Ruth knocked softly on the impressive-looking door. After three raps, it was opened by the gentle secretary who's name Ruth did not know, despite her countless visits to this office. Not that Ruth was the kind of person to hold conversations that she found unnecessary.
She tentatively peered into a glass cabin, wrapping her arms around herself as a form of protection from the chilly air-conditioning.
The secretary motioned that she should sit down, pointing to a large, black, leather-upholstered sofa in the mini-lobby area.
As Ruth sank into the couch gratefully, she recalled the note that had called her here. "Come see me at the earliest," it had commanded, in Ms. Chaile's bold, authoritative hand.
As Ruth sat there in Ms. Chaile's office, she reflected on the first time she had come across that formidable lady. She had been around nine years old, and one of the youngest participants of the Junior Science Fair. While most of her classmates contended themselves with a simple, sometimes malfunctioning papier-mache volcano, Ruth had ambitiously tried to demonstrate magnetic levitation, a concept that most children of her age barely understood.
Her science teacher at that time had strenuously discouraged her from making this foolhardy move, but this had only made her more determined to go on with the project. Although it would make for a better cliche if she had ended up winning the contest, facts remain facts, as Ruth would have obviously said.
As the judges wandered across the hall, taking their time to admire fifty variations of the same volcano, one of them noticed the tiny girl at a far corner of the room, her original project an obvious disaster. What surprised the judge was the fact that this child, unlike the other children with faulty projects, hadn't rushed teary-eyed to the arms of her "school-mama", as class-teachers liked to call themselves, but was sitting at her appointed seat, tight-lipped and clear-eyed. She sat there for around five minutes, and then got up and skipped nimbly through the crowd, to the home-science lab.
She emerged back in around thirty minutes, with a chart covered in her neat, childish penmanship, and a long stemmed wine glass filled with water. By the time the panel of judges got around to where she was sitting, the girl had finished setting up her new project.
"Today, I will be demonstrating the concept of surface-tension using a simple experiment," she said in a manner that was unusually calm for one so young.
She produced a tissue from the depths of her pocket, and pressed it onto the wine glass. She then flipped the glass upside-down.
"Voila! The tissue does not fall," she said, with the air of Archimedes saying "Eureka!".
The crowd applauded, both the judges and some of the students who had started drifting here and there after the presentation of their own project was done. As the rest of the panel moved on, that one judge remained behind and looked keenly at the girl.
"That was quick thinking you know, switching the project. Although I can't guarantee that you will get the prize, if it were up to me, you would win, if only for the cool thinking that you demonstrated under pressure. I'm Ms. Chaile, by the way," the judge said, as she watched the girl scrutinize her carefully.
"Thank you, Ms. Chaile. You know what they say, necessity is the mother of invention. My science teacher told me that my project would fail beyond doubt. That made it a necessity for me to prove her wrong. So when my magnetic levitation project stopped working, I just came up with something else. It's not that big a deal. I doubt I'll win a prize too. They'll probably say that I had signed up for a different project or some other technicality. But that doesn't matter - at least I didn't give Ms. Shiraz the satisfaction of seeing me fail," the girl concluded.
Ms. Chaile smiled, surprised at the girl's grit. She patted her head and asked, "What's your name, dear?"
The girl looked up and said, "Ruth Mathew."
That day, Ms. Chaile knew that she had finally met a child who she admired beyond doubt, and whom she loved like the daughter she never had. Ruth too, adored Ms. Chaile, despite her constant bickering about her expecting too much. It was obvious to any onlooker that the mutual affection between the two was truly special.
Ruth's chain of thought was rudely interrupted when a tall man in an immaculate suit emerged. He thanked the secretary, calling her Margaret.
So that's her name, Ruth thought to herself.
As the man left the office, closing the door behind him silently, Margaret beckoned to Ruth and whispered, "You can go in now."
Ruth nodded and got up. In her hurry, she bumped her head against the tall glass door. Clumsy, clumsy, clumsy, she berated herself.
As soon as she saw her, Ms. Chaile clapped her hands excitedly. Ruth groaned inwardly. Her excitement was usually a sign that she had new "project" for Ruth.
"And how's my favorite genius doing?" Ms. Chaile questioned, as Ruth settled herself into an enormous swivel chair. Sitting on those chairs always made her feel like a little girl.
All the furniture in Ms. Chaile's office is humongous, Ruth reflected.
"What are you thinking Ruth?" Ms. Chaile asked, with the air of a kindly aunt indulging the whim of her three-year old niece who wanted to eat ice-cream for lunch.
"I was just pondering over the fact that your office is full of furniture of gargantuan proportions, Ms. Chaile," Ruth replied in a grave tone,
"And why do you think that is so?" Ms. Chaile asked, eager to hear her protegee's explanation, expecting something filled with flowery scientific jargon.
"Maybe you went to a giant's yard sale?" Ruth replied with a cheeky look.
Ms. Chaile looked at her from the top of her golden-framed glasses for a second. Then she started laughing, a loud hearty guffaw that was surprisingly loud for one so small.
"Alright Ruth, jokes aside, let me tell you why I called you here. Didn't you see a man leave my room right before you entered?" Ms. Chaile asked.
Without waiting for Ruth to answer, she continued, "That was Mr. Jolly - Phil Jolly. Although I must say, I found him miserably gloomy. Anyway, he is a professional photographer who is doing a series on "Fashion in Schools". He has expressed some interest in the upcoming fashion show during Greek Week. The report that I received from the team is not very impressive. They spent their first two meetings deciding the color of Zeus' lighting bolt. I think they need a fresh, rational perspective to speed things up. So, I am officially appointing you as a member of that team. I think auditions are going on in the art room at this very moment. If you have any doubts, you can clarify them with Anna Paul, who I believe is a classmate of yours. You have been briefed, and now, you are dismissed."
Ruth gaped at her open-mouthed.
"I don't want to sit in a room full of artists debating the shape of Apollo's nose! Why can't you give this job to someone else?" she shrieked, horrified at the very prospect.
"Because your cold logic is exactly what they need to speed things up, my dear. Go now, and may the force be with you," Ms. Chaile said, amused at Ruth's predicament.
Ruth smiled at the Star Wars reference, which had over the years become their thing - hers and Ms. Chaile's. Every time she was dispatched on one of these "projects", Ms. Chaile would utter these words to her. And Ruth, right on cue, would always smile and accept her mission.
She bowed her head, accepting defeat.
"Alright, I'll go. But please make sure you bail me out of jail if I kill one of those air-heads out of irritation," she said as she got up from her cushy seat.
"My cheque book's all yours Ruth," Ms. Chaile said, displaying her pearly-whites in a wide grin.
Ruth left, hands deep in her pockets, and headed towards the art room.