(Incomplete so far)
During my school days, I lived in Zíma, the most important city in the region between the Scródla Mountains and the shores of the Mandrámbic Ocean. We Zímans prided ourselves on the beauty and prosperity of our city, its numerous landmarks and historic sites, its metro with its bullet trains, and its fine schools and universities. Here and there, one sees handsome statues and fountains, malls and towers, stadiums and parks. There's a broad esplanade that circles Lémbaca Lagoon, which is contained in its entirety within our city limits. Small craft that sail the lagoon, when moored all in a row, make a pretty sight. Our perennially warm evenings invite people to the esplanade to relax or socialize.
We go to school between the ages of 4 and 20, at the very least. Advanced studies might last till the age of 30. But we live more than 100 years, so the investment of time is usually worthwhile.
It's a fact of life in Zíma and in our country VIsquégana generally that all the best pupils in our schools are girls. Women absolutely dominate our society. They run the government, and industry and commerce. They oversee transportation and communication. They are the leading educators. Our most prestigious writers, artists and musicians are women without exception. Everyone accepts this cultural femininity as a matter of course.
It makes sense then that enrollment in our best schools is limited to girls. My school, which was called Zíma Réssamact #7, had a student body of 2000 girls in the years of my attendance. I was considered the very best of all the pupils, scoring 100% consistently on examinations and always winning competitions. They said that Ennadíssa--that's my name--was a prodigy, a genius. Naturally, I was proud of my achievement and appreciative of the honor accorded me, and I tried not to be arrogant or condescending in my manner.
When I was in the fourteenth grade, at the age of 17, my distinction began to decline, however. It was that year, our year 6505, that Romárlia first appeared in our school, also as a student in the fourteenth grade.
Almost immediately, Romárlia was recognized as a superb pupil, a girl of unsurpassable ability and talent. She was outstanding in every way, supernaturally intelligent, divinely beautiful, witty, charming and kind. She was an excellent ballerina, a budding horsewoman and an accomplished gymnast. She knew science, mathematics, languages and history far beyond the levels expected of girls in our age-group.
When Romárlia first began to attract the notice of the teachers and other pupils, I felt a twinge of envy and resentment. I had been upstaged. Eventually, though, the negative feelings passed away, and I found myself falling in love with Romárlia. It is not terribly uncommon in Visquégana for one girl to be linked to another, but my attachment went beyond the usual degree.
I asked Romárlia if I might be her friend and attendant. I explained that I thought she had a brilliant future, which I wanted to try to further, if she would let me. I was thrilled when she accepted my proposal saying that she was flattered by my attentions. Thus began my lifelong relationship with Romárlia, as I helped her ascend to the very pinnacle of majesty and glory.
Romárlia hailed from Ríngda, another city in Visquégana, some 500 miles south of Zíma. Her parents, sisters and brothers had remained in Ríngda. In fact, it was Romárlia's desire for independence that had brought her to Zíma. Though she was not wealthy, she had received an inheritance that afforded her this opportunity. In Zíma, she rented an apartment, where she lived alone as she attended school. Everyone seemed to agree that, though this kind of existence might not be advisable for the average girl of her age, Romárlia had the intelligence and maturity to manage her own affairs without the protective oversight of parents or guardians.
She had deposited a substantial amount of money in an account at Grávnalit Bank, in Zíma. The interest on the account did not defray Romárlia's expenses entirely, and, in order to go on living life as she preferred, she had to withdraw amounts from the principal as well. Seeing that, sooner or later, the principal would be exhausted in this way, Romárlia decided to open a small business. Since I knew my way around Zíma, I offered to help Romárlia in any way I could, and, as it turned out, my offer was not just an empty promise.
Romárlia decided that she would open a store and café aimed at attracting the girls from Réssamact #7. She wanted to carry a line of school supplies, as well as clothes and accessories, amd set up a small canteen or cafeteria. Iggídiarc, my aunt, owned a building in the vicinity of the school that had about 20 spaces for stores, with a couple of vacancies. Telling Aunt Iggídiarc all about Romárlia and her great potential, I persuaded her to make available one of the vacancies for a very reasonable rental. Romárlia knew enough about Zíma to recognize a bargain when she saw it, and she snapped up Iggídiarc's offer. Her grateful kiss was my commission.
