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Dedicated to all who choose to persevere while facing adversity.
‘Tatay! Tatay! I’m going to school now!’ an excited little girl all dressed up and ready for her first day of school called out as she ran from her family’s simple makeshift home and into her father’s adjoined workshop where he caught her hug with open arms.
‘What is the golden rule?’ he asked as he looked down from their embrace.
‘Knowledge is power!’
‘That’s right!’ He leaned down to kiss her on the forehead. ‘You go now. Make me proud.’ But just as she was about to head out he called her back. ‘Elsa, wait.’
Reaching from behind his carpenter’s work station he produced a backpack just her size. ‘Successful people are organized,’ he reminded her as he helped her into it.
This was Elsa’s first memory, and she couldn’t help but smile as she thought back on it while moving step-by-step in the line of her graduating class towards the stage to receive her college degree.
It was what she had always loved most about her father. From early on he had raised her to understand the realities of life. Despite having no formal education, the knowledge he had passed on to her was far greater than anything she had learned in any classroom, therefore making him her greatest teacher. Honesty, compassion, perseverance, all taught to her not by lectures and theories but rather through the examples set forth by her beloved Tatay.
And now her she was, about to step out on stage to be presented with an achievement that was not only her own but a milestone belonging to her parents and three brothers as well. They had all sacrificed so much to meet her educational needs throughout the years. It was all represented by this piece of paper she was about to receive. This hope for a better future. This ticket to escape their Third World existence.
Meg had lost count as to how many graduations she had attended over the years, and yet the butterflies she felt in her stomach would always reappear with each new ceremony.
Dabbing her sweaty palms she sensed that the celebratory picture taking was about to wrap up and started towards the young woman she already knew quite a bit about.
Meg had spent the past week in the Philippines, avoiding the awful humidity by doing most of her headhunting from the air conditioned comforts of a temp office. Her routine was fairly simple no matter what part of the world she was visiting. Contact the countries best universities, request records from the top ten percent of their graduating class and comb over the history of each star pupil. This was the first stage of two in Meg’s screening process, using her own discretion to eliminate all but a few potential recruits, each having no idea they were being considered to fill a position in one of the world’s largest investment companies.
‘Excuse me, Ms. Velasquez…’ Meg said as she approached the young woman in cap and gown while extending a professional hand. ‘Good afternoon, and congratulations on your accomplishment.’
The girl, surprised yet polite, slipped her soft hand into Meg’s, ‘Thank you,’ with Meg then continuing her introduction. ‘My name is Megan Kirisawa, and I’m with The Fujimoto Corporation based out of Japan. If I may ask, have you obtained employment yet?’
‘No, ma’am, I haven’t,’ Elsa replied, at which point Meg produced her business card. ‘I’ll be in Manila for the next few days. If you think you might be interested in working abroad, in Japan, please give me a call.’
‘Thank you, ma’am, I will.’
After another handshake Meg turned to leave, not needing to see what was going on behind her back to know that the family would now be gathering around with excitement as they looked over her business card.
Elsa kept shifting her gaze as she waited for the beautifully middle-aged Japanese woman to look over her resume, not knowing if it would be perceived as rude if she stared straight ahead or disinterested if she were to look away.
She did feel somewhat professional though in her new business attire, her family, somehow, someway scraping up enough to get her into these clothes, to get her across the country for this opportunity of a lifetime.
‘So you have no previous work experience?’ Meg finally asked.
‘No, ma’am,’ Elsa replied apprehensively. ‘I’ve done a little intern work, but mainly just focused on my studies.’
‘No, that’s fine,’ Meg reassured. ‘We actually prefer our applicants to not have any work experience, which is why we seek them right out of college. We find it much easier to hire someone with a fresh open mind as opposed to retraining. Let me ask you a question. Where do you see yourself in five years from now?’
