Saturday, May 10, 2008

Respect (fiction)

“Ma, teacher told me that you should come to school with me tomorrow.” Ross, her eight year old boy looked up from his computer and shouted into the next room through a door that was slightly ajar.

“What, again? Didn’t I talk to her three weeks ago? Who is it that you punched this time?” she shouted back sounding exasperated but not so much because of what Ross said but of the difficulty she was having getting out of the tight shift dress that she bought in Hongkong last week. She tugged mercilessly at the obstinate dress. “Fuck!” she thought “I should learn to stay away from the dessert tray during business lunches.”

She has been having a series of meetings with the regional bosses on HR issues. The regional HRD head was fired last month and the responsibility of looking after the personnel issues of the region had fallen on her lap temporarily.

“I didn’t punch any body. She just wants to see you about something.” Ross seemed resentful of the accusation that he had bullied a classmate again. This was the third time this semester that Marisse had been called to the school for that reason.

“So, what is it this time?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Really, Ma I don’t know.”

This was one time she wished that Gabby was around. Gabby was the responsible one who took the school summons seriously. They have been on separation for more than a half a year now. He accused her of being an absentee mate, too busy to act the wife and mother to the family. Gabby was not around. Funny he accused her of her scarcity but he, himself, was never around in the last year before their separation. Coming home from a business trip she was locked out by Gabby from the house. They had a shouting match with her bursting her lungs out from the front door and him from the second floor window. It was loud, vicious and so public. Neighboring windows slammed shut one after another. Calling from a hotel room he told Gabby to pack his bags and get out of the house. She told him that if there was anyone who had to leave the house it has to be him, after all she was paying for it. Taking Ross to the house of Marisse’ mother was the last paternal act he did. From what she heard he went home to his parents in Iloilo and was never heard from since then.

“I can’t see her until probably next week. You know that I will be in Hongkong until Friday for some business discussions with my bosses.”

She was half expecting that her eight year old boy could understand the importance of meeting with bosses was.
Throwing up her arms in frustration she cried,

“Why can’t you behave like other kids. God almighty! Fine time for this to happen. You know that I am flying tonight.”

“It’s not my fault that my teacher is sore. You seldom come when they call.”

Seeing that Ross was on the verge of tears she hugged him to her bosom. “It’s okay baby, I’ll go to your school as soon as I come back. Tell your teacher, ha! Oh, by the way, I will try getting the play station that you wanted last Christmas. I saw one in Hongkong last week but didn’t have the time to buy it. It’s supposed to be the latest and has got all the cool features.”

“Really Ma? Wow! Ross was wide eyed with excitement at the prospect of getting the new toy. “Ma, get some game disks to go with it” he added.

“I told yaya to bring you to Lola’s house this afternoon. You be good now and don’t give your Lola any headache.

It works all the time. It was so easy to placate Ross. All’s well with the world again. It only takes a promise to a little boy. How she wished that life’s problems would always have simple solutions like that.

She had to pass by the office en route to the airport. There were important papers that she had to bring with her. The personnel files of the directors were needed for the discussion on possible reassignments and the proposal which she worked on for three days and two nights. This was a proposal on the restructuring of the organizational hierarchies and their functional interactions. She would be proposing a matrix organization wherein the practice of multi tasking even at the level of directors would be possible. It would be a paradigm shift in management thinking. Although this has been bruited about in theoretical papers by management pundits all over the world never has there been a model that flew. What was key to her proposed organizational set up was an attitude change. There has to be a buy-in on this concept by the directors would be necessary to make it work, then, followed by a subsequent step down inculcation of the new thinking to the lower echelons. She had already planned out a series of seminars cum team building exercises that would ensure full understanding and owning of the concept by the directors. A breaking down of divisional walls and the doing away with parochial objectives…think total corporate was the buzz word of the proposed new order.

She has had some encouragement from the Director of Client Services. She used him as a sounding board for her ideas. They have often discussed this during off hours or at any that opportunity they could. It was something that did not escape the eyes and ears of the other directors and senior managers. Some of them were quick to ascribe other meanings to these perhaps out of professional jealousy or outright nastiness. Anything to bring down a hard trying co-equal in the organization.

At first the animosity was outwardly displayed but as she made progress in her work and was now being looked at as a possible heir to the headship of the Philippine unit which would be vacated by the retiring incumbent by year end, the open hostility had began to hide in whispers, impersonal opinions, constructive criticisms and anonymous quotes.

A month ago her asking for the personnel files of the senior officers of the company for her to take to a meeting with the region’s head was ostensibly made known. On her instruction, Marla, her secretary, dropped the information on a few known office tattlers and the grapevine shook to its roots. She wanted to impress on them that much of their future may now lie in her hands. It may not have won her love but it did buy her their silence. In a few days after planting the rumor, a few have shown early signs of fawning, toadying and brown nosing.

“Please be a sweetheart and call me a cab. I’ll just go to the toilet and will be on my way.” She was quite nice to her secretary who hastily phoned up the security guard at reception to hail a cab.

