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Goodbye to all that

Maria Smith

Bad day at the office? In her final monthly column for RIBAJ, Maria Smith aims higher

I wake up just in time to notice the tacky goo between my eyelids and eyeballs giving way. The mood of my dream dissipates into the bed as the ceiling comes into focus. My tongue dislodges from the roof of my mouth unleashing the regret of late-night cigarettes. I reach for the mug of water on the window sill. The water tastes like water tastes when it’s the only thing you’re allowed to ingest because you’ve been throwing up. I focus on the way that that taste and the taste of my rancid mouth marble together, the high contrast boundaries between the two sharpening and cutting my throat. 

The client rolls onto his front and reaches to the floor, his knuckles brushing the charging cable that’s roughly shoved into his phone. A few seconds or minutes pass before the phone screams. The client’s coarse finger makes a hard sound as it connects with the glass screen. He lifts the phone to his chest and over his double chin, starts scrolling.

I shower a little too long and dress in clothes a little too aggressive. I walk to the office past the café that doesn’t have the breakfast I want and eat something I don’t enjoy. I scan my email for messages I’d like to read but find none. My phone pleads with me to speak to a project manager. This being the third time this morning, I relent. The project manager explains that he has sent me an email and that in the email there is a question. He explains the notion of a question and gives several examples of questions and answers. I begin to talk over him in such a way as to demonstrate that I’m familiar with the concept of questions and their requiring answers, but this does not deter his elucidation.

The client walks down the busy street, internalising the clanging sounds of the traffic. He swings his arms and legs heavily, brushing them into the wind. His top lip protrudes turgidly as he formulates his arguments. His fingernails push little moons into his leather portfolio. Zipped inside are printed emails annotated with purposefully terrible handwriting. The paper the emails are printed on is thin and slippery and reminds him of the baking parchment-like toilet paper they had at his primary school. His mind wanders briefly to his year one teacher’s ugly green shoes before he slaps it back into the game with an imperceptible judder.


The homeowner – to whom we had issued drawings well after hours the previous evening – had taken this short turn-around to mean that the fee we had agreed was too high

A colleague strides across the office, his phone tweezed between the joints of his thumb and middle finger, the screen alight and pointed towards me. He launches into a sarcastic, hypothetical takedown which I phase out while I attempt to decode the series of messages on the phone screen. It appears that the homeowner – to whom we had issued drawings well after hours the previous evening – had taken this short turn-around to mean that the fee we had agreed was too high and was looking to negotiate down. My animated colleague seemed to be enjoying this preposterous argument in the way one enjoys advice from the Cheshire Cat. 

The client climbs his stairs and scowls at his receptionist. The leather zipped portfolio, which has a puffy spine like a fat torso over a rib cage, lands softly on his desk. He wriggles the mouse and his computer achingly engages. The buzzing of the overworked fan deepens the flabby wrinkles around his eyes. He tosses through the several draft emails cast about his screen, one of which is to me. He caresses the sentences with his cursor, thumping in a comma or expletive here and there. He hits save. He really hits it.

I climb his stairs and submit myself to the receptionist. She offers me a coffee, but I haven’t the heart to accept. I squat gingerly on an unhappily bright sofa. The client approaches with a wide gait. I stand, shooting out my arm, but pulling my blood and attention away from my hand as he shakes it. We go into a meeting room. With a wide leer he leans over the smudged glass table and gleefully details my shortcomings. My phone lights up to revel its inundation with messages from the disgruntled homeowner. It buzzes, the number presented recognisable as the office phone of the project manager. The client reminds me of his presence with a stomach acid fuelled cough. Leaving my phone on his meeting room table, I stand up, take a shallow breath and then lift my soles gently off the floor. My hair sweeps the ceiling above me, brushing it aside. I continue to ascend. Through the gap in the building beneath me I watch the client pick up my phone and mouth the project manager’s name. I leave them to it.

Maria Smith is a director at Interrobang architecture and engineering and Webb Yates Engineers, and is co-chief curator of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019


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