A Strong Girl
by Ghost Writer

Part 1

The bus stopped smoothly as usual and Lucy got up from her seat along with all the rest of the girls. Burke, the driver, opened the front door of the bus and the passengers slowly streamed out of the bus. Of course, there was one thing they all had to do before getting off.

One after another, Lucy saw the girls in front of her do it before stepping off the bus. When Lucy reached the front, it was her turn. She turned to Burke, bowed her head slightly and said the words prescript on the employee manual, “Thank you sir for bring this girl safely to her workplace.”

As she raised her head, she saw a big smile on Burke’s face. Well, she couldn’t blame him. It must be a kick for him to have a busload of female passengers thanking him for doing his job. Silently, she wondered if the few men who used the company's male bus had to say this “respectable” line to their driver. Most probably not!

Lucy got off the bus and walked through the carpark of the Sun Horizon Building. The new owners had built a new room in the basement of the building for the female workers and nowadays this entrance was where the company bus dropped off their female passengers. It was where the women went to change into their company uniforms.

She stepped into the room and went to her locker. In the past, Lucy would have turned up at the company in a power suit benefiting her position as a high-level executive in the sales department, but now she came to work in a T-shirt, a windbreaker and a pair of pants. Gone were the briefcase, the designer bag, and the high-heel shoes. Dressing up for work was no longer needed, because as a female employee of the Sun Horizon Group she had to put on the prescribed uniform for the women in the company.

When she first heard that the company would be bought by a Middle Eastern investment group, Lucy had been delighted. The non-stop financial crisis in the West had caused extreme strain on the world economy and there were fears that the company would have to declare bankruptcy. She had some expectations that the new owners would bring with them some changes to the company, but she now knew that she had been sadly mistaken.

The Sun Horizon Group didn’t just make some changes; they bought wholesale changes that changed almost everything about the company. The first things they did were to change the company name to “Sun Horizon Inc” and the name of the building the company owned to “The Sun Horizon Building”. After that, they brought changes to the culture and workplace of the company, including installing a uniform for all female workers of the company.

Lucy looked at the clothes hanging on her locker and again wondered why she stayed with the company. Of course she knew the reason. She and her husband had a mortgage to pay off on a house they couldn’t sell and she couldn’t afford to pay the penalty to break her contract. Sighing silently, she took off her clothes and her sneakers and started putting on her uniform.

She put on the long-sleeved blouse and skirt given to her by the company. The sleeves of the blouse covered her arms while the skirt reached the floor. Both pieces of the uniform were larger than necessary, so they would hide the figure of the wearer. She ignored the socks provided by the company as she was already wearing black socks, and put on the company shoes. The shoes were supposed to make no sound when she walked and while that was true, they were made of material so soft at times Lucy thought she was walking around barefooted. She tied them up firmly.

Once that was done, she got to the part of the uniform she hated the most; her niqaab. She first tied up her hair in a headscarf which she wound around her head, then she put on her veil which was fastened around her head above the eyes. The veil dropped down in front of her face and all the way to her midriff, leaving only a tiny slit for her eyes. There was even a small piece of fabric down the middle between her eyes for added modesty!

Looking at the mirror of her locker, Lucy could fully understand why the men mockingly called the room “The Black Ghost Room”. Her entire uniform was black and she was covered from the top of her head to her feet. She hardly recognized the girl in the mirror, but there was nothing to it. She needed the job and the majority of the girls in the company wore this uniform. Lucy put on her black gloves and the last part of her uniform, a name tag that had her name “LUCY” written on it. She clipped the name tag on her niqaab in front of her chest.

She stepped out of the changing room into the corridor and walked to the end where the stairs were. Girls were now no longer allowed to use the elevators or escalators within the building, so she had to walk up to her office on the 23rd floor in her uniform. It was a horror at first, but now Lucy no longer fear tripping on her long skirt. However, it was still heavy exercise going up 23 floors and she took care to use the handrails.

