Louise and I are discussing office politics over plates of spicy rice and meat at a restaurant that she invited me to. I am busy telling her how I managed to get Frank, the sexist factory manager, fired – or rather, how I managed to get him to fire himself.
“Ehe?” Louise leans forward, avidly awaiting the unfolding of my story. “You know I have never liked that guy. He used to make such rude remarks towards us women in the office canteen.”
“I heard,” I nod sadly. And there’s more – and this is probably the only time I have appreciated how useful Ciku, with her nose for gossip and penchant for getting herself right in the middle of other people’s business, can be. Because yesterday, she became a crucial part of the solving of the problem.
I tell Louise how I summoned her to my office, knowing that if there was any dirt to be found, Ciku would be the one to find it. “Tell me anything you have on Frank that I need to know,” I said. “I know that he is dangerous and his attitude towards women means he will be a liability to all of us, and I am happy to fix it. Just tell me what you know,” I told her.
Ciku suddenly teared up, surprising even me, and then, after reaching for a tissue from the pack on my desk and blowing her nose, she opened up about how nasty Frank had been to many women who worked in the lower ranks, and especially those who ended up on the factory floor. “He doesn’t let those women breathe,” she told me. “He makes them give him sexual favours for promotions and raises. He says rude, obscene things to the women there. Why do you think the women who work there keep quitting?”
“Does he physically hurt them?” I asked her, eyes open wide. She nodded, and told me about the women he had groped during his bouts of power-driven lust. “Oh my God,” I breathed and sat back in my chair, all this information hitting me very heavily. “How come no one ever reported it?” I asked her.
“Some girls tried… but they were threatened to keep quiet – you know how the head of HR is his friend, they even play golf together.” I nodded and urged her to go on. “They thought about coming to you but they were not sure you could do anything. In fact when it was announced you would be taking over, we were so happy to finally have someone we could speak to.” I nodded once again
“You said ‘we’?” I asked her, as her peculiar phrasing hit me. “Are you a victim too?” I asked her gently as I stood up from my side of the desk, went over to her side and took her hand in an effort to reassure her.
Ciku nodded painfully. Then she started to speak, her words catching in her throat and tears starting to flow fast. “You remember that time we did that team-building weekend in Naivasha?” I nodded. “In the evening, when everyone was at the bar drinking, he found my on my way from the toilets outside back to the bar and tried to force me to kiss him.” She wiped her eyes once again. “The only reason he stopped was because he heard some voices of a few of the guys coming towards us and he didn’t want to get caught, so he let me go and told me he would be waiting for another opportunity because he knew I wanted him.” I remember her making quotation marks with her fingers as she spoke those last four words.
“Louise, I needed time to process – but I didn’t have any time,” I say to Louise, who is now holding her hand over her mouth in shock. Both our plates of food have been forgotten, as delicious as the biryani is.
“So what did you do next?”
“I asked Ciku if she could get some of the women to send me short emails detailing what Frank had said and done to them and send them directly to me.” Louise nods, and my mind goes back to the events that followed immediately after Ciku rallied a clutch of women to do as I asked.