I saw myself punching Anwuli’s face as I typed my reply— punching the keyboard with hard and quick knocks— as fast as 100 words per second! That was how much I wanted to punch her in the face.
I felt squashed and wanted to squeeze out the injustice and anger, that I felt in my reply. I copied all persons’ copy-able from the founder of the organization to the gateman (apologies…gate person).
But as I was about to send the mail, I panicked and deleted everything!
My response was going to result in me being summarily dismissed! I still cared about that. Secondly, I still need to get my month’s salary.
I typed another lengthy epistle. And I deleted it again! I spent the rest of the day, sitting in my chair, typing and deleting, phrasing and re-phrasing until it was 5 pm.
When I got home, grandma and Aunt Iwa were reclining on the sofa. Sheri and Charles just announced their engagement. Adeiwa was in the dining, helping the five children do their homework, while Sheri’s sister-in-law was cooking dinner for the family.
I fell on my bed, wept, and slept.
I was four months pregnant and the morning sickness that was beginning to disappear all came back the following morning. I could neither lift my leg nor my hand, so I called in sick.
“That’s not acceptable, Shewa. You have a query to answer. Don’t use sickness as a guise,” Naffy replied over the phone.
Sheri who was listening to our conversation snapped: “What?!!! What kind of organization is this???….give me the phone let me talk to sense into her,” she demanded…looking more shocked than angry.
“Please take it easy, I don’t want to spoil things….” I begged Sheri.
“No way… I can’t allow you to go to that office,” she insisted. “Do you know you can sue them for violating your right to seek medical attention? What if you collapse on your way?’
She grabbed the phone from me and barked into the receiver.“She is sick…She is sick…..”
“I am her sister, and I am telling you, she can’t be in the office today. She is sick.”
Sheri refused to simmer, so I hoicked myself to the bathroom, dressed up, took my ginger tea, and dragged myself out of the house, against Sheri’s warning.
As I was about to clock into the office, I fainted at the entrance. That was all I could remember. By the time I opened my eyes, I was on a hospital bed and a doctor wearing white stood over me.
Sheri was by my side giving me the ‘I told you’ look.
“How did I get here?”
“……Your crazy boss is at the lobby…it was her who brought you here. Ask her….”
The doctor told me I had threatened abortion and I had to be confined to compulsory bed rest.
“Threatened abortion? Isn’t that a threatened miscarriage?”
“What causes it?”
‘Stress,’ the doctor said, no more no less. The expression in his eyes shows no desire to explain further. “I’ll send the nurse to get your medication,” he said and left.
And then Naffy and Mariam, Ruth’s secretary walked in. Naffy leaned on the wall, while Mariam sat on the chair. Sheri sat at the foot of my bed.
“Please take it now. It’s for the baby’s wellbeing,” a nurse who came in a sky blue uniform, said.
Naffy’s eyes confronted mine. I tried to look away, but she held the gaze for a while, and then she looked at her colleague.
‘’Baby?’’ She whispered
I quickly motioned to the nurse, with my eyes, not to reveal further. But the loudmouth nurse didn’t understand, rather she continued; “You should thank God you didn’t lose your baby…at this stage, the baby’s most important organs are forming….you really need to rest.”
I kept coughing to distract the nurse. Sheri even rummaged the room pretending to be looking for water, all in a bid to distract the nurse from spilling the milk…but it seemed too late. Naffy seemed to have gotten the idea about my secret.
‘’Are you expecting a baby?’ Naffy asked when the nurse left.
‘’So what baby was she talking about?’’
“We were watching a soap opera about a woman who almost had a miscarriage because her employer threatened to fire her,” Sheri lied.
“Oh…I see, why would she fire her. Didn’t they have an agreement before she signed the employment contract?” Naffy answered.
I was dying of nervousness. My heart rate tripled and I sweated profusely. Her eyes told me how her reaction will be if she found out. I thought that I should just open up to her once and for all. I am tired of living a lie.
On the dot of 1pm. Naffy and Mariam left.
At the end of my bed rest, I resumed work; and for the first time in four months, I felt energetic. I could run up the mountains and move them. All the mood swings that came with the first trimester had disappeared.
Anwuli and Stanley were busy chit-chatting when I entered the office. But only Stanley responded to my greeting. A few minutes after, I got behind my desk, I noticed my computer had stopped working. I had thought it was because of the tea that poured on it the day Anwuli snatched the teacup from me.
