Thursday, February 23, 2012

The lady in the mirror

The hallway bears the mark of hundreds of people who have walked through the front doors of this building. This towering edifice in the middle of the central business district is but a tiny indication of the fact that it houses one of the topmost Audit and Tax Advisory firms in the country. Immediately you enter, you are soaked in the life force that seems to have a hold on the people who come here daily to make an impact. Today, I have a meeting with management. Another assessment session. I have had twelve of these sessions in the last 13 years. I have come out of every one of them with a plastic smile and with a practiced I am fine look on my face. I know the drill by now. They call me in, they tell me that my records are outstanding, I work long hours and I am never tardy. They prattle on for ten minutes or so, depending on who is doing the talking and then they bring it up. “However, Fatimah, at the moment there is really no management position vacant. We understand how valuable an asset you are to us at the moment but we really regret that we cannot make you a partner at the moment. You know we will not fail to reward your efforts as you rightly deserve.” I am weary on the inside, but on the outside I keep my composure. I flick back the thick wavy mass of Peruvian hair cascading down my face. It is my way of pushing down the nervous tremor running through me. I am dressed as smartly and relaxed as I can manage. I don’t have a jacket on, I don't want the stuffiness that comes with it. Gray pants that hug my hips as closely as decency would allow with a perfectly cut pink shirt with a ruffled collar.My gleaming black patent shoes with its 4-inched heels are comfortably chic. I strive to maintain a perfect blend of stylish and professionalism at all times. One leg infront of the other, down these hallowed halls of Vincent Obong & Co. I approach the door of the conference room and push it back; standing ramrod straight I throw my head slightly, it is time. *** You’ve probably heard my story before, only you may not have heard it told by me. I hear them whispering about me around the office but I have grown immune to their talk. I am old enough to know that irrespective of what you do in life and no matter your decisions in life somebody somewhere will believe you have done wrong or you have not chosen wisely. To those people, I gladly say ‘walk in my shoes’. I splash water on my face and I watch the droplets of water trickle down my face.I dab my face with the soft towel I always carry around. I am waiting to be called. I stare at the lady in the mirror and she stares right back. She looks glamorous and confident. I on the other hand don't feel as good as she looks. I remember Tony's hand pumping mine on the ride over to the hotel. "You deserve this hun. This is your night and you look beautiful. You need to calm down. You have achieved the highest position in your industry by virtue of your position at work. Hard work does pay. So relax, have fun, take pictures and revel in the glory and let me enjoy the glitz and glam that comes with being married to the first woman to be bestowed with this honour in the finance industry. You deserve this." Today is supposed to be the happiest day of my career life. What I feel at the moment cannot be described. I don’t recall how many times I have been asked how I feel about my success in the industry and my achievements in the firm; my reaction has been the same: wry smile, mumbled words and incoherent gestures of appreciation. Do I deserve this? Really? Do I? Is the lady in the mirror capable of doing what I have done? It's amazing what a person who is determined can do. Hard work? Yes I put in a lot of that and more. Long hours? Yes I do deserve this award. I adjust my dress at the waist as I hear my name over the loud sound system. I should get back to the hall. It's a shame some people at Vincent O won't be here in the audience. Year after year there was no space at the top for me, so I created space. I had to. I worked too hard to be pushed aside for too long. Martin, the divisional head of forensics had his head buried in breasts to notice when I stretched out my hand and slipped the tiny pill into his drink. Amaka always had a false smile anytime they had those management meetings. She was the head of the personnel management team. She would give me the look of "As a fellow woman, I understand what it means to be passed over". What did she understand? She probably would have more clarity now as she is in another realm. The news report said that her car just skidded off the highway on her way back from a team building retreat just outside of Lagos. It took all of 4,000Naira to have her car fixed up just before the trip. Bright eyed and nervous, I touch the mirror because I do not recognize the person staring back at me. No space at the top for me? I made space and I am sitting at the top. I can hear my name over the speakers. "Fatimah Waziri" I smile at the reflection in the mirror. Hard work does pay but they didn’t tell me I had to add the spice of cunning to get to the top.