Serenity Call Centre
It all started when I received the pamphlet. Humble Serenity was a local religious group that had their headquarters somewhere outside the city. Occasionally, there would have some guys out on the streets giving out pamphlets promoting the group and their teachings.
Most people considered them to be harmless, if a bit loony, and leave them well alone. The pamphlet got my attention when I saw that the group now has a website. It was something new and I decided to check it out. Clicking on the website, I noticed that they were looking for business opportunities. That got my mind thinking.
The idea to setup a call-centre was simple. Most call-centre companies were outsourcing their work to India, thus they were laying off people locally (like me). However there were all sorts of problems with language, accents and culture and while cost has went down, so have the quality of service. I gave them a call and pitched my idea to set-up a partnership.
The meetings were not smooth. The Serenity elders were all men and I got the impression they weren’t very comfortable dealing with a woman, however they were very interested in my ideas. I had the experience and knowledge, and they had the money and manpower. In the end, I got them to agree to a 50-50 split. I would be in charge of running the business, while they will provide the manpower. Humble Serenity wanted me to employed only people from the group for the workforce. It seems a little strange to me, but I agreed.
It was a total success. We converted a warehouse the group owned into our call centre office. While the call centre was under construction, I used my former contacts and cold-called several businesses to give us their contracts (focusing especially on those companies who were more worried about quality of service than cost). I managed to hook a client and we were on the road.
For some reason, the Serenity group provided only women for the call centre staff. Not that I was complaining, the girls were a bunch of very dedicated workers. Humble Serenity is a group that (for lack of a better word) mix & match the religious teachings of the world. One of the teachings they adopted was that women should be modest at all times, in this they take the example of Islam and women in the group must wear the veil at all times. Everyday the van will pull into the office garage and a group of veiled women will unload from the van and go to their stations. It was very unnerving at first, but the girls were always on time, never sick and never lost their temper with the callers. And as anyone who worked at a call-center will no doubt know; there are some true idiots out there in the world. But the girls always kept their cool and never once lost their temper.
One of the group’s teaching was: “Only in Humility, will you achieve Serenity”. It characterizes the Humble Serenity girls perfectly. They were beyond polite to the callers, especially to the men. The girls were polite to female callers, but to the male callers, they were so humble that it was as if they did not deserve to breathe the same air as the men do.
In only a few months, word had spread and more clients want to place their customer service with us. Our reputation was so good that I didn’t even have to approach people anymore, they would come to us! As the business grew, so did our manpower. As more girls came on staff, I wanted to promote one of the girls as an assistant manager. I hit an unexpected brick wall.
None of the girls want to be promoted! It made no sense to a career-ladder climbing businesswoman like myself, but the fact remain: Everyone said no! I was about to hire from outside when the Serenity elders remained me that I had an agreement with them. They will provide someone for me.
I wasn’t happy with this but quite frankly; I needed Humble Serenity at this point more than they needed me. I will say that Quinton Holmes was an excellent choice for an assistance manager. Quinton was schooled in the Humble Serenity compound till he left for collage, where he graduated with honors. From what I heard, he then turned down jobs from around the country and returned to the compound. He was smart, intelligent and picked up new ideas like a fish to water. In short, he was brilliant.
What I didn’t like about Quinton was that he had the Serenity outlook. He was an alpha male and had a hard time taking orders from me, a woman. He also followed the rituals of the compound. Whenever one of the girls walked across him, they would stop dead in their tracks, looked down at the ground and let him have the right of way. It was even worse when they approached him when they had problems with a caller. The girls would kneel down in front of his desk, looked down at the ground and then put both her hands in her face. Only after Quinton had acknowledged her, will she lower her hands and speak to Quinton about the problem. It was a sight I was very, very uncomfortable with.
However Quinton did take a load of work off me. He was willing to learn and before long the office had his mark on it. The girls were more than happy to follow his orders and he was even in charge of replacing the water in the water cooler. It was close to a year in operation that I sensed the lack of unity in the office. I am a firm believer in teamwork and promoting a team/group identity among the staff. When I told Quinton the problem, he was shocked. He thought the office had great chemistry and couldn’t understand where I was coming from.
