‘HELLO ESME, LOVELY day isn’t it? How about a bite to eat?’ Oskar Black asked hopefully.
He had rehearsed his request with his assistant for five full minutes and had two fingers discretely crossed behind his back. A tiny sweat bead threatened to roll down his forehead but resisted wiping his brow. It would be an easily detectable sign of anxiety. Confidence was the key.
‘One, my name is Mamma, not Esme. How many times do we have to have that conversation? You are not too old to be punished, my boy. And two, you are going to the gym not the tea room,’ she said.
Oskar was ready to launch his counterpoint but Esme got in first.
‘No point arguing. You know as well as I do, you have put on three kilos just this month which cannot be good for your heart. That’s exactly what took your grandfather from me, bless his soul. He didn’t look after himself the way he should have, the way you should be. Perhaps you should put down your legal briefs and take up running.’
‘But Esme, I mean Mamma, I’ve been in board meetings all morning and I’m famished.’
‘My mind is made up Oskar. It’s the gym or nothing.’
‘Pappa didn’t even die of a heart attack he-’
‘I beg your pardon! I was with him every day, right up to the end. I think I would be the one who knows best how he died. He was lovely, only a glutton like you. Gym!’
Oskar lost his patience and couldn’t stop himself from uttering the inevitable mistake. ‘Now listen here Esme- you are not my mamma! I am sixty-eight years old, the new CEO of this company and your boss. If I want to eat that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Do you hear me? I will go to the tea room. Now!’
For a moment neither of them moved. Oskar took the silence for capitulation and uncrossed his fingers.
‘Do you hear me, Esme?’ He demanded in his best approximation of his father.
Apparently, she did. With a creak that sounded more like a sigh, Esme opened her doors.
Oskar’s shoulders dropped.
‘Pappa must have had rocks in his head when he allowed an artificial intelligence with a matriarch complex to be installed in the main lift.’
‘That is no way to speak to a lady. If you don’t mind-,’ she responded in a hurt voice that almost made Oskar feel guilty. Almost.
Oskar stepped out.
Esme’s doors snapped shut.
‘Suka!’ he swore quietly in Russian and made a less than dignified sprint across the floor to the stairwell.
Just as he was exiting the foyer, and willing himself to shift onto more pleasant thoughts like chef’s twice baked blinis, Oskar heard a voice at the lift.
‘Morning Mamma. Can you take me up to fourth treasury please?’ It was CFO Bruno Trinsky.
‘Why of course Bruno, it would be my pleasure.’ Esme responded cheerfully and swiftly clicked her doors shut. With a barely audible whoosh she was gone, along with his CFO.
Despite his white-knuckled grip on the stair rail, Bruno’s easy exit caused Oskar to stumble twisting his ankle.
‘Suka, Suka, SUKA!’ he growled as he recovered and began his long ascent to the fifth-floor eatery.