Ciku follows me into Chris’ office and closes the door behind her.
“Now tell me. Is it something to do with Frank?” I ask her gently. She nods, sniffs, wipes her snotty nose. A bubble of a sob escapes her lips as she opens her mouth to speak. “F-F—Frank says h-h-e will kill anyone of us who tells HR about his actions,” she says, her voice catching in her throat as she speaks. “I’m so scared for my life, Liz,” she whimpers.
This is getting serious! “Nothing will happen to you,” I say. “I’ll make sure of it. We’ll deploy a security team to make sure you and anyone else who has been threatened is kept safe.”
“But you don’t know h-h-ow frightening he is,” Ciku is wailing out loudly now, no longer able to contain her fear. “I mean, it’s not like he can come after you – you’re too powerful. He knows there will be repercussions.”
“No one is too powerful when it comes to these issues,” I tell her. “I’m also a victim of Frank too,” I confess.
Ciku’s eyes open wide. “What?”
I nod. “I tried to handle the situation but he reported me to HR on claims that I harassed him.”
Ciku’s eyes open even wider as she stops sniffing and her tears stop running, her fear replaced by the same sort of shock I felt when I read his letter to HR. “But… but… that’s not possible!” She slams a clenched fist on her lap. “Everyone knows HE is the bad guy! Everyone knows that!”
“Yes, but HR needs to know formally – through a reporting process – otherwise we all will have to live with him being amongst us, threatening and harassing us, for the rest of our time here. And if he succeeds against me, then I will have to leave. And while I am worried about my career future after leaving this company on such an ugly note, my biggest worry is that none of you will have any chance at seeing him leave the company, leave alone being arrested.”
Ciku nods as it all starts to dawn on her, the impact of my situation on every other woman in the company. I lean forward to convince her even more.
“So you see, that is exactly his game – to get rid of me and possibly end up with another man in charge who will never understand or look after the women’s interests here. This is why we all need to work together on this – or forever remain Frank’s prisoners. And by ‘prisoners’, I mean all of you who are left here without me to even try to argue your case for you.”
I lean back and let my argument hit home. I can see the nuts and bolts working in Ciku’s face as she weighs her pros and cons. Then she takes a deep breath and her jaw takes on a determined set. “Ok. I’ll speak to the others. We’ll let you know what we decide to do.”
I nod and we both exit Chris’ office, keeping my fingers crossed that the ladies who work at this highly esteemed company will do for me what I am trying to do for them – keep everyone safe.
It only takes an hour before I hear a knock on my door. I look up; it’s Ciku, looking much less fragile than when I saw her earlier, and extremely resolute.
“We have decided that we will make the complaints,” she says. “I don’t think there’s anything he can do if there are many of us.” She smiles tightly through her set jaw; meanwhile, I am so overwhelmed with tears of gratitude that I instinctively stand up and rush over to give her a warm hug.
Ciku and I share a warm, sisterly embrace that is devoid of the negativity and anger that has characterised our fraught relationship ever since we first met. If someone had told me two months ago that we would be in this position, sharing a moment of support and sisterhood, I would have laughed them out of town.
“Thank you,” I step back. This time I am the one sniffing and wiping tears from my eyes. I have a stone in my throat, it feels like; I can barely speak, my voice is breaking.
“Don’t worry, we’ll all be fine,” Ciku says, and I watch her march back to her desk, observing a new air of maturity and warmth in her every step. It looks like a new season is about to dawn – and it will only be full of good things.