"This way, ma'am. The boss will see you just now," the lady at the reception said, leading me to the foyer where six other candidates awaited.
I gulped, eyeing everyone in their prim and proper outfits, sizing up my plain R120 black dress. I was totally out of place. I won't fit in this place.
Maybe I should just go and look for a job to work as a cashier at Woolworths or something. It's where I belong. Not in this tall modern skyscraper.
But I have to do this for my grandma and little brother. I'm the only one they have.
And so I waited. And waited. And waited, until I was the only one left. Being the last one wasn't a problem for me. Seeing everyone come out of the office sweating or close to tearing up was what worried me.
What could possibly be waiting for me behind those walls?
Even the strongest and the most confident candidates, came out with tails between their legs, on the verge of tears. One guy came out frustrated, cursing.
"Fucking shits, I don't fucking need them." He'd said. I want to say that as well, but I know what is at risk.
"Miss Lisakhanya Manzi, you may proceed." The receptionist came back hours later, her smile bright and unwavering. I stood up, fixing myself.
"Thank you, " I smiled at her, before proceeding. I stood outside the black door, letting in deep breaths.
"I'm a black child. I can do this." I repeated the mantra in my head until it seeped into my core, fuelling up what was left of my confidence.
I knocked once and waited for a signal. None came. I knocked again and the door flew open.
"Come in," a deep voice graced my ears. No one came into view. Walking in slowly, I was met with a black interior designed office. It wasn't gothic black, but elegant modern black. I fell in love with it immediately. I spotted a tall figure dress in a grey suit walking over to the desk. I watched him carefully, admiring his broad shoulders, hard muscles straining against the suit, his firm ass and thick legs that could possibly break me if he were to step over me.
My God, he is a man.
He turned around and my breath got caught in my throat. I suddenly forgot how to breathe.
Deep hazel eyes pierced into my brown ones. He had the features of God. He was...beautiful. Wait, can you say a man is beautiful?
He had jet black hair, pulled back neatly. I spotted a five o'clock shadow and felt the need to run my fingers on his sharp jawline. Lips so pink and plump. Looking at this man gave me mixed emotions. His hovering body screamed of fear, power...and sex.
I snapped out of my trance when he cleared his throat, loud enough to bring me back to life. I realized I was still standing by the door.
"You can leave the door open if it makes you comfortable, " he said, his face relaxed and not stoic like all the typical fearsome bosses. Blinking, I turned to close the door, letting out a hot breath.
I can do this. I can't be intimidated by this man's looks. I have to ace this. Walking over to the chairs facing the man, I stood on the side.
"Sit," he said, shuffling through the files before him.
I sat down on the plush chair and brought my bag down. He went straight to the point and bombarded me with questions.
"What are your aspirations, Miss Manzi?"
"I'm passionate about writing and would like to be a well-known author. I-"
"You got any of your works with you?" Mr. Preston interjected. I gulped.
"Yes sir, I have two of my manuscripts,"
"Show me," he said.
Holy shit. Okay, calm down. He just wants to see. I fished for my files and handed him my only two novels I've written so far, by the grace of God.
I waited with bated breath as his eyes skimmed through the pages. I could have sworn the corner of his mouth twitched, or maybe I was imagining it.
Seconds later, he placed it down, not bothering with the other one.
"It's a good storyline." He rubbed his chin as he looked at me. "But it's not for this company," and he dropped the bomb on me.
Preston Publishing was one of the well-known publishing companies I know. They're so good and judging by the rich atmosphere, they must make a lot of money. It had been a dream of mine to work here or any other publishing company.
"May I ask why," I blurted out, feeling my dream fading. "Sir," I added.
He eyed me for too long, no doubt sizing me up. I won't crumble before this man. No matter what.
"We only accept certain genres in this company. Yours don't meet the requirements," he said.
"B-but I thought that you accept any book that is sent your way. It wasn't written down that y'all accept certain genres," this doesn't make any sense.
