Andrew put his mobile on speaker phone so I could hear. It was the woman, Jenny, who was talking. "We have been discussing the role, and we can't make up our mind between you and another candidate. We wondered if you might be able to come in again tomorrow to meet our chief executive, so he can make the final decision. We will of course pay for your accommodation in Opotane to make up for the inconvenience."
I gave a toothy grin and signalled the thumbs up sign. If they were still interested in Andrew after his disastrous performance with the balding man in the suit, then he was in with a good chance. Jenny at least seemed to be backing him up.
"I can make it tomorrow. Would you need Maxine to be present as well?"
"I should think Maxine would need to be back at work." Jenny seemed too certain for my liking. "Though it would certainly be to your advantage for her to be present. To be honest, she has far more tact in dealing with the management here than you do. You are by far the best candidate in terms of analytical ability and in my mind that is the most important consideration, but you must understand not everyone on the interview panel agrees with me.
"Unfortunately," she went on, "our CEO has no interest in seeing her. I have however arranged to be present myself, and I hope I can be of some support in your application."
Andrew muttered something vaguely thankful, and Jenny continued.
"One more thing - get some decent clothes. It's quite obvious to me you have no fashion sense at all, and personally I don't care if you come to work in boxer shorts as long as you can do the job, but again not everyone sees things the same way."
Well I would have felt totally crushed if someone had spoken to me so bluntly. But it didn't seem to bother Andrew at all. Again, strange lack of feeling. His mind was on practical considerations.
"It will be hard to get a decent wardrobe by tomorrow," he was saying. "And anyway, aren't decent clothes expensive?"
"Maybe Maxine could help you. She seems to have very good fashion sense. Perhaps she has some men's clothing that would fit you. Anyway, I'll see you tomorrow at 11 o'clock. In the meantime I'll make a booking for you at the Central Hotel. You can make your way there at your own convenience."
Jenny hung up, and Andrew turned to me. "I wonder what made her think you had some clothes that could fit?"
"I don't know," I said. "But as it happens I do." I knew where I could get some at any rate. My mother's new boyfriend was about the same size as Andrew, and I knew he had an extensive wardrobe. It was a pity I couldn't get Andrew to stay at my place. But maybe there was another way.
"I'll get the clothing and meet you at your hotel later," I said. A hotel would actually be better than my untidy flat, and we would be less inhibited without my nosy flatmate around. Though what excuse would I be able to offer for staying with Andrew and not going back to my drab, cheerless room.
We left the restaurant and I drove to my mother's lifestyle block just out of town. I had moved out of her place soon after I had left tech, after a flaming row over father. My father had left mum for another woman while I was away studying, and then not long afterwards - and quite conveniently as far as I was concerned - he had died in a car accident. My mother had blamed herself, indulging in a theatrical display of wounded despair; a self-pitying whining session that I couldn't bear, the more so because her behaviour reminded me so strongly of my own. My refusal to go to his funeral in Auckland had been another bone of contention between us.
"Pull yourself together mum," I had screamed at her one day. "It's been three years. He's not worth it. Dad was a creepy sleaze ball and we're both better off without him."
My mother could not have looked so shocked if I had smacked her in the mouth. "How dare you say that about your father!" she yelled. "He was always very good to you. It was the money he left you that supported you through that tech course that you dropped out of. I can't understand why you didn't go to his funeral. He was far better to you than you deserved, you good for nothing loser!"
Now it was my turn with the stunned mullet look. "Dad was a monster!" I screamed. "He was a raging creep, always looking at me with his beady eyes, smirking behind my back." Even I could sense how pathetic that sounded. But there was something about him that made my hair stand on end, that make me think of garlic, mirrors and crucifixes. I wish I knew what it was.
The next day, with my typical impulsiveness, I moved straight out of my mother's house. Thereafter the series of damp flats, sullen flatmates, flatulent boyfriends and corpulent bosses with wandering hands. Until I secured my present job five months ago, which reached the level of being tolerable - just.
I had not returned to my mother's place after that outburst, though our initial frosty relationship did thaw sufficiently for us to meet in town for coffee sometimes and to talk to each other on the phone. So it was with some trepidation that I entered her large open plan home, helloing nervously. I realised that Andrew had never called me a loser, in fact he seemed to have believed in me. Maybe I would finish my degree and show them all; my mother, my sarcastic boss, the pimply boyfriends - who needed them? The words of a song filled my head as I searched the house for my mum, 'a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.'
The thought of a snapper saddling a ten speed brought me out in the giggles, and it was in this undignified pose that my mother found me.
"Glad to see you find some things funny," was her greeting. She tossed back her blonde hair. "I suppose you want to borrow the clothes for your new boyfriend."
"He's not really my boyfriend," I protested. "He's my ex-tutor. He was the only one of the tutors who believed in me and I'm returning the favour."
"Whatever," my mother sniffed. "Your love life doesn't concern me in the slightest. Though I must say your tutor, for all his lack of dress sense, is a far better proposition than the detritus you usually end up with. He's a bit old for you, but not so much to be indecent, and he's all right in the looks department.
"I might take a fancy to him myself if you don't want him." She raised an eyebrow at me as she said this. "Rodney is hot enough in the sack, but his company is starting to bore me somewhat."
I wondered whether she realised how jealous that last statement made me feel. I covered my feelings with spite. "Well even an empty headed twit like Rodney is better than the one you spent the best years of your life with. Mind you that's not saying much."
Mum glared at me, and I thought she was about to say something about father - for some reason she still seems to like the lecherous sleaze; but instead she started walking up stairs. "I'll show you the clothes. From what I can understand of your tutor, he will need some help putting them on as well."
Mum handed me a suit jacket, a shirt, a tie, a pair of trousers and a pair of socks. "I don't know what size his feet are," she said. "But his own shoes should be acceptable if you get him to polish them." She added a shoe brush and some black polish to the bundle she handed to me.
"Good luck," she called as I took my leave.
I drove to the Central Hotel and knocked on the door of Andrew's room. Andrew opened it. He had turned on the heater and had prepared a table of snacks and nibbles. Andrew poured me a wine - aha, now we are getting somewhere - and we moved to the comfortable sofa. The room was nice and warm, and quite luxurious. Stonkins was an affluent company and had given him one of the better rooms. I glanced at the bed and noted with approval it was queen sized. Then I decided I may as well come clean, and tell Andrew that the woman who had taken an interest in him at the interview was my mother.
"Did you know she would be on the panel when I asked you to accompany me?" he said.
"Not totally. I guessed it though. She's done well for herself since my father left."
There was an awkward pause. It seems Andrew had somehow sensed the tension at the mention of my father, or maybe there was something else on his mind.
"Your mother seemed nice. Less pretentious than those two men, and far more knowledgeable. I should have seen the likeness. Both of you have beautiful soft hair." Andrew reached up and stroked mine. Just like I'm his cat, I thought, but I did have to stop myself making purring noises at his touch.
We talked about my mother, and my time at the farm where I grew up, though I avoided any mention of my father. Andrew described his own career, the scholarship he had won as a young man, giving him easy access to teach at a prestigious university, but how he hated the sarcasm and snobbishness of the universities, leading him to take the job at the tech.