(A True Story. Some details have been changed but the integrity of the story is retained. Author would like to express deepest gratitude to "Sofia" for allowing her story to be told through this Blog. Muchos besos para ti mi amiga!)("It's 5'0 clock on a Friday afternoon. What do these managers have in common in terms of timing? I was fucking free the whole day and he wants an end of business hours chat!")
I was cursing and thinking to myself when Anne Marie (probably on stealth mode again), startled me with a tap on my shoulders, "Hey Sow-fee-yeh, you know too well that Doug hates to wait sweetie, now run along, he's waiting in his office."
"Yes of course," I muttered. "Thanks Anne."
I grabbed my Blackberry, a pen, my swipe I.D., and the usual "notebook"; a mandate from Doug as he seemed to be unable to embrace a paperless office and looks at all of us as his "grasshoppers".
Doug Whitaker occupies the corner room at the 23rd floor of our Park Avenue Office, aka, HQ or headquarters. The "corner room with a window" overlooking Manhattan is a shout out that he has it "made". He is the Global Marketing Director, heading a team of 126 people worldwide, and together with a few "hotshots" like me, we report directly to him as Brand Management Trainees. As I reached his floor, I fixed my navy blue double breasted blazer and checked my skirt, and cleared my voice as quietly as I can.
"Doug, it's 5:00 P.M. I can't be that important for you to call me at your favorite rap hour with the Marketing boys. I am so flattered and intrigued by this", I said enthusiastically at his door. I am a natural. Ass-licking and corporate politics? Like a walk in the park.
He was already smiling and he stands from his table and walks over to his small round table, an office cum meeting room; he had requested this arrangement when he moved his black leather sofa to the left wall where his new "badge" acquisition, a huge Warhol painting is hanging. A true obsessive compulsive bastard, Doug would have roughly 24 pieces of sharpened pencils on his pencil holder, a PC (he said a lap top looked like a toy), a spotless, paperless desk, a coffee mug on a black marble mug coaster, a coffee maker at a corner (a privilege he enjoys), and a couple of papers waiting for his signature laid on his desk, each with little colored tabs (done by Anne Marie of course to ensure that he doesn't miss any). It is common knowledge however, that to open any of his locked drawers would be a sight that will give you months of endless nightmares; as there were stacks and stacks of assorted folders, files and papers in there. Anne Marie is his diligent Executive Assistant, they have been together for a whole century and two previous lifetimes, at least that's how we talked about them in the pantry. No sexual tension there. Doug would be completely lost without her who makes him look good and efficient all the time. If the shareholders knew any better, they would pay Anne half of Doug's pay check. She is just one smart old lady, she practically runs the whole department. Everyone in the department respects Anne, hell, we will be more scared to piss her off than we are of Doug. But that's not my story, it's just really nice office chatter. And I like Anne Marie a lot. She looks after me like her own incorrigible daughter.
"Come in, the beautiful Sofia, please .... grace my room with your loveliness. And don't give me that look, it's an after 5:00 o' clock Friday compliment, seriously, so it should NOT be taken as an harassment issue." He laughs that annoying chortling laugh at his own joke, I just smiled. He sat down and I sat across him on the small round table still holding my notebook and my pen.
"So how are things shaping up with my Navy Seals?" Doug chuckles again. I relax a bit.
"We are doing great Doug, and we have practically completed the last stage of the Consumer Usage and Analytics Report. Probably be on your desk early next week like we promised. Latest, Tuesday morning. Richard is just finalizing a couple more inputs based on the consumer research, which came rather late versus our time table." I said excitedly. "I would still have to do an oversight review, particularly on the stats. You and I know the devil is in the details." I smiled and tried to hold back a snort. (an unbecoming habit I acquired that people think is so unappealing and a sharp contrast to my image).
Doug smiled. "Excellent thinking as always Sofia. You are my ace on that team. I want you to know that the boys upstairs and I, are very pleased with your performance. Having said that, here's why I wanted to meet you on a late Friday afternoon. We have decided and agreed to provide you an opportunity for a short expatriate assignment early on in your career. I'm sure you are aware of all these career succession imperatives. You need an exposure in another market, another culture, as a mandate to fast track your development." As Doug spoke, I was counting my heartbeat and realized I forgot to breathe. He continued, "If your report is out by Tuesday, we can have a review on Wednesday and a final presentation for the management Committee on Thursday, and should there be any revisions, the latest would be Friday. We want you to fly to our Company Office in Malaysia, for a quick 5-day visit to check out the terrain, have some kind of a familiarization tour; then I expect you to scuttle back here, finish off any hanging threads, handover the projects, and fly immediately back to K.L. within the same week. You are assigned for a 3-month ..err .. possibly, a 6-month post in the Marketing Department as Brand Manager for our Personal Care Line. Mr. Maidon, you've met him during our Marketing conference ..." He pauses and looks at me, I nodded rather wobbly, as I was feeling dizzy due to lack of oxygen in my brain. He continues, "... will be taking care of everything that you need administratively. Logistics, what have yous. You know the drill, right?"
