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The Presentation [#ShortStory]

Posted: April 25, 2017

“All I’m saying is, if you are committing the deadly sin of working late on Friday nights, at least get some credit for it!”

Here is the second winner of our April 2017 Muse of the Month contest, Roopa Prabhakar.

The cue for this month was from the movie Kahaani, in which the cop, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, tells Vidya Balan that she should wind up what she is doing and go back. To which she politely replies that she does not need to be told what she should or should not do.

The Presentation

Sheila rubbed her eyes and yawned, she was exhausted. If her body could disown her it probably would, for her flagrant disregard of its well-being. She was working round the clock after having returned from maternity leave. She had persuaded her husband to rent a flat just minutes away from her office so that she could come home and feed the baby. This meant skipping coffee breaks and eating at her desk so that she could do the back and forth from home and office twice or even thrice a day. The nanny got off at 7 in the evening but Sheila had coaxed her with a combination of money, sarees and jewellery to hang around till she got home. Amit, her husband, had a killer commute and reached home only by 10 pm.

Such is life for an IT couple and an IT couple with a baby may as well give up trying to hold on to any semblance of work-life balance.

She looked down at her empty coffee cup and sighed. Going to the pantry and making a fresh cup would cost her an additional 15 minutes. She needed to send out the power point to Sekhar so that he could run through it over the weekend before the big presentation on Monday morning. It was already 8 pm, she had fed the baby at 6 and raced back to work but 2 hours had just flown by and there was still another 2 hours of work left.

Deciding to ditch the coffee for a loo break, she headed towards the restroom. It was surprising full, one of her younger colleagues was throwing a party and the loos were doubling up as changing rooms. She had received the e-invite for the party but had not bothered responding. None of the washbasins were free, makeup was arranged all around them and the girls were trying it on each other. She sneered at them and growled “Excuse me”, they hurriedly cleared up one of the washbasins and resumed their activities. She splashed some water on her face and looked at herself in the mirror, if exhaustion could take a human form it would surely choose me, she thought. The other girls stood in stark contrast to her with their happy, excited faces and beautiful dresses.

One of them, Sarika aka Shakira as she was always ready to break into a jig, glanced at her exhausted face and frumpy dress and said, “Sheila darling, are you joining us? I think a change of scene would do you some good babe”.

“Sorry Sarika, I have this ppt to finish for Sekhar after which I need to get home to my baby, so no party for me.”

“C’mon Sheila, why are you slaving away for that pile of garbage, he picks up the credit every time for your work,” Sarika said, looking cute and angry at the same time.

“But he gives me the flexibity to come in late, work from home when the baby is sick and is very understanding of my situation,” Sheila mumbled, a little confused at Sarika’s outburst.

“What flexibility are you talking about? You’ve never missed a deadline till now, even the ones that are near impossible to meet! That’s why Sekhar is oh-so-understanding of your ‘situation’. All I’m saying is, if you are committing the deadly sin of working late on Friday nights, at least get some credit for it!” Sarika finished her rant and started applying her lipstick.

“You do know that Sekhar is attending the party, right? He’s going to fill up on booze today, get hung over on Saturday and will go through your presentation late Sunday evening. Not sure why he’s insisting that you send it out today,” one of the other girls chipped in.

“Anyhoo babes, we need to head out, enjoy your Friday night and show your laptop a good time…” Sarika laughed wickedly.

The girls soon left and Sheila locked herself up in one of the loos and slammed the toilet seat down. She sat down and rested her face on her hands. Was Sarika right? She remembered that Sekhar had never sent her meeting invites to the client presentations. On the one occasion when she did check with him, he had responded with a vague “What happens in conference rooms stays in conference rooms, you just keep doing your job Sheila, just keep at it and you’ll go far!”

“Sh@#, I’ve certainly made an ass of myself!” she cursed out aloud and looked at her watch. It was already 8:45 pm, time to head home.

Hurrying back to her desk, she sent an email to Sekhar with the subject line “Presentation in progress, will send final version on Sunday <EOM>”. With that she closed her laptop and decided to call it a night.

As she walked home, she mulled over Sarika’s comments. Sekhar had a lot of clout in the company. The gossip was that he was related to someone at the very top and taking him on could cost you. Moreover, he was always politically correct, never raised his voice or spoke disrespectfully. He had a perpetual oily smile and spoke beautiful English. In short, typical management material. Sarika may have been right about him but there was nothing she could do about it.

It was quarter past nine when she reached home. The nanny opened the door and greeted her with “Kya madam phir se late….mujhse nahi hoga”.

Sheila reached into her bag and fished out the latest L’oreal lipstick. She had picked up this shade after watching one of the commercials but decided to sacrifice it today. She offered it to the nanny by way of apology. As the nanny’s eyes lit up, Sheila heaved a sigh of relief thankful that this bribe had bought her another month of peace.

The nanny left informing her about the baby’s activities – it had been changed, fed and was now fast asleep. Sheila debated on whether to stay up till Amit got home but decided against it. She turned in and set the alarm for 5 am so that she could get in a few hours of work Saturday morning. She tried to stay awake for a few minutes to formulate a plan to take on Sekhar but exhaustion took over and she soon fell fast asleep.

