How backward was that! Now we’re outcasts, we’re hazards. Where we tread, systems break, computers crash. And at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning at Dr WB Rubusana Building, Bomela Road, Mdantsane Unit 1, East London, my name will be mud.
No, revise that. We are invited for 9.00, but this is a loyal Seffrican function. Until 9.45 or so they’ll keep hoping for latecomers. Only then will they start badmouthing the no-shows.
We speak of the Eastern Cape Provincial Finals of the My Life My Money Financial Literacy Speech Competition, which, for neatness we’ll shrink to its handy acronym, ECPFMLMMFLSC.
Why I am invited is that, despite my middle name being Financial Illiteracy, fate in its wisdom plunged me into a minor role co-authoring the event.
But having no plans to be in East London and hearing no enunciating of words like “all expenses paid”, ECPFMLMMFLSC’s finalists must muddle through without me. But one little problem. Some kindly person has bothered to think of me and - tsk, parents, and values and all that - I can’t ignore that. I must acknowledge. But the email is from a no-reply sender, with no phone or contact co-ordinates. My only reply route is the “Submit” form.
But “Submit” is treacherous. Smart invitations nowadays don’t recognise “Sorry, I can’t come”. They assume you’ll ignore them unless you’re coming. To reply is to leap into Acceptances. Even if you specify in bold capitals, “THANKS. COUNT ME OUT”, your name-tag will await you on a baize table in a tag-holder for which you must punch another needle-hole in your shirt.
I check “Submit” in hope of a convincing-looking “No”. Wow! There’s no No. This is news. I’ve barely attuned to ignored Nos; an abolished No is a new threshold. I can only give them Dietary Requirements (misspelled as Dietry).
That’s that, then. I delete the email and ECPFMLMMFLSC exits from my life. Until last Tuesday. A humble, simpatico voice, announcing itself as Thelma, asks my voicemail if Mr Denis will please reply to his invitation.
Yep, Mom and Dad, you got it right, not replying has spoilt someone’s day.
But that hasn’t made replying easier. I still depend on stark, ungracious “Submit”. I use the Dietry space to loudly restate that I’m not attending.
Shu. Done. Until Thursday. An email thanks me for registering to attend.
Hmm. This time I have a human name (not being Thelma). Further exchanges establish that despite having replied, I will not darken Dr WB Rubu- sana’s doorstep tomorrow.
I’m not confident, though. A human has heard me, but has The System? I bet that by 10, a host-person at the baize table will behold my nametag sourly and think ill of inconsiderate invitees who scorn the concerns of organisers and caterers. Perhaps it’ll be Thelma, thinking “... and he didn’t even return my call, either”.
Friday, the assault ascends. Email delivers an invitation to ECPFMLMMFLSC’s Gauteng equivalent.
On Gauteng’s day I’m in the Cape.
Dad, scattered touchingly over the mountain you loved; Mom, smiling vacantly from frail care’s wheelchair and another planet - what now?
How do I say “No” that means “No” while keeping respect happy, too? Not to mention Thelma?
* Beckett's Stoep Talk column is published in The Star