I have taken onboard the comments about the name “Dora” being, for women with young children, synonymous with the slightly annoying bilingual girl with the monkey sidekick. So, without further ado, changed her name to Beth – with thanks to my Twitter friends for their suggestions.
There was no way to put this off any longer. Beth had to go into the office.
She walked into the office building, a modern glass structure near the centre of town, and gave her name to the chic receptionist at the marble topped desk. Waiting while the woman contacted Beth’s office, she turned and looked around the lobby. Her firm shared a building with several other businesses, mainly lawyers and financial consultants.
The lobby was sparsely decorated, modern artwork splashed across the bare white walls and uncomfortable sofas surrounded by jagged plants deterred lingerers. The receptionist suited the place, Beth mused. She was wearing a sharp red suit, her dark hair bluntly cut, a slash of red at her lips, killer high heels snapping on the cold marble floor as she advanced towards Beth with a visitors’ badge.
“Take the elevator to the 5th floor, Mme. The receptionist, Mme Galliard will meet you and take you to Monsieur Callow”, she advised.
Beth attached the visitors’ badge to the waistband of her trousers as she ascended to the 5th floor. Checking her hair nervously in the mirror, she smoothed her trousers and top and snarled at her reflection to see if she had lipstick on her teeth. The doors opened to reveal a clone of the lobby receptionist, only wearing a black suit but with the same killer heels and sharp haircut. Beth was beginning to feel rather underdressed, it was clear that the women here took great pains with their appearance.
Mme Galliard greeted Beth with a smile, and shook her hand. “Bonjour Mme Fraser. Welcome to Geneva.”
“Thank you, nice to meet you Mme Galliard”, Beth replied, “I am happy to be here at last”.
“Monsieur Callow is just finishing up a call. May I offer you a coffee while you wait?”
“Thank you, that would be lovely. May I have a glass of water? It is rather warm today”.
Mme Galliard showed Beth around the office before asking her to take a seat while she made coffee. The offices of Carnegie Geneva had obviously not shared the same interior designer as the lobby of the building, as here the emphasis was on comfort. Leafy plants separated the oak reception desk from the seating area. The sofas were black leather, like the ones in the lobby but there the similarity ended. Instead of angular panels, these boasted soft plump cushions. Sinking into the nearest couch, Beth took out her Blackberry to check her emails. There were several from family and friends wishing her luck, and requesting pictures of her new apartment. The others were non-urgent work related emails that she forwarded to her former assistant in London with the request to pass them on to the lawyers who had taken over her casework.
With a murmured, “Thank you”, for Mme Gailliard, she sipped water and eyed the coffee. Tipping the little tub of cream into the coffee and adding sugar, she took a hesitant taste. As she had suspected, it was much stronger than she was used to – more like an espresso – potent and sweet.
As she sat, she watched the comings and goings of staff and visitors. The quiet hum of a law office was universal, whether in London or Geneva. Only that here some of the chatter was in French.
A door further down the hall opened and Beth recognised Anthony Callow, the Senior Partner in Geneva. He strode towards her, light reflecting off his wire rimmed glasses, his clothes and hair impeccable as always. They had met on several occasions and she had never seen him with a hair out of place. He buttoned his jacket automatically, the suit cut to flatter his tall slim figure. Beth had heard some of the female staff refer to him as a “silver fox” but she had heard no rumours of any flirtations or office romances over the years. Not for want of opportunity or interest, but Anthony frowned upon workplace relationships and kept his private life very private indeed.
“Beth, how lovely to see you. Welcome to Geneva. How was the trip?”, he asked courteously as he led her into his office. Closing the door, he gestured towards an informal seating arrangement overlooking the lake. “Please, sit down”.
Pleasantries soon over, they got down to business. Beth had several weeks to settle into the office before William, the lawyer she was replacing relocated to Hong Kong.
