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Published: June 28th 2013
Mr Al Falan, the UN Resident Representative, summoned Frank to his office. He wanted to know if he would be willing to stay on beyond October since no volunteer was available to replace him until the following February. Apparently he already had a cable from New York permitting Frank to extend beyond his two year assignment, so he had been preparing the ground for today's meeting.
“I’m very pleased with your work,” he said hurriedly and self-consciously. This assessment seemed odd in view of the fact that Frank had been sitting around doing next to nothing for much of the time, and had made efforts to transfer to the Town Planning Office and then, when that fell through, the UN High Commission for Refugees, moves which Mr Al Falan, operating behind the scenes, had thwarted. “I am prepared to recommend you for one of the posts I have requested in the budget submission to New York.” He explained that he had asked New York for an Assistant Resident Representative to replace Jegan who would be moved to the post of Programming Officer. Frank knew that this implied a demotion for Jegan. In official correspondence from New York, Jegan had always been referred to as a Programming Officer, but Mr Al Falan had bestowed on him the title of Assistant Resident Representative, a more senior position. Everyone in the office had assumed that his grade matched the post. It seemed odd that he might now be demoted back to his original position.
Mr Al Falan coughed and looked uncomfortable. “These are the two posts I can play with if you agree to stay on,” he said. So which one was he thinking of recommending him for? The more senior post, putting him in a position of authority over Jegan? What a delicious prospect! But that seemed most unlikely, so why was he wrapping the offer up in veils of ambiguity? What was he up to?
“Have you got another job lined up in England?” he asked.
“No, not yet,” Frank conceded, but that was a good reason to return soon in order to start the application process in time for next year's graduate recruitment exercise.
“Then what have you to lose by staying on till February?” he said. Frank said he would think about it and let him have an answer the following day.
But the more Frank thought about it, the more suspicious of Al Falan’s motives he became. He raised the matter with Jenny who was intrigued by the mystery surrounding the juggling of the two posts, and the fact that he was entertaining the possibility of demoting Jegan. They conversed in conspiratorial whispers.
“Surely,” Frank said, “if he genuinely wanted to recommend me for one of these posts, he would’ve been a tad more enthusiastic.”
“Imagine Jegan's face when he's told that you're now his line-manager!” she said.
“Wouldn't it be wonderful to behold?”
“You've got to accept!” she said with a big smile.
“Oh, he’s just playing games. I don't believe a word he says. He's just dangling the possibility in front of me to keep things trotting on until a replacement arrives.”
“You never know. He might be serious. If you don't say 'yes', you might be giving up the chance to have a UN career.”
“I'm not sure if I want one. I've been bored stiff for much of my time here.” And Jenny had played her part in keeping it that way. Frank had often asked her to throw him some crumbs from her in-tray, but even when she was over-worked, and moaning about it, she always jealously guarded her in-tray on the grounds that only she was capable of doing the work. She liked to be seen to be over-worked and indispensible. But selfish as she was in the work place, she did have a kind heart. Knowing Frank was relatively poor, she occasionally left cake and bottles of whisky or gin on his desk on special occasions, such as Christmas, not forgetting her failed attempt to deliver a birthday cake to his flat in March. And she was always ready for a bit of enjoyable back-biting, provided it did not extend as far as Mr Al Fulan.
“Oh, it would be different if you had a substantive post,” she said earnestly.
“Even if he really did recommend me for one of the posts, New York's going to turn it down. The UN quota for British nationals is almost certainly full. Anyway, you've got to be fluent in another language, and I'm not. I wonder why he's so desperate to keep me on until the next volunteer arrives. I mean, it's not as if the work of the UN is going to grind to a halt during the interval. Far from it.”
Jenny shrugged. “Maybe he genuinely appreciates your work, Frank. You shouldn't be so cynical.” She was never going to be lured into criticising her boss.
“Oh, come off it. It's much more likely that the size of his establishment enhances his status as Resident Representative. He's afraid that if New York sees he can manage perfectly well without a volunteer, they may stop funding the volunteer post.”
The next day Frank told Mr Al Falan that he had decided not to extend his stay. “Fine,” he said, and dismissed him by turning his attention to a paper in front of him. From that point on, he treated him with coolness and disdain.
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