In [ Old guards and newbies overseas ] I explain how I happened to attend the wedding
In [ The Thwarted Revenge (or being bossed around by the Old Guard overseas): the wedding, the rescue and the chauffeur, part 1 ] I explain what happened at the wedding
in [ The Thwarted Revenge: the chauffeur, the fountain and the attendants, part 2 ] I explain what happened after the wedding
In this epistle, I explain all the things I did not know.
Small things like the bathroom attendant pushing open the wall, I learned over the years. In places where women’s movements are regulated, women with money have created ways to circumvent surveillance. A common maneuver was a woman saying that she had a doctor’s appointment, tipping the receptionist and leaving through a second door. She returns an hour later, walks through the reception area and back into the car that brought her.
A second, rarer, ploy was to attend a party at a hotel and disappear into the bathroom, though a second exit out into a corridor, into a “friend’s” room for an hour and then back to the party with no one the wiser. The few hotels with this set-up, hire bathroom attendants to help women get to where they needed to be.
And the woman who twisted my bangle – what I thought was super-human strength was simply me not understanding then that 24 caret gold is very soft.
But the wedding, I would never have understood if not for two maintenance workers.
The secretary who invited me to the wedding had been pleasant when I started work and I could never exactly explain why I was so uncomfortable with her. But after the wedding, she was decidedly frosty. I assumed it was because I had left the party early without saying goodbye, but I don’t remember us ever talking about it.
Days, weeks, months passed. Work was fine but there were lots of small problems, I kept losing office supplies and got a mild scolding about wasting resources. My computer malfunctioned a lot and the AC was often on the blink.
I saw the two maintenance men (maybe father and son, they looked a lot alike) frequently and they were always joking with me about how I was sitting in the wrong office. I must have been jet-lagged when they began this joke because I don’t remember how it started.
I thought their behavior was odd but I explained it to myself that they had confused me with someone else. The company created an initiative to hire expat women only a year before I arrived and having foreign women around was something new. They must have thought that I was someone else when they laughed and smiled when they saw me, sometimes telling me that they had come to move me to “my real office.”
One of my friend’s husband’s got a job at another company in a different country and they recruited me to jump ship. I handed in my notice and began getting ready to go. My last day was a Thursday. I was supposed to work until noon, then there was going to be a small good-bye party, then my HR exit interview. But HR called me in the morning, so I did my exit interview, turned in my office key and signed all my paperwork.
Now there was only attending the party.
I left HR just after 1pm, and decided to stop by my office one last time before going to the party on a different floor. When I walked towards it, I saw the two maintenance men doing something at the door. I walked up behind them and saw they had taken down my nameplate and put up the nameplate of the new inhabitant: the secretary.
When they turned to look at me, they smiled, “Now she is back in her place,” one said.
“Who?” I asked.
The older man said the name of the secretary.
“This was her office before?” I asked.
“Yes, yes, two years she is here, then you came and they put her as secretary, but she does your job. Now she is back.”
“She was here,” I asked, pointing to my desk.
“Yes, yes, her father works for the company. She was hired many years ago, she did your job for many years. Then they wanted Western, so you came, but now she is back.” They smiled broadly, “She tried but you were too smart, you didn’t dance! but now you go and she is back.”
I nodded as if this all made sense and walked away. I went to the elevator, but went down to the exit, not up to the party.
As I waited for the bus to take me to the company housing, I replayed in my mind dozens of conversations with co-workers. Everyone knew I had taken her job – no one told me. No one said that she was demoted because of me. And no one warned me that she might be angry.
“You didn’t dance!” echoed and echoed – how on earth would two maintenance men know that I hadn’t danced at the wedding? Why was it important? Why had May and Jackson told me not to dance? Why had the secretary lied about the time?
The best I could figure was the secretary had decided to get me in a compromising position and somehow May, plugged into the office gossip, had found out and decided to champion me without tell me why. May could have told me not to go to the wedding or simply explained what was going on. Instead she let me attend. Yes, she and Jackson gave me warnings but…ouch. It hurt to realize that they had known a trap was being set for me and they let me walk into it.
I had been planning to stay in my apartment for a few more days. I was mostly packed, but I wanted to have good-bye coffees with friends over the weekend. Now, after realizing people I had worked with and lived next to for more than a year covered up what was going on, I decided to leave immediately.
I threw the rest of my clothes in a bag – wincing every time I saw something that had happened in a new light. All those missing office supplies, feeling stupid that I was constantly losing staplers, all the calls to fix the AC, being scolded in meetings for breaking the printer when I was sure I hadn’t – small sabotage and most, if not all of my colleagues know what was happening and why and no one said a word.
So I left [another drama explained here: Living Overseas and Surviving Confusion