With thanks to Mark Jacot.
It was freezing in the office. The heating had been off all weekend. Shannon was shivering. She pulled her pashmina more tightly round her. It was seven-thirty and she’d already been in the office for an hour.
On the left-hand screen, she had her admissions projections for the next three years. She was staring at her right-hand computer screen, which was open on the WonkHE website. She was trying to work out what the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement would mean for Burston Central.
More students, but less student support – what if they were disproportionately hit by the massive cuts to the National Scholarship Programme? About 28% of their current intake qualified for it at the moment.
Was the removal of the numbers cap going to mean more competition from the for-profit providers, which might impact on fee levels? Or maybe less competition, if students could go to more established institutions instead?
She sighed. Maybe a cup of coffee would help.
She stood up and stretched out her frozen hands awkwardly, trying to keep the shawl over her shoulders. Picking up the kettle, she went out into the dark corridor. Maybe a sprint up and down would warm her up? It must be a good fifty metres each way.
She smiled at the thought of someone running in the corridor. Unlikely. Though it might make the motion-sensitive lights work a bit better.
As she walked towards the Ladies, she noticed that the door to the International office was open. Sunita must be in early. She went in. The outer office was empty, but Sunita’s office door was open.
“Hi, Sunny,” Shannon called out as she walked across the outer office. She didn’t want to give Sunita a fright.
There was no answer. She put her head round the door. “Hi,” she repeated.
Sunita looked up at her. She was sitting at her desk with a credit card in her hand. There was tears in her eyes.
“Sunny? Are you OK?”
Sunita’s lower lip trembled. She shook her head.
“Is it the kids? Dev? Your parents?”
Sunita shook her head again. She clearly didn’t trust herself to speak. She gestured at the computer screen.
“You haven’t fallen for one of those charity guilt videos, have you? Mawkish marketing. What’s the point of making people cry with guilt?” As she said this, Shannon winced to herself. Maybe that was a bit hard-hearted of her. Maybe she should find those things upsetting, rather than irritating.
She went over to the desk and looked at the screen. It seemed to be the Amazon website. She peered at the message. ‘Your payment has not been successful. Please use another method of payment.’
Shannon frowned. “Did you put the code in wrong?”
Sunita shook her head. She sniffed. “No. It’s the card I always use. There must be no money in the account. Dev must have cleaned it out and not told me. Maybe he’s going to leave me.” This last proposition tipped the balance of her self-control, and she began to sob.
Shannon put her hand awkwardly on Sunita’s shoulder. “Um. Well. Surely not.” She had no idea whether this was a likely scenario or not. She didn’t know Sunita or Dev that well. She looked around the room in the hope of inspiration for something to say next. Nothing.
Sunita was still holding the credit card in her hand. Shannon looked at it. “Hang on a minute, Sunny. Is that a NatWest account?”
“They’ve got problems with their systems. I heard it on the Today programme when I was driving in.” She tried to remember what had been said. She didn’t bank with RBS or NatWest. “I don’t think the cards are working.”
She leaned over Sunita and opened another tab on the browser. “Look. BBC News. ‘More RBS glitches’. That’ll be the problem. Phew.”
Sunita blew her nose. “Shit. Are you sure?”
Shannon nodded. “Well. It looks like it. At least, that seems like the most likely thing. Doesn’t it?”
“Probably. God, I feel so stupid. Why didn’t I think of that? It’s not the first time.” She sniffed loudly again. “I’m just so stressed at the moment. It was the last straw. I’ve got to go to India with the VC this week, and I was trying to finish the Christmas shopping. I have to do it online. I never have time for the shops.”
“Well, I guess you can try again later.” Shannon tried to sound brisk. This was all a bit embarrassing. “Now, would you like a coffee?”
Sunita pulled herself together. “Oh. No. No, thanks. I’d better get on. Lots to do.”
“Sorry about that, Shannon. Um. Bit embarrassing. Just a bit tired.” Sunita looked up at Shannon.
Shannon took the hint. “Not to worry. All very busy at the moment. Right, I’d better get some water for this kettle, then get back to figuring out the Autumn Statement implications. Might need to come and talk to you about it at some point – if the domestic number cap’s being lifted, we might be less dependent on international, you never know.”
Sunita looked panicked. “I hadn’t thought of that. My God. I hope that doesn’t mean job cuts in my office.”
Shannon winced. “No, no, sorry, I didn’t mean anything like that. I was just thinking aloud. Just worrying about your workload, really. ” She sighed and started to sidle towards the door. Sunita didn’t move.
“See you later, Sunny.” Shannon made a mental note to pop in later on and check on her.
Sunita looked vaguely across at her. She was still nodding her head when Shannon left the room.
Wading Through Treacle is entirely fictional. You can follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter, or like the Wading Through Treacle page on Facebook to be informed of updates, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of this screen to register for updates from Wading Through Treacle. For last year’s advent calendar, see The Unknown Tutor.
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