“Sheila, Sheila, Sheilaa…” she felt tiny hands on her face and Amit’s voice booming in her ear. She opened one eye and saw her little angel bathed and powdered sitting on her chest.

“Breakfast is ready, get up sleeping beauty,” Amit said patting her head.

She put the baby back into the crib and looked at the clock, it was 8 am.

“Amit, I had set the alarm for 5 am, didn’t it ring?” she hollered.

“Yes, it did and woke me up, but you were sleeping so peacefully so I shut it off.”

Sheila shrugged, sleeping late was a luxury she could ill afford but she felt invigorated and the smell of fresh coffee was putting her in a good mood which was a rarity these days.

“Sekhar and work can wait, let me enjoy this day, right baby?” she murmured to herself, bending down to give her doll a kiss.

The rest of the day passed by in a happy blur with shopping, lunch and a visit to the park. Amit and baby decided to turn in early which left her free to finish up the presentation.

It was Sunday afternoon and this time Sheila was taking an afternoon siesta. She awoke to the continuous buzzing of her cell. It was Sekhar.

She smiled and picked up the phone. “Hi Sekhar, what’s up?”

“Good afternoon Sheila, I hope I didn’t disturb you?” Sekhar’s voice was ever so polite.

“No problem, I guess you called about the presentation. Sorry I could not send it on Friday, had a family emergency. I’m almost done with it, will send before 9 pm today.”

“Ah! Hmmm this complicates matters, I’m a little busy this evening can you send it any sooner?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I could send you a draft version now, and a final one later, will that be ok?” Sheila replied matching his politeness.

“Never mind, two versions unnecessarily clutter up my inbox, just send in the final version without fail.”

“Definitely, Sekhar. Have a nice evening.”

Monday morning was as usual a mad rush, the nanny came late, the baby was cranky and there was no electricity. She asked Amit to drop her as she had taken an extra half hour to get ready.

She had just plonked herself on her chair and was opening her laptop when Sarika stopped at her desk.

“Hey Sheila, did you manage to get your presentation done? The client arrived right on time and the meeting started half an hour ago.”

“Yes, finished it in the nick of time. Did you see Sekhar?” Sheila enquired.

“Oh yes, he was running around like a headless chicken in the morning, yelling at everyone, looks like someone partied all weekend!” Sarika snickered.

Sheila was about to respond when her desk phone rang.

She snatched the receiver and heard Sekhar’s unctuous voice. “Sheila, can you come to the conference room please?”

Sheila steadied herself, picked up her laptop and walked into the conference room.

“There she is! Gentlemen, this is Sheila, she helps me out with these presentations, perhaps she can shed some light on this slide,” Sekhar laughed nervously trying to hide his embarrassment.

Sheila shook hands with the client’s team and looked at the screen, she already knew which slide it was. There was only one word written on it – DEMO

“Yes Sekhar, remember how we always say that presentations are boring and that we need demos to show our capability?”

“Yes, yes Sheila, so are we prepared for a Demo today?” shot back Sekhar, his eyes glued on her.

“Of course, I’ve got it set up on my laptop, let me hook it up and we can get going,” Sheila replied sounding more confident than she felt.

The demo went on for an hour with Sheila going over every detail covered in the presentation and fielding all the questions that the client had in the Q&A session. Sekhar was a mute spectator – he did try to butt in a couple of times but the client seemed so taken up with Sheila that he soon gave up and sulked.

“Wonderful presentation and demo, Sheila and Sekhar. Definitely looking forward to working with you guys.”

Sekhar brightened up and said, “Thank you so much and yes, Sheila did a wonderful job, we work well as a team!”

“Thank you, Gentlemen. Sekhar’s inputs on the demo were very valuable, we’re so glad you liked it,” Sheila responded and started unplugging the VGA cable.

She glanced at Sekhar who was looking at her intently. He had no clue about the demo but by giving him credit Sheila had ensured that there would be no backlash from him. He noticed that she was dressed up today which was unusual as her normal workwear was jeans and a multitude of faded Kurtis. He wondered if she had sent the presentation late on purpose. He had gone through the first few slides and everything had looked perfect so he had not bothered to check on the remaining. She had taken a calculated risk and it had paid off. Well, she had shared the credit so he had no issues.

It was nearly noon and people were getting restless.

“Shall we break for lunch?” Sekhar asked flashing his pearly whites.

“Sure Sekhar, how about Sheila, will she be joining us? We have some questions on the demo which we can discuss over lunch,” the client’s team lead replied smiling at her.

“I’ll love to, give me a couple of minutes!” Sheila smiled back without waiting for Sekhar to reply.

Roopa Prabhakar wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2017. Congratulations! 

Image source: shutterstock

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Roopa Prabhakar describes herself as a mother, a working woman, a closet feminist and blogger.

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  1. Fantastic story of waking up and bring in charge of your dreams!

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