"I know," was all he said. "Walking into this building, or rather my floor, I thought you would have figured it out by now."
"Figure out what?" I asked, looking around, just in case I missed it.
"You read?" He asked, dismissing my question.
"What kind of books?"
"Any book I can get my hands on. I'm into paranormal, drama, romance, and so on. But I don't really mind getting out of my comfort zone,"
He nodded, pondering. "I like that," he said. I smile in satisfaction. "Should you get hired, you're expected to edit more than you've bargained for. You're expected to remain on the premises, should there be any eventful days or weeks. You'll get paid for overtime. I don't tolerate latecomers. Just know that you can still get fired for one mistake, are we clear?" He said.
Work overtime? If I work till late, then who will watch over Sethulo and gogo back at home? And how do I get home during the night?
"Is there a problem?" Mr. Preston asked.
"N-no," I blurted out. I didn't want to come off as weak and incapable. I'll make a plan, should the days come.
"Is there a problem, Miss Manzi?" Mr. Preston pressed, his eyes piercing into mine. I swallowed, avoiding his eyes. "Look me in the eyes when I'm talking to you," my eyes snapped up to his.
"Well, I don't think I'll be able to work through the night." I started slowly.
"And why is that?"
"I live with a five-year-old and my grandma. They need me," I said softly.
He thought about that, his eyes wandering around gracefully. He sighed. His phone rang then, interrupted his thoughts. He eyed the screen for a second before picking it up.
"Seth, I'm still at the office," he said. "I'm not interested," he said before hanging up. He looked up at me. "Thank you for coming," he said, closing my manuscript. His phone rang again and he groaned in frustration.
"Seth, if you call me one more time-" he stopped, his eyes glazing over. "You're going to regret that, I hope you realize," he said, his voice low and deep. "I said I'm not interested. You're interrupting an interview here. Unless it's urgent, call after 6," he said before hanging up.
I stood up, clueless as to why he'd dismiss me like that. He didn't even give me a response to my problem.
"Can I have my-"
"Leave them. I'll get Charlotte to call you, should I need anything," he said.
"Oh," was all I could manage. "Thank you for your time, sir," I said picking up my bag. I walked out, deflated.
This was a total fail.
"Oh mntanam ( my child ), how did it go?" Grandma asked me when I walked in.
"Lisa!" Sethulo cheered, running to me. I smiled, crouching down to hug him as he ran to me.
"Hi baby, I missed you," I hugged him tightly. I picked him up.
"I got you chocolate," I said to him as I walked over to put him down next to gogo ( grandma ). I took out the Lunchbar and gave it to him. He squealed, jumping.
"Ngyabonga sisi (thank you sister )," he said, opening it.
"Don't open it yet. We still have to eat dinner," I said.
"Okay," he said, his face falling. He stood up and went over to his toys. I turned to grandma.
"I think it went better than I expected, gogo," I told her.
"Good," she smiled softly. I didn't want her to worry, so I have to sugarcoat the truth. "You'll still go to the other companies, won't you?"
"Of course I will. There's another one I'm going to tomorrow," I assured her. "I'll get dinner ready," I stood up and went to change into something comfortable first.
I really hope I get a job soon. It'd make our lives easier.
It has been a week and no luck. None of the companies I went to, called me. I'm getting restless. Gogo is also getting worried, I'm scared she will fall sick. I don't how I'll cover hospital bills if she falls sick. I'm already in debt, even though it's manageable.
"If I don't find a job by month-end, I'm going to Woolworths," I said sinking down in a chair opposite my friend Evita. She'd called me for lunch since she's always working, what with being a nurse. We barely see each other.
"I mean, it's not a bad thing, but have a little faith in yourself, babe," she said stuffing her face with a chicken sandwich. "Besides, have you seen your resumė? Anyone would be a fool not to hire you,"
"You're just saying that because you're my friend," I grumbled.
