If there was anyone at Ephraim Bank who was a self-starter, it was Kay, who had just returned to work from having her third child. She was focused, worked smart, and would attain the recognition of management in no time. After all, that was her plan. Kay was an attractive, ambitious young woman, a mother of three girls, aiming to win at home and work.
Still, sometimes it felt as if the harder she tried to win at both, the further away victory crept. For such a devoted lady, it seemed like she was putting in so much effort with little progress.
Work at the bank was ever so engaging; it often seemed as though the clocks ticked faster than the actual time. Before she knew it, it was almost always Six o’clock—time to rush over to the daycare to pick Karen, Kathy and little Kristen. A N3000 fine piled every Fifteen minutes after the Seven o’clock pick-up deadline at the daycare. And on a day like today—a Friday, with only a working day left before the Credit Committee Meeting on Tuesday, Kay had a critical deadline to meet. A deadline she could give an arm and a leg for.
In the ebbing hours of that afternoon, when gears shift and people usually would start to look towards going clubbing or supping with loved ones, Kay decided it was time to call in a favour, so she placed a few calls on the intercom. Almost everybody on the fifth floor owed her something. But the conversations weren’t going well until the one with Angela.
“Angie, tell me you’ll do this for me…”Kay took a deep breath to keep the forlornness out of her voice. “I need you to help me finish a Credit Review Memo for Sierra Firma Gas and forward it to Credit Admin tonight so that it gets scheduled for deliberation at next week’s Credit Committee Meeting…I have to rush off to pick the girls at six.” Angela replied. “It’s Friday, Kay, and Vince is taking me to a movie tonight…you of all know there aren’t so many good guys out there…so the last thing I want to do is let an eligible bachelor down, girl”
“I know dear, and I also know you’ll be done with the write-up in a flash. C’mon, girl, you know you owe me one! You know you do! Remember who saved you on the Lion Batteries account.”
Angela sighed. “Alright, you have me on this one. Send it to my mail box …”
Kay’s eyes lit up. “Wow! Thanks Angie…I will email the much I have written to you right away…check your mail box in a sec. I knew I could count on you.”
“You are welcome, Kay.”
Kay clicked off the speaker button on her table-top phone and heaved a huge sigh of relief. She was trying to kill two birds with one stone, and for the moment, she was succeeding—on one hand, she needed to get the Sierra Firma Gas $2million Export Finance facility request approved which would translate to surpassing her annual risk asset quota and of course, a fatter year-end bonus.
On the other hand, she had solved a nagging mothering issue which had now been brewing for weeks since the birth of Kristen. Her husband, Joseph had stepped up his “stay-at-home mom” proposition, urging Kay to “find a balance or quit her job.” It bothered Kay that she’d have to sacrifice one for the other at some point—home or work—but not today.
“Kay? Are you okay?” a voice asked, snatching her from her reverie. Kay looked up into the concerned face of her colleague, Rebecca Greene. Rebecca or Becky as she was fondly called was a well-meaning, somewhat nosy, overly kind person, which was exactly why Kay doubted she’d survive in a competitive environment like the Emerging Conglomerates department, where they both worked.
“Yeah” she said.
“So are you done with the Sierra Firma Gas memo? When are you shutting down for the day to go get your girls?”
Kay sighed. “Soon my dear”
“I just wonder how you “super-moms” do it sometimes…I mean, balance work with family?”
Kay pretended not to hear Becky’s last question, and clicked the “enter” button on her keyboard before looking up.
“Sorry Rebecca, I needed to send that email,” Kay said, with a funny looking smirk on her face. “What was the question again?”
“Oh never mind, Kay” retorted Becky, sounding offended.
To make matters worse, Kay’s odd smirk evolved into a confident grin, with her full attention on her monitor, apparently waiting for a read receipt. As Becky walked back to her desk, Kay mouthed. “Finally”
Moments later she leaped up and walked over to Rebecca’s desk. “Hey Becky”
She looked up.
“Sorry. I needed to send out the credit write-up and be sure it got to the recipient before I packed up for the day. Sometimes balancing work and home is as difficult as it gets—an arduous juggle. Trust me, you don’t want to know.”
Becky smiled. “Apology accepted”
“Speaking of balance, do you remember the family consultant Rowena mentioned at last month’s team building retreat? Maybe, it is even time I consulted with her…She called her the counselor or something?”
Becky smiled. “…Hypatia. The Chaperon”
Kay snapped her fingers. “That’s it! That’s the woman.”
“What’s her last name?”
Becky frowned. “I don’t think…” And then, she shrugged.
“No, I doubt I’ve ever heard it mentioned. Everyone calls her Chaperon or just Hypatia. Why? You really want to visit with her? I hear she’ll be speaking at the Civic Centre in a month or so.”
“Yeah…Perhaps”, Kay replied, but was dismissive about some lecture happening next month. She was interested in one thing—proving to Joseph that she could juggle banking with raising confident daughters who would turn out well in every sense.
