Guest Blog: Memoirs of a Young Bureaucrat
Guest Blog: Memoirs of a Young Bureaucrat (An Excerpt) by Carrie Patel
It was in the summer of my twenty-seventh year that I came to Recoletta by train. I would not have left the broad, bright avenues of my own Madina, but the Qadi herself had requested that I represent our fair city’s interests before Recoletta’s Council. Young and ambitious as I was, how could I refuse?
My train departed before dawn. The passenger carriage was a single windowed coach linked to dozens of boxcars for foodstuffs and other cargo. There was but one other traveler within it, an older lady who seemed disinclined to conversation. It was, all in all, a grim portent of my errand.
I chose a compartment near the back of the passenger carriage, slid the curtain shut, and rested upon leather seats that appeared to have seen scant use.
The journey took the better part of a day, stopping as we did at the farming communes that dot the landscape like so many copses of trees. I had heard rumor of the wretchedness and squalor of such places, where people lived under the open sky like wild beasts. Imagine my surprise, then, when I twitch aside the window curtain and behold houses, roads, and every appearance of productive society!
My sleep-fogged eyes were ill prepared for the precise and sturdy stone construction of those buildings, and I wondered, did not these people, perhaps, build their own havens beneath the soil? Our conveyance was pulling away before I could consider the matter further; yet the notion of a universal kinship warmed my soul and stoked my courage for what lay ahead.
We pulled into Recoletta when the sun was but a waning disk on the horizon. The city itself cast a long shadow, full of stern and jagged angles. My colleagues had whispered about the terrible and magnificent verandas of Recoletta, marble fingers rising from the city below to claw at the sky. I caught only a glimpse of them before we passed into a tunnel leading to the city proper.
The train depot was busy even at that late hour, alive with the hiss of locomotive steam and the bustling of laborers loading and unloading cargo. I was met by a Mr. Arnault, the Council’s representative, who informed me that his masters would be glad to receive me in the morning. In the meantime, he suggested that we might partake of the city’s modest diversions together.
Now, I did not trust the look of this fellow—though he was suitably groomed and his manner agreeable, he had the aspect of certain well born rascals I have known. But my repose on the train had quite revived me, and besides, I did not wish to give offense. I consented to his offer.
Mr. Arnault led me through the tunnels and caverns of his city: great, yawning halls where columns of flame rose ensconced in the walls, and window-dotted scarps overlooking a deep chasm. I began to suspect that my host was taking the most circuitous route to our destination, but I did not mind it.
Eventually, we reached a district where the tunnels narrowed and the air became warm and sticky with the mingled odors of fried street fare, factory fumes, and many unwashed bodies. I had to jostle and hurry to stay close to Mr. Arnault; the crowd here was thick and aggressive, seemingly bereft of the social instincts that guide the throngs in Madina. I was relieved when my guide finally led us into the relative shelter of a public house.
The place was quiet compared to the streets outside. Almost before I had removed my coat, Mr. Arnault disappeared and returned with two ales in hand. I took mine gratefully. I had almost finished it by the time I realized that I had not yet eaten.
No sooner had I mentioned this to my host than a great commotion sounded from the tunnels outside. Mr. Arnault sighed and informed me of the cause: riots spilling over from the nearby factory districts. A simple enough matter for the Municipal Police, but one we would do best to avoid for the next few hours.
He apologized profusely, reflecting that he should have foreseen the possibility of trouble, but he had only hoped to show me a proper and hospitable welcome. Such was his embarrassment that I felt compelled to reassure him, and I finished my own beverage as proof of my good spirits.
He ordered refreshments from the barkeep. It was light fare, and it arrived too slowly, but I ate the savory pastries and dried beef strips as they appeared and resolved not to give my host further cause for humiliation.
Yet such was his thirst that our consumption of ale quickly outpaced that of food. Perhaps I should not have tried to keep up with him, but every time he finished his drink, he would look to my glass. If it was not already empty, he would inquire with great solicitude as to my own enjoyment of the food and beverage, affirming that Recoletta’s meager offerings were but a poor substitute to Madina’s superior cuisine, which he had been fortunate to sample once or twice.
In Madina, there is no way to respond to such overtures but to accept more with relish—to do otherwise would insult the host and his hospitality. It was thus that I found my own glass constantly refilled against my better judgment.
I do not know what else transpired during our conversation; only that, after several hours at the public house, Mr. Arnault deemed it safe to venture out once more. He summoned a horse-drawn carriage, and each bump and jostle over the cobblestones threatened to shake loose the product of several hours’ eating and drinking. When he brought me to my temporary lodgings, I collapsed on the bed without even bothering to undress.
The meeting with the Council the next morning was the nadir of my political career. I came to a dark, wood-paneled chamber where the humorless men and women who govern Recoletta sat around an enormous circular table and heard my proposal for revised terms of trade. To my chagrin, however, they appeared already aware of the particulars of my argument, and they surprised me with the speed and strength of their rebuttal. After a mere half hour of discussion, they dismissed me and my proposal.
Mr. Arnault escorted me back to the train depot, and he was once more the very picture of solicitousness. He assured me that the hearing had, in fact, gone much more positively than I imagined, and he encouraged me to return in person to present such matters in the future.
I thanked him most graciously but resolved to leave Recoletta to more formidable diplomats.