulty opening the solid wood door, which had been masterfully carved. I went in with her and found myself in an enormous hall. There were already five or six other candidates there, all of whom were seated in an outer corridor in front of the room where the selection committee was waiting, as we were informed by the young lady. She added that the committee would call us one by one for an interview  that would last about 30 minutes. Then she disappeared.

We sat in silence in the chairs that were lined up against the wall. A strange kind of nervousness could be felt in the air and all of the candidates looked the same to me: they were quiet and busy writing something, then they would read what they had written and move their lips without making a sound, repeating things to themselves. They also looked around at the gathered faces, checking them out, trying to assess whether the others were less suitable candidates, or if they themselves were better than the rest. Then they would again drop their heads toward the papers and leaf through the sheets spread out on top of the briefcases resting in their laps – this was their final preparation before the interview.

While sitting there in that silence, I started chatting with one Indian fellow beside me. Going by the smile he sent my way, he seemed nice and friendly. We fell into an easy conversation, which I found quite pleasant. But it didn’t last long. The secretary soon called my name and asked me to follow her. I stood up, thanked the Indian fellow for the short conversation and extended my hand. He got to his feet, took my hand and squeezed it heartily, and then grasped our right hands with his other hand. He looked at me again, with a smile on his face and his white teeth glistening. Then he added quietly, “Good luck, sir! All the best!” I turned to follow the secretary into the interview room and, at that moment, I felt a tapping on my shoulder, two soft taps. It was the Indian man. As I made my way, he whispered, so quietly that it was almost inaudible, “God bless you.”

The interview was exhausting. The five-member committee grilled me with every sort of question, some of which I found confusing, even provocative. It was probably their way of seeing how a candidate might react to an unexpected situation. In the end, I didn’t get the job which, at that time, was the job of my dreams, yet today I can’t even recall the title or job description. All that has remained etched in my memory is the short conversation I had with the Indian fellow. Those several words of encouragement that came my way before the interview, and our brief conversation after I came out of the room, exhausted from the committee’s questioning. And this is what happened.

I survived the interview. When I made my way back through the lobby and passed between the worried and rather anxious candidates who were waiting to be summoned, I was immediately met by the wide smile and string of snow-white teeth of “my” Indian fellow. His large, black eyes were asking how it had gone and then he quietly inquired further, with that somewhat odd English used by many of his countrymen, “Was it okay, sir? Do you have a good feeling about the interview?” He asked with a congenial, almost fatherly, warmth. “Not bad, not bad at all,” I said, letting him know that everything was fine. However, as I gave my reply, I couldn’t help myself or keep from asking him something I had wanted to as I was going into the interview room, even before my meeting with the selection committee. So I continued:

“Sir, it’s strange to me that you wished me luck on the interview and wanted me to succeed. I wouldn’t expect that from a stranger, much less from a person competing for the same job, from someone who also wants to occupy this high and outstanding position,” I said in a friendly tone.

He again smiled his now-familiar and pleasant smile, and replied:

“It’s true, I’d very much like to get this job, but only if it is the will of my Lord, if it is part of the mission He has intended for my life. A mission that will allow me to serve Him and to work for the benefit of all creatures on Earth.” He paused briefly, looked into my eyes, then continued: “I know, and I’m fully convinced, that if I don’t get this interesting and attractive job, God has a better plan for me, a much better one. The best! That’s what I think, what I feel and believe,” he concluded, and stopped for a moment. Then he wished me a pleasant rest of the day with his kind “Have a nice day, sir.”

I thanked him for the conversation and wished him well for the interview with the same words he had used. I don’t even know how, but they flowed straight from my heart, “Good luck, sir, and God bless you.”

*************

A few weeks later I received a yellow envelope with a bold stamp of the Queen’s insignia on the front and an embossment on the back, the kind that can be found on any envelope coming from the office of a British government department. To my disappointment, it was a letter from the Glasgow Agency, thanking me for having expressed interest in the advertised position and regretting to inform me that the job was being offered to another candidate who had somewhat more experience with similar functions, a certain gentleman by the name of M. Desai. I immediately recognised that it was an Indian surname. I was content and my disappointment faded. I felt a warm feeling around my heart. Truly warm.

 


*The story is taken from the author's book /collection of stories/ named ‘Chance’ Encounters, second edition, printed by Dobra Knjiga, Sarajevo, June, 2019.  Translation in English is done by two  professionals: Lisa Stewart and Bojan Aleksić

 

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