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Deep Dive

Written By Salwa Benaissa
Cover Art by


How did I end up sitting across from an ostrich who asks too many questions? It's Friday Funday!

Editors’ Note

One of those stories where an unlikely conversation with a talking animal gives you the chance to reflect. Who is the ostrich, you want to ask, but the real question is- who are you! At least the ostrich is direct.

Don’t get her wrong: she loves her job, helping ordinary folks navigate the complexities of virtual software, her friendly coworkers, the prestige of a premium LinkedIn account, the free breakfasts, the Friday  Fundays, the air conditioning, the decent salary, and she does worry about losing these perks to an AI language model, but still, though, “What do you do?” is her least favourite question ever. It’s the having to  explain to anyone outside of the industry (which this ostrich appears to be) what her role entails, it’s the furrowed brows, the tilted heads that go “UX writer?”, so when ostrich asks, she now responds, “I work at a  tech company”, which is kind of just vague enough to satisfy, probably, someone outside of the industry— mainly it frees her from having to elaborate that UX stands for “user experience” (that’s so pretentious) and  how she writes like, you know, app notifications you get on your phone or, you know, error messages, like  ‘Oops, something went wrong’—this way she can skip that whole spiel and turn the conversation right back  to the ostrich: “Hey, I love your chain, where did you get it?”

She is referring to the pearly chain that is holding the ostrich’s glasses in place. “Etsy,” replies the ostrich and then, without a beat, “So what kind of work at the tech company?” Alright, she’s been had, the question is direct, she must elaborate:

“I’m a UX writer.” 

She winces, anticipating furrowed brows, though ostriches don’t have brows, not really, actually they look permanently judgmental, purse-lipped, quite refined, even, in an intimidating sort of way, not to say  that the this ostrich sitting across the sheeny mahogany desk represents the facial expressions of all ostriches, she’s no expert, but you can’t help jumping to conclusions about these things.  

Relief, when the ostrich reveals not confusion (he doesn’t even tilt his head) but genuine interest: “What made you want to be a UX writer?”

Maybe the ostrich is a career counsellor, she thinks, it would explain the BELIEVE IT CAN BE DONE poster hanging on the wall behind him, his earnestness, though his glasses are Prada which seems out  of character for a career counsellor, but it could be he just spends more than he earns, and once it’s her turn to inquire she will certainly ask, the “What do you do?”, to get an idea, alas now (again!) she must offer a  direct answer to his direct question: “I’m naturally a good speller, I pay attention to detail. I’m a problem solver and, you know, tech pays.”  

She omits the Taco Tuesdays, the flexible office hours, the hybrid remote work model, it suffices to say that it pays, because everyone knows that programmers make a good living, that startup nomads take MacBook Pros to beaches in Bali without worrying about the sand getting in, because they don’t have to,  because they are rich, even though she doesn’t make nearly as much as a programmer (but who’s job is even  safe these days) and a career counsellor should know that, if the ostrich is in fact one.  

She doesn’t mention the air conditioning, how the office is her only respite from her sixth-floor apartment that faces south, meaning it’s baking in the sun all day, nor does she mention her shitty Dyson fan at home, overpriced, totally useless, just a loud-breathed menace blowing dust in her eyes (plus it turns out  the inventor campaigned for Brexit) on the hottest week on record according to the United Nations, and  that’s why she’s was the only one to show up, on Friday Funday, to the air-conditioned open-plan glass walled office at 9 AM on the dot, that is, apart from the office manager, Lilliana, who left at lunchtime.  

She doesn’t talk about how before leaving Lilliana stuck the laminated pink note that says DON’T  OPEN on the front of the dishwasher, meaning she had turned it on, and that above the sink there is another  laminated note, also pink, with an icon depicting a stack of dishes X’d out by a big cross that says, in the  same font, NO DIRTY DISHES IN THE SINK, that today both signs were up at the same time, meaning she  was meant to wash her yogurt-crusted spoon by hand, but that she washes enough dishes at home as it is and, there, in the office, a dishwasher is the perk, the point.  

She can’t bring herself to confess that even though she could hear the dishwasher’s innards churning, she opened it anyway (there were no witnesses), which is how she ended up in here, in this other much more retro office, not an open space walled in glass at all, but one with wooden panels and a linoleum floor, sitting at this antique mahogany desk, across from an ostrich and his boxy DELL desktop and clunky yellowed  keyboard, the BELIEVE IT CAN BE DONE in huge red Helvetica. 

She doesn’t explain that when she went to stick the spoon into the dishwasher, not bothering to rinse it because she read in The Guardian that it’s a waste of water to pre-rinse dishes (it’s redundant), when she pulled the soaked wire basket toward herself and, fanning away the soapy steam with the hand gripping the spoon, she saw that the back of the dishwasher opened up into a long hall with a red linoleum floor and white  lights that reminded her of high school, she didn’t hesitate, she crawled in.

And maybe it’s because she hadn’t bothered knocking on the door at the end of the hall that the ostrich is so curt now, if not her unannounced presence, or the fact that she is dripping wet, though she is on a hard plastic chair with steel legs and rubber feet, super easy to wipe down, and the linoleum is so dark you  can’t see the foot marks from her tennis shoes, and she smells like dish washing soap which is not that unpleasant, still, it’s objectively bad form to turn up wet and uninvited to anyone’s place of work. “A problem-solver,” echoes the ostrich, and she can’t tell if he’s mocking her. 

