I could hear the sound of bells ringing one by one, songs being sung. I didn’t know why it was all happening so suddenly. Or was I merely in a dream? Then I realized, no, what was in front of me was the reality. I was sitting at the back of a place where a performance was being held. It took an hour to finish. There were around two hundred people in that place. I could see happiness on their faces. I could see my father holding my mother. She had tears wetting her face. It almost ruined her composure. Then he kissed her cheeks. A photographer clicked a picture of them. For a moment there, I felt envious of her. I don’t know why I feel so heavy as the scene revolves around me in black and white. Maybe it’s because I was alone. Yes, I was alone. Loneliness doesn’t kill. I’ve endured it for so long.
My sister, she looked amazingly beautiful, a delicate flower blooming in the spring. I admire her strength, beauty, wisdom, and intelligence. Sometimes, I wondered why I can’t be like her. Simple yet elegant, she was beautiful in her own unique way.
I stayed outside the hotel while others preferred to go elsewhere together and have some fun. I was waiting for something new to happen. The cold breeze stirred my thoughts. I still hadn’t figured out what had happened. I saw him with the one who betrayed me. She held his arms tightly with that same look of a snake revealing her true colors before me. He didn’t push her away, and right at that moment, I regretted my decision. She was nothing but a traitor, and now she had most of the things that I didn’t. She had him, the one I loved.
I reached home after the party exactly at eleven in the evening. My head was throbbing. I then took off my dress and sandals, leaving them lying on the floor and took a shower in an attempt to erase my scarring thoughts. I took a long look at myself in the mirror and started wondering, “Is this even me? A girl in disguise.” I went on and got dressed, so tired of everything and wanting to vanish. I curled up my body like a shrimp, concealing my broken heart deeper within me. My mind couldn’t think right.
The stomp in my heart seemed to rebel against my body – reminiscing those days when there was happiness in my eyes, because then there was nothing but dust and tears. I too withered into ash when my world fell apart.
“A month has passed,” I said to myself, stretching my hands and legs in the balcony of my flat. I then saw a bird… It seemed that it was waiting for something to arrive, just as I was. It sure was too early then to define what life meant for me, or rather should I say, I just couldn’t care. I stared at the sun and marveled at how it gleamed… “How come it doesn’t stop shining?” I thought to myself the sky was blue; everything was wonderful, except for me.
I felt utterly empty. I didn’t have any idea where I was heading toward. I was afraid I would lose control of myself in the middle of all that insanity. It was crazy, knowing that is what I had become. Years ago, happiness is all I’d feel, but then, loneliness was all there was. There I was, in my room, covering my entire body with thick blankets. I was cold, so cold. It gave me shivers.
I woke up at three o’clock in the afternoon. My tears had gone dry. I stood up, sat down on the dresser, and looked at my face. “I’m so ugly. Too pitiful. I wasn’t like this before.”
I once owned a company that I had built ten years ago. It’s a business technology. I started the company together with a friend of mine. At the age of nineteen, I dropped out of university and began establishing the company. Five years later, before I turned twenty-four, the company that I had started with only thirty people grew on to house a thousand employees. The progress of my company, MG Grand Business & Co., was continuously on the rise. We created anti-virus software for computer companies. Investors from blue-chip companies invested in the business because it had the potential to increase its revenue. Since the year 2000, when it started operating, it had only been a successful business of which I was proud.
My name is Maria Mercedes Sofia Castrillón. I studied Software Engineering, but it had always been my dream to be in the business industry. Even at a young age, I knew I was made to be a businesswoman. I had a friend with whom I shared the same interests. Her name is Ana Elisa Gaston. We were university buddies since our freshmen years. I trusted her with all my heart. I was the President and the CEO of the company. Ana, on the other hand, was the Vice President. We were close friends, as I recall. Everything was going fine. I had the world in my hands.
I had someone I loved. His name is Lucio Nieves. He is a corporate businessman and years older than me. He made me happy. Happiness and laughter were all that filled my days whenever he was around. We had been together since I was twenty-five. Being in love was one of the best feelings I had felt in life.
