"i need help in choosing fabrics", the jordanian asked. "could someone help me?". i willingly volunteered since i thought this would be a great way of learning about arabic design. also, this would mean that i would be locking myself in the design vault and have myself surrounded by materials i could only dream of handling, a thought that i particularly relished.
"i am helping the GM present to a client. he's a relative of the owners so this has to be good."
"yes ma'am. did the client leave any instructions with regards to their personal preferences? do they like prints or stripes? how about texture, did they say if they liked...."
"just give him something traditional. i really don't know. the GM just told me to look for fabrics so that's what i'm doing. since you're here, just compile your choices. ask the GM if you want. get the pictures of the furniture pieces from the junior designers as well. i have to do something else and i really don't have the time now. he will be arriving in an hour." after a few more vague instructions and a brief smile, and i was left on my own, my stomach suddenly feeling sick.
there was no time to panic. i had to draw from my mental Rolodex of inspiration and try to define a style that i have never designed for before. in an hour's time, i had to produce a list of possible fabric combinations for furniture pieces i have never seen, from a fabric library i am not familiar with, for a client i have never met. backing out was not an option since my senior's (fat) neck was on the line and so was the GM's. if there was something keeping me from throwing in the towel, it was to do my GM good. getting help was also out of the question since by then, everyone was busy doing something. i was optimistic, or was trying to. this was an opportunity to show what i was made of. i literally dove into the library (which at that point was simply a heap of fabric books scattered all over the showroom floor) and started flipping through the books like a maniacal hen looking for scraps in the sand.
the jordanian arrived a few minutes before the hour. she informed me that the GM was also busy and would not be able to attend to the client. instead, I would have to do the presentation since i chose the fabrics in the first place. with that, she was off again. i found myself sitting, head blank from what had just transpired. i couldn't make sense of it all. things were not right, i recall saying to myself. as i tried to collect myself, i heard a throaty voice say "salam alaikum" (peace be with you). SAL, the client, had arrived.
SAL, his name forever etched in my brain, was in traditional male emirati garb. he was a tall man, thick as a wall. his face was half covered in his wiry beard and his gutra, the white head covering they wear, draping on the sides of his head. he stood there and asked for the GM, to which i replied, pulling things out of my butt as i went on, was unavailable. he then asked for the jordanian. i told him that she too was unavailable but instead, i was tasked to show him the fabrics. he looked at me puzzled at the sudden change of plans. who wouldn't be? he then made his was to the couch for me to show him my selection.
i was a bundle of nerves. i believe i was so tightly strung that even a gentle breeze could have set me off. my hands tremored as i flipped through the books, SAL watching me intently not uttering a single word. i stumbled upon my words as i tried to convey the legitimacy of my choices, still, SAL said nothing. the presentation was over in less than 30mins. as i paused to calm myself down and take a seat, SAL finally stirred from his respite. "is this all?" he asked. "yes, sir." i said, swallowing my saliva. "hmmm, i don't like any of it. give me something else, something different. i have seen all of this before and it doesn't look special. it doesn't look rich." "are you looking for anything in particular, sir?" "just that it has to look special..... you're new here, aren't you?". "yes, sir." "i see. well. just tell your GM that i want something else. i will be back to see new choices." and with that last statement, SAL bid me good day and walked away.
"what did he say?" asked the jordanian after, she came back from whatever it was that she felt was more important. "he said he wants something better. he didn't really say what it was, just that it has to look rich." "what did you show him anyway?" i pointed to the opened books on the table. tsk, tsk, tsk.... the sound was so clear. "you showed him these?" she looked at me with disbelief. i nodded. "no wonder he didn't like them, they look so plain. anyway, i really shouldn't be bothered. he's YOUR client now. this would be a great way for you to show the GM how well you can handle clients." and like how she had been with me the entire day, off she went again.
that initial meeting with SAL was the first of many more fiascoes, the first minute crack in the eventual disintegration of my composition. i always wanted to do people good and my training taught me that in this profession, client satisfaction is your key to success. yet through the course of my handling SAL's project, i later realized that there are times client satisfaction was only an empty ideal, a sweet promise we say in order to lure trusting people into a death trap. SAL's project exposed a lot about the company i worked for, more so the people i worked with. it was too late for me to realize however that i had already been thrown in the middle of this machine of lies, cover up and betrayal.