"Friends don't lie to each other, " she said. "You could always apply to the hospital. I'm sure there is something to keep you busy," she suggested.
"That I'll consider," I smiled softly. "I don't know if they'd consider me, I don't have any experience,"
"Nonsense, man. You'll do great," Evita said. My phone rang then. I flipped it over to see an unknown number.
"Lisakhanya speaking, hello?" I greeted.
"Uh, sounds like a professional, " a deep voice said on the other end of the line. I knew that voice all too well. I gulped, eyeing Evita who rose a brow at me in confusion.
"Mr. P-Preston, hi," fuck, why am I stumbling?
"You remember me, good," he said, pleased with me.
"Of course I do," I answered softly. Even his voice was making me flustered.
"Where are you?" He asked then, serious.
"I'm in town," I said, frowning.
"Good, meet me in the office. You have 30 minutes," he said.
My eyes widened, my heart beating furiously against my ribcage. I stood up abruptly, startling everyone nearby.
"Of course, I'm on my way," I said and realized he'd hung up on me. How rude to just demand and then hang up on me.
"I have to go," I told Evita as I gathered my stuff. "Shit," it dawned on me that I wasn't in the right attire to go to that place.
"What?" Evita asked.
"I can't go dressed like this," I gestured to my black leather shorts and a white loose tank top that hung low, and possibly see-through, showing my cleavage. I didn't even bother wearing a bra, not that it's noticeable. "I don't even have a bra on," I shrieked.
"Run home and change," Evita said.
"I can't. He said I have 30 minutes to get to the office. I don't want to be late,"
"Girl, don't panic. It's not like you're going to work today. Just rock the outfit, it's cute. Don't worry about the boobs, you barely have a bump," she said snorting.
"Bitch, thanks for nothing," I rolled my eyes, Evita laughed.
"You're fine, seriously. Go," she said. I fixed my hair, ruffling it a little, and blanched at my makeup-free face.
"Okay, I can do this," I whispered to myself, taking in deep steady breaths.
To my relief, I got there with 15 minutes to spare. I tried not to let my outfit intimidate me as I walked through to the receptionist.
"Hi, ma'am," I greeted her. Her smile widened when she looked up.
"Hi, you're here for Mr. Preston?"
"Of course, I'll walk you to him," she stood up then, piling up the files on her desk.
"Thank you," I followed her down to the elevator where she pressed 51. I hadn't realized how tall the building is. We were in the elevator for minutes and I was getting more anxious by the minute.
The lady walked over to the familiar black door, opening it slowly.
"Mr. Preston, I have Lisakhanya Manzi for you," she said.
"Send her in, thank you, Linda," the deep voice said. I swallowed hard, fixing my outfit, willing it to stretch and cover my skin.
"You can go in," Linda said before leaving me to fend for myself in the lion's den. I pushed the door open and walked in slowly.
"You're quite earlier than-" he stopped when he looked up. His eyes roamed my body shamelessly, leaving heat in its wake. I flushed, looking down. "Sit down,"
I walked over to sit down in the same chair I sat in days ago. Being the clumsy me, I knocked over a stack of papers from his table. They went flying all over. My eyes widened as I turned back to the man, who looked unaffected.
"I'm sorry, I'm not usually this clumsy," discarding my bag on the floor, I grabbed the papers as carefully as I could, without creasing them. I arranged them back according to the page numbers. "I'm really sorry, sir," I said, standing up. Placing them, I looked over to make sure they're in the right place and spotted something that made my blood run cold.
Desired by the Rowdy Boy by Zamageba Zulu.
It was a manuscript. A fucking erotica book. My mind took me back to the last meeting. He'd mentioned his company only published certain genres. No way did dark romance pass my mind. I'm 24 and I'm still wary of those books.
Oh God, what have I gotten myself into?
I dared to look up at the man to see him watching me closely.
"Is this what you were talking about?" The question was out before I could stop it.