Going back to the Present
“Sofia!” I said to myself. “You have to move on.” I stood up from the dresser, went to the bathroom to take a shower. As the water flowed through my body, I could feel all the pain dissolving away. After a few minutes in the shower, I got dressed and looked at the calendar. It was already February 25th of 2011. It had almost been a year. I knew then that I needed to wake up from that awful nightmare I had been sucked into.
“Hello,” I answered.
“Sofia? How are you doing now? This is your mother. I’ve been worrying about you,” she said with a worried voice.
“Mom. I’m okay. I just got out of the bath.”
“Sofia. I know it’s painful, but you have to move on.”
“I know Mom. I know.”
“My dear, take care of yourself. I’ll come there if I have time. I love you.”
“I love you too Mom.”
I began trying to calm my mind. I needed to go back on track. I searched my passbook. I needed money to sustain my needs. I still had five million dollars. That was enough to start my new plan. I got my telephone and called the bank.
“Hello, this is Citibank. How can I help you today?”
“Yes, this is Sofia Castrillón. I would like to enquire if your manager John is around?”
“Yes. Ma’am. He’s here,” the representative responded.
“I see. I need to have an appointment with him today.”
“Okay. Ma’am. Hold on. I’ll just check what time he will be available.” The secretary paused for a while. “Ma’am Sofia, Sir John is free at three in the afternoon.”
“Oh okay, please inform him that I’ll be there then. Thank you!”
“You’re welcome, Ma’am.”
I put the telephone back and changed my clothes. I was going to meet John and have a talk with him. I lived in a big flat that I had bought a year back. It wasn’t too extravagant, but not too simple either. Right after my meal, I hurried back to my room, got my phone and my car key. It was time for a change. I went straight down to the ground floor of my flat, and then the parking lot. Only a few people were around.
It was a bit cloudy when I arrived at the Citibank. I had been a depositor in this bank for almost a decade. I parked my car and went straight to the office.
I am wearing a blue satin dress and high-heeled Jimmy Choo pumps. It had been weeks since I had just locked myself in my room. I needed to focus and concentrate on what was the best thing to do.
“Oh! Hi,” John greeted with a smile as he opened the door.
“Yes, hello John. It’s been too long.” I shook his hand as I entered the room.
“So, what brings you here, Sofia? Is there anything I can help you with?” He asked in wonderment.
“Actually, yes there is. I need you to help me. I think it is better for us to sit down first.”
“What is it?” he asked while leading the way.
“I need to see if you could grant me a loan,” I said, almost imploring.
We sat down at his table, and he ordered his secretary to get me a coffee. “Sofia, I will get straight to the point, may I know how much you really need?” he responded straightforwardly.
“I just need enough money to kick-start a new plan of mine. This is to get my company back. You know what happened John, don’t you? I didn’t do it. Someone sabotaged me, and I guess you know who that person is.” I directly told him the details, as a good friend. Viewing around, I noticed his office was spacious, well arranged, and organized. It had indeed been quite a long time since I’d been there.
“Okay, I understand. We will process it immediately. You have been a big depositor of ours, so who am I to say no?” He touched my hand as a token of guarantee, and I felt that I had found in him an ally. “By the way, may I ask what exactly this plan of yours is?” Again, he looked at me curiously.
“You will know it very soon John. I will let you know what it is once I have finished it.” I smiled with assurance.
“I see. Then I will wait for it then.” John chuckled and he handed me the required papers that his assistant brought to fill up and sign for the loan to be granted. I finished everything at five in the afternoon. I went back to my flat afterward. The streets were busy as usual; I was driving and happened to pass by my company, and without consciousness, I shed tears of pain, salted by revenge. “I’ll get you back soon… very quickly. It won’t take long. I can and will do it just like at the beginning, when I had started building the company.”
A day after, I was to start my new plan. Exactly a year ago, MG Grand Business & Co., my company at that time, was having an acquisition with G&N Company, of which Lucio is the heir, being the Chairman’s son. This partnership entailed MG Grand creating exclusive anti-virus software for Lucio’s Company. Everything was set. The papers were signed, and a contract was put in place. The anti-virus that we were to develop was to be tested for a month. I designed the anti-virus with the help of my team. All of the work was done by me to ensure that we could close the deal on the best note. Ana and her team were the ones in charge of the proposals. A hundred computers were tested with our anti-virus. I was expecting a good feedback, but it turned out to be the opposite. Days after the deal, a report came to our company, informing all of us that the anti-virus I had developed was full of viruses that lead to corrupt the data and destroy files in all the computers on which it was tested. An urgent board meeting was scheduled to take stock of the situation. We had our meeting in the Conference Room.
