Saturday, October 24, 2009

Career Girl

Concha Heredia was a product of the Aloysius Gonzaga University, a prestigious school run by the Jesuit fathers. Excelling in her scholastics as well as in extracurricular activities she was held in high esteem by the faculty and her fellow students. As a result of her leadership in scholastic work, as well as in-school activities in the various campus guilds and clubs, she graduated magna cum laude in the class of ’76 with a degree of Bachelor of Arts in Sociology.

A multinational company was quick to recruit her and coursed out a management development program which would culminate in a management position either in Marketing or Human Resources. The final assignment would depend on how she develops during training. But at the end of the program it was made clear that it would very much her choice. Her counselor would just be there to advise, although, the counselor being with personnel tried to influence her to joining HRD.She chose to go to marketing. Marketing did seem more fast track to her than going into HRD which was in the services area of the company. She really proved her worth and a year after her brand assignment she was given a brand group to manage. Under her in the group were men who were about two to four years older than she.On her initial year in marketing she was wooed by several guys in marketing. Later on one of the brand managers became her boyfriend. As a result of her promotion, Ado Reyes, the boyfriend, was a management level below her. At first they were not disturbed by this difference in rank because he was in a different product group.

Concha was a beautiful girl who matured into a confident lady executive. Ado knew that even if Concha was already his girlfriend there were still a lot of ardent suitors not only from the outside but also from within the company. A mounting insecurity was welling up in Ado and he acted quickly to stem any threat to their relationship.On Ado’s insistence they decided to marry. It was company policy that husband and wife cannot be together in the same department so it was agreed that Ado had to get out of the company since Concha’s career in the company seemed to be on the take off.Ado went to another company which was also a multinational but smaller and less prestigious than his former company. Ado’s career progressed in the new company but Concha, whose career rose quickly, clearly outpaced him not only in management stature but also in pay and in a bigger company at that.

“Ado, I wish you could join me in tonight’s cocktails at the Mandarin. A lot of your former colleagues will be there. The brand guys have been asking about you, Jeff in particular, he’s been promoted recently to Marketing Manager of the Paper Products group, you know and the cocktails are in his honor.”

Concha was talking with a coffee pot in one hand and the newspaper in the other offering both to Ado who seemed to still have cobwebs on his face.

“Want a refill? There’s still a cupful. You can have it…I’m on my third already.”

“Just put it down on the table, my cup is still about a half full…”

Ado sounded a bit annoyed by Concha’s unexpected solicitousness.

“So, finally the pompous pain has gotten what he has long aspired for. What a stunning victory for the toadies of this world.”

“Don’t be so mean, Ado, he thought a world about you. Wasn’t he one of your best friends in school? Besides there are others who have missed you and they have been nagging me to take you along to tonight’s cocktails.”

“A regular snake in the grass…whatever respect I had for him has gone down the drain a long time ago.”

Ado Reyes and Jeff Uson were buddies from high school to college. Both have been in the honor’s section since second year high through to college. There was good natured competition between them as they tried to outdo one another in leadership and studies. Ado was on the varsity basketball training team and the ROTC Corps Commander on their last year in school while Jeff headed the debating team and was the grand archon of the honors society. Jeff graduated at the top of the class while Ado came fourth.

During a job fair both of them were invited by a big multinational company to attend their company introduction, a two day affair which talked about the company’s vision, the extent of their business, and the various posts that a recruit may look forward to once taken in. Their applications for the management training program were accepted and both happily entered the concern.

“I don’t understand you…weren’t you the one I married? Don’t take it against him if he tried his darndest. It was flattering the way both of you tried to win me but I’m disappointed and sad that it ruined the beautiful friendship you both had.”

“It was a friendship not worth saving. I’m glad that my eyes were opened early enough to recognize his true ilk.”Concha looked at him in askance,

“You didn’t look so infuriated at him on our first year of marriage…why now?Ado just shook his head and didn’t seem to have a ready answer to Concha’s question.

“…there were things he did that I could not mention, besides I was so happy having married you then that it simply obscured all the animosity I had for him at that time.”

“C’mon Ado, what about the things you did to him then…all’s fair in love and war, you used to say.”

“Do I have to listen to you? Why don’t you take my side for once…seems like poor Jeff isn’t so pitiable now that he has made it to Marketing Manager.”

“Jeff was never the pitiable one, he really would have made it in due time.”

“What does that make of me then? I could have gotten that position if only I stayed…”

Concha cut short Ado’s assertion, “Now you’re sorry you married me, you’re sorry you had to leave the company, you’re sorry we decided that I was to stay behind instead of you. My god! Aren’t we finished with this yet? When will we ever have a closure on this one? I am getting confused…it seems to me that you are angry at us rather than Jeff.”