"Yes," he said without missing a beat. "It is. Does it bother you?" He raised a daring brow.
"No " I let out slowly. "It doesn't have to," I added, shaking out the shock. It's not a train smash. I'm an adult. I can work around this. It's just books.
"Good, because you'll be editing a lot of erotica books," he said.
"I don't mind editing these kinds of books or any-" I stopped, looking into his eyes. "Wait. What?" I didn't hear him clearly.
"I don't like repeating myself. Linda will show you to your office. I expect you to be here Monday morning at 6:30 sharp. You're to report to me weekly on the manuscripts that you read and edited, are we clear?" He said.
"Yes," my voice squeaked, breaking. Oh my God, I can't cry in front of my boss. "I mean, yes sir," I corrected myself quickly, blinking my tears away.
"We don't accept the dress code," he said, eyeing my chest. My hand flew over to hide my exposed chest, blushing.
"I'm sorry, it won't happen again. I was meeting a friend in town and I didn't get a chance to change," I rushed out.
"A friend," he rose a bushy eyebrow.
"Yes, she works at Inkosi Albert," I don't even know why I'm telling him my personal life. One look at this guy and I'm spilling everything.
"We have a strict dress code here. White or dark colors. Linda will show you everything else," he said dismissing me immediately.
I stood up, smiling like a damn idiot. My afro flew to my face, irritating me. I stopped then.
"Uh, sir," I called out softly. I hadn't seen a black woman in this building and so I'm a bit worried about a lot of things. My hair for example. At the restaurant I worked at for four months, they always told me to cover it up because it was 'too much'.
"Yes?" He looked up.
"With regards to the dress code, I was wondering about my...uh, hair," I said slowly. His forehead creased with a frown.
"What about it?" He asked calmly.
"Do I need to cover it up or something? The last job I had, they told me to," I said. I waited as he looked at my hair carefully as if he's seeing it for the first time. Well, I mean, he is. I had tied it up when I came for the interview.
"Why cover it up?" He asked. I shrugged. "You shouldn't have to cover your identity," he said, his voice so low it sent shivers down my spine.
His response surprised me. I hadn't expected it, to be honest. I thought he'd scold at me like my last boss. I couldn't help letting out a small smile, nodding.
"Thank you so much, sir. I'll do my best," I said before walking out. I felt like I was gliding in the air. I wanted to jump and scream in excitement. I couldn't do that here, I'll have to wait until I was outside.
I walked over to Linda's desk. "Hi ma'am, Mr. Preston said to come to you,"
"Of course, give me a few seconds please," she said typing rapidly on the most expensive iMac I've ever seen. Heck, it was an Apple product.
Linda showed me my office which was surprisingly on the same floor as the boss. I was two doors away. I guess I will be seeing him more. Linda showed me how things were done. We spent almost two hours, with her shifting between me and her desk.
"If you're still struggling, I'll be here Monday, should you need help," she said.
"Thank you so much," I smiled widely, eyeing my beautiful office. This is a dream.
"Welcome to Preston Publishing, Miss Manzi," Linda said.
"Thank you," I squealed, making her laugh. "Sorry, I'm just so happy,"
"Totally understandable. I know the feeling. I guess we'll see you Monday," she said. I said goodbye and walked out.
I couldn't wait to tell gogo the good news. She'll be so happy.
"Gogo!" I ran into the house, cradling the cake in my arms.
"In the kitchen," she yelled. She was braced against the counter, trying to reach up the cabinet.
"Sit down gogo, I'll do it," I rushed to her and led her to the lounge area, still cradling the cake with one hand.
"What is that for? You know sugar is bad for a kid. You like spoiling your brother," she said shaking her head with a small smile.
"It's for all of us, gogo. I have good news," I sat down next to her, unable to contain my smile. "I got the job!" I shrieked, jumping a little. Gogo gasped, covering her mouth.