“Hello Everyone,” a greeting from the Board Chairman, Michael Perez. Everyone in the board arose from their respective seats to welcome the Chairman.
“Mr. Chairman, we have a serious problem. G&N Company, the one we have made the deal with, want to terminate the contract first thing tomorrow morning.” Chief Operating Officer, Enrique Ferrer said in concern.
“Everybody you need to calm down and takes your seats.” Chairman Perez spoke in an authoritative composed manner as he sat down in front of the board members. “what’s the commotion all about?”
“Mr. Chairman. This is an important matter.” Executive Director, Ian Castro firmly stated.
I sat down beside Chairman Michael Perez in front of Ana. We started the meeting precisely at 2 in the afternoon. “Everyone we know that the reputation of the company is in a critical condition, and to expand our market, we have decided to make a business acquisition with the G&N Company to further reach our potential customers. It is quite a shocking news to hear that they want to terminate the contract that was signed days ago. I am still in confusion as to what happened. Ms. CEO. Can you please explain the situation?” Chairman Perez demanded an answer.
I’m having apprehensions and am in a state of shock. “Chairman. A representative from the G&N Company called me early this morning, informing me that they have agreed upon ending the business deal they’ve signed with us. They are yet to release the reason behind it, but they sent a brief statement that it was due to product failures. I’m currently waiting for their response.”
“Chairman. I am notified that this has been caused by our product’s malfunction to provide the anti-virus. All of the hundred computers tested with our software got inflicted with the malware that resulted in disrupting the PCs.” Ana calmly revealed the details.
“How can this happen?” I am in a daze from the distress.
“Ms. CEO you and your team were the ones in charge of this business deal. From Vice President’s Ana statement, it seems that they want to terminate the contract due to our software’s failure to operate. How can this occur if you didn’t plan it?” Managing Director, Christian Garcia pointed out.
“With all due respect, Director Garcia, are you accusing me?” I slightly raised my voice.
“Ms. CEO this issue is not only about you but concerns the Company as well. In my opinion, this emergency won’t happen without someone’s mind being behind it.” Director Garcia suggested.
“Director Garcia has a point, the one who created the software and did all the work was you Ms. CEO.” Chief Technology Officer, Cara de Leon seconded.
“Yes, it’s true that my team and I did all the work, but I won’t plant that malware for the computers. I executed the whole plan, it’s impossible.” I definitely stand by my answer.
“So according to you, who do you think is the one who inserted the malware into the computers, if it’s not you?” Executive Director Castro sought an explanation.
“I don’t have any idea who it could possibly be. I am sure that whoever that person is, wants to ruin our reputation.” I asserted, defending my name.
“Chairman, Ms. CEO denies having anything to do with this issue. If it’s not her, as she claims, there had to be some other individual who performed this action” Board Director, Liza Sandriaga proposed.
Ana raised her hand and eloquently revealed her knowledge about the issue. “Chairman, I have to divulge the truth.”
“Yes, Ms. Vice President What is it?" Chairman Perez enquired in a low-tone voice. Everyone in the room gazed at Ana, waiting for her statement.
“Days before the software were to be delivered, I saw Ms. CEO transferring data from her computer onto the flash drive that was later inserted into the machines.” Ana blamed me for this occurrence without my having any awareness that this is what she had in mind all along.
All the committee members present stared at me, throwing scrutinizing looks in my direction.
“Ms. CEO can you please explain this?” Chairman Perez requested in a solemn voice.
“Chairman, what Vice President has just told you has no truth at all. I went to my office exactly three days ago, and then I went home at 8 o’clock in the evening. I did transfer data, but that was to move the files to my Laptop since I needed the complete details of this project. Ana, what are you saying? Why are you making up stories?” I frantically tried justifying myself against all the allegations.
“I don’t makeup stories. What I’ve just said is the truth. There is evidence proving that you are the one who placed the malware.” She stood up facing Chairman Perez, pointing at me.
“What evidence? There can’t possibly be any such thing as proof because I didn’t do anything,” I answered with honesty.