Ado slammed the newspaper on the table and hitting the side of the cup’s saucer sent it flying onto the tiled floor and with a tinny crash shattered into tiny white shards. He didn’t really mean to be violent about it but the seeming fury of the act managed to have held him back into making a verbal counter assault. Concha just stood there petrified. She was unaccustomed to outbursts like these neither in her family nor in her a little over two years of married life. Ado stood up and made for the door.

“I will call you from the office later,” he said as he closed the door guardedly, fearing another unintended show of hostility.

She stayed her gaze upon the strewn white shards before putting both hands on her face to stifle a sob. Her temple throbbed and her eyes welled with tears that have now flowed profusely. This was the first time they had a quarrel that was left unresolved…left hanging with one of them turning away.Somehow she had a presentiment that something like this was soon to happen. It was Ado’s idea for him to leave the company in deference to her career which was, as a prospect, a lot better than his. Even at that time she could sense that Ado wasn’t exactly ecstatic about sacrificing his career for hers even if it was the sensible thing to do. However, she thought that Ado was mature enough, strong enough to accept her success and not be threatened by it. But now Ado’s behavior seemed to have taken a different turn. The new thing that surfaced into the state of things was quite obvious…he was jealous of Jeff Uson.

In her mind she knew that there could have been probable cause for this. It may have been in her behavior, manner of talking about her job, colleagues, and the frequent business trips and perhaps during an unguarded moment, talked about Jeff admiringly. These might have signaled something was amiss.It has been more than once that she and Jeff had traveled together to regional conferences as well as to trips to New York for consultations in the head office. There was more than one occasion when she had to rebuff Jeff’s advances. She just dismissed them as a natural tendency of the boys in the yuppie crowd…always testing the waters, so to speak. Also she was used to this kind of workplace demeanor as a kind of competing that the guys employ on her, to put her in place…chauvinist games little boys play.

During off hours in these trips they went to museums, the theater and disco dancing and a few drinks in bars. She never told Ado about these since she was confident that she can handle herself well in these circumstances and that she was just being companionable…going beyond that was never in her mind, besides it would only cause unnecessary resentment. Jeff had been gentlemanly enough in all these and had never forced his intentions on her. She was comfortable with that rationalization and never gave it a thought until now that she felt compelled to think about it much more.

Of course she turned down Jeff when he made those silly moves, but there were times, now she remembered, that she wished that she should have been less vehement in her rebuke. Nevertheless, whatever rejections she made to Jeff’s attempts lacked finality…no ultimatum, nor threat. She still loved Ado but the recognition of a problem crept slowly and innocuously on her until it accelerated disaster bound with all the events coming to a head like two renegade freight trains on a collision course.

It was nearly quitting time when Concha realized that she hadn't heard from Ado. She just got back from the ad agency to give a brief on a new product development project and suddenly remembered that she owed her chairman notes for his quarterly report to the home office. Melissa, her secretary informed her that the chairman called an hour earlier but would not leave a message and also that Ado had not called. The draft notes were on the top drawer of her desk. After scanning it she gave it to Melissa to type a copy.

She called the chairman and told him that the report will be with him shortly.
Concha left hurriedly even before Melissa could finish typing the notes.

“Just send it right away to Mr. Bartlett...have to rush home.”

Luckily for her the traffic was unusually light. It took her just twenty minutes to get to the gates of the subdivision, a quarter of an hour earlier than the usual.

She expected to see Ado's car in the driveway. Not finding it there she could not suffuse a mild oath and absentmindedly screeched to a halt nearly hitting the wall at the end of the driveway.

With her shower cap on she turned on the shower knobs at full strength and the torrential crash of cold water hit her breasts forcefully. It hurt a bit but the cold splash gave her relief from the tautened sinews from a hard day at the office and the resentment over Ado's no call and no show.

After some hurried primping she slid into a red pencil cut dress. She bought this dress about six months ago but has never worn it because Ado didn't seem to approve of the color and that it was a bit revealing because the décolletage was plunged just a bit more for comfort. Despite the little care she took on putting on her makeup she came out stunningly beautiful. The imperfect eyebrow lines, the smudgy redness of her cheeks gave her the aura of innocence of an ingénue.

“The hell do I care if he disapproves...shouldn't he be here to stop me?” she muttered to herself.

