Jane taps the top of the table with her pen impatiently.
“So what exactly are you saying Philip? Is the project feasible or not?”
“It depends on how you look at it. If we inject 50 million into it, it will succeed. But then again, the profit margin could be marginal. In fact, there may be no profit at all”
Philip is sweating. It is obvious that he did not prepare for this presentation. And he knows very well that that could signal the end of his career at JaneArch Associates. Jane, the owner of the firm, is a thorough woman. She takes her work seriously. And expects her employees to do the same.
“Okay, leave the reports with me. I will study them and make a decision. Ladies and gentlemen, the meeting is dismissed.”
The staff members of JaneArch Associates file out of the conference room, but Jane does not move from her seat. She looks outside the window, at the traffic 18 floors below. The vehicles are moving slowly. She wonders where the people are going. What their lives are like. She allows her mind to drift for a while. Then she rises from her seat, takes the documents and strides out of the room, down the corridor to her office.
She is a tall woman. But that does not stop her from wearing high heels. She loves the sense of power she feels when she towers over her employees and business associates. Especially male ones. Today she is wearing a black trouser suit. Black heels. Gold wrist watch and necklace. Red lipstick. No earrings. Her hair is trimmed short, with the top part dyed brown.
She strides into her office and closes the door behind her. It is a large room. The huge, mahogany desk is on the far end, and behind it a massive, leather rotating chair. On the left is a mahogany bookshelf, with neatly arranged rows of books. Next to it is a small table, on which is a glass jar with water, and a glass next to it. Towards the centre is a sofa set, arranged around a table with a glass top. The floor is covered by a thick, blue carpet. And on the right is a massive window that is responsible for the abundance of light in the room.
Jane puts the documents on the desk and heaves her body into the chair. She closes her eyes, swivels and kicks off the heels from her feet. Then she sighs. At 32, she is accomplished. She got her college education in Europe. By the time she came back three years ago, she had a Bachelors degree and a Masters both in Architecture, and another Masters in Business Administration. She had worked at architectural firms in Madrid and London while doing her Masters degrees. So when she came back to Nairobi, she did not feel like seeking employment. She took a loan from her father and started JaneArch Associates. So far the firm is doing well. She repaid her father in the first year. And while she started off as the sole employee in a small room, now she has a staff of 10 in a spacious office.
And now the only part of her life that had been looking complicated looks like it is taking shape finally. Romance. She knows her destiny is not tied to marriage. Her father, a single parent, drilled that into her head since she was a small girl. But still, she knows she wants to get married. She wants to feel loved. Problem has been, many men are either intimidated by her, or want to dominate her. And she will have none of either. But Tom looks like a good prospect. He is caring and gentle. And she likes him. A little domineering yes, but she will put him in his place with time. She doesn’t like how he keeps correcting her. It is as if he thinks she is not smart enough. But she will prove to him her brilliance with time. Talking of Tom. She picks her phone and dials.
“Hey Jane. You missed me early today”
“You wish,” she replies laughing.
Tom lets out a soft laughter
“A man is allowed to dream”
“True. Look, are we still on for dinner tonight?”
“Yes, we are,”
“Okay. See you then.”
“See you later. Bye”
She hangs up. Then she picks the documents she took from Philip and starts studying them.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
At six PM, she closes the window of her office and strides out. Traffic is building, and it takes her an hour to get to the restaurant. Tom is already there. He stands up and hugs her, then pulls her chair. She likes that. Tom is one of the few men who are taller than her, even when she is on heels. They engage in small talk as they wait for their orders. There is a TV screen on one side, but the volume is mute. But shortly after the news bulletin begins, an image of cuffed doctors being led away by police officers comes on screen.
“These doctors should be jailed forever,” Jane says.
“Why? They are just fighting for their rights”
“First the strike is illegal. Second, it is immoral for doctors to strike. Obviously because people will die, as is happening now. Whoever drafted the law was intelligent. They should have gotten a longer jail term.”
“They are not being jailed because people are dying. They are being jailed for disobeying a court order. That is why only the union officials are being jailed, and not all the doctors. The morality part is debatable, because while it is true a doctor’s strike causes death, that should not be used against. But everyone has a constitutional right to go on strike.”