“Ms. CEO are you sure there is no truth in this at all?” Chief Operating Officer, Ferrer spoke.
“Yes, Sir. I would never do such a thing,” I nodded.
“Ms. Vice President, what is this evidence you’re speaking of?” Chairman Perez inquired.
“Chairman, what she’s saying is not true at all. Ana, why are you doing this? You know I didn’t do it. Aren’t you my friend?” I was trying to convince myself at this point that this was not real, that it was just a bad dream that I would soon wake up from.
“Ms. CEO, calm down.” Executive Director Castro, who was sitting beside me, patted my shoulder.
“Ms. Vice President, you can go on” Chairman Perez commanded.
I once again stood up from my seat and was just about to speak.
“Ms. CEO please sit down.” Chairman Perez ordered.
“Chairman, I have the files from her computer. It is compiled in her desktop, on top of her table. This flash drive contains malware that she used for transferring data and exchanged it to our software before it was delivered.” Ana’s words, issued forth in a composed manner totally manipulated the truth beyond repair.
"Ms. Vice President, please give the flash drive to the secretary, and we’ll check whether what you’re claiming is indeed true” Chairman Perez ordered.
The flash drive was inserted into a computer and reviewed by Executive Director, Castro. He and Secretary, Luisa Cruz went in front of the committee and showed the computer that was tested. “Chairman yes it truly has malwares. There is no doubt about it,” he said with certainty.
In shock, I became speechless. The rest of the committee members went to Director Castro to confirm her statement. Ana was in front of me, as I sat down in dismay. She stared and smirked, and from that moment onward, I knew that this had been her plan all along. I began wondering, among all people who could have betrayed me, why did it have to be my best friend? The one whom I trusted with all my heart, whom I treated as my sister. We had been best friends for nearly a decade and I thought our friendship would be forever. Never had I expected that a single incident, mere jealousy, would ruin the bond we had nurtured for years.
“Chairman, the evidence is clear; this flash drive is the proof” Director Garcia asserted with assurance.
Chairman Perez sat down after Director Castro showed the computer. He was in his mid-50s. A respected corporate man in the society, the first one whom I had approached to pursue my business plans. I remember what he said to me before, “Sofia, you’re an aspiring person. You have a lot of potential to offer much to this industry. You must develop this expertise that you have. You’re young, and you can do most of the things that adults can’t. If you are uncertain of which road to take, just bear in mind that you will always end up where you belong.” Those words still linger in my thoughts. He had been my mentor since I started the company.
“Everyone, please sit down.” Chairman Perez stood up. “With regard to this issue, it is clear that the flash drive that was found on Ms. CEO’s table indeed contains malware, true to what Vice President Ana claims. So, Ms. CEO, would you care to explain yourself?” He sat down after stating his demand.
“Chairman, even though there is proof, you know that I wouldn’t do such a thing. Please believe me.” I tried to persuade him, pleading my innocence.
“Why don’t you just say the truth, Sofia? That you did this not only to ruin the company but because you were paid to do so!” Ana persistently claimed and arose from her seat, her finger pointing at me. All eyes were now on us.
“What are you talking about Ana? I don’t understand why you’re doing this!” I exclaimed distraught with all the accusations.
“I am doing this for the company’s sake, so that they will know what kind of a person you are Sofia. You’re a liar.” Ana voiced out her deceiving words.
“You know Ana; you are my friend. We’re best friends for nearly a decade. You know that I will never do these things to the company I founded just to destroy it.” I am dumbfounded by the words she uttered and looked at everyone, seeking someone who would reach out a hand in support of my innocence, but in vain.
“You’re wrong, Sofia, I have never been your friend.” Ana’s words broke not only my heart but the trust I had in her. Our long friendship was now a broken glass that wouldn’t be fixed.
I wallowed into silence, and after a second, I was yanked back to reality. “Ana, I can’t believe that you’re doing this. Chairman, I wouldn’t do anything that will destroy the company I built.” I strongly beg to disagree with Ana’s statement.
“Ms. CEO this discussion is over. Stop all the unnecessary argument.” Chairman Perez clarified.
“Chairman, what are we going to do with this issue? Now it is proven that Ms. CEO was the one behind all these troubles.” Board Director, Liza Sandriaga raised the question.
