John was a bright young man. He had topped the country in Physics, Chemistry, German and Algebra. His place in the prestigious research laboratories was almost guaranteed.
The interview went well. All he needed to do now was to wait patiently in the staff room while the selection panel deliberated.
A short, grey-haired lady came out wheeling a tea wagon. She wore sensible shoes. Her hair was tied in a bun with a dark-brown plastic comb holding it together.
“Would you like a cup of tea or a coffee?” she asked John, kindly.
“Give me a tea,” he said. Then he wished he hadn’t asked for it. It was too difficult a balancing act: the cup, the saucer, the cookie; trying to eat and drink and talk all at once.
“I suppose you’re here for the interview,” said the tea lady. “How did it go?”
“It’s none of your business,” said John rather rudely. He was a bit nervous; a bit not quite himself after the interview. “You should stick to pouring tea.”
“I just thought I’d ask,” said the tea lady, giving John his cup and wheeling the wagon off. “You have a nice day.”
The selection panel reappeared shortly, and so did the tea lady with the wagon.
“Anyone for tea?” she asked.
The head of the selection panel addressed the applicant: “John,” he said, “thanks for coming for the interview. You’re highly suited academically for the task. Unfortunately, Doctor Marjorie, the head nuclear physicist, doesn’t think you’d fit well into the team. All the best for future interviews.”
Teas were poured for the panel. John stood there holding his cup and saucer and cookie, and looking stupid. The panel stared.
“92U235 + 0n1 = 56Ba144 + 36Kr89 + 3 (0n1),” thought the “tea lady”.