Master Plan

Mr. Amin was away for a month, having gone to visit his family in India. Open Hearts seniors daycare centre obviously couldn’t run itself, so The Authority had sent a temporary replacement, forty years younger than most of the clients, and sixty years younger than James. Everybody loved Mr. Amin, but a change would be refreshing, especially this smart girl up to date with all the latest developments. They awaited Shazeen Simoninian with enthusiasm.

Her arrival at the Centre was unforgettable. Sharp fragments of light flashed through the lounge. Her silver sports car’s reflections illuminated everyone present, and seemed to form a bright fabric clinging to the roof. A little tune played when she locked the car doors. “Beethoven’s Fifth,” said Gemma, knitting.

“Sure it wasn’t his sixth?” said Albert. “Or maybe his fifth-and-a-half? I’ve heard its one of his better ones.” Gemma shook her head.

Both lounge doors swung open – people usually opened only one – and a silver-suited woman of medium height and slim build appeared. There was a heady waft of jasmine and pomegranates. “She’s Persian,” said Gemma. “You can tell by the features.”

“Good morning everybody,” said Shazeen Simoninian. “I’ll be running this Centre for the next month while Mr. Amin is away. We didn’t get the chance to perform a formal handover. Would someone please show me the Master Plan.”

People stared blankly. Ex-cowboy Albert said quietly, “Yez, de Master Plan. Maybe she iz German.”

She pointed to him. “You, what did you say?”

“That your name is Persian. Am I right?”

“That’s very presumptuous of you to say that. We live in a multi-cultural society. My name is Canadian. Now can you please answer my question about the Master Plan.”

“Er… this place sort of runs itself, Mizz. Mr. Amin has a hands-off approach to management.” He looked around and raised his eyebrows. “Isn’t that right?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Shazeen Simoninian. “No institution runs itself. I’ll need to see the Work Schedules and Food Plans, Exercise Policies, Conversation Structures, Dispute Resolution Frameworks, and everything else required by The Authority. Now where will I find those?”

Nobody spoke. “You, in the blue uniform. Where will I find them?”

Zoe, the cook, couldn’t help smirking. She said, “In Mr. Amin’s head I think.”

“What do you mean by that?” Shazeen Simoninian looked around to ensure equal eye contact with everyone present. “You mean that none of the daily procedures are documented? You just make them up as you go along?”

“Pretty much,” said Albert. “It’s really not that hard. You just see what the day brings you, see what needs doing, and do it.”

“Sir, what’s your name? Albert? Okay Albert, from your attire I gather that you’re a cowboy of some sort. Am I correct? I thought so. Your duties would include, I imagine, riding horses and moving cows.”

“That’s pretty much it, Ms. Simoninian. You seem to know the job pretty well. Which ranch did you work at? Or are you a rustler? You can tell me, I promise I won’t tell the Sheriff. Most of the…”

“That’s enough Albert. My point is that you are a cowboy and I am a professionally trained facility manager. We don’t ‘just see what the day brings’. We bring things to the day. We don’t just ‘see what needs doing’. We do what is planned. That is why I have asked for the Master Plan. It provides the essential rhythm of every facility. Now if we don’t have one here, my first job is to create one.” She left them alone for the rest of the day.

The next morning began with the Seniors Song, composed by Shazeen Simoninian. “It is vital to share our vision daily,” she said, passing out song sheets. The song began:

“We arise each morn with the gift of life,

As an ex-husband or as an ex-wife,

We sit neither alone nor bearing strife,

For today our Hearts are Open to life.”

Albert didn’t sing, just shook his head. Then Shazeen Simoninian announced the 28-day menu rotation. On Tuesday when there was an unexpected cold snap, they ate fair-trade salads rather than the harvest stew suggested by Zoe. No external food was allowed, as Shazeen Simoninian said “it could be unhygienic.”

Albert said, “I’ve been unhygienic all my life. That’s how I…” He stopped when given a vicious look by the acting facility manager.

They were made to watch one hour of TV daily for “asymmetric socialisation,” and were discouraged from wearing brightly coloured clothes as they “created disharmony” within the “decor-neutral” facility scheme. They were allowed only one toilet visit per hour, and if they needed more than this, Shazeen Simoninian suggested adult diapers or urinary catheters. All talk of religion, sex, and politics was banned in case other people were offended. And of course Albert was not allowed to tell jokes as these could lead to over-excitement and heart attacks. The centre was suffocated by jasmine and pomegranates.

Mr. Amin was shocked when he returned from India. The vibrant seniors community he had nurtured now seemed like a mortuary. He unbuttoned his yellow shirt, put down the pakoras he’d brought for everyone, switched off the TV, and threw on a Bollywood CD. When the guitars and sitars started up he called out, “Everybody, I’m back! Let’s do some dirty dancing!” Then realizing that his stomach was unsettled he ran to the toilet, but didn’t have time to close the door. His holy vibrations resounded around the centre. They blew out Shazeen Simoninian’s heavy fragrance and returned the Centre to life.

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