Arriving by herself at the front of the Mandarin an alert and over solicitous parking attendant was quick to open the car door for her while obviously ogling her spread legs as she slid out of the bucket seat.. It was the first time she had gone to a social event unescorted. There never was a dearth of eager young beaus to accompany her then, but now, there was always Ado. How strange the feeling, she thought, as she glided into the foyer trying hard not to mind the stares, the turning of heads of the men who looked admiringly, others longingly. Rather than being embarrassed she felt at that moment an unexplainable elation and she acted with a haughtiness of sorts. She returned their ogles with an almost stare down look yet with a smile that could have signaled a come on.

At the reception line she could see Jim Bartlett greeting the guests as they arrived at the entrance of the ballroom. Beside him was Mrs. Bartlett and Jeff Uson, the honoree of the occasion and in a row were the company directors and wives flashing welcoming smiles at the guests streaming through.

“Good evening sir, ma'am.” as she made the obligatory buss on their cheeks.

“How are you my dear?”

“I'm fine ma'am”.

After complimenting Mrs. Bartlett on her gown she turned back to Mr. Bartlett.

“I hope Melissa was able to give you my draft…a bit late because I was taken up with the agency guys with the new ad campaign for the restage of Glee.

“Got your write-up late this afternoon and I must say an excellent one, as always.”

“Thank you, sir” she said a bit embarrassed about the generosity of the praise.

“Congratulations, Jeff”. She offered her hand and gave him a quick buss on the cheeks.

“Where's my good friend Ado? I'd really wish him to be around to share this moment”.

Nothing prepared her to answer a cursory question like that. Ado was always with her at times like these, besides she was so engrossed by the resentment towards Ado's not calling her up and his inconstancy that it didn't occur to her that people would ask.

“Aah...aah Ado has been kept in the office, but...but he will follow as soon as he frees himself from whatever it was he was doing”. She was angry at herself for having to lie like that.

Without even waiting for a reply from Jeff she went on to greet the smiling directors and their wives at the second set of the reception line.

She then proceeded to the guests and officemates who grouped themselves according to internal office alliances and then some according to school groupings. It always happens that sometime later there will be regroups surrounding individuals with reputations of power, but that would be later once the bigwigs are through with their chores at the reception line. Each director will have his own power circle with his underlings cozying up to him.

Concha joined the marketing guys. It was easy to locate them as they invariably cluster around the nearest bar. She joined them for awhile, engaging in inane chit-chats, comic posturing, bad jokes all the while displaying well cultivated speech and diction worthy of the schools they come from.

Concha has an acute social savvy and knew her cocktail strategies well. She had a roadmap all planned out for the rest of the evening.
She was not going to confine herself to the marketing bunch and fritter away the evening exchanging hot air and bombast. She had always believed that company cocktails provide opportunities widen her influence in the company by creating good relationships with all the functionaries in the concern. As a Marketing Manager she needed the cooperation of the technical and the commercial people to be effective in her job. After moving away from the marketing bunch she joined the divisional groupings who were more than glad to have a pretty lady in their midst rather than hear more shop talk about scientific breakthroughs in soap making, the ultimate deodorant, washable paper products and, in another, about econometrics, interest rates, forex unpredictability and the rise and fall of the company's share price. Her last cluster would be the group where the chairman himself holds court towards the close of the cocktails.

Milling around Mr. Bartlett were the company directors and important overseas guests. It would be difficult to crash this exclusive coterie by anyone who would be less than they. There were few interlopers. Those brave enough to get into the circle did not stay long. They could not stand the cold shoulders, the icy stares and the snide remarks at the intrusion.

The chairman's group settled near the center of the buffet table where a tacky ice sculpture of an over-sized heart with a floral flourish at the crown, all rendered in clear ice.
Sliding gracefully into the group she playfully said “Sir, you have deprived the party of its gaiety by hording all the exciting men into this congregation.”

“Why Concha, thanks for coming to the rescue. The conversation here is beginning to deteriorate into an exchange of medical woes and the boasting of surgical scars.” Jim Bartlett really sounded relieved with her intrusion.

“Come join us, nothing like a smart and pretty lady to liven the talk. Step lively gents we don't want to give Concha here the impression that we are old farts and fogies” he teasingly cajoled the directors.

“Of course I didn't mean you, Jeff. You would be of Concha’s age” he added.

Jeff Uson, being the honoree had the right to be into this exclusive convocation. He didn't know how to react to what the chairman just said. He looked at Concha who herself could not offer any rejoinder.
The margaritas kept coming and she found herself unable to refuse each time the waiter walked with a trayful.

There was a lively exchange of banter from all around. This was mixed with business talk, politics and even some snippets from showbiz gossip which to everybody's amusement was a contribution by the chairman himself.

