Tatiana looks up from her desk behind the security window and catches a glimpse of me through the tiny crowded waiting area. Our eyes meet briefly and a hint of a smile flashes before she returns them to the file she is assessing. She raises her flawlessly manicured right hand upon which hangs an elegant bracelet complimenting her nail varnish and two rings sparkling in the downlighting. The most perfect hand in the world turns downside up and the right index finger curls subtly inwards. I have been beckoned. Devoted as a shabby dog come in from the cold and rain, I dutifully make my way through the stunned crowd. She lifts her head and smiles at me. The most perfect hand in the world hangs before me inviting the files I hold ready for deposition. She takes them from me and places them to one side without so much as a glimpse. I receive a final smile from her immaculately made-up moon face and our eyes meet once more through her trendy thick black framed designer glasses before, not a hair out of place, she returns once more to her perusing. I turn to leave and two Dead Sea-like waves of petrified onlookers crash back onto each other behind me, their drift washing me out on my way.
Couriers are a rough bunch and the French never stop talking so you can imagine the babble ricocheting around a waiting room roughly 4 x 6 meters as it batters against the security glass that houses the wonderful Tatiana in her visa-oriented travails. She speaks softly and I can’t hear her. I cup my hands around my ears to harness the pearls she magnanimously casts before so much swine. Her gaze lifts over and past my shoulder to the two guiltiest Gallic babblers and with a simple “Eh..” and the elevated chin of the undisputed Queen of all who stand before her, she imposes a silence which then echoes through the din.
The Gallic babblers hang their heads like naughty schoolboys. I, ever further in awe of her splendid feminine magnificence listen politely as she tells me what’s what. I, sensibly, acknowledge and obey. The others simply wait their turn. Tatiana has spoken. She has done so gently and authoritatively with the benevolent omnipotence of a school mistress or a mother superior and yet somehow manages to send a tingle down the spine of every man in the room to the very root of his unrealised adolescent fantasy.
To the less privileged, by which I mean those unworthy of Tatiana’s illlustrious smile (read, benevolence), all visa-related exchanges take place in the morning between the hours of 9.30 and midday. To the blessed few among us who have earned her favour, occasional afternoon exceptions are granted. One presents oneself before the embassy door and rings the buzzer. A gruff man grumbles indecipherably at you and you make your case. Perhaps after the second or third petitioning a person ostensibly of native origin will appear before you in a crumpled suit, evidently irritated by your very existence. You will speak to him the words, “Tatiana” and “visa”. After all, these are the only two words of his language you know. Hopefully he will fetch her. Alternatively, she will be popping out for a cigarette around this time anyway and will present you with the required visas in opened passports still warm from the stiffening glue. One time, during a festive period, she came out in an apron giddily grinning and licking what appeared to be cake mix from the fingers of the hand not holding a cigarette box. I nearly died.