Last Sunday, on a particularly hot and humid afternoon, I met Ahmed and Paulo at Cristal for beers and an informal discussion about work.
Ahmed was wearing bright pink Havaianas and the oversized Gucci sunglasses I'd brought back for him from the US. He made me laugh. I've grown to appreciate his unique sense of style.
"Boys," I said, "I may have opened the door to an interesting opportunity for you."
I proceeded to tell them about the conversation I'd had with Hugh Marlboro, how I'd told him about their strengths and potential within the Empire, how I'd made certain he knew who exactly was keeping the fresh produce warehouse running from day to day.
I also told them about my situation, that I'd likely be leaving the company at the end of the month.
I took a deep breath and continued, pausing to wipe beads of sweat off my upper lip. "Basically, Hugh Marlboro has proposed that in the next 30 days, you two take over the local banana sales and I manage the operation. We will make whatever changes are necessary to stop the thefts and make the whole thing more efficient. At the end of the month, if things have gone well, he will put you permanently in these new positions with salaries that are fair compensation for the work being performed."
Ahmed and Paulo looked at me, then at each other, nodding their heads in approval. "Nice," they said.
"Also," I went on, "I've told Hugh Marlboro quite honestly that you are being grossly underpaid. He's agreed to at least double your salaries, but you should ask for what you know will make you satisfied. This is your chance, put it all on the table. You guys have nothing to lose."
"Beleza!" Awesome, the said.
"I want to make it clear, though, that I don't care if you accept this opportunity or not. I'm not trying to convince you of anything. I'm just presenting a possibility; you need to see what the conditions are, whether or not you feel it is worth your while, if you want to move forward with negotiations."
"So what about you?" Ahmed wanted to know. "What happens at the end of the month?"
"Well, Hugh Marlboro wants an operational plan, a management plan and standard operating procedures prepared. However, all this has a price. I'm going to present a proposal of my own, with the amount that will make it worth my while to restructure this critical area of his business in 30 days. However, I will probably leave the company at the end of this period."
At that point, the ridiculousness of the situation hit me. How on earth could Hugh Marlboro tell me that, essentially, I was being gracefully fired because he didn't know how to put me to good use, and then turn around and put me in charge of *exactly* the kind of project through which I can truly contribute something of value to his business? And then expect me to walk away in good spirits at the end of it all? All the while knowing that at the end of the month I will hand it all over on a silver platter and walk away, no contract, no reasonable salary, nothing?
To use one of my favorite Mozambican expressions ever, Sorry, lá, pá!
Still, part of me thought this whole thing might be a test. Maybe Hugh Marlboro was just trying to get me all riled up, to see exactly what kind of work I could produce if I thought my job were on the line. I could feel the fighter in me rising to the surface. "I'll show him," I thought. "I'll show all of them! I'll do such a fabulous job that Hugh M. will have no choice but to extend me an amazing job offer, and the boys will receive the same."
I grounded myself a bit, then turned to Ahmed and Paulo. "We have a lot of work to do," I said. "We need to prepare a formal proposal for what we will do over the next 30 days to change the local banana sales. We need to figure out salaries, and deliverables. And we need to get together all of the statistics possible from the current manager - very discretely - so that we can have a baseline with which to compare our work."
We made a plan for how we'd divide the work, then scheduled a meeting for the following afternoon to pull together all of the details. On Tuesday, we'd meet with Hugh Marlboro to present our proposal.
"We can do this," Paulo said, his eyes shining. He squeezed my shoulder before getting up from the table. "Thank you," he said. "We know what you've done for us. Thank you."