‘I plan to be nicely established in my career by then,’ Elsa answered. ‘My goal is to provide a better life for my family. They have sacrificed so much for me and my education. I’d also like to see the world, and Japan sounds like a great place to start.’
‘Well, it’s nice to know you believe in the importance of family, because we at Fujimoto share in these beliefs as well. Mr. Fujimoto, who started the investment group over forty years ago, says this is the secret to our success. As long as we stay loyal and dedicated to each other, and to the specific role we have within the company we will remain one of the most successful corporations in Japan. And the world. The position we are looking to fill is that of business consultant, which is why we sought you out.
‘You would be working directly with Mr. Fujimoto, along with a small group he likes to refer to as his personal assistants. Each member of the group comes from a different educational background. Engineering. Medical. In your case, business.
‘Since we work directly with Mr. Fujimoto we live on his estate. It is encouraged that whenever we girls leave the estate we do so together, which is fine because we always have lots of fun shopping and such. Starting salary is $48,000 a year, which in your currency would be about…’
Meg took a moment to add the numbers into a nearby calculator. ‘178,000 pesos a month. So what do you say? Would you be interested in joining the Fujimoto family?’
Being offered more in one month than her family made in an entire year it was all Elsa could do not to cry as she managed to answer in a soft voice. ‘I’d be honored.’
‘Great,’ Meg said as she handed Elsa a piece of paper. ‘I’ll just need you to get this list of items so we can process your work visa and we’ll get you scheduled for a medical evaluation.’
‘Oh, don’t worry, we’ll handle the costs. The tests are basic. Just some blood work and such.’ Standing to her feet Meg concluded the interview by guiding Elsa to the door of the private office. ‘So get those documents to me in the next few days, then in a couple of weeks we’ll see you in Japan.’
Elsa couldn’t remember a more bittersweet evening. Family and friends had come together to feast, to sing, to wish her the best as she prepared to venture out into the big wide world.
As the late hours approached she sat beside her father, who had already settled into bed, and took his hands into hers. They were hands as hard as wood, appearing twice their age due to a lifetime of hard labor.
‘Tatay, my bags are packed. I’m going to the bus station now.’
‘What time did you say your flight is?’
‘Ten o’clock tomorrow morning. I should be arriving in Manila around seven.’
Elsa could feel her heart ascending towards her throat, trying her best to keep it from spilling over her vocal chords and rising up to her tear ducts.
Her father gestured to a scale model of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge that sat atop his dresser. He had always had a fondness for bridges, and this replica in particular, made of hundreds upon hundreds of toothpicks, signified something special between him and his daughter.
‘You remember when we made that for your high school science project?
‘After we finished and were about to test its strength against the weights you were so afraid that it wouldn’t hold. That all our hard work would be destroyed in an instant. And yet the structure stood firm, without a single toothpick caving under the pressure. That’s because we had built a solid foundation.
‘At times the weight of the world is going to seem overwhelming, but you leave here with a foundation stronger than anybody in our family has ever possessed. And I don’t just mean your education.
‘There’s a reason why I chose you as the one we would all work to support.
Not because you were the youngest. Not because you were the only girl. From before you can remember I saw that drive in you. A truly ambitious nature that is so rare in this happy-go-lucky culture of ours. You chose to study when others would play. Would always be the first one to school and the last to leave. And you insisted more times than not to be spoken to in English.
‘We have done our best to support who you are, but always remember, it is who you’ve always been. There is no one more responsible for your solid foundation than yourself. You built it, and therefore it will always be within you. No matter what adversity may come your way, your determination can withstand any pressure the world may come down upon you with.
‘Go now. Show the world your power.’
The two embraced one more time before Elsa turned to leave.
Her father reached under his bed and brought out a laptop. ‘Successful people are organized.’
She couldn’t hold it in any longer. How many months, years had he hammered chisel to wood for this, in addition to the seven day work weeks that were required just to survive?
The tears in Elsa’s eyes began to fall.
Chapter 2 posted shortly.