I helped Romárlia organize the store. She purchased showcases, racks, a counter with a cash register and scanner, drapes and other furnishings, and together we arranged everything. I declined her offer to compensate me for my hours, suggesting that, if at some later time, when she had begun to make her business go, she wanted to give me some sort of bonus, it might be welcome, but for the time being, my interest lay only in launching her venture auspiciously.
Also I agreed to work in the store, alongside Romárlia, in the evenings. She didn't have to pay me, I assured her. This would be a lark. I wanted to be her best friend, and if she treated me to supper, or gave me a token gift now and then, I'd be just delighted. She said she could hardly believe that I was being so kind but was certainly glad that I was.
The store-café was a big success. Not only was it very tastefully decorated, but the prices were attractive, thanks in part to my efforts in her behalf. The girls came in number, and we transacted lots of business. The name of the store-café was Romárlia's Varieties. The success of this enterprise was really exceptional for a girl of her age.
She started a separate account at Grávnalit Bank for the earnings from Romárlia's Varieties. In very few months, she had enough saved to open a second store. She changed the name of Romárlia's Varieties to Romárlia Seven, because we were at Réssamact #7 School, and she was planning to found a sister store near Réssamact #6. The second store would be called Romárlia Six.
Romárlia Six proved to be a great success as well. Romárlia hired girls to work in her stores, and she and I directed jointly. I declined monetary compensation, but accepted a partnershup offered me by Romárlia, saying that I wanted to reinvest in the chain of stores any earnings that accrued to me. Soon there was a Romárlia Eleven, then a Romárlia Eight. She seemed to be an inspired young businesswoman, which was really no surprise to me.
She also made me a joint tenant in her business account at Grávnalit Bank, authorizing me to make deposits and withdrawals relative to our shared business enterprise. Of course, I made such deposits and withdrawals with great care, keeping accurate records of my receipts aand expenditures. I was honored that she trusted me so completely.
At the age of 18, Romárlia owned half a dozen stores, and was earning very impressive profits. The Rúznam of Zíma, one of the local newspapers, carried a laudatory article about her, with her photograph. I was mentioned in the article as her partner. On the strength of that article. Romárlia was able to design and imprint a brochure about our stores, to present to prospective investors and associates.
I was mildly shocked when Romárlia told me she thought we could increase our earnings if she bought a small factory in Zíma to make some of the apparel being sold in her stores. She didn't have enough money in the bank to buy the factory-warehouse she had in mind outright, but the stores were worth enough that she thought she could use them for collateral to apply for a loan. With the loan, she would organize the business, and if it proved profitable, she could foresee no difficulty with meeting payments on the loan. If the business didn't do as well as she expected, she might lose one or more of her stores, but that was a risk she was willing to take. She asked me my opinion on the subject, but she had thought it out so well, there was little I could do but compliment her, At least, in my inexperience, it seemed so. Romárlia exuded self-confidence and enthusiasm, whereas I tend to entertain doubts and worries in challenging situations. I sought to conceal these feelings, lest I dampen her spirit.
The undertaking proceeded according to plan, almost without a hitch. Romárlia raised about 200 qalzans for the venture. A 'qalzan' is a monetary unit; the average workman in Zíma earns 100 qalzans a year. She made a down-payment of about 100 qalzans on the factory-warehouse, a 15 by 20 meter building with pumice-block walls, a concrete floor, and a corrugated metal roof on steel joists. The other 100 qalzans she spent on equipment and supplies.
Our days were getting hectic, as Romárlia expanded her operations, and often we were up past midnight, at the stores and factory. Originally, we had gone about on the metro or in cabs, but, as a time-saving device, Romárlia bought a modest car and drove us as we made our stops. We hired some girls to make skirts, blouses, jackets and bags in the factory, and we packaged them there in vinyl envelopes and stored them on steel racks inside. From this supply we began to stock our stores, realizing an appreciable savings. So Romárlia largely discontinued her wholesale purchases from other makers. The loan was being paid, the facility was being maintained and there was money left over. Increasing the number of seamstresses and buying more sewing machines, Romárlia was able to produce more clothes than were needed for her own stores. So she offered girls' clothes wholesale to other retailers in the vicinity. Our styles, some of which I designed myself, were very popular. This was because, essentially, we knew what our market, girls in our own age-group, wanted and would buy.