“Director Sandriaga is right, we must take action over Ms. CEO’s mistake.” Board Director, Paul Edwin Martinez III asserted.
Chairman Perez glanced at me with worried eyes, shaking his head, and took a deep breath. He was pondering over what decision to take. Once again, he took a gulp of air and straightforwardly stood up, facing all the committee members. Ana sat down beside Chief Operating Officer, Enrique Ferrer. All the members in the Board of Directors had to settle down, and the rest of the officers also took their seats. With all the uncertainty and doubts buzzing through my mind, I started to have thoughts in line.
“Everyone in this committee, I have decided to have the board of directors make the decision about whether Ms. CEO will remain in the position or not.” Chairman Perez firmly announced.
“Chairman, this can’t be happening. Please reconsider my plea.” I pleaded and looked at all the Board members present at the meeting. I had no clue as to why this was happening, I didn’t even know the reason why it was ending this way. A nightmare coming to reality is what it had all been. I breathed, and once more, took a glimpse of Ana whispering to the Board of Director, Liza Sandriaga. Chairman Perez talked with Executive Director, Ian Castro.
“Ms. CEO please be composed. This decision had to be taken.” Chairman Perez steadily stated.
The voting began at 4 in the afternoon. There were around twelve Board of Directors and they had started discussing amongst each other.
Managing Director, Christian Garcia came and consoled me. “Sofia, I’m really sorry that this is happening to you. I’m also shocked by this issue. Just remember that whatever the decision may be, you have to stay resilient. If you are indeed removed from your position as the CEO, keep in mind that this is not your last battle. You may lose this for now, but soon you will eventually win.” He smiled at me, he knew that I was hurt. It caused excruciating pain to know that the one to betray me was a friend I had relied and depended on, and she had just to put me to such shame. “Thank you, Director, you have been so good to me. I really appreciate that.” He patted my shoulder and sat beside me.
“Chairman we have made our decision” Board of Director, Mark Dawson affirmed.
“Yes, Director Dawson. What is it?” Chairman Perez asked.
“The majority of us, seven to be exact, have decided to remove Ms. Sofia from her current position as this company’s CEO. She made a shameful mistake that may or has already damaged our company’s image and is the cause of the termination of our contract with G&N Company.” Board of Director, Paul Edwin Martinez III declared.
“Ms. Sofia, I at this moment state that from this day onward, you are removed from your position as MG Grand’s CEO. But you will be given your dividends for being one of this company’s stakeholders. This meeting is finished.” Chairman Michael Perez ordered without hesitation.
Ana stared, beaming with happiness, knowing that her plan had at last become successful. After I heard what Chairman Perez had announced, I accepted the decision. Executive Director, Ian Castro extended his hands and embraced me, together with Chief Technology Officer, Cara de Leon, and Managing Director, Christian Garcia.
“Sofia, it’s okay. I’ll be here.” Chief de Leon comforted me with compassion.
“Thank you, Chief,” I barely smiled. The rest of the Board of Directors, who had taken my side during the voting also came to me and showed their support for me. Chairman Perez remained in his seat, as did Ana, who was with Director Sandriaga. I eventually went to Chairman Perez and conveyed my thanks, “Chairman thank you so much for everything.” I said, as I bowed my head.
I headed toward the door, but before that, I saw Ana standing. “Sofia, so what’s your plan?” she asked in a menacing manner that irritated me, with slightly raised eyebrows and crossed arms.
“Don’t worry Ana, this battle is not over yet! It has only just begun.” I opened the door, facing the rest of employees’ sad looks.
“Thank you, everyone. It has been an incredible journey to be with you all!” It took me all the mental strength I had to give them a smile of goodbye, and I directly went to my office to get together my things with the help of Secretary Luisa Cruz. It had been the most tragic day for I lost the company that I had built with all my might, only to lose it because of a back-stabbing snake. I finished everything around six in the evening. As I went down to the elevator, I wanted to shed some of my brimming sorrow through tears, but the employees were watching, and they might have thought how weak their CEO is, and so I had to retain my composure. I put my things in my car; it took me a few more seconds to completely grasp the reality. All my effort and hard work were now gone to waste. I wiped my tears, started the engine, and immediately left the company I had founded.