This is not a love story. I’ve got one of those buried in the pile on this blog. But this ain’t it. However, it is a story of a deep friendship with a woman who was a co-worker, or at least I thought it was a deep friendship.
I was in pharmaceutical sales several years ago, and I was assigned to break in a new girl. I met with Shafia and she stood out in many ways. With her dark, Pakistani skin, tiny stature, and adorable presence, she was easy to remember.
She was eager to jump in on sales presentations, and made a lot of physician sales call errors that actually were quite humorous. She insisted on making further sales calls so that she would improve. So I obliged her and we visited many offices. She improved quickly over a short period of time.
When she addressed me, she was both respectful and adamant. She insisted on calling me ‘Mr. Greg’ instead of Greg (a common ‘respect’ trait for Asian women), but she would persistently, relentlessly follow with an argument for a certain way of doing things.
After I exasperatedly returned argument several times I finally threatened to sit on her with my large body. She would cover her mouth and let out a tiny chuckle.
Our territories overlapped, so Shafia and I were on the phone at least once a day. Usually the calls were about business, but sometimes it was personal. She often spoke of the adaptations a Muslim woman had to make to survive in our society. She was the first, and only, Muslim woman I came to know, so I was always interested in what she had to say.
Sometimes we disagreed- I remember one disagreement about arranged marriages (she was in favor of them). As always, she stayed true to her argument to the bitter end.
But as our relationship grew, I started experiencing business problems. Our company started promoting a new cholesterol medication, Sular. Everyone had a difficult time promoting this new drug, but some of us had extremely tough times making sales. Those near the bottom, including me, were placed on probation.
Due to an inadvertently sent email from my manager (which he tried to retract) I found out I would be terminated in a month.
Knowing I would get fired actually increased my work efforts, and I continued talking to my ‘friend’ Shafia on a daily basis with a focus on improving business.
Finally, the day came when I was terminated. Two managers came to my apartment , took my samples, and drove off in my company car.
After they left, I called Shafia, but got no answer. Later that day, I sent her an email, but once again received no response.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that, with my termination, I was also terminated by Shafia. As of that instant, she would have nothing more to do with me.
I was very upset about losing my job, but that wasn’t’ as bad as losing my friendship.
To this day, there has been no contact from Shafia, now more than six years later. I’ve done a bit of Internet searching for her, with no results (if I did get results, I am not sure what I would do).
As I stated in the beginning, this was not a love story, yet her friendship meant a great deal to me.
I would be a liar if I didn’t want to hear her say “Hello Mr. Greg” in her soft Pakistani accent in the next day or two.
But that’s just not going to happen.