A Strong Girl
by Ghost Writer
The bus came to a stop just outside her house and Lucy got off. There was no need to thank Burke for a safe trip, but frankly Lucy wouldn’t have minded if she had to do it. She was just thankful she was no longer in the niqaab and another horrible day was over.
The house was a dream of suburbia. Big, spacious, with a driveway and white picket fence, it seemed perfect when they made the down-payment. Now it was the nightmare that stuck Lucy in her horrible job.
Lucy walked up the driveway and saw that the car was still there. Of course it was there! Where could Simon be but at home? The couple did not have the best of relationship nowadays. She opened the door and saw that dinner has been prepared already. Lucy took off her shoes and went to the study. As expected, her husband was sitting in front of the computer again.
Too skinny, too pale with thick glasses, Simon Kelly looked every bit like the tech geek he was. Looking back, Lucy realized what a mistake she made marrying him. She wasn’t a model or anything but she was good-looking enough to have her pick of guys. Unfortunately, she had to pick a decent guy who became a dead-weight in his career.
She tried to start off on the right foot. “Thanks for getting dinner ready honey.”
Simon looked up in surprised. He didn’t even know she was there. Like always, put him in front of a computer and Simon would lose track of everything. “Oh…Chestnut! Didn’t hear you come in; dinner still warm. Help yourself with it.”
Lucy tried her best to smile. The nickname referred to her hair color and while it was cute when they were dating, it had long lost its sparkle. Now it just sounded tacky. “What you’re going?”
“Looking around… you know, the usual.”
The usual meant doing nothing. Simon had been laid off 2 years ago and had never found another job since. Lucy had to admit he tried, even scoring an interview with Sun Horizon a few months ago, but with the American economy in its tailspin, no one needed another information technology specialist. When they were first married, there were talks of start-ups and Silicon Valley. Now he was just another bum lazing around the house.
“Okay, but you may want to read this.” Lucy handed him the file from Matt. “My contract is up in 6 months and this is Sun Horizon’s kind offer.”
“What it say?”
“God knows with those Middle Eastern pricks. I’m not signing it.” Lucy turned and headed to the dining room when she heard Simon getting out of his chair.
“What? Why? We need the money, Chestnut.”
“Money’s the problem. They’re only offering a third of my current salary and this is the best part; my new job would be 'Office Assistance Girl'! Fuck them!”
“It’s better than nothing. Without your job we’ll have no income to speak of.” Simon opened up the file and Lucy lost it.
“Yeah, well whose fault is that? I’m not the one doing nothing for the last 2 years!” The moment the words came out, Lucy knew she made a mistake. “Look honey, you don’t know what…”
“No, no,” Simon waved off the apology. “It’s not your fault. It’s your decision.”
Simon retreated back to the study as Lucy stood there feeling guilty. There was nothing she could do now. She was about to start her dinner when Simon ran out with the file.
“Chestnut, you haven’t read this?”
Simon looked at her in shock. “They’re offering me a job!”
* * *
The next day was a Saturday and Lucy was back at work. One of the things Sun Horizon changed was moving the company to a 5 and a half day work week. There were some complaints but Sun Horizon claimed this was the norm in most of the world (which was true) and in the end, everyone had to adapt.
For the first time, Lucy was grateful for the change. She didn’t think she could have waited till Monday!
Lucy knew she wanted to see Matt the first chance she got but as a girl, she couldn’t see him directly. Protocol dictated that she had to go through her DSO. Unfortunately for her, that happened to be Oscar.
Standing beside his desk in the prescribe manner, Lucy asked submissively, “Sir, this girl request to see our manager Matt.”
Oscar leaned back on his chair with a wicked smile on his face. “Really? You know girls aren’t supposed to go to management right? What possible reason does a stupid girl like you have to bother management?”
“It’s a private matter sir.”
“You know girl, I don’t think that was very respectful of you.” Oscar pointed at the floor. “Why don’t you ask that again on your knees?”
Lucy quietly knelt and asked again, “Sir, this girl request permission to see our manager Matt Hanson.”
Oscar smiled and… went back to the work on his desk. Not having been told what to do, Lucy decided to do nothing but to continue kneeling. She wasn’t leaving without seeing Matt and she knew Oscar had to acknowledge her request sooner or later. She just had to wait.
After about 10 minutes, Oscar looked back at her and exclaimed, “Girl, you’re still here? I thought you went off already.” Lucy silently fumed but kept quiet. Oscar finally stood up. “Hang on then. We can’t have you just lazing on your knees right? We have work!”
Oscar walked into Matt’s office and Lucy could see them talking through the window. After a minute, Oscar came back. “Good news girl! Matt’s too busy to talk to a girl like you but you are to report to the head of human resource right now.”
* * *
Lucy guessed that a “team player” like Matt would hate confrontation but she couldn’t help but felt that Matt was a coward for dodging her. However, she then realized that speaking to the main man might be better for her.
