- 19 Jan - 25 Jan, 2019
- 08 Sep - 14 Sep, 2018
I couldn’t wait for the day to start. It had been a particularly busy month. Transporting my business into social media had been the best decision of my life. Suddenly, I started receiving orders from all over the country. There were times I felt that I couldn’t handle the rush. I was really happy for Arouba’s help. She had just decided to join me full time and having her intellect about Computer Aided Design (CAD) helped me immensely.
Two months after launching my business online, I bought an engraving machine that made my life so much easier. We began to meet our deadlines faster and our work became more professional. I still remembered the time when we used to do the engraving by hand. A painstakingly time consuming and tedious process.
“Hand engraved personalised items. Perfect gifts for your loved ones, for Eid and special occasions. We prepare souvenirs for weddings, birthdays, bridal showers etc.”
I still remembered how many times I would give away my card to potential customers at weddings and social events. And I still remember the raw disappointment I felt when there were hardly any orders to meet.
Engraving on metal, wood and glass started off as a hobby. I made a few trinkets for family and friends and when highly appreciated, I took my business to another level, but the hardest thing was getting orders. I only got a handful each month and with the amount of time that I took in preparing the final product, I hardly thought my effort was worth it. None of my customers were ready to pay my asking price and after the bargaining was done, I was left with peanuts. I wasn’t ready to give up though because I loved my work. I felt like I was really making small pieces of art. My display included quotations on wood and metal and I even dappled at a few portraits. My clients would supply me their pictures and I would turn a seemingly two-dimensional piece of wood into a beautifully engraved picture. From wall hangings to table top decorations and keychains I could craft anything. My only concern was if my work was viable enough to be turned into something profitable.
That’s when I met Arouba. She called me one day. She got my number out of one of my business cards. She had seen some of my work and was interested to work for me. She had some experience with engravings in the past and wanted to work with me as an artist.
I was sceptical at first. If she was so good at it why did she need my platform to begin her work? She told me that she didn’t have room in her house to set up a workshop for her art. Plus, she was still experimenting with the different mediums that we could use for engraving and she needed a teacher to help.
I took her on as an apprentice. She introduced me to the social world almost immediately. In fact, she was shocked that I didn’t even consider it before.
I still remember her incredulous look, “But why?”
“No reason really. I mean the social media is so out there. What if a weirdo contacts me? I couldn’t take that chance.”
“They don’t need to know where you live. Plus people who contact you give you more details about themselves than vice versa. You find out their names, their home address and also get to see their family pictures etc. I think if anything they should be weary of you.”
“I never saw it like that.”
“Let’s start today. Let’s make a Facebook page for you and let’s put up our best work. All your business is word of mouth so far but once we make it public, the sky’s the limit.”
I agreed; thinking that I would let her do her thing. She seemed excited.
I didn’t think it would matter much. Oh, how wrong was I!
Once my art was out there on Facebook, Arouba worked on an Instagram profile.
She spent a good portion of the day working online, connecting with potential buyers. She was good at it, better than I had ever been. A lot of our time was being saved by online communication. I hardly had to talk to anyone on call and that saved me the time to work on my pieces uninterrupted.
Then Arouba introduced CAD to me. She pushed me to buy an engraving machine. It was an investment but the way the business was growing I felt it was worth it.
The little workshop was expanded by using the room next to it in order to keep our supplies and material. Arouba used to bring her laptop to work every day and share all her designs with me for approval. Then she would begin to code the machine via my computer to set it up to task.
I offered her a full-time position with a monthly package. She accepted immediately. She was already burning the mid-night oil on a measly stipend. I decided that my apprentice was now trained enough to become the chief of staff.
“But it’s just the two of us Anabiya. Who will I boss around?” she said and laughed.
“Yes, I know Arouba but pretty soon I’ll hire another helper. We need someone for organising things, handling the packaging and delivery. You’re doing so much already. I think we can afford another person on board.”
I was really genuinely happy with her. The best of it was that she handled all my customers very patiently and efficiently. But I don’t know how Arouba did it so well. She brought in the highest paying customers and lined up larger, more extensive projects. We were making giveaways for weddings and birthday parties. At times, we were making over 500 pieces per client. Our profit maximisation was on the volume that we handled and I was happy that we didn’t have to compromise on quality one bit.
This was the vision I had for my business. Good quality art pieces appreciated by clients.
Many months went by like this and I had hired not one but two more assistants. They were both students who needed the extra cash for their personal expenses. It brought some relief to Arouba. She was able to shift some of her work onto them.
Our little workshop started taking on the sight of a cottage industry. At this rate I thought I would maybe move it out to a more presentable shop. Have a window front displaying our art and take our orders at the reception. The rooms at the back could be used as workshops.
I began looking for places. I wanted something quaint and cute like the gift stores I had visited, many years ago in England. My vision knew no bounds. We were literally minting money.
I shared the idea with my staff over lunch one day.
“But why would you want to exceed your expenses? Enjoy all the profits while keeping the costs low. Why carry the extra burden of overheads?”
Arouba was not at all willing to change the dynamics of the business. I could see she had a point and I dropped the idea.
My other staff members remained silent. I think they thought that while the bosses were hashing it out, it was best they kept mum about it. They probably thought Arouba and I were partners. In fact, the way she took on the tasks it seemed as if I was working for her but I didn’t do anything to contradict them. She was a faithful employee and that’s all what mattered.
