I wanted to share a short story with you – let me know what you think.
Laila pressed her lips together and then pouted before putting the lid back on her red lipstick. The door to a cubicle opened and Laila glanced at the female janitor’s reflection in the mirror. That woman got everywhere!
Surely there were other toilets Janit, as Laila nicknamed her, could use, rather than insisting on using the facilities reserved for the senior management team.
Technically, Laila wasn’t part of the SMT yet, but she just knew it in her bones that was about to change. She’d only been with the company for two months, but had worked hard both in and out of work, to ensure she was noticed, on a professional and personal level. She knew everyone she needed to know, about their families, their likes and dislikes, hobbies, ambitions, everything. But she had no time for anyone that couldn’t help advance her career, someone like the cleaner who was washing her hands at the sink.
“That’s a nice colour on you.”
Laila flicked her gaze to the mirror in time to see Janit’s well-groomed left eyebrow arch just enough. The older woman clearly meant the shade.
“It’s called Diva,” Laila blurted out as Janit spoke softly.
There was no malice in the Janit’s voice as she continued to speak, leaning forward to check her own make-up. Laila watched, feeling on the back foot.
“Are you going to the award ceremony?”
Laila nodded. “Are you?”
“Yes, I go every year. Hence the get up.” The woman smiled, indicating her attire with a sweep of her left hand. “I love that everyone in the company gets to attend.”
Laila turned her head from Janit’s reflection, to the woman herself, intending only to politely nod and smile, but it took a second to register the dress was designer and very expensive, and caused her to look again.
“You’re up for an award.”
“The Rising Star award, actually.” Laila answered Janit’s question, realising latterly there had been no inflection in the janitor’s voice. She’d been stating a fact. How did the janitor know?
“You’ve made quite an impression then.”
Pausing, Laila took a breath to consider the framing of the sentence, and decided to simply nod. Why was this woman making her feel… wobbly?
Laila gripped the edge of the counter and stared at her reflection. Focus, Laila.
Janit dried her hands.
Janit’s eyes met hers once again in the mirror and Laila felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. Her mouth felt dry and she swallowed several times to try and free her tongue.
“No.” Laila didn’t recognise her voice, it sounded small in the large space.
“No?” Definitely a question.
“No.” There was a pounding in her chest that wasn’t there before.
“You’re confident that you’re going to get the award.”
The statement thing again. Why was she letting a janitor unsettle her? She cleaned up after people for a living. Deep breath, Laila.
“I look forward to seeing you at the ceremony, Laila.”
With a smile, the older woman left the restroom, leaving Laila feeling out of kilter. Laila never bothered to talk to the janitorial staff. How did Janit know her name?
What did it matter anyway? She wasn’t going to be late if she didn’t hurry.
The annual award ceremony took place in the board room, on the penthouse floor of the office, with an all-round view of the city below.
Laila, waiting on the elevator with several of the senior management team, blew out a long breath, as she recited her acceptance speech in her mind, along with the facial expressions she planned to use.
I’d like to say I’m surprised to win this award, but who am I kidding?! [Genuine smile, briefly incline head at applause and laughter]
Her hopefully soon-to-be SMT colleagues were calling out to someone walking past.
I know I’ve only been here for a while, but I feel I’ve made a difference already. [Self-deprecating smile, hand on heart]
“You clean up okay!”
Perhaps the board would consider a new category next year – Shining Star – so that I can make a clean sweep! [Cheeky grin]
“You’re using the stairs? Don’t you get enough exercise pushing round that cleaning cart?”
“See you up there.”
Laila turned sharply at the voice, seeing Janit disappear into the stairwell with a smile and wave.
The elevator pinged its arrival and Laila bundled in.
“The last category of the evening is the Rising Star Award…”
The emcee paused at the enthusiastic applause and Laila’s stomach flipped. This was her time. She’d waited through all the other awards – from the best contribution award to the long-time service awards. She’d come so far in just two months.
“And to present this award, for the fifth year running, is our People and Culture Director, Tamsin Gregory.”
Laila sat up straighter in her chair. Tamsin was the SMT member she hadn’t got a chance to meet, as she’d been on a sabbatical.
“Thank you, thank you. So as you may know already, I’ve been doing some back to the floor activities, to keep in touch with the everyday lives of our staff, most recently in janitorial services.”
“Luckily, I wasn’t involved in judging this category, but I had the chance to meet this year’s Rising Star earlier this evening, who assured me she wasn’t nervous.” Tamsin smiled at the crowd. “Without further ado, please welcome this year’s winner to the stage, Laila Howard.”
Laila shook Tamsin’s outstretched hand to help her on to the stage.
The older woman’s smile was genuine, as she hugged Laila and whispered, “Everyone has a part to play in your rise to the top, Laila. Everyone.”
Laila blanked on her speech as everyone waited expectantly.
With colour rising in her cheeks, and her voice full of emotion, she spoke.
“Thank you. I thought I’d made it to where I want to be, by winning this award, but I know now I’ve only just started.”
Take care, T xxx