The secretary of the human resource manager was a girl with the name tag of Betty. Lucy didn’t know if she was a new hire but she was good at her job. She got her boss on the line the moment she saw Lucy entered the office. When Lucy arrived at her desk, Betty was already on her feet at the door of the manager office.
She opened the door but stopped Lucy from walking in. Betty pointed at the ground and Lucy silently cursed. Stated in the employee handbook; when girls enter the office of a manager, they had to do it on their hands and knees unless they are carrying an item in their hands. Basically, girls were not allowed to walk into a manager’s office, they were only allowed to crawl in. It was a rule most managers ignored but as the man rumored to have written most of the employee handbook and the head of human resource, Lucy guessed it was no surprise Abdullah bin Ismail would follow all the rules within it.
Sighing, Lucy fell on her knees and crawled into the office. Lucy could see that there were 2 chairs for guests and she crawled between them. Stopping just in front of the desk, Lucy asked for permission, “Sir, this girl request permission to stand.”
At the single word command, Lucy stood up carefully. She made sure her feet were at shoulder length apart, her hands were clasped, and her eyes were downcast on the ground between her feet. She had the feeling Abdullah was not someone who was forgiving to girls who did not obey all the rules in his rulebook.
“You may look up.”
Slightly surprised, Lucy looked up at the man in front of her. Abdullah was a short man with a big belly on him. Looking around, Lucy saw a cold office, devoid of all manner of decoration. She immediately asked her question and was shocked by his admission.
“Yes, I know. I was the one who drew up the offer to your husband.”
“You… but why?” The man frowned and Lucy quickly remembered her mistake. “Sir, this girl respectfully asks why did the company tie my husband’s employment to this girl’s continued employment with Sun Horizon?”
“Silly girl, I would think the answer to that would be obvious. We want you to stay with us!”
Lucy bit her lips at the remark and continued, “Sir, my husband is well-qualified for the position he applied for. There is no reason for the company to do this sir.”
Abdullah smiled and Lucy could see that he was enjoying this.
“First off girl, you are being disrespectful to your husband. Simon Kelly isn’t just well-qualified for the position, he is overqualified for it!” That stunned her but before Lucy could say anything, he continued. “However, we could get what he could do for us from any new college graduate in America. I could even hire a guy from India at half the salary we are offering him. Frankly, he can do the job but Sun Horizon does not really need him.”
Abdullah paused, waiting for his words to sink in. “Second; we loved you. Girl, you used to hold a high ranking position in the company but you had adapted to your new post better than almost any other female. You are subservient to the men, respectful in your words and tone, and you do your job without complaint. I won’t say you are the best girl we have but among the girls who stayed, you are among the best. Most of the other girls get demerits left, right and centre but you actually managed to get the bonus twice! We love you! You are a great example to the other girls!”
Lucy reeled from the revelations. The last thing she wanted was to be some sort of role model for Sun Horizon. “So when your contract came up, I was almost ordered to find a way to keep you.”
“And you came up with the idea of offering my husband a job… sir?”
Abdullah laughed. “I’m quite proud of it in fact. Although we are a huge multi-national company, we at Sun Horizon still like to think of ourselves as a family company. This is an idea that we had tried out in other countries with great success.”
“So instead of offering me a job I’m suited for, you just offered me a bribe? Blackmailing me with my husband?” Her anger clearly showing in her voice, Lucy didn’t care about her tone, speaking in the third person or the “respectful” sir at the end of the sentence.
Abdullah’s smile disappeared. “It’s not a bribe or blackmail, girl. This is a deal and a very good one. With the economy as it is, your husband would be lucky to get any job, much less one at the salary we are offering him. The same goes for you. For a girl, you are pretty smart so you should know what your chances are of getting a new job in this economic environment. You two could reject our offers of course, but I don’t think you will be getting anything better than this. With the economy as it is, you guys have a better chance of hitting the lottery.”
Lucy thought of everything Abdullah had said and knew he was right. However he wasn’t done yet. “I’ve checked and found that your husband had not worked for over two years. A man with talent and passion for his chosen field but still… two years without work in the IT sector? Girl, Sun Horizon has been more than fair. We’re not taking him as a new hire but offering him your old salary! Tell me he can get something better than this?”
Abdullah was calm and collected throughout the whole thing but Lucy did not care. Lucy practically screamed at him. “I’m not working here for another three years just because of that! I don’t care about the fact he don’t have a job!”
“You don’t care?” Abdullah’s look went from shocked to one of cold understanding. His next words were spoken in a voice made of ice. “Oh, you are one of those then!”
“One of what?” Lucy had no idea what the man was talking about.
“One of those women who think nothing about your husband’s position and well-being. There’re a lot you here in the West. Women who believe you are more important than your husband; who think it perfectly all right for a man to go two years without work! Tell me girl, is this Simon a henpecked husband?”