“Are you even hearing yourself? You are saying the same thing as I am, only that you are hell bent on making me look daft. Just so you know, I have three degrees. Two from Spain, one from England.” Jane suddenly erupts, catching Tom by surprise.
“I am not hell bent on anything. I do agree with you that the courts declared the strike illegal. What I disagree with is your insinuation that doctors strikes are illegal because people will die. I am a lawyer. I can tell you here and now that there is nothing like that in the law.”
“So now because you are a lawyer only your opinion counts? You know Tom, I hate your arrogance. I thought you are different. But clearly, I was wrong. I have even lost my appetite” Jane fumes. She picks her handbag and storms out.
She goes to the parking lot and enters her car. Tears are welling in her eyes. But she restrains them. She is not going to allow an arrogant fool reduce her to tears. She removes her phone from her handbag and calls her friend Sarah.
“Hey Sarah, what are you up to? Are you in the office?”
“No, I am at home”
“Oh Okay. I thought you are still at the office. I needed to talk to you. It’s about Tom”
“Hahaha! I don’t stay late in the office often Jane. Just once in a while. But even when I have loads of assignments, I prefer to carry them home. Whatsup with Tom? Just come to my house. James left this morning for some conference in France. And the kids are away on a school trip.”
“Okay. See you in a few.”
Jane drives to her friend’s home in Lavington. Sarah is only ten years older, but since they met, has been like a mother to Jane. The mother she never had. They eat dinner as they engage in small talk. Then Sarah serves coffee, and Jane tells her what had transpired.
“I thought I could handle his arrogance Sarah. But he is so annoying. Why can’t men handle successful women?”
“Are you saying I am not successful because I am married?” Sarah asks with a smile. She is an engineer by training. She was the Managing Director of a parastatal until two years ago, when she resigned and founded an NGO to aid children in slum areas.
“No, but James is a special breed. There are no other men like him. Truth is, successful women do not get married. Men cannot handle it. I am beginning to resign myself to that fate”
“Have you ever heard of Angela Merkel?”
“Yes. The German Chancellor.”
“And she is married. Yes, the most powerful woman in the world is married. And Margret Thatcher was married too. Do you know who the late David Goldberg was?”
“Husband to Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. But you know who Theresa May is”
“Yes. British Prime Minister. And yes, I know she is married. But those are white people Sarah. African men are chauvinists”
“Ever heard of Joyce Banda?”
“Yes. Former President of Malawi. And yes, I know she is married. I also know she is previously divorced and is on her second marriage. Just like Angela Merkel. Your point?”
“It is true there are insecure men. But there are good men out here, who are not cowed by successful women. Problem is that a section of women think that because they have achieved career success, the world should bow at their feet. And I suspect you are one of them. Just because you are a successful architect and businesswoman doesn’t mean your opinion cannot be challenged Jane. Get off your high horse. ”
“Wow. So now you are siding with men”
“That is your problem Jane. You view the world through the prism of men versus women. And in that scenario men are always wrong. And you, as a woman, is always right. Equal rights for women are far from being achieved. True. Many men still demean women. True. But there are good men in the world. Just like there are bad women. And marriage is not a contest to prove who is smarter than the other. I think Tom is a good man.”
Jane is silent for a while.
“You don’t know Tom, Sarah” she says quietly.
“I don’t. But from what you have told me, he did nothing wrong. He just corrected you and you started throwing childish tantrums. You really want to know what I think?”
“That you must learn humility. It is a Godly virtue. Part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. You must learn to take correction with grace. And to own up to mistakes and apologise when you are wrong. In fact, you should pick your phone and call Tom to apologise.”
“Why should women always be the ones to make sacrifices? Why can’t he make the call and apologise?”
“This has got nothing to do with women making sacrifices. This is about someone who has done something wrong and stupid apologizing to the person she wronged. Being a woman doesn’t exempt you from doing what is right. Tom did nothing wrong. He was just explaining the law to you from a lawyer’s perspective. The way you would explain the design of a house to him from an architect’s perspective. Honestly, I think you are just a spoilt, entitled and arrogant woman. And that needs to change. You have allowed your success to get into your head. You can be successful, confident and humble at the same time, just in case you don’t know.”
The last part catches Jane by surprise. And it stings. She glares at Sarah, but no words come out. Sarah looks at her straight in the eyes. They stay like this for a few minutes. Then Jane sighs. She picks her phone and dials Tom’s number.
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