"Oh mntanam," her voice broke, and as I'd predicted, she started crying. She prayed in isiZulu, thanking the heavens for lighting up my path. "Yho, ngyaziqhenya ngawe, mzukulu. ( I'm so proud of you, my granddaughter. ) I'm so happy," I hugged her, feeling blissful that she was this happy and finally relaxed.
"Yonke into izolunga manje gogo, uzobona, ( everything is going to be okay now, gogo. Uzobona )" I assured her. I know everything will be fine for us now. I don't know how much I'll get paid but I know it'd make a big difference in our lives.
Monday came and I was up bright and early, with a destructive smile on my face. I listened to the radio, dancing along. I made myself lunch because I'm not sure how lunch breaks work at Preston Press and I don't want to starve myself and end up fainting.
I left before gogo and Sethulo left for school. Gogo always insisted on taking him to school, since it's down the road. She says it's a good exercise for her and that is why she is still strong and fit. She takes good care of herself.
I stood outside the building, smiling like a damn idiot. This is it. This is my new beginning. I really hope I don't mess it up. I did a silent prayer as gogo had instructed.
"First day?" A deep unfamiliar voice said next to me said.
"Ye-" I stopped when my eyes settled on a pair of forest green eyes. A man stood towering over me. Heck, with my height, everyone towered over me. Even Evita. He has brown hair and features so sharp and prominent, they screamed danger. He was a beautiful man.
I know, I said that with Mr. Preston, but damn these men do be looking exquisite. His thin lips stretched in a smile.
"Go ahead, stare all you want," he said.
"Huh?" I asked brilliantly, blinking. Face heated in embarrassment, I looked away.
"I wasn't staring," I said clearing my throat. I brushed my new navy pencil skirt and adjusted the slit that exposed a small part of my thigh. That's the thing about me. I have a small chest, barely visible under the loose white blouse, but I bet my ass is about to tear into the skirt. Evita made me do shopping after telling her about the dress code. She ended up paying for me since it's her 'treat' to me.
"Of course," the man said. "Nice hair," he said. "Can I touch it?" He said. I turned to him, quite surprised by the turn of conversation.
"Uhh, no?" He chuckled, nodding.
"Fair enough," he said. "Well good luck on your first day," he said smiling at me. I smiled back, thanking him. He walked right into the building as he owned it.
I followed suit and saw him talking to Linda, who was blushing like crazy. I don't blame her. I did just do that outside. He walked ahead towards the elevator.
"Hi, let me give you your access card and then you're good to go," she said handing me a tag that I slung around my neck. "You're on Floor 51, remember?" I nodded. "You use the other lift if your floor is above 25. The other ones are always crowded. Should the boss be there, you have to wait. He goes in alone,"
"Got it," I nodded. I rushed over to the said lift just in time for it to close. "Hold please," I yelled.
It opened again to reveal the man from outside. He smiled gracefully, stepping aside to give me space. I swallowed hard. I'll be in the lift with this man.
"Thank you," I said getting in. The elevator was mirrored on all four walls and I could see he was looking at me. His eyes shamelessly roamed my body.
Please don't let him be a rapist. I chanted silently, avoiding his eyes. When the doors opened, I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding and bolted out, almost tripping over my heels.
I could feel him following me closely behind. I wondered what he was doing here because he was dressed casually. I walked into my new heaven and smile, instantly relaxing. Even the pile waiting for me on my desk did nothing to spoil my mood. If anything, it fueled it up.
I saw a sticky note on top of the pile.
See me in my office.
Okay. No need to panic. It's not like he'll fire me. I hadn't done anything wrong. Yet. I cringed. And anyway, the pile confirmed that I got this job.
I left my bag on the table and dashed out to the boss's office. Thank God it's not far. I walked over to see the door was open wide enough for me to go in.
"Mr. Preston, you wanted to see-" my eyes widened at what I saw. I gasped, my hand flying over to hit my mouth.