“HAVE I seen you somewhere before?”
Novelist John le Carre, dean of British espionage, gives this line to be uttered by his ineffectual bureaucrat-turned-ineffectual spy, Justin Quayle.
A spy, theorizes le Carre/Quayle, is a creature of betrayals, betraying as often as he is betrayed. What could be more sleekly treacherous than a spy’s pick-up line?
But le Carre turns the table on the reader in page 348 of my copy of “The Constant Gardener” when Quayle, showing a hidden aptitude for small but strategic betrayals, uses the line while pretending to be a journalist inventing an interview to fool eavesdropping devices placed for ears presumed not to exist.
The many-layered subterfuges in le Carre’s writing make a fine argument for reading the original even if the film version did have actor Ralph Fiennes making Quayle come to life.
The film jettisons many lines that show le Carre can conjure beauty as anarchic as Fiennes’ voice or set of bones.
But it is the line on page 346 that does not let go of me. Tapping on the computer at 3 A.M., I feel far from sleek but still duplicitous trying to cram hours of confidences shared by news sources into an article that is short but essential enough as a mini-skirt.
Why does the dear fellow ape a journalist? If I were born beautiful like Fiennes, I would spend the rest of my life propping up my chin and gazing far-away, a Writer Contemplating Literature.
Certainly, I will not choose to be what I am, a deadline-beater pretending honest intentions for a social issue that will occupy my hours for three weeks and no more.
But perhaps le Carre/Quayle is exercising his countrymen’s understated biting humor in portraying the epitome of the cuckolded professional. At the hands of a news source that will brazen it out with a lie, some of us can’t help but offer the left and right cheeks for slapping ad infinitum. We’ll even line up for a follow-up.
Before I was performing my dawn agonies in front of the blank screen of my confessional, I recall watching the evening news round-up. There were glimpses of our president smiling, wreckage left by bombings in Lebanon, returning domestics whooping it up in a noontime game show.
President declares the creation of the “Super Maid,” a species the government will retrain and equip with special skills before marketing the new and improved commodity in countries not likely to schedule a war and inconveniently require mass evacuation.
Presidential lackey nods and nods again from his nook somewhere near the presidential armpit. Lackey trumpets another favorite presidential sentiment that the country will never sacrifice its modern heroes ever.
“Have I seen you somewhere before?” I imagine the president says this to every overseas worker she meets and greets at the airport for a photo-ops. Doubt it if she is doing a le Carre/Quayle though.
She’s doing an Arroyo, I think as I read her smiling lips.
What I mean is, says the president, I didn’t realize overseas Filipino workers were in any real present danger, whether from bombs falling from the sky or employers unwilling to let go of their investments in domestics.
What I mean is, the woman says, I think I see these sisters, daughters and mothers of mine forced to work from daybreak till midnight, eating leftover food, just to send $150-$200 to their families back home. What I mean is, I don’t hear the horror in the crying of women willing to risk working abroad because hopelessness paces outside their homes.
What I mean is, the smile stretches victoriously from ear to ear, “super” is my new favorite word. Super cities, super maids. And it’s just super that you’re taping and airing all of these.
In a perfect world, I would be listening to a beautiful Fiennes enunciate le Carre’s beautiful lines. But this is a journalists’ world: how do I deceive thee? Let me count the ways.
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