‘The tea bags are not for those who truly like to drink tea’, —only the smelly, fresh leaves is what gives the flavour to the tea. —She used to say—. ‘Once the tea leaves are secured in the cup, add the boiling water. Be careful! The water must not surpass the middle of the cup. Wait until the transparent liquid gets impregnated with the dark colours of the leaves and you feel the soft smells of the tea, then add the exact quantity of milk, not more, not less. Serve immediately and take it to where I am’.
She was like that. When she arrived at the office every morning, the tea must have been in the perfect point of ebullition and all the fashion magazines that our company published, spread over the table. Her computer had to be online, her emails reviewed and catalogued in order of importance ready to be answered. As soon as she entered through the door I could see her scanning my whole body from head to toe. If she found I was wearing a perfect outfit she would smile and congratulate me. A not so well combined outfit would make me be the recipient of a very strange look. She sat on the table first to look at the fashion magazines and extended her hand without looking at me, expecting her diary to be posed on her palm with the softness of who is rather posing a butterfly. It was just another morning in my The Devil Wears Prada kind of life.
A couple of months earlier, the sunshine had lighted over my future. After arriving in a new country on an student visa, I had managed to be called by some barristers-in-law interested in my legal skills, only to hang up quickly after finding about my migratory status. But she did not care. I had been in the company before, and she loved my work. When her assistant left for good, she called me. It was a good moment for me, after being initially rejected for a job as a lawyer I wanted to put in practice the skills I acquired during my Master in Public Relations. The same day I was hired as Communications Assistant I discovered I was pregnant. When I called my family to tell them the good news, all my aunties where screaming through the phone, they were so proud and happy for me.
—Children are born with a silver spoon under the mouth, hija—, said one of my aunties.
I loved the Company I was working for. They were fashion magazines all over the place and even my desk was surrounded by a little library with vintage editions. My job was rather administrative than legal, the only thing that bothered me a little, but at least I managed to be the designated one for the company’s monthly newsletter, as well as the liaison officer with clients, journalists, editors and employees. My desk was well placed outside the CEO, CFO and Comms Director —my direct boss— offices. On my left was Johanna, the CEO’s assistant, one of the sweetest persons I have met in my entire life.
A couple of days into the job, I was assigned a second manager. A ‘cool guy’ who had recently arrived from Europe. There were rumours, that the guy had a file in Human Resources for bullying as big as a mountain. I thought I could handle him, I had to as I was only starting in the position. Face to face he was nice and polite. But things started coming down the road when my two new bosses —who were close friends— started to talk about me behind closed doors. There was no need, really, as I could see their inquisitive looks through the huge window of her office. I felt naked and my intestines crushed every time in anguish. After they opened the door they called me to get them some tea. While serving they would tell me I was answering the phone too quickly and did not let them any time to answer themselves. No, better, I was answering too slowly and the calls were going to voicemail. The lunch that I bought them that day was too oily. They needed to keep their figures. If I couldn’t manage a nice lunch, how could I manage my communications duties? My articles are good, but that editor hated the other one and we do not want you to publish this piece, or the other, or the other. Start over, reinvent yourself, delay the newsletter, nobody cares.
My communications duties started diminishing and the personal assistant ones started to take most of my time. My belly was growing. I had to go out in heels, running, to look for delicious-not-excessively-priced-healthy-rapidly-cooked food. One day I woke up sweating in the middle of the night, believing I had forgotten to book a make-up artist that had to be at 7am at my bosses house. A lot of times the CEO was looking for her, ‘it is a matter of urgency’ —he used to say— , while she was on the beauty salon warning me to lie —Tell him, ‘I’m sorry, she is not available’ ‘she is not feeling well and had to go to the doctor’, ‘she is in a meeting and turned off her phone but she will call you as soon as she can’.
I had to deal with the egos of the other editors as well, knowing I had access to her calendar and could modify her meetings. They come to my desk: ‘Cancel our appointment’, ‘move the day’, ‘move the time’, ‘I don’t eat this’, ‘I don’t eat that’, and ‘don’t forget the tea’. If only one person of the dozens who came to meetings did not like the venue, everything had to be done since the beginning again. I started to drawn in a pool of spoiled waters.
‘You manage’ —she told me one day of May, when I entered her office to let her know about the complaints from the Finance Department that her company’s credit card was being used for personal purchases. Or when she wanted to go on holidays to a five stars hotel in another country and I had to sell her as one of the most important VIP’s to find her a spot —all her ideas—. One time she sent me a Power Point presentation to edit for a communications conference at an important university. I opened the file exited to learn how she had achieved her long standing career in the world of fashion, but there were only photos of her in her presentation. The only thing she wanted from me was to confirm he looked ‘wonderful’ in the photos.
I started to have nervous breakdowns. My strength lying on the floor, my self-confidence disappearing on smoke. As much as I wanted to leave the bad things aside she was consuming me. I still loved the company, the other employees liked me, they saw and heard what happened but they always came after to warn me to not do anything about it, they could not support me, only moral support, of course, but nothing else. And I should forget of doing something on my own, ‘remember you are pregnant’.
One of those cloudy days Johanna flew to Europe to visit her mother and left me in charge of her chores. When my boss found out, she knocked at the CEO’s door and told him that she did not trusted me and that she would find somebody else to do the job. He calmly said there was no problem, he would stay with me. But the duties got bigger with three bosses, their egos and their teas. And between coming and going one phone message got lost in the back of my memory. And the world fell apart. She called me to her office. She did not want to be angry at me all the time, —she said—, but she just could not avoid it. One of the editors complaint that I did not pick up the phone when she called. Somebody had to sit down next to her rival on a lunch meeting, and between the dozens of events that I had to manage from the phone, somebody had lost an expensive microphone. And now, who is going to pay for that? ‘Things need to be done before I even think about them’ she bitterly expressed when I told her I could not control everybody’s resentments and microphones.
I stood up from that chair as if I were being moved by a cord. —I am leaving!— I said loudly without thinking about it. —I am leaving right now!— ‘You are such an irresponsible person’ —she said furiously— I looked at her with a just recovered smile. I had remembered my value. She saw it in my eyes and changed tactics. She was suddenly nice. She told me to have a coffee and wait while she talked to somebody in HR, as I was pregnant. My smile got wider. She run upstairs, this time without me holding her hand. She came back with a crappy arrangement. I laughed. I laughed hard, with the sense of seeing the situation as little as it was. I took my coat and my bag, that were holding onto the chair like dead birds. I kissed my friends good-bye and came out through the sliding door. When I walked into the street I felt a warm wind in my face. Back to life. I took one more step, I closed my eyes and breathed. Deeply. I started waking, I never looked back.