Selena was a model worker. She got to work early and left long after closing time. As PA to the Chief Executive her job meant rushing about making sure meetings, seminars and everything concerning The Big Boss went without a hitch. This convinced me that she could run the world whilst remaining unruffled, perfectly poised and totally unflappable. I could see her at the head of the table at the UN with Heads of States as they sat staring at this elegant creature in her crisp white shirt and black skirt suit, long blonde hair swept into a chignon; reassuring them that everything was fine and that she had it all under control.
I was just fresh out of Poly with my HND in Business Studies and had got a job at Jones and Sons; one of the reputable construction firms in the country. The Interview had been an absolute disaster. I still wonder how I got the job with Selena firing questions at me like an automatic rifle.
I was going to be her assistant, the Personnel Manager informed me with a pitying glance. “It might be hard going initially but stick at it. Selena likes things done her in a particular way. She is a top class PA and has lots of knowledge about this place that can really help you. So try and learn as much as you can. She knows her job.”
Why didn’t she just tell me I was going to be working for a control freak?
By the end of the week Selena had shown me her synchronised filing system, her diary, the company database, supplier’s lists and thousands of spread sheets and I still didn’t understand most of what she was talking about. It wasn’t that I hadn’t worked in an office before but this job was like Medusa; everywhere you turned it grew another extension.
She would give me work and then go over it bit by bit marking corrections with a red pen. She timed my lunch hour to the minute. Overtime was unpaid and something you did for the ‘Good of the company as all good workers should be prepared to go the extra mile when necessary’. Everything had to be perfect before she could leave for the day. Besides that was how Mr Jones liked it.
I would sometimes catch her looking over my shoulder when I needed to get an address on the Internet; this was to deter me from surfing during work hours; as if I would dare when I sat under her nose. Then when I answered the phone I could feel her cobalt blue eyes boring in to me. Sometimes she would correct me while I was still dealing with customers.
“Its Jones and Sons….not Jones and Jones. Mr Jones likes his documents prepared like this, his tea and coffee like that and don’t forget to note the numbers for all faxes that go out…”….I felt completely useless and wondered whether I should resign before they gave me the shove. I talked to my best friend Alison about it.
“You’ve never been a quitter you know.” She advised, “Give it a few months and see how it goes…”
So despite my misgivings I stuck at it and gave it my best shot. I bumbled along under Selena’s hawkish glare wondering whether I was doing a good job. A month dragged into three and then into six. I felt I was beginning to actually understand what needed to be done and how it had to be done. We had a conference and she let me sort out the planning for the catering and it all went well. Then we had some international visitors over. I handled the hotel bookings and soon I stopped noticing her surveillance whilst I did my work. I learnt how to use PowerPoint and did some presentations for Mr Jones’s important meeting with some new clients that got us a contract.
One day she announced that we were going for lunch.
I stiffened and then she smiled. I had never seen her stretch her lips that far apart before. I stared again to make sure it was actually a smile.
Then she laughed. “I owe you lunch…. we will eat and talk. Got some news for you.”
I was in a daze until lunch break. Then we went to this cosy Italian place just behind work where I had been a couple of times and had Lasagne.
“How do you like Jones and Jones?” She said twirling a piece around her fork and popping it through her lips. I sat watching her wondering whether the lipstick would smudge. It didn’t.
“I like it.”
“What about the work? How do you think you’re coping?”
You tell me. I shrugged. “I’m doing my best.”
Her blue eyes pierced mine. “I know I have been an absolute ogre for the past few months. Tyrant, witch…you name it…I deserve it.” Her lips curved into a smile again, “I know I’ve been a terrible task master but I needed to know whether you were the right person for what we have in mind.”
I stared at her. “We?”
“My job. I’m leaving Jones and Sons. You were employed as a possible replacement but we wanted to check you out first.”
My fork clattered noisily onto the plate; my mouth falling open. “Me. PA to the Chief Exec….but I can’t do it…Il’ make mistakes.”
Selena laughed. “You have handled the past few months well. I know you can do it. Besides it’s too late now. I’ve already told Mr Jones and he trusts my judgement.”
More money. More prestige but more stress and more work.
If Selena said you could do something you had better believe her. Compliments never exactly dripped from her lips.
“Where are you going?”
Her gaze held mine again. “Look at me Jane. I’m the office freak. I have spent almost twenty years of my life doing this job. Il’ be forty soon and I promised myself that Id be living my dream by then. I’ve had the money and the highflying job and now I’m downsizing and going off to South Africa with my fiancée. He is a Doctor in a little beautiful war torn village and Il’ be teaching English.” She looked faraway as if she was already there. “I want what I do to count for something.” Then she turned to me again. “So what do you say?”
I went home that day feeling a bit light headed. I had said yes. I thought of little orphaned kids deprived of everything because of some senseless war and Selena Harper going in to sort everyone out and bring some kind of order.