J'accuse

Submitted by Bruno Lowagie on Sun, 06/14/2020 - 13:14

Empty conference room - Board of Directors

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

This story was written for the Reedsy contest "Write It Down".
More specifically in the context of the prompt: "Write a story about someone who has just finished writing their first story/book."

J'accuse

I never thought I would write a story.
I never knew a single story could have such an impact.
Would I have written it if I had known I would lose my job over it?
That’s not the right question, is it? The story needed to be told. I’m not sorry that I wrote it.
In the months that followed me getting fired, one female colleague after the other left the company for another job. One of them left a message on the whiteboard that could hardly be misunderstood: “When the disgusted depart, there remains only the disgusting ones.”
The story I wrote was meant for the eyes of the Board of Directors only, but maybe it’s time that I share it with a larger audience.

Two years ago, I took a job in a fast-growing technology startup. The founders were young and ambitious, and their ambition was contagious. We all went the extra mile for each other.
Soon, our can-do attitude paid off. We received good press and investors were starting to get curious about our business. It didn’t take long before the founders announced that the company succeeded in securing five million dollars in funding.
We had a big party to celebrate our success. Our financial troubles were finally a thing of the past. We’d move to a nicer office, open a subsidiary in Europe, hire more people … The future looked bright; the sky was the limit.
Little did we know which price we’d have to pay for the investment from the venture capital fund.

The new Board of Directors congratulated the founders for what they had achieved but decided to replace them anyway. A new manager was put in charge of our office. He introduced himself as someone who “got things done”. He was double our age and his resume read like an overview of the most successful technology companies of the past couple of decades.
Having someone like him working for us —with us— initially gave us a boost. With more people like him joining our team, it felt like we were on the verge of playing in the major league of Tech.
That feeling didn’t last long.

The last Friday of each month, everyone in the Boston office was invited to a Happy Hour. We’d get together in a bar for some drinks and to talk about our life and our hobbies. Some loved sports, others were more into music, but our big-shot manager had a rather peculiar hobby.
“My wife and I are swingers,” he confided.
At first, we wanted to believe that he was talking about dancing. He was our boss and we were his subordinates. What else could he be talking about?
“I’m not jealous when my wife is with another man,” he added.
Still, we convinced ourselves that he was talking about his wife sharing a dance with another man.
“Look, I have some pictures on my phone,” he continued.
At this point, there could no longer be any doubt about what he meant when he talked about “swinging”. He showed us a picture of his wife, naked in the arms of another man —also naked.
“We like having sex with other couples,” he explained. “Foursomes are great!”
“I think you’ve had enough drinks, boss,” one of our male colleagues said.
Our manager looked him in the eye, and asked: “Are you saying I’m drunk?”
Our male colleague shook his head, feeling sorry that he had raised his voice and afraid about what might happen if his boss took offense of his remark.
“I’m not drunk,” our manager winked at our colleague. “Do you know how I know?”
No one wanted to know, so no one answered his question. We feared he’d tell us anyway.
“When I’m sober, I like giving oral sex to a woman; when I’m drunk, I like giving head to a man. I know I’m not drunk because I’d rather eat some pussy right now than to suck your cock. You can keep your penis in your pants, boy ... for now.”
Shocked at these scandalous revelations, everyone contrived to escape under the pretext of some urgent business.

We didn’t talk much about this incident afterwards, but it was no coincidence that every woman at the office tried to avoid getting into a situation that left her alone in one room with the swinger, as we called him. Even some of the men felt uneasy when being around him. We were all happy to see that he had taken the habit of visiting the European office for a couple of days every month. The days he was out of the office were a happy relief of the stress his behavior caused.
Then one day, we received a visit from a colleague from the European office in Brussels. He asked us what we thought of our manager. When we didn’t answer, he started telling us a story that didn’t surprise us.
“There's no direct flight from Boston to Brussels. There’s always a short stopover of at most a couple of hours in Amsterdam,” our European colleague explained. “Your manager, however, always makes that stopover a sleepover. He asks the company to book a hotel for the night in Amsterdam, claiming that he gets more work done that way, not having to lose time waiting for his connecting flight at the airport. Everyone at our office knows that he's talking nonsense. He spends those nights in the famous Red-Light District in Amsterdam. Those are the actual reason why he likes to visit our office that much.”
“That’s just gossip, isn’t it?” one of our new co-workers laughed. "I mean: how could you prove this to be true?"
“As a matter of fact,” our European colleague said, “your manager boasts about the visits he pays to the Dutch hookers. He showed us a picture of himself in between two women. The three of them were naked above the waist.”
Indeed, that sounded like something our manager would do, but the story got even worse: “When he shows that picture to the women in the Brussels office, he says: ‘I like the hookers I choose to be young —as young as you are, girls.’”

I decided it was high time someone wrote a story about the sexual harassment at our office. I dreaded it deeply, but if no one else was going to do it, I should take up my pen and write it myself.
I wasn’t looking for sensation. I didn’t want to make a big fuss about it. I just wanted to put into words how our manager made me feel. He hadn’t physically abused me, I explained, but the things he said created a toxic atmosphere that was bad for business.
I didn't share my story with anyone, apart from the members of the Board of Directors. I marked my story as confidential, given the sensitive nature of its contents. I emphasized that I didn’t blame the Board for anything. On the contrary: I was convinced that the Board would appreciate knowing what was happening in the company they were responsible for, and confident that they would make the right decision.
I was wrong. I got fired.

Again, I’m not sorry I wrote my story. If I had to do it all over again, I would do the exact same thing. We should all tell our stories to remind us that we are not alone. As long as we turn a blind eye and as long as we remain silent, a disgusting minority wins the day. We, the disgusted majority, should no longer allow this.
Our voice deserves to be heard.

 

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