Now he’s sitting opposite me, about to tell me his story. What story, I wonder. He knows that I know what really happened.
“Tell me a bit about yourself…”
“Well, I went to Patterson…” He hesitates. I could say, “Answer me…” but I grip the pen. I look him straight in the eye. “I dropped out of school.” He says it quietly.
I remember that year. That first day of the year when Julian Booysen had mysteriously disappeared, and my life became bearable again. I look down at his CV.
“I see here you worked in a clothing factory, and then you went back to do your matric.”
There is silence.
“What made you go back?”
“My father died. My mom couldn’t make out on the pension. I need a better job.”
Am I going to feel sorry for this guy, I think.
“I really need this job…” He says, “I will work really hard. You’ll see.”
I look down at his marks. There it is. A – for Accounting. I find myself looking to see if the certificate has been tampered with. It would not be the first time that Julian Booysen had tried to change his result. I remember him being called up to the front of the class by Meneer, who held the paper up to the light and said “Look class…this is what a good forgery looks like. Did you do it with a razor, Booysen? Did you scrape off the mark and replace it with an A?” And Julian just stood there, his head hanging. The whole class laughed. There was strength in numbers. With the teacher there we weren’t afraid.
“That’s where you made your mistake,” said Meneer. “I knew Julian Booysen could never get an A for anything.”
He looks at me across the desk. “I worked hard.” He says now, as he sees me looking at the certificate. “I pulled myself right.”
I ask him a few more questions. Not important ones, just because I needed to follow the interview procedure. When he stood up to go I thought he was going to say something again. But he just looked at the certificates behind me on the wall.
“I hope to do well like you one day.” He said and then he turned and left.
After work I sat for a long time at my desk. I had to make a decision. I had to be professional. Booysen’s grade was the highest of the bunch. I phoned the college, expecting to find out something. What? That he had forged his certificates. That he had found out where I worked. That he was lying and wanted to take me down again. Only this time he was a grown man. What could he do now? Get me alone in the toilets, with a knife this time? That he resented my success. But they told me at the college that Julian Booysen was diligent, good mannered, quiet.
I looked at the pile of papers on the table. There was a B for the young woman from Jo’burg. I could put her in, I could justify it, say that she had answered the questions more honestly. But it would be a lie. I could punish him like he punished me. But ‘what goes around comes around’, that’s what my mother always said.
In the morning I emailed the lucky person who was going to be the new intern. The most deserving candidate who was going to start on the path I had had a few years ago.
When I went into work to meet them on Monday morning I was still unsure whether I had made the right decision.
At 8 o’clock sharp there was knock on my office door. Julian Booysen came in. He walked across the carpet and looked me straight in the eye.
“I want to apologise,” he said. “I can’t take it back, what I did to you. But I can say sorry and ask if we can start again.”
He held out his hand. There was a moment’s hesitation before I shook it.