“I was thinking this woman must be very expensive right? Charges a fortune in consulting fees, works for high profile clients? But there is no harm in finding out what her hourly rates are. Any idea how I can reach her office by phone?
Becky looked at Kay as if she were proposing to wrestle an elephant. “You are just going to call her over the phone?”
Kay shrugged. “Why not”
Becky shook her head. “I have no idea how to contact her. I think you should ask Rowena.”
As Kay headed back to her desk, she wondered how Rowena had managed to survive this long at Ephraim. Despite the corporate shenanigans, she never seemed to have any struggles. Yet Rowena had the enclosed corner office, while Kay, Rebecca and a score of others shared the open space on the fifth floor occupied by the Emerging Conglomerates department. Some said Rowena had risen so quickly because banking had been so good in those days. Others said she’d earned it, opening some of the largest accounts that had kept above the fray of collapse that had rocked the banking industry in the mid-2000s.
According to office rumours, Rowena’s father had invested large sums in the bank when it started in the early nineties, and management kept her on purely out of loyalty. There were also whispers about Rowena having single-handedly put her son and daughter through school—at the Imperial College, London—after losing her husband in the EAS Airline plane crash of 2002.
Kay didn’t believe in the rumours. She was pretty sure that it wasn’t Rowena’s father’s money that had bought her a seemingly sterling career at Ephraim. But it was equally difficult to picture her as someone who laboured for her position. Rowena didn’t talk much with colleagues; she listened a whole lot and more often, dressed like a secondary school principal rather than the chic corporate Brahmin that she was. With her laissez-faire, sultry disposition, her long, digressive conversations with customers (conversations that seemed to touch on everything on the globe) and her irregular extended vacations, Rowena seemed like a member of a lost race of old generation bankers; the ones who were more conversant with the use of ledgers than today’s ‘complicated’ banking software. Kay too, thought it a curious case that Rowena was a Senior Vice President in Africa’s third largest bank—and yet, hardly ever perturbed.
Kay stopped at Rowena’s open door and knocked politely.
“Come in Kay,” she replied.
“So you want to call right now and try to get in to see Hypatia herself?” Rowena leafed carefully through her large card holder, found the immaculate card she was searching for and then it handed to Kay. She watched as Kay took the card and punched in the numbers on her mobile phone immediately.
“…On a Friday at 5.30?” Kay smiled, “Yes ma’am, I am calling right away…better now than never.”
Rowena nodded. “One thing I have to say about you, Kay, you’ve got the do-it-now attitude and I admire that.”
Rowena got up to grab a drink from her little fridge as she talked. “If there’s anyone on this floor who’s more likely to thrive with the new changes in our professional terrain, it’s you.
Kay was touched. “Thanks, Rowena.” She headed back to her desk.
From behind her, Rowena called out, “Don’t thank me yet.”
After the first ring, Kay was greeted by an animated female voice that identified herself as Doris. Kay introduced herself, told her she needed to see the Chaperon, and then readied herself to stave off Doris’s secretarial stonewalling. Instead, she surprised her by saying, “Sure, she can meet with you. Can you come tomorrow morning?”
“…To—morrow?” Kay stuttered.
“…On a Saturday?”
“Yes, if that works with you. Is Nine o’clock too early?”
Kay was stunned. “Don’t …ah, don’t you need to confirm with her first?”
“Oh no” came her animated reply. “Tomorrow morning will be fine.”
There was a brief silence. Kay was almost certain she’d been mistaken for someone else. Someone this Hypatia character actually knew.
“…Ma’am?” She finally mustered out. “You, ah, you know this is my first meeting with her, right?”
“Yes I do,” she replied with a chuckle. “You’ve heard about her Cryptic Code of Mothering Daughters for Working Class Women, and you want to learn about it.”
“Well, exactly, more or less,” Kay replied, unsure whether she was about to bite more than she could chew. Cryptic Code of Mothering? The woman was willing to divulge her Cryptic Code? She could hardly believe her ears, and her good fortune.
“She’ll meet with you one time,” continued Doris.
“After that, if you agree to her terms, she’ll want to set up follow-up meetings to actually teach you the Code.”
“…Terms?” Kay became downcast. She was sure these “terms” would entail paying some money in consulting fees or making a pledge she couldn’t afford to Hypatia’s foundation. And even if she could, it might also mean committing time Kay certainly didn’t have. Was it even worth it to go further? Or should she find a tactful way to backtrack now?
“Of course,” she replied. “Oh, and what are her terms, again?
“You’ll have to hear that directly from the wise Old Lady herself.” She said with another chuckle.
Kay took down the address she gave her, voiced her thanks and clicked off her phone. In about fifteen hours or so, she was going to meet with—what had Doris called her?—the wise Old Lady.
And why had she chuckled when she said that. It was now twenty minutes past six when Kay dashed out of the office. She could at least etch out N3000 from her purse—and no more.