When Oumar discovered that he was going in front of the cameras, he felt some beads of sweat trickle along his bushy eyebrows. He was shown into a room where a girl sat before a set of well-lit mirrors. Once he sat down, she eyed him carefully, then took different pots and compacts out of a set of cases that looked to him like tool boxes. She lightly coated his face with something half-dry, half-gooey, then sat back and eyed him again.
“Yes, that’s enough to keep the light from reflecting,” she said. “I’ll show you to the wings now, and a PA will usher you in when it’s time, just before the interview.”
Oumar raised his eyebrows, but said nothing, and followed the girl into another part of the studio. She looked him over once more, straightened his tie, smoothed his jacket sleeves, and left. He looked around; there was no place for him to sit in while he waited.
A few minutes later he heard some sort of little song, then a man waved him forward and walked with him to a chair set by a table. At the table across from him, Oumar saw a distinguished-looking man in a light gray suit, who nodded to him and shuffled a few papers on his table.
“It’ll only be a moment, we’re coming to the end of the commercial break,” the man said.
Oumar waited patently, hands joined on the table.
Another brief melody sounded, then the man looked up at a camera whose red eye had just opened.
“We have here now, in our studio, Kokou Yetognon, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of Congo. Mr. Yetognon, do you see the effects of the economic crisis in your nation?”
Oumar took a deep breath.
“Congo is not my nation. I’m from Bobigny.”
“Bobigny??” the man asked. “But don’t you live at your consulate in the tenth arrondissement?”
“I don’t live at a consulate. I never worked at one either.”
“But surely as minister of foreign affairs – ”
“I’m no minister of foreign affairs.”
“But Mr. Yetognon – ”
“My name is not Yetognon. My name is Oumar Nkonga. I came her for a job interview, for a janitor’s job.”
The distinguished man’s mouth dropped open.
“Didn’t anyone tell you that you would go in front of the cameras?”
“Yes, but I thought that was how things were done in a television studio.”
The distinguished man picked up the handset of a telephone that was sitting next to him, waited a moment, then said, “Albert, could you see if you can find Mr. Yetognon?” He hung up, put on his largest on-screen smile, and said, “Thank you, sir, for your participation today. The PA will show you to your interview.” He turned back to the camera. “We’ll be right back after a brief commercial break.”