Seated at the bowl she noticed some hardly legible scribbling on the panel. Graffiti on toilet cubicles are hard to ignore since one is a virtual captive audience unless you had with you some reading material or a crossword puzzle. She looked closely and the sharp angular block letters became recognizable.

It read “M R corporate whore”
Then another “Marisse, Board Room bitch”
Immediately below it “Sucking dicks pays!”

The messages seemed newly etched. This was the first time that she has seen them, in fact this was the first time that she had encountered graffiti in ladies’ toilets.

She wanted to be hysterical but she took control of her rage and her poise prevailed. This was so unfair to her but only she, alone, knew that this were all false accusations. Never in her life had she used sexual favors for gain.

“So this is the level it has gone to. Fuck you all. I don’t give a shit about what you think” She muttered to herself.

Hurriedly zipping up her skirt and not caring whether it was skewed or not she went out of the cubicle and gave the door a hefty slam. The girls in the toilet who were primping themselves in front of the mirror turned their heads at the crashing sound and seeing it was her lowered their gaze making furtive glances at the mirror as the reflected blur whirred out of sight.

At the airport she breezed through the ticket counter. Thanks to her frequent traveler status she now had a platinum card, the extended and preferential services of which are most appreciated by the harried traveler.

Used to seeing plush airports in other Asian cities she has never gotten used to the embarrassing mess that our international airport is. To save her the agony of waiting in uncomfortable and ill maintained lounge seats along the duty free shops she went directly to the pre-departure area and being one of the earliest there deposited herself in what she felt was a choice place, a place near the counter prior to the entrance fingers.

From her big traveling bag she fished out a paperback. She’s had the book for two weeks now and couldn’t seem to finish reading it because of the hectic weeks previous. The book was on cross-cultural management. She was still agitated by the incident in the office toilet and could not crowd out the hateful thoughts that were evoked by it. The book was placed back into the bag as she fidgeted and played with departure card. The ground stewardess seemed aware of her impatience and signaled her to approach the counter for her to get through ahead of the others.

Easing her body into the comfort of the business class seat she acceded to the offer of an over solicitous flight stewardess to bring a cold glass of fresh orange juice. It was not a full flight and she had the luxury of not having anyone seated beside her. The adrenalin burst that agitated her from the time she left the office had decelerated and she was feeling much more composed now.

Her mind was racing now. The past week’s events were flashing through her mind like a slide show. She would freeze and review events then back track to another much like a state of the art laptop that allowed visuals and thoughts to be compared pair wise, in threes, in simultaneous equations at mind boggling permutations allowing her to rationalize and conclude only on givens. Emotionless, shameless and uncaring like an infernal machine.

Whether the people who wrote the offensive graffiti really believed that she whored her way in to board room or not didn’t matter now. She knew that all these will stop once she gets enshrined into the Managing Director’s post. They won’t be saying it to her face but for most of them she would always be the corporate whore and there is no way she could argue it for it will never be mentioned to her face. From then on all the faces that will greet here would have the same hypocritical tinge, as phony as a Cheshire cat’s or that of Mona Lisa’s. The poor wretched devils will probably never move on from where they are now because of their pettiness and the way they negatively react to other peoples’ accomplishments and advancements. Let them stew in their potful of bile. She felt that she should be gentle with those who will be useful to her when the time comes. As for the rest, they will be getting their just deserts.

She slept throughout the entire trip. A gentle pat on her shoulders from the stewardess woke her up when the plane landed at the Chep Lok airport.

The morning’s meeting took place in one of the smaller function rooms. Just a little less than a dozen people were attending since the audience was made up of the regional directors and one director representing the central office. The first item that was tabled for the morning was the presentation of her proposal on organizational structures.

One by one the directors streamed into the meeting room. Most of them would have a cup of coffee taken from the buffet breakfast table just outside the meeting room. Having a cup of coffee on the way to a meeting was considered good form as it signals the person’s desire to get things going as soon as possible. A sense of urgency and an impatience for slowness, every good executive must have that trait.

The regional head stood at the podium and welcomed everyone to the meeting. He briefly went through the order of activities for the day.

“Okay guys we don’t have all day. But before we start with the first presentation of the day let me just make an important announcement. I have the pleasure of announcing the promotion of Marisse to Managing Director of the Philippine company to replace Mr. Rohner who would retire and wouldbe leaving us by year end I am enjoining everyone to welcome her into our group despite the fact that she is a just a girl. We do expect that she would become a man as we progress. A big round of applause please.”

As the clapping subsided he raised both hands seemingly pleased with his clever introduction and as if to say enough of that.

“Now that we have done that let’s proceed without much delay. So sweetie the audience is now yours”

Visibly stung by the chauvinist introduction and the reference to her as some floozy, her head turned in a haughty way as she normally would when piqued.

“Thank you very much for the promotion and the accolade, but I think the old boy’s club must get used to having a woman among boys, and sir, I would thank you more if you introduced me as Marisse or as Mrs. Ramos and not as sweetie.”

She didn’t win any brownie points for starters but the feeling was glorious and magnificent.

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