This story is by Evin Baris Altintas and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
I’ll never forget the day I met Ada. I was nervous, not because I was meeting this client that everyone in the office spoke about disdainfully, but because I was confused about pretty much everything in my new job at C&G, the Istanbul branch of an international PR company. I’d recently lost my job at a newspaper, and although I was grateful for landing a job, my new corporate environment felt like an alien world.
It was a Tuesday. They always met on Tuesdays; that was her rule. From what I was told, she was a bitch of sorts, but nobody could quite put their finger on exactly why.
She was the Communications Manager of Berry Bear Co., a major entertainment company that owned several TV networks geared for children.
I, our senior team manager Can and the account executive, Seline, arrived at 10 am in the Bear’s glossy office, which had a sliding door with a circle on it that looked like a giant egg. When you walked through the door, it felt like that egg devoured you and you were suddenly inside the unwelcoming womb of a strange beast.
At first, she seemed nice. She shook our hands — not a firm handshake — and they started talking about some PR plan. I have no recollection of what was being said, as I was completely lost staring at Ada. Although I am straight, I was mesmerized by her beauty; her ash-blonde hair, emerald eyes, healthy skin, and how it all fit perfectly on her Nordic stature.
“What do you think?” Seline and Can asked me after the meeting. “She is very pretty” I said. “What, you out of your mind?” Can said. Seline looked at me, disgusted.
It didn’t take me long to find out what was wrong with Ada. She was unreasonable. She often asked us to find creative PR solutions to the Bear’s complicated problems, nearly all of which required solid marketing strategies. For example, the Bear’s main children’s network was a paid station on the country’s main digital TV platform, which had only a fraction of all viewers among its subscribers. She wanted us to be “creative” and devise “a PR campaign” to get everyone in the country to subscribe to the Bear’s stations on that digital platform. In short, the Bear really had no marketing strategy and their PR manager had but a slight connection to reality.
Yet, she wanted to meet with us for three hours every week. Our three hours were usually a time of complete humiliation, being scolded, insulted and yelled at.
Curiously, Ada always accompanied us to the giant-egg door on our way out, giving us hugs before we left as if it hadn’t been her yelling at us a few minutes ago.
One Tuesday morning, she phoned and suggested we hold our meeting at a Starbucks near her office. We hoped that this time we could have a good meeting. She didn’t buy herself anything, nor did she offer to treat us. We had another awful meeting, where she ripped apart a suggestion we’d made to promote a new animated series. Instead, she organized a princess tea-party with kids of some celebrities when the time to launch the new cartoon came; the exact same event she’d held a few months earlier while launching another product. On the day of the coffee shop meeting, I also met her husband, Kaan. He’d dropped by her office and she introduced us. He was at least ten years older, overweight with cracked skin.
She was rude to all of us, but I felt she was particularly hostile towards me. Tuesdays were becoming increasingly unbearable. At the C&G office, I had become like anyone before me who’s ever been involved in the Bear’s PR team: I constantly talked about how I despised this woman. There were people in the office who wanted to go with us just for one Tuesday to see what she was like.
One Wednesday morning, Ada came to C&G. She wanted to talk to me and to a company executive about an approaching PR-campaign. She ended up scolding me in front of my boss, and it was worse than all of those past Tuesdays multiplied by 1000.
After that meeting, another team manager approached me: “Is that her?. She is really pretty.” And that first day came back to me; I remembered the look of incredulity that had appeared on Can and Seline’s faces when I’d made the same comment. “You seriously need to get your eyes checked,” was my reply. .
One day, deciding that I could no longer take the abuse, I challenged an idea Ada had to promote a new TV series for the BearKids network, pointing out that inviting A-listers to an event for a show the Bear wanted to promote in conservative lower-class households didn’t make much sense. She raised her eyebrows and said: “Very interesting, go on.” I said she was inclined to repeat the same event for every product and that she could be very close-minded when presented with alternative plans. She also had a tendency to cross the boundaries of civility, I added. At first, she said nothing. Then she rose from her seat, walked out, slamming the door.
I was fired the next day. C&G was in bad shape and couldn’t afford to lose a single client. “Look, I know she’s bipolar, but she’s threatened to terminate our contract if we don’t let you go,” my boss told me. “I’m really sorry,” she shook her head. And they “let me go.”
Initially I was distraught. I was angry at myself for not having shut up and also at Ada. I hadn’t expected such spitefulness. Later, those thoughts disappeared as working out my financial situation gained priority over everything. Over time, I was able to secure several project-based deals and eventually I was making twice the money I made at C&G as a freelancer. Life was good.
I never thought of her until one evening, when I was walking back to my car with a friend after dinner at a restaurant downtown. We heard a couple fighting on the sidewalk across the street. It was dark and they appeared as two silhouettes under the dim streetlight. At some point the man started pushing the woman. We couldn’t see what happened, but she collapsed and the man walked away, shouting obscenities. We ran towards her. “He kicked me in the head,” she muttered, sobbing, her head facing the sidewalk. She turned her head and looked up. It was her.
A flash of recognition hit her face, but she said nothing. I helped her up. “He won’t change. I should have left him long ago,” she was still sobbing. “Why don’t you?,” I asked. “Because he is the only one who’ll put up with me,” she said. “Put that phone down,” she commanded as my friend dialed the police and then she turned to me. “I’ll kill you if you mention this to anyone else.” In one second, she had returned to her usual self. Her husband, now calmer, came back, gave us a stern look, grabbed her by the arm and they left.
I stood there thinking if this made sense in explaining Ada’s behavior. I knew that domestic violence didn’t apply to lower classes only, but Ada? Battered wife? Was she always putting up with insults and even beatings at home while she treated me horribly? Maybe her toxic interactions served her find a balance between her two worlds. Maybe she drew some twisted form of strength from her situation the way she threatened to kill me after what had just happened.
“C’mon, let’s go,” my friend distracted me from my thoughts. I turned around and saw that throughout that strange encounter, we were standing in front of a Berry Bear Co. billboard ad.