Once she reached the 23rd floor, Lucy took a moment for a deep breath. She needed the time to compose herself for the morning greeting.

When the Sun Horizon Group first took over about a year ago, they happily announced that there would be no layoffs and anyone who wished to resign and break their contracts need only pay three quarters of the usual penalty fees. Everyone stayed except for a few who took early retirement, but when changes started taking place many more people, especially the female workers, started resigning. The morning greeting ritual caused more resignations in the company than any other changes the Sun Horizon Group introduced.

Lucy exited the stairways and walked past the elevators. She saw that three other women were already at the entrance of the office and took a quick look at the clock. The company bus dropped her off exactly at 7 a.m. and it was already 7:20 a.m.

“Lucy, come on.” The girl who spoke was Danielle, one of the only five girls left on her floor and who worked as a secretary to Matt, the manger of the sales division. “You are the last one.”

Lucy’s eyes widen in surprise before she realized that none of the girls could see her face. She looked at the name tags and quickly asked Danielle, “What happened to Michele?”

“She resigned!” Danielle replied.

“Shit!” Lucy answered. “Only four of us left then.”

Danielle shrugged in resignation. “Nothing we can do about it. Let’s just get into position.”

The other two girls nodded to Lucy who nodded back. They were Jamila and Suriani, new employees the group hired as other women resigned from the company. Lucy could understand why they were hired. The duo were hard workers, comfortable with the niqaab and work culture of the company, and they also seemed to have no problem following the various rules.

The girls spilt into two lines facing each other, standing just beyond the entrance of the office. Lucy and Danielle were in one line, while Jamila and Suriani in another. Once the clock hit 7:30 a.m., the office siren sounded and the four girls fell to their knees. Kneeling on the floor with her knees wide apart, Lucy then put both hands on the ground in front of her. On her hands and knees, she waited in this humiliating position for her male co-workers.

The Sun Horizon Group said they were taking a leaf out of the Japanese book, installing a rule that required all the female workers of the company to greet their male co-workers when the men arrived for work. They said that this was to improve morale.

Lucy was sure the Japanese never has any rule that required their female workers to be on their hands and knees, but the rule was pushed through and it applied to every female employee in the company, no matter what her position was. Lucy could only comfort herself in the thought that all the female employees in the company were in the same position as her right now.

She did not have to wait long. The bus for male employees was supposed to reach the building at 7:30 a.m. and it was almost never late. The men who drove to work usually arrived after the company bus. Girls of course had to take the company bus, as no parking space near the building was given to a female employee and the basement changing room was barred to all who did not enter through the assigned entrance. A few minutes after she got into position Lucy heard the sound of the elevator door opening and the men walking to the office.

As the men walked towards the office, the four women lowered their heads to the ground and said the words prescribed in the employee manual, “Welcome Sir! This girl wishes you a good day at the office!”

The men walked past the women and only after they had passed did the four women lifted up their heads. However, they stayed on their hands and knees waiting for the rest of the men. The official starting time of the workday was 8 a.m., and for the next 30 minutes, the four girls bowed their heads and said their lines to all the men who walked past. Most of the men ignored them, but occasionally Lucy could hear a chuckle or two from some passing man.

Again Lucy couldn’t blame them. A year ago, most of them were working with her, some were even under her, but now she was on her hands and knees welcoming them to the office. The sad thing was that Lucy could see that the morning greeting was working! Morale around the office had truly increased since the rule had been introduced, and what’s more the men were never late for work. All of them came between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. to partake in the morning greeting, and male absentees were so rare you knew it must be something serious for a man to miss work. All the women of course had to take the company bus, so they were never late. It was a rule that truly did work!

At 8 a.m. the siren sounded again and the four girls got to their feet and went to their desks. The day has officially started.

End of part 1

Copyright© 2012 by Ghost Writer. All rights reserved.