A few days later, Quinton approached me and told me what my problem was. It wasn’t the office that was the problem, it was me! Everyone in the office was a member of Humble Serenity, they already had a group identity, I was the only who didn’t. Even to me, it made prefect sense. So when Quinton invited me to the Humble Serenity compound, I accepted the invitation.
The first thing I noticed was how big the compound was. I always had my meetings with the elders in the city so I was truly surprised at the size of the compound. We are talking serious money big here with palm trees, a big building, and a large lake in the back. My opinion of Humble Serenity went up a notch.
For the life of me, I can’t really remember what happened next. What I do remember was waiting in the office for the orientation tour, drinking a glass of water, then…nothing! From then on, it is all bright flashing lights and some sort of crystal swinging to and fro. Strange isn’t it?
Anyway, the next thing I knew is Quinton giving me a set of cloths and telling me to put it on. I stripped and put on the cloths I was given. Quinton told me that I was indeed a loose woman who is without any shame. I strongly objected to this, but then he asked if I had shame, why did I strip to my underwear with him just standing there? I couldn’t even remember Quinton being in the room, I totally forgotten about him. Quinton told me to look in the mirror. I obeyed without question and truly saw myself for the first time.
I was wearing a niqab, grey on the top covering my hair, with a white veil covering my mouth. My body was totally covered with a black robe that hid my figure. Quinton commented that I looked right. A loose shameless woman like me should cover herself up totally, or I will be tempted to strip naked in the streets for everyone to see. What happened next was unexpected; He was right! For some reason, I believed with every fiber of my body that he was totally right! It was as if my brain had been rewired. I would go naked in the streets if I could. My mind was immediately filled with images of me walking down the city streets without a piece of clothing on me. Quinton then commented that I need a strong man to make sure I don’t do that. He was right again!
Looking at myself in the mirror, I have never felt so ashamed and embarrassed in my life. Here I was a 32 year old woman who is so lacking in self-control that I was thinking of walking downtown without cloths on! It was a good thing the niqab covered every inch of flesh on my body. If I had any shame, I must find someone that will stop me from going naked down the city streets! I immediately thought of my friends but for them to stop me, I had to first tell them what my problem was. Could I live with that? Then Quinton came up behind me and told me that he was just the man for the job. Again, he was right. He already knew my problem; hell, he knew my problem before I did! He will be perfect!
Quinton then surprised me. He refused! He refused me even before I had asked the question! Quinton said that I was an outsider, not a member of Humble Serenity. That I did not deserved his help!
I panicked! I needed him! I turned around, looked at Quinton and had no idea what to do! Do I beg? How could I even begin? Then I remembered what the girls did. I fell to my knees in front Quinton, looked down at the ground and then put both my hands in my face. It felt like an eternity, but Quinton finally acknowledged me. I lowered my hands and speak to Quinton about my problem. I had never been some humiliated in my life. I’m Ruth O’Neal! I was a manager, a businesswomen, I even set up my own successful business! And here I was totally covered up in a niqab, begging my assistant to control me!
Quinton refused again! The man could be stubborn at times. He then told me to follow me as he showed me around the compound. I was heart-broken but as I walked behind Quinton, I had an idea what was the problem. Quinton refused me because I was not a member of Humble Serenity! All I had to do was to join!
As we walked past several members of the group, I tried to copy the movements of the female members. Head looking down, hands by my side, and nice small graceful steps in my movement. After the tour was finished, Quinton told me that the compound was having their Sunday dinner together. It was a weekly ritual when the whole compound would come together for dinner. I was invited of course.
As the dinner began, I immediately noticed the difference in gender roles. All the men were seated on the long wooden benches, while the women were all standing quietly behind their men. It was a family affair where the woman of the family stood behind their men. When the men wanted a beer or extra food, the women would fetch it for them. So not only did the women served their men, they also served the community as a whole as well. I didn’t have family there but I also did not want to be seated with the men. I mean all the women in their veils were standing and serving; I did not want to be the only veil person sitting down. Quietly, I stood behind Quinton. Quinton never said a word, and before I knew it, I was just another Serenity woman. As I went to and fro from the benches serving the men, I discovered that Quinton was right on another thing. Everyone already had a group identity! I felt a connection with the women of Humble Serenity as all of us were rushing back and fro making sure the men were happy. I was just one of them; finally a member of the group.