She had heard enough. Lucy turned to storm out of the office but was cut short by Abdullah’s commanding voice. “Girl!” Lucy turned back to the man. “I will have to give you a demerit for your disrespectful performance just now. You should know the proper way to get out of my office.”
“The Proper Way” meant crawling out of the office on her hands and knees, the same way she came in. To that, Lucy only had one answer, “Fuck you!”
* * *
When Lucy arrived at the law firm, she was suitably impressed. The office was huge and she was quickly ushered into a conference room where she saw over 30 women inside. She quickly realized that all the women there were either working or had worked for Sun Horizon before. However the meeting, as Jennifer called, wasn’t really a meeting at all; it was a call for war.
“Well? What do you think?”
Lucy sipped her coffee while thinking of a response to the question by Danielle. “It’s sound. The lawyer seems to have done some work already on the matter. A class action suit against Sun Horizon… we probably have a case.”
“That’s what they say,” Danielle smiled, obviously happy with Lucy’s words. “They say a law suit against Sun Horizon for discrimination is a slam dunk!”
“Famous last words” The words came out before Lucy could stop herself.
“You don’t think so? You don’t think we’ll win?”
“No; nothing like that.” Lucy took a moment to compose herself. She needed to choose her next words carefully. “Remember, Sun Horizon gave all of us a lot of chances to back out when they first took over. They could argue that anyone who stayed made their own decision.”
“But what about your duties? Lucy, you’re one of the best in sales but now…”
“I’m not arguing with you Danielle. The lawyer is probably right, we’ll probably win but I’m just saying it’s not a slam dunk. It’s just not a sure thing.”
“Oh.” Danielle sounded strangely relieved. “This means you’re in, right? You’re joining our lawsuit against the company?”
“Yes, I'm in.” Danielle hugged a surprised Lucy who almost dropped her cup. “Whoa, what’s the matter girl? There’s no need for that.”
“Oh Lucy, I was just so worried about you. We’re been trying to get all the senior female executives still in the company to come on board and you’re the last one. That plus the rest of…”
“All of the senior female executives? I don’t see Karen.”
“Oh…we won’t be approaching her.”
“Why not? She’s even more senior than me or Jennifer.”
The good thing about “not” being in a niqaab was that Lucy could clearly see the war on Danielle’s face. After a short while arguing with herself, Danielle decided to talk. “Well… we won’t be approaching her because she might say no. Worse she might tell Matt and the company. We don’t want to tip our hand before we’re ready.”
“You think she’ll say no?”
“I’m Matt’s secretary. I know things about Matt and Karen.”
“Like what?” That was all it took. You know what people always said about women and gossip; Danielle was the living example.
“Like how their marriage has gotten a lot better since the takeover. You know Karen is the best well-behaved girl in the company, even better than the new hires? She had the bonus eight times already!”
“Eight?” Lucy was shocked. Just this morning, Abdullah told her having gotten the bonus twice made her one of the best girl in the company, but now she discovered that Karen got eight? Despite herself, Lucy felt her competitive juices flowing at the news.
“Yeah, I even heard Matt boasting once to someone on the phone about how proud he was of her and how much she enjoyed her new role in the company!”
“She’s a front-line receptionist now and Matt thinks she’s enjoying it?”
“Frankly I think he’s right.” Danielle whispered. “You know how rough their marriage was in the past?” Lucy nodded. It was one of the things known throughout the company. “That’s no longer the case. Since the takeover of Sun Horizon, I hardly hear them fight on the phone anymore.”
Lucy scoffed at the idea. “So… she’s what? Embracing her burka? Enjoying her role kneeling and bowing at the company? Come on Danielle, that’s ridiculous.”
“Come on Lucy, you know of the whistle-girls too! There are some of them who get off on the veiling and the humiliation. Hell, I thought you were one of them!”
“Yeah, I mean you used to be so strong. In the past when you wanted something, you would just go through anyone who was in your way but now… you are just so good at your job! Even with jerks like Oscar around the office, you just take it and don’t let them faze you at all.”
Lucy thought about what Abdullah said of her being a role model. It was the last thing on her mind but it seen Sun Horizon weren’t the only one who thought she was a good worker.
“Come on Danielle! This is me you’re talking to! It’s just my natural instinct to do things well. You know I don’t do things half-ass!” It then hit her. “Wait, is that why you guys waited so long to approach me? Because you thought I would say no!”
“Yeah,” Danielle said with a laugh. “At times, I really thought you kind of enjoyed it!” “Hell no! I just… just don’t mind it that much!”
Danielle gave her a curious look. “Lucy dear, that’s the problem! Honey, why don’t you hate it?”
To that question, Lucy Rice found that she had no answer.
End of part 3
Copyright© 2012 by Ghost Writer. All rights reserved.