We would start early every morning around eight o’clock and when my assistants would come in around three Arouba and I would have a huge supply ready for them to package and deliver. After all this was done, we would be off by 6pm each day. We worked like a well-oiled machine and I loved every bit of it. The adrenaline rush of meeting deadlines and designing the best pieces ever, was a wonderful combination of art and economics.
Then it all came crashing down.
Very often after dinner, I would make my way back to the workshop to check the designs on my computer or look at order deadlines to plan ahead and strategise. I solely handled supplies so I frequently had to contact my supplier. They had to be prompted quite repeatedly.
I would also look at the ledgers and balance sheets and enjoy the rising numbers. Arouba had proven to be a blessing in disguise for me. I was very happy for her existence. One evening, I noticed that she had forgotten her laptop that night.
I carried on with the regular work on my computer and turned on her laptop to look at some designs in the making. I didn’t feel like I was invading her privacy because we both often checked the work on it together. Her designs were too good. I quickly scrolled down to the few that needed my attention.
After that, I decided to look at the potential customers that she had lined up. I logged into my Facebook and went straight to the messenger section of our page. A lot of potential clients were evident. I became super excited. Work is a blessing; saves you from a lot of worries and sorrows. Pretty soon, I could take that vacation that I had promised myself. I would take a European tour and visit all those sites that I had only read about in books and seen in movies. I was so blessed. I almost shut down her laptop when I saw a file on the desktop that caught my attention. It was a picture folder. Maybe some more designs that Arouba had in mind. There were dozens of pictures of young couples. I didn’t recognise them immediately but some of them had an uncanny resemblance to some of our clients. Some pictures were of Arouba with a handful of the gentleman that we had worked for. I remembered one man in particular. He was a client and we had made souvenirs for his wedding. But why was he in this picture with her? Did she know him from somewhere else? I got really curious. I almost sent her a message on WhatsApp but then I stopped, for she might get upset. I was technically prying into her things. But my anxious mind would not rest. I logged into her Facebook, as her password was saved on the system.
However, this wasn’t her. This was another ID. But was it fake?
I began to look at the messages. From a cursory glance I could tell that she had had several conversations with the grooms and brides that came to us for our services. She had befriended them after getting their information once they placed their orders with us. And her conversations were quite intimate. It was hard to envision what this woman was capable of. I checked out their profiles and saw that a few of them had divorced their spouses after Arouba had planted incriminating evidence against their partners. Under false pretences, she had led people to believe that their spouses were cheating on them. Through this fake ID she had created havoc in their lives.
I shuddered to think how many more could there be and all this information came from the data that she collected from work. She had devised a twisted scheme to ruin people’s lives and she was doing it all under my nose. She had broken my trust. Personal data collected from my clients was of privilege. How would they trust us if we were using their personal information illicitly?
Now I knew why she didn’t want me to set up a shop. It would expose her and she wouldn’t be able to continue with her work on the side. How could she play on people’s emotions like this and ruin their lives? I had seen enough. I shut down her laptop and went to bed extremely disturbed. I could barely sleep all night.
The next day I reached the workshop at 7:30 in the morning, waiting for Arouba to come.
She walked in as her cheery self. I didn’t waste a heartbeat to confront her with my discovery. She was shocked that I had found out. She accused me of prying into her things and tried making excuses. When she saw that I meant business, she became hostile.
“You were such a failure when I met you and ran a small-scale, useless business. Art you called it? Art, indeed! You hardly sold any piece worth anyone’s attention. Your work was amateur and childish. All you did was waste everyone’s time and money. I turned you into the woman you are now. I create art. You create nothing but crap!” Arouba said addressing me rather rudely.
I didn’t know how to retaliate. This wasn’t the Arouba I knew one bit and I didn’t know what to say.
“But these are real people Arouba. How can you ruin their lives like this? And you did it all using the privileged information that clients gave for their orders. How did you think that this was alright to do so? You broke my trust, Arouba. I want you to pack your things and leave immediately.”
“Leave? You want me to leave? After all that I have done for you? And why can’t I play with people’s lives? Who has done anything for me? Who helped me when I needed it? Who saved me?”
“Just because someone hurt you Arouba, it doesn’t mean that it’s ok to hurt others. You are so twisted. You are some sort of serial maniac ruining happy homes and marriages. How long has this been going on?”
“Why do you care? You should just sit and count your money because that’s all you care about. You need this business, don’t you? You are the only person supporting your family. So shut up and sit down, because I’m not going anywhere.”
“That’s enough, Arouba! I want you out of this workshop and out of my house. Don’t make me do anything I’ll regret later.”
“Oh, really? You’ll tell me what to do?”
I could see that she was opening the drawer where we kept our tools. She brought out one of the battery operated hand engraver. She turned it on and started coming towards me. I felt myself cornered and she stood between me and the door. Everyone at home was still asleep. I didn’t know what to do. I lost my voice in fear and I couldn’t even scream.
“Scared, are we now? You should never have gone into my things, Anabiya. You don’t know what I’m capable of. And after you’re dead, I’ll do whatever I want with this business. Your family will be happy that I’m still around to help. After all, I will be the only one to take care of them. You’ll be gone my sweetheart. Who will save you now baby?”
With that she struck me on my face and pushed me to the ground. She knocked the wind out of me. I struggled to turn over but she pinned me down and then she pressed the engraving gun into my neck.
I smelt blood right before I passed out. There was darkness all around. Then silence. •