When the day was over, Quinton saw me to my car. As we said goodbye, my heart dropped. He was still refusing to help me! As I drove back to the city, my head wondered what I could do to change his mind.
The answer was simpler than I expected. As the new workweek started, I was back to my manager position. However, I was there in body but not in spirit. After the day in the compound, I was very uncomfortable being in a higher position than the girls working there, not to mention Quinton. It was without question the most miserable week of my life. When it was over, I knew I couldn’t go through another week like it again.
I came up with a stupid plan and told Quinton I needed to be one of the girls for 2 weeks; to understand the office better. Quinton said it was okay and so began my life as just one of the girls. At my old job, we were always trying to outdo each other to get that promotion we were all aiming for. That wasn’t the case in the Serenity office. To Humble Serenity, any position of authority belong to a man, women can only served. All the girls knew they would not be going any higher than where they were now, so there was a distinct lack of competition among the girls. Even if a position came up, everyone would refuse it (as I had found out). However, they still worked hard as they all wanted the group to progress and the call centre to succeed. I came to the office looking like one of the girls, in a niqab, and the girls welcomed me in with open arms. Everyone was happy with the arrangement and it was without question the friendliest office I’d ever worked in!
There wasn’t even any competition among the girls to look good. As everyone was in a veil covered by a shapeless black robe, there wasn’t any pressure to look hot, professional or sexy. I mean its damm hard to look hot, professional or sexy when you can’t see the face or body shape of yourself. I discovered the side benefit of the veil. Looks don’t matter, only how you treat others and yourself. It was…refreshing!
When the 2 weeks was up, I knew I did not want to go back to my management position. I wanted to be in my niqab, just one of the girls. I fell to my knees in front Quinton’s desk, looked down at the ground and then put both my hands in my face. I begged him to allow me to stay in my position. After a short pause, Quinton said yes. I had never felt so relieved in my life.
At the end of the day, the girls lined up along the wall. Usually, they would line up along the wall according to their height and Quinton would go along the line to account for everyone. After that was done, the girls would turn as one at Quinton’s command and marched toward the garage. From there, the girls would go into the waiting vans and they would be sent back to the compound.
As I watched Quinton counting down the girls, I didn’t know that today was a little different. Quinton said that they were short of a girl. The girls were as surprised as I was and everyone looked around to see who was missing. Quinton then turned around and gave me an evil look. My heart leapt for joy as he scolded me for not being in line. I quickly rushed towards the girls and quickly found where I was in term of height.
Quinton handed me a book. I looked at it and saw that it was a book on the divine teachings of Hank, the founder of Humble Serenity. Quinton told me that any woman of his must know the divine teachings of Hank word for word. I kept my face down looking at the floor. However my face was smiling behind the veil and I knew I would do as Quinton commanded.
We marched towards the van and I entered one of them along with the rest of the girls. I quickly saw that the windows at the back of the vans were blacked out. The girls couldn’t see outside and no one could see in. To the girls, there was only the compound and then the office. I shuddered as I knew it would be my fate sooner or later.
In time, I sold my half of the call centre to Humble Serenity for a dollar (a dollar which I gave to Quinton). Quinton would not live in sin with me and basically told me one day that we would be married. The thought of ‘No’ never entered my head. Under my new husband’s orders, I emptied my back account and transferred my entire asset to the Serenity group.
Quinton took over my position as the manager at the call center and I worked under him. Another man from Serenity came as the assistance manager and it just felt so right for me to be working under a man. My home life matched my work life. The divine teachings of Hank ruled my every word, breath and thought. My husband is my lord, all other men are my superiors; I am nothing but a lowly woman, born to serve.
As Quinton was having his dinner in our house in the compound, I stood behind him, waiting for a chance to serve. I knew that I’ve lost my career, my dignity, even my freedom; but I have never felt happier. Strange isn’t it?