My mouth was half-open and so many thoughts were running through my head. Malaysia? Jesus! Asia? I snapped back to reality when I heard that gobbling laughter. "I'm sorry Doug, but I am too stunned to make an intelligent response!"
"Nonsense Sofia. Congratulations! You honestly deserve the first option. In your team, I have yet to see a close second to you. Plus, this could not have been so perfectly timed Sophie, (I hate it when he calls me that, but I kept the half smile and half gawky expression I had on my face); we all know you need time to be away from here. A new environment always helps ..." He pauses again and looks at me intently making me queasy in my seat.
("What the hell?!!") I could almost taste myself blurting this out, but instead I said, trying to have a confident, even tone. "Oh I missed that last point Doug. You got me at 'excellent thinking'." I smiled trying some lame humor in an awfully awkward situation.
Doug leans back on his seat and for a swift second, he looked like my grandfather, and smiles kindly. Too kindly.
"Sofia, I am your boss. I have eyes and ears everywhere so I know everything that's going on, including some personal concerns of my team, particularly of "my team". I don't allow my people to be unnecessarily distressed or de-focused so I can keep all of you highly productive and on your toes, all the time. This is a cut-throat business we run. Extremely competitive. I know what happened between you and your fiance'. I will not ask about any gory details from you. You look like someone sucked out the blood from your face. It's alright Sophie. We all go through different challenges and keeping relationships is just one of the trade-offs I have seen with all the different successful executives around here. I could give you a run down of all the divorcees' in our company and all the single, and old wrinkly women. But that's not our objective for this discussion." He pauses and looks at me, I decided not to give an editorial so I bit my lower lip, nodded and looked at him straight in the eye.
Before he could say anything, I decided to lead this time.
"Well, thank you very much Doug. I am deeply grateful for your endorsement and trust that your vote of confidence will not go to waste. I shall be directly liaising with Anne Marie on schedules then?" I asked with a renewed vigor although I could not conceal my slightly quivering voice. But like a true corporate soldier, bring it!
Doug stood up and I did too. He held up his hand and I took the warm and tight handshake. "I am completely confident Sofia that you will make your presence felt in Malaysia and you will enjoy the reciprocal learning process. I have already briefed Anne about this," he smiles broadly showing a set of perfect teeth, all of which are veneer lined; "you need not worry about travel documents, visas and arrangements. By Monday she will give you everything that you need to know. I tell you that woman is the Last Boy Scout! Just enjoy your Friday young lady, and go get 'em!"
I grinned back and squared my shoulders, "Thank you so much Doug, really. I am not sure if everything has sunk in, perhaps a beer would be good to wash this wonderful surprise down."
We both laughed at that and I unashamedly snorted. I walked out of Doug's "the" corner room and it did not take long, and everyone I passed started was shaking my hand, tapping me on the back, hugging me; I felt so embarrassed and proud at the same time. I always knew when it's about you, you are always the last to know. Deep inside me, I also felt hollow. I badly needed a drink.
I got back to my cubicle and Anne Marie and the rest of the guys were there, standing and waiting for me. I smiled sheepishly, but before I could say anything, Anne Marie hugged me, and then Frankie run up to me and hugged me too. 'Frankie' is really Francesca. We met at our MBA class in Columbia and we both got into the Company for the Traineeship. I hugged her back, I was conscious I was tearing up a bit. Somebody said, "What the fuck are we hanging around for? The bar awaits!" We all laughed and went our merry way.
I was dead drunk when I got back to my flat at East 62nd Street. Where's Frankie? I should have asked her to stay here. I don't even remember how I got here.
I, of course got this place through the generosity of the Vasquez-Delgado clan, fondly called, Dad and Mom. I have to call them, it should be, what the fuck? It's 3:30A.M.; time flies when you're having fun. They should be awake.
"Mama? Si Mama, tambien te extraño. I have some good news. Have Papa sit beside you so he can hear my voice."
So I told them the bit that I got from Doug and my mother after squealing with pride and delight, 'Dios bendiga su corazon', which is probably typical of all mothers in the world, just had to ask, "Did you tell Matthieu about this, hija?"
I swallowed really hard before I could reply, my head cleared up suddenly, but the lump in my throat was clogging up my breathing; and I said, "I don't think I have to, Mama. Its enough that you and Papa know about it. I hope I make you proud. I have to go, I am really sleepy. Te quiero Mama, dice Papa que lo amo."
I shut my phone off. Went straight to the shower. And I started sobbing while the water washed my face.
(To Be Continued)