“I don’t solve all kinds of problems,” she feels she should clarify, “I’m terrible at math. I’m just good with words, with people. I’m very committed to solving other people’s problems, only when I drink I get carried away with my advice, I end up talking too much, which I’m trying to work on…” “Are you drunk now?” 

“No,” she says, laughing sheepishly, but point taken, she thinks, as her eyes land on the ostrich’s barren bookshelf: surely not a career counsellor, given the handful of mainly Paolo Coelhos and Milan Kunderas, and one, inexplicably, Simone de Beauvoir (probably a gift from an ex-girlfriend), and she’s ready to ask about the books, the job, ease back into small talk, but, shit, she isn’t quick enough, she’s been had again, the ostrich has fired: 

“Does it make you feel better?”  

“Does what make me feel better?” 

“The Ukrainian flag on your lapel.”  

He ruffles his feathers, he’s very good at this game, this ostrich, maybe he’s a psychotherapist, though there are no posters listing things that alleviate depression, but given how he good is at turning the conversation away from himself, his incisive confidence, the monotone, he must have some training, like maybe he’s a life coach—yes!—that would explain the Coelho books, the ugly motivational poster, the self effacing tendencies.  

“I suppose it does,” she answers without much thought and, not to waste another opportunity to interrogate, she goes straight into: “I’ve always wondered, what’s it like to stick your head in the sand?” “Tired old myth,” says the ostrich, and now she feels her face flush, she could have Googled that, she could have just asked about this specific ostrich’s job, which is what really she wanted to ask, but now she’s missed her chance, the ostrich is already going for it, yet again, how boring, how humiliating: “Tell me,  is it true that women reach their sexual prime in their thirties?” 

Ouch: obviously he’s trying to highlight the tactlessness of her own question, to offend her right  back, bringing up sex like that, he must think she’s a terrible person, but I’m not a terrible person, she wants  to say, really, I do care about the war in Ukraine, like, a lot, I went to a vigil, I had the flag filter on my  profile photo not for weeks but months, but it’s not like I’m Russophobic either, I have a ton of Russian  coworkers, sometimes we go out for drinks, in fact I don’t have a racist bone in my body, I even dated a  Muslim for a few months, one day I fasted Ramadan, and now, when the owner of the corner store avoids eye  contact, maybe because I’m a woman who buys cigarettes, I don’t take it personally, I tell myself it’s  cultural, or probably he’s had a hard life, you’re the terrible one, you didn’t even thank me for that  compliment about your stupid chain, and anyway I was just being curious, you’re the one who got all testy  and defensive, you’re the one who got all invasive, all “Does it make you feel better?”, and so what if it does.  

“I’m sorry, it’s been a long week,” says the ostrich, because he must see that she looks flustered, or maybe he senses she might go on a rambling self-dense, which, frankly, she feels compelled to (and rightly so!), and then he says, “Is there anything else? It’s getting late, I’ve got work to get back to.” 

“That makes two of us,” she says, passive-aggressive, intentionally so, though not without instant  regret, because really he gave her a good opening with his “Is there anything else?” (it was direct enough), to  ask about his job, about the books, or she could’ve just answered the question like he did (are sexual primes even a thing?), all aloof, but it’s too late, the ostrich is already on his feet and, making a point to avoid the glistening wet patches on the floor, he kicks open the already-ajar door to his office (she didn’t close it behind her) with his two toes, and he says, again, that it’s getting late, meaning he’s so ready to put an end to all of this.  

“Nice meeting you,” he says, meaning fuck off, though his tone remains inscrutable, she rises, she walks slowly, the floor is slippery, she is wet, her soles are rubber.  

“Nice to meet you, too,” she says, hopefully more wounded than passive-aggressive, though maybe he deserves a bit of spite, a bit of malice, the sexist pig. 

She’s already way down the hall, at the opening in the wall with the dishes, clean now that the dishwasher cycle is over (someone must have closed it behind her), when she hears the ostrich call out, “Your spoon!”  

She ignores him, he can wash the dirty spoon himself, she thinks, he can mop up the puddles, and so what if she is still sore about the sexual jibe, and his quizzing her about the Ukrainian flag, that doesn’t make her a terrible person, but even if he thinks she is, hell, why should she care what he thinks, and it’s only once she’s wedged herself in the gap between the plates that she turns back toward the hall: the ostrich is running in her direction, he has the spoon in his beak, he’s coming at her so fast—damn this guy can run!—she pushes open the dishwasher door and (careful to avoid the knives) clambers out onto the floor of the kitchen of her own office, the one with glass walls, thank god no one’s in today, she slams the dishwasher shut with her foot.  

“Hello,” she hears, a heavy-accented hello, she looks up, shit, it’s the cleaner, it’s the poor office cleaner who will have to mop her foot marks off the already-just-mopped white tiles, the cleaner never deserved this, no one was supposed to even come in today, except for Lilliana, it’s already so dark out, it really is getting late, it’s a Friday night, so maybe the ostrich is right (though he only implied it), maybe she is a terrible person, though at least she’s facing up to it, and anyway the cleaner probably can’t even speak English, not properly anyway, so, really, there’s nothing to worry about, is there.  

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