My job involves a lot of filing. Today as I was slotting Olojharan Obolinko down in his rightful place between the dashing Ojoban Obolinka and the delightful Mohammed Obolezarak, I wondered about the likelihood of any of these people actually meeting one day, and the massive sequence of events that had to occur to result in them sitting flush up against one another in a London filing cabinet. Even if you forget that the Obolinko, Obolinka and Obolezarak parents all had to decide that a little Obolinko, Obolinka or Obolezarak would be a welcome addition to their families (except for Ojaban, who was a mistake), and cast aside the striking similarity of their uncommon (some may even say contrived) surnames, there are quite a few decisions these ‘O’ brothers had to make – and quite a few circumstances beyond their control they had to find themselves in – to see them rubbing their filey shoulders together in this admissions office.
Olojharan decided to take a year off after finishing school in South Africa to backpack through Eastern Europe and sample as much štrukli and viška pogača as possible before returning home to ‘real life’ selling phone credit and crisps to people in his father’s shop. That was the plan. But, after a particularly heavy night on the kruškovac in Croatia, Olojharan met Melania. She had a penchant for designer clothes and gourmet nibbles, and convinced our Olojharan that the only way he could fund his newfound love for Egyptian cotton sheets and Armani suits was to launch a career in high finance. So, upsetting his father (and at the same time impressing him more than he will ever admit), Olojharan applies to an economics degree. His details are sent, his photos attached, his numbers punched in. Into the filing cabinet he goes.
Ojoban was the seventh of eight children (his younger sister was also a mistake). He grew up in a tiny house in Newfoundland and always had to fight for his fair share at dinner time. His older brothers were rolling fat things with bad tempers, and, one night, as he watched Ajalan’s chubby fingers snatch the meatloaf from his plate and shove it between his grinning white teeth, he made the decision that he would show them all. He would eat the finest of foods some day. He would never have to share. And he would never get fat. A chef seemed an obvious choice, but, after a failed venture as a kitchen assistant in town (his boss told him he’d never seen someone so clumsy with a whisk), he realised he only wanted to eat food: not make it. Flipping through the Aubergine Quarterly he saw a job advertisement for a food critic. He applied, but was told he needed to know how to write with great panache and accuracy about the inner workings of soufflés. So, with a new sense of purpose, he applies to a combined Arts/Science degree, majoring in English Literature and Nutrition. His details are sent, his photos attached, his numbers punched in. Into the filing cabinet he goes.
Mohammed was born into a wealthy Nigerian family. He was pampered good and proper his entire childhood, snacking on caviar sandwiches and shark-fin soup with truffle dippers. The only ‘work’ he had ever done consisted of telephoning various international zoos offering 200.6 million nairas and 6.2 concubines in exchange for a bald eagle to add to his personal menagerie. So, when his father was jailed for tax fraud and his mother fled to Bulgaria with her lover, it came as quite a rude shock that everyone in the family turned to him to work back the Obolezarak fortune. After a family meeting, where Mohammed spent the whole time stroking Emerald – his blue-winged raquet-tail – it was decided he should enroll in a business degree. Mohammed has no intention of working or studying (quite frankly, he is incapable of either), but his uncle has already paid five times the tuition fees to secure his place. His details are sent, his photos attached, his numbers punched in. Into the filing cabinet he goes.
The ambitious South African sits next to the hungry Newfoundlandan who is next to the slothful Nigerian. They are connected by similar surnames and coincidentally colliding circumstances.
I close the filing cabinet, thinking about all the things that had to happen to result in my hands being the ones to alphabetise and file these three people I may never meet. Somewhere in Canada, maybe my numbers are being punched in, and I’m being wedged between a philandering German and a philanthropic Pakistani.
It may be a small but incontrovertible truth: we’re all next to somebody we don’t know in a filing cabinet somewhere.