As Anthony and Beth chatted, she could see his eyes passing over the bruises on her face but he refrained from asking. Taking a deep breath, she touched a finger to her eye and said, “You may have noticed the injuries on my face. I was attacked on Friday evening and may, for this reason, have to return to London for a court case at some point in the future. I shall try to schedule this so that it does not interfere with my workload”.
“Attacked? How terrible. Were you hurt? What happened,” Anthony looked shocked and concerned.
“Thank you. I am fine, aside from the bruises but they are almost gone”, Beth downplayed the incident, “It really looks worse than it is”.
“Was the perpetrator apprehended? Is it likely that it will come to trial?”
“Yes, he was caught. I am waiting to hear from the prosecutor as to whether it will go to court. I am hoping that he will plead guilty, and then I will not have to go back to London for a court case. He was not unknown to me – it was my ex-boyfriend”.
Anthony frowned, “I am very sorry to hear that. You know of course, that part of the expatriate package includes health insurance and the services of a counsellor should you feel that you would like to talk about the incident”.
Beth was already shaking her head, “No, no. Thank you. That is very kind but I am fine. I would like to put it behind me and forget about it.”.
“As you wish. Now. Why don’t I show you your new office”, Anthony suggested and Beth grabbed the change of subject gladly.
Her office was two doors down from Anthony’s on the other side of the hall, without a view of the lake, but with a window to the tree lined courtyard below. Setting her bag down on the wooden desk, she looked around in approval. One wall was lined with bookcases, ready to be filled with her legal tomes. There was a small sitting area with three club armchairs around a table.
She smiled at Anthony, “Thank you, very nice”, and then turned at the sound of a soft knock at the door to greet William, “Hello. Nice to see you again, William. How are you?”.
“I will leave you two to chat”, Anthony interjected, “Beth, take the rest of the week to settle into your new apartment. We shall see you on Monday”.
William stared in astonishment at Anthony’s retreating back. He looked at Beth, his eyes wide. “Take the rest of the week off? What did you tip in his coffee?”
Beth blinked. It was unusual for Anthony to offer time off work to anyone. She could only guess that he was feeling sorry for her. Or that he did not want her scaring the staff and clients with her bruised face.
Unwilling to go through it all again, she laughed it off and muttered something about the relaxed lifestyle in Geneva having soothed some of Anthony’s sharp corners.
“Well, I won’t keep you, since you have got dispensation to take off. Get going before he changed his mind. Would you like to come out with the rest of the gang tonight? We often go for an after work drink in a wine bar nearby”.
Accepting William’s offer, Beth arranged to meet him later and said farewell. As she strolled back through the town to her hotel her phone rang. It was the crew of the removal company to tell her that they had passed the Swiss customs without any problems and would arrive in Geneva that evening ready to unpack tomorrow at 7am. After arranging to meet at the apartment the next morning, Beth hung up the phone. By this time tomorrow, she would have moved into her new home, she thought giddily.
She decided to change into more casual clothes and go out for a walk around the town. She still had some time before she was due to meet William and the others, and she wanted to see the old town.
Climbing the steep hill to the top of the town was not for the faint hearted, she thought. The cobbled streets were narrow and lined with interesting boutiques, restaurants and antique stores. At the top of the hill she was rewarded by the view over the town and the lake beyond. Sitting in a pavement cafe, she ordered a café au lait – and received another extra strong black coffee with small carton of cream. Something was getting lost in translation. She was sure that café au lait was coffee with milk, so why did she keep getting an espresso?
When she had paid for her coffee, while agonising over leaving a tip or not, she walked back down to the lakeside wine bar where she had arranged to meet her new colleagues. This life of leisure was rather pleasant, she mused. She had better make the most of it tonight, as from tomorrow she would be busy unpacking and next week it was back to the grindstone.
William waved, “Hi, Beth. Here, I already ordered you a glass of wine”, he said before introducing her to the others. “This is Gill, Audrey, Chantal and Marc”.
They shook hands and welcomed Beth to Geneva, then raised their glasses and chorused, “Santé!”