It was nearly ten in the evening and as printed in the invitation card it is “carriages at ten” which in British etiquette meant the party ends at ten o'clock. As is customary, a last round of drinks were served and guests linger for about ten to fifteen minutes then leave to complete the exodus.

“Is Ado coming at all? I am afraid everybody would have left in a few more minutes.” Jeff asked.

“Of course he will, why wouldn't he?” she resented the question as she took a quick glance at the rest of the group then cast a sharp look at Jeff. The directors were busy bidding goodbyes and the question was completely unheard or ignored. She was relieved that she didn't have to respond to it to the group.

With the chairman bidding goodbye, the group dispersed leaving Concha and Jeff by the half melted ice sculpture dripping away. Jeff then ushered her to a nearby table for them to rest their weary legs after long hours being on their feet. Concha, with uncharacteristic lack of poise slumped in the chair with legs set apart visibly spent and the effects of the inordinate number of glasses of margaritas taking its toll.

“I didn't mean anything by that question” Jeff said “I really wanted to see him”

“For gloat?”

“Hey, that's not fair, despite our rivalries in the past I still consider him as one of the best buddies I ever had. We could have continued to be the best of friends if it were not for you.”

“We have been through this conversation before; I do not wish to talk about it.”

“Okay, let me keep you company until he arrives. I cannot leave you by yourself at this late hour.”

“You know you don't have to”; I am quite capable of taking care of myself.”

“But I want to,” Jeff said firmly.

Concha was never this testy before. Somehow, Jeff knew that something was amiss. He has known her well enough to sense that something was bothering her. Her eyes turning evasive, her hand gestures becoming jerky and the tone of voice which was usually warm and friendly has turned acerbic and terse. He thought that Ado might not be coming at all. He knew Ado well enough to be certain that he could not allow Concha to go to parties alone or even keep her waiting past cocktail hours.

Ado was not coming and this person beside her seemed determined to stay till kingdom come, she thought. Despite her strength of character she could not fight off the emotion welling up from her chest besides the alcohol had weakened her effort to repress the tears which have been on the verge of spilling out even much earlier.

Jeff looked at the slumped figure on the chair. It had no resemblance to the Concha that he knew or that most knew. There she was hair slightly mussed, lipstick and rouge smudged and tears streaming down her cheeks with traces of mascara with it and breasts heaving convulsively with sobs. Never had he seen her looking this vulnerable. She didn’t look pathetic at all. In fact her vulnerability had a certain attraction to it which evoked thoughts that he tried to push away from his mind. They were persistent thoughts that could not be ignored.

Concha woke up with a terrible headache. She was in bed at home. The late morning shaft of light streaming from the east window was oppressive and she shielded her eyes with her left arm and as she turned to the other side of the bed her other arm brushed the sleeping figure of Ado. She looked at the inert body by her side.

Despite the throbbing pain that drummed on her temple she was completely sober now. Flashes of last night’s episodes blinked intermittently in front of her like blurry screen receptions. She remembered clearly Jeff’s assisting her into his car, garage doors closing from the top down, the ornately designed bed, he tacky heart shaped pillows and the blurred figure of Jeff, the brusque manner she was undressed and the frenetic movements of a heavy mass on top of her. Then moving out of the motel as fast they went in Jeff drove her home. There was no conversation that ensued between them on the way home. She took a hurried shower which somehow cleared the stupor, and then she eased into her night clothes and fell into a deep a deep slumber.

He must have come home very late, she thought.
She stood up from the bed and went to the wash basin. The cold splash on her face was refreshing. She smoothed her hair with a brush and from the mirror she saw the shirt that Ado carelessly cast off from the night before. She picked it up from the hamper and noticed that it had lipstick marks all over the front part; the top button was missing and the button hole torn. She placed it back on the hamper taking care to bury it under other dirty clothing.

She didn’t seem to be so pressured to have an explanation for her car being left at the basement of the Mandarin Hotel. She will think of one later.

She looked at the face in the mirror and saw how pretty she was.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Souls In Waiting

The nether world looms big in our consciousness
Yet it remains to be unexplored and unproved

We regard it with baseless dread and terror
Very much a place revealed only in reverie

Dark valleys and abysmal chasms though imagined
Seem vivid and real in location, and all too palpably felt

A place where the recent dead reside as in collocation
It has to be there even it does not please us to think

We cannot countenance legions of the dead displaced
It is a must that we invent one where there is none

Too many restless souls loose on earth searching for
A comforting lodge to rest before the final reckoning