I asked Twitter to give me a cliche they were particularly tired of to see if I could do anything interesting with it without having to completely subvert it. This is the result.
The chosen tropes are Destiny, The Chosen One, and Secret Relative. Hope you like it.
The interviewer sat behind a small metal desk in a cramped brightly lit room. She glanced at her paperwork, then at Hanifa, then wrote something down.
“Sorry I’m late,” said Hanifa, catching the nervous energy in her own voice. Her inability to tamp it down didn’t trouble her. People were nervous during job interviews. It was normal, expected. “I couldn’t catch a cab. And when I did catch a cab, I left my phone in it by accident and wasn’t sure which building it was.”
The interviewer said nothing, only scribbled on her papers.
“They all look alike, right?” asked Hanifa. “I knew it was this annex, but it took me a few tries to find the right one. Asked a security guard for directions, but I think he misunderstood me or I misunderstood him and ended up on the other side of the place.”
She bit her lip. She was a nervous talker. Always had been. Might have been a family trait, but she’d never known her birth parents. Which was fine. No big deal. She’d been fortunate enough to be adopted at a young age. Always had a family. Plenty of people had it worse.
She closed her eyes and drew in a breath. She was also a bit of a nervous thinker.
She looked down at her mismatched shoes, one blue, one green. Just close enough that in a hurried glance she’d pick them out only to realize her mistake stepping out of the cab. She used her handbag to cover the coffee stain on her pants. Tried to, but it was the size and shape of California. Her bag wasn’t up to the task.
She was determined not to let it get the best of her. She was here. Late, but they’d let her in. She had her shot, same as anyone. Why would they even bother talking to her if they didn’t think she was worth talking to?
She drew in another breath and focused on the task at hand. She placed her resume on the desk. “I think you’ll find I’m qualified for the position. I know I’m a bit of a mess . . .”
She stifled a groan. No need to say it. Why had she said it?
“Ms. Dodona,” she continued, “I just want a shot. I promise–”
“Mrs. Dodona,” corrected the interviewer, not looking up from her writing.
“Mrs. Dodona,” said Hanifa. “I promise that if you hire me you’ll get the–”
Hanifa made some unintelligible sounds as her mouth tripped over everything she’d been prepared to say.
It was a dumb thing to say, but it just slipped out.
“You’re hired,” said Mrs. Dodona. “We’d like you to start immediately.”
“I’m hired?” Again, she wondered why she was asking. It didn’t do her any good to give them a chance to reconsider, but her brain refused to sit tight and shut up. “But you didn’t interview me.”
“You passed your interview the moment you walked through that door.”
I did? she asked. Almost asked. But she caught herself this time.
Mrs. Dodona grabbed the stack of resumes from her desk, including Hanifa’s, and dropped them in the waste basket. She wrote one more note on her papers, placed them in a folder, and clicked her pen with finality.
She looked Hanifa in the eye for the first time. Dodona’s eyes were two black pearls behind bifocals. Hypnotic.
“So can you start today?” she asked.
Hanifa blinked. “Yes, sure. Sure, yes.” She tried to catch herself, but added one more “Yes, yes.”
Dodona face revealed nothing. “Come with me then. I’ll show you to your office.”
“Office? I thought I was applying . . . .“
Mrs. Dodona was already marching out of the room. Hanifa jumped to her feet and ran after her. It felt like running, even if Dodona was only briskly walking. She was shorter than Hanifa, but it felt like trying to keep pace with a striding ostrich. Ostriches had long legs. It was an apt metaphor. Dodona moved through the rows of cubicles with the confidence of a well-fed predator. So that kind of ruined the ostrich metaphor, but Hanifa would not waste time coming up with a better one.
Dodona glanced over her shoulder. “The first thing you must know about this company, Ms. Jackson, is that it runs on prophecy.”
“Right, prophecy,” repeated Hanifa absently. A few steps later, she said, “Prophecy?”
“Well, not just prophecy,” said Dodona. “Omens, portents, divination, some prognostication. Just for good measure.”
“Like fortune telling?”
Dodona stopped and swiveled. Hanifa nearly collided with her. “No, not like fortune telling. Though Helen in public relations swears by her tarot cards, and she did predict the success of the Burkinson merger.” She reached into her pocket, handed Hanifa a business card.
Dodona continued walking, and Hanifa followed, reading the card.
Truth. Sixteen minutes late. Mismatched shoes. Coffee stain, California.
“What’s this?” asked Hanifa.
“That, Ms. Jackson, is your resume, handed down at the founding of this company thirty-five years ago, by Kimberly, from accounts payable. Some of us were beginning to think you’d never show up.”
“Wait. You’re hiring me because someone gave you a business card thirty-five years ago?”
Mrs. Dodona approached the elevator. It opened the moment she stepped up, empty and welcoming. Hanifa imagined it would never dare otherwise. They boarded, and Dodona used a key to open a secret panel and push a secret button.
“I wasn’t part of the company then, but they say that Kimberly went into a trance during karaoke and instead of singing Afternoon Delight, she just kept repeating the phrase until someone finally wrote it down. Claimed to have no memory of it herself, but she was one of the best oracles to ever work for this company.”
“But it’s just a card.”
“A card that predicted everything about your arrival today. Including your name. I’m sure you’re aware that one of the meanings of Hanifa is truth.”