Then the HR manager called me to the board room. That was a bad omen already!
Anwuli and Cordelia, looking like a jury, sat on the opposite side of the chairs arranged around the huge mahogany table, And Naffy began:
“Did we not ask you on the day that you were employed that you are not allowed to get pregnant in the first two years.”
My heart so pounded hard. Hard!
“Yes,” I tried to summon courage. I couldn’t deny anything anymore. Whatever will happen should happen!
‘’So what is this?’’ She brought out a paper and placed it across the table. I reached out for it with trembling hands.
My eyes were blurred and blinded with tears, I could neither see nor read the lettering. The tears dropped on the ink and the blue ink washed some parts off. But I could read partly the handwriting
Threatened abortion, first trimester: Hospitalized for compulsory bed rest.
“So you are pregnant right from the start, and you didn’t disclose it?” Cordelia said.
I gave no answer.
“Why didn’t you disclose,” she asked again.
“I was going to.”
“Going to?” Naffy asked “When? After you have given birth? That’s very inappropriate. Were you not warned not to get pregnant, for at least the first two years?”
‘Let’s assume you had told us, we would have made a special arrangement for you, but this is tantamount to deception, dishonesty, misrepresentation and offering misleading information,” Cordelia enumerated.
Absolutely! Naffy endorsed.
“We are supposed to summarily dismiss you, but out of compassion, we will ask you to resign, so we don’t tarnish your record.”
“I’m sorry, but this has not, in any way, affected my competence to deliver on my key result areas.”
“It’s not about competence. It’s about your dishonesty,” Naffy enthused.
I fixed my gaze at Cordelia and I heard nothing but hypocrisy in her voice. The same Cordelia head of HR, who did nothing to defuse the conflict between Anwuli and I, even after I reported many times to her about her attitude; the same Cordelia is now talking about showing compassion, about tarnishing my record?
Fine, I didn’t tell the whole truth about my status, but what kind of women’s human rights organization will not protect the right of a pregnant woman. Does pregnancy disable a woman’s brain?
I was given 48 hours to submit my letter of resignation. I wasn’t given the option of suspension or to write a letter of apology, but a termination of employment. Isn’t that using a cutlass to kill a mosquito? What about tempering justice with mercy? Where are the altruistic values of feminism or women’s rights advocacy? I thought what Tunbi did hurt. But this hurts more because this is an organization that brandished itself as women’s human rights advocates. This seems to me like a mockery of human rights, a caricature of justice.
I wanted to be a feminist, but not this kind!
Naffy and Cordelia minuted on my file. Meeting ended.
Now I knew why my computer stopped working. I had been judged! I packed my bags and left with a strange mix of grief and relief at the same time.
Sheri’s head was spinning when I told her the news. She said she will take up the case in court.
I sent a letter of apology, but got a sack letter which read”:
You are hereby summarily dismissed for gross misconduct- deception, offering misleading information, similar to perjury, a felony punishable under section….
Sheri put on her legal cloak ranting all sorts of legalese, poking holes in their action…“This is illegal! It is illegal for them to obtain your doctor’s report without your consent. We will press charges….” she ranted….
“Plaintiff vs Defendant injury claims
Case 1: Obtainment of medical record without the consent of the employee
Case 2: Denial of employee rights to seek emergency medical attention
Case 3: Manslaughter, Discrimination
Case 4: Nondisclosure of actual organizational policies…etc
It was illegal for them to have insisted that you show up at the office when you were in no good physical state. They aggravated your sickness by preventing you from seeking medical attention when you needed it the most. They didn’t even pay your medical bills! This is unacceptable, women have the right to work even when they are pregnant. This is a misnomer for a so-called rights advocate/equal opportunity employer.”
Those words brought me to hope again.….the mood swings vanished. And I thought justice is not too far away!
(To be continued)
You can read the last edition HERE
“Unapologetically Shewa” is a story of Shewa and Sheri. Both of them are single mothers who live in a society which judges them. While Sheri keeps seeking where and what to hide behind, Shewa decides to stop hiding or withering under the condescending glare of society. She was ready to shed no more tears, but shed off the scales of self-judgement and begin a journey of self-actualization. Coming against societal norms, will she change the norms or the norms will change her?
Abiose A. Adams, a journalist, creative writer, and senior programme officer at Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation, can be reached on [email protected]
Author’s Disclaimer: This story is purely a work of fiction. Any coincidence of the characters with real persons is highly regretted.
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