“Sure, my mom told me, but that doesn’t–”
“Your late arrival? The shoes? The coffee stain?”
“Coincidence. It’s just a numbers game,” said Hanifa. “If you wait long enough, something was going to happen that matched this card.”
“Something did happen.” The elevator dinged and opened. “You.” Dodona gestured toward the door. “Your new office.”
Hanifa stepped out. The entire floor was one big room, a virtual penthouse apartment.
“There has to be some sort of mistake here,” she said.
“We don’t believe in mistakes.” Mrs. Dodona nodded as the doors shut.
“Come in, come in,” shouted someone from the far end of the room. She hadn’t seen him because he was in the large chair that sat with its back to her, facing the window overlooking downtown.
She navigated the furniture, as the voice continued to speak.
“On my way out of my house today, I saw an old hawk, proud and regal with the wisdom of ages in its eyes. And then I saw a sparrow, fresh and young, alight on the power line beside it. The old hawk looked down at the sparrow, spread its wings, and flew off into the sunrise. And the sparrow hopped onto its spot to survey its new kingdom.”
The chair turned, and a one-eyed man with unnaturally white teeth and unnaturally black hair greeted her.
“Took you long enough.”
He clinked a tall stack of antique silver coins in his hands, leaned forward as she took a seat across from him. He studied her for a few moments and just as she was about to speak, he nodded with a sly smile.
“My, what a young woman you’ve become. But it has been . . . thirty years, hasn’t it?”
“Do I know you?” she asked.
“No, but that’s not your fault. It’s mine. I’m your father.”
He said it, just like that.
“You’re not my father,” she said.
“No, I suppose in every way that counts I’m not. I am your birth father though.”
Hanifa had thought about this meeting. But she’d never pictured it like this, so sudden and ridiculous. She had a thousand things to say, but none of them seemed right.
He set his stack of coins on the desk and poured himself a drink. He swirled the liquor in the glass.
“On the eve of the fourth quarter of 1990, on the day of your birth, Kimberly from accounts payable pronounced that my child would one day usurp me.” He took a sip, stared into the liquid. “I was foolish back then. I thought I could control fate. I thought I should. As if I knew better. So I gave you up.”
“You gave up your kid because of a prophecy?”
“Not just any prophecy.” He arched an eyebrow. “This was Kimberly. From accounts payable. Surely, Dodona told you about her.”
“You selfish son of a bitch,” said Hanifa. She hadn’t known what to expect from this meeting, but she suddenly hated this man, who she had never met before. He wasn’t her father, but he was someone’s father. And he’d thrown it away because of some delusional desire to fight fate.
“I deserve that,” he said. “I deserve worse. But one thing we learn around here is that what you deserve and what you get are rarely the same thing. But I knew you’d return one day. So I built the company up and waited for you to show. And now, I hand it to you.”
“I don’t want it,” she said. “I don’t want anything from you. You don’t honestly believe all this, do you?”
He turned from her, speaking softly. “After you were born, after you were gone, I realized my sin. In penance, I gave up my eye and hanged myself from a tree for nine days for the gift of wisdom. It sucked, but worse, it didn’t absolve me. It only told me that you would return to me too late. I don’t ask for your forgiveness, but I offer you this company in the knowledge that you will continue its greatness. I wish you the best of luck, but I know you won’t need it.”
“You’re crazy.” She stood, accidentally kicking the desk. The coin stack toppled over, and the coins rolled and bounced in random patterns.
There was something in the sound they made, in the clinking of metal, in the way they rolled and where they fell. Two coins rolled off the edge toward her. She caught them by reflex. She stared, transfixed, at the one on top, with a stylistic carving of a raven. Intricate patterns swirled around it, and if she squinted, if she looked closely, she thought she saw . . .
She closed her eyes. They were getting to her. This dumb place and all the talk of prophecies and omens.
She looked up, but her father, if he was her father, was gone. How long had she stared at those coins? She needed to clear her head. She needed to get out of here.
“Some water, Ms. Jackson?” asked someone from behind her.
She turned to look into the smiling face of a man holding a glass of water.
“Yes, thank you.” She took it, saw the swirl of the ice cubes, the way that they bounced together and apart and saw . . . .
She saw something.
She closed her eyes, drank the water.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I’m Reese, your assistant.”
“Right.” She leaned against the desk, moved the raven coin to see the wolf-headed coin cradled in her hand beneath it. Her vision strayed to Reese’s tie with a watercolor basset hound printed on it.
Surely, a coincidence. A wolf and a dog weren’t even the same thing. Related, but anyone could make those connections if you were looking for them.
He adjusted his tie. “Will you be needing me for anything else?”
She shook her head. “No. Thank you.”
“Very good. I’ll be here when you need me.”
Hanifa picked through the old coins and smiled to herself. Ridiculous.
“Reese,” she asked, “Don’t tell me you believe all this stuff?”
He smiled knowingly. “I believe you will do great things, Mrs. Jackson, and it will be my honor to help you do them.”
She laughed to herself. The way he said it made her almost believe it too.
After he’d left, she sat behind her new desk and gathered up all the coins. Life did not work this way. She knew better.
But maybe . . . .
She closed her eyes and tossed the coins in the air.