It wasn't long until Romárlia opened a second factory and a couple more stores, and was employing over 100 people. She didn't have any serious problems with her employees, as everyone liked and admired her, and she dealt honestly and fairly with everyone.
She told me that she felt that opening a third factory in Zíma would be overdoing it slightly. The market for the clothes that we were manufacturing was already being supplied by her first two factories. However, she speculated that it might be worthwhile to buy a factory in Vulérstia, a town of Zima's size 75 miles west of Zíma. She proposed that I take charge of all the operations in Zíma for the time being, as school was in recess for the summer, while she traveled to Vulérstia to explore the situation there. By this time I was making regular draws on the bank account at Grávnalit bank for business and personal expenses, the latter being kept to a minimum, but it did not amount to a regular salary, since I took money only as needed. Romárlia never uttered a word of complaint or criticism about this. We seemed to have a perfect tacit agreement.
I was burning the midnight oil so to speak, as I was also keeping up with my studies, in anticipation of the coming school year. Fortunately, I found them easy enough to manage with good speed. In a little over a year, we would be graduating from school, and it remained to be seen whether either or both of us would pursue advanced studies.
My parents viewed all this with amazement and pride, but expressed concern that I had assumed too big a burden for my tender years. I assured them that I felt fine and that if things got to a point where I felt I could no longer cope with my obligations, I would take steps to reduce my involvement.
Romárlia toured Vulérstia and visited merchants there, distributing her brochure. She also visited the chamber of commerce and various organizations of city boosters there. Finally, she decided to go ahead with her idea and she rented a factory-warehouse like the ones in Zima, with an option to buy, which involved a retroactive application of rent payments to the down payment she'd have to make. She had herself helped draw up the details of the contract, feeling she did not need an attorney to represent her. She bought equipment, hired people and started manufacturing clothes. In order to launch the factory in Vulérstia, she said she'd spend the rest of summer vacation in Vulérstia. Thereafter, she would return to Zíma, but she and I would visit Vulérstia regularly to make sure that all was going well.
Soon we would enter our seventeenth and final year of school.
By the time school was back in session, the new factory in Vulérstia was running smoothly. Romárlia left in charge a young lady named Zémsha, a local girl whom she felt she could trust. The third factory also was going great guns by mid-year, and revenues were coming in beyond all expectations, at least beyond what I had foreseen, but Romárlia, while pleased, seemed to take it all in stride. The account at Grávnalit Bank was growing handsomely, and Romárlia bought two new cars, one for herself and one for me, trading in the one she had bought the year before. Now we could both run errands, visiting separate operations simultaneously.
Running a number of retail stores and three small factories, with a constant flow of materials, supplies and personnel proved to be a lot of work, even though many of the routine chores, including those of supervision, had been delegated to others. Romárlia had been doing research and making estimates with an eye to organizing some kind of business that would not require so much tedious activity. According to her line of thinking, if she sold all of her factories and stores, either as a package or piecemeal, at a price reasonably close to her best estimate, we should have enough money to buy a sizable office building in downtown Zíma, making a down payment of 1500 qalzans or so. This might be $750,000 in earthly terms.
She figured that we could provide maintenance, security and other necessary services by forming contracts with firms that specialize in such matters. In effect, then, we would have much less legwork and supervision to weary us, while we would earn as much as or more than we had been earning. I wasn't so sure that everything would work out according to Romárlia's projections, and I raised some caveats, but she had sensible answers, as if such reservations had already occurred to her.
Romárlia and I formed a regular corporation for this new venture. Even though we both trusted each other completely, she felt that formalizing the partnership would be salutary. We sold all of the stores and two of the factories, leaving only the factory in Vulérstia in operation, as it had proved very profitable. We called the new business R & E Properties, for Romárlia and Ennadíssa. Incidentally, people in VIsquégana generally use only single names. There is no such thing as a surname.
Just a few days before we graduated from school, in 6508, R and E Properties purchased a five-story building with glass-and-steel curtain walls, right downtown, with one side commanding a panoramic view of Lémbaca Lagoon. Our office was inside the building itself. Our down-payment amounted to about 15% of the appraised value of the building. Rents would easily cover expenses, leaving us a very comfortable margin. Romárlia suggested that the previous management was overstaffed with high-salaried employees whom we ourselves, alone, could easily outperform. Thus we could increase profits, especially since we were committed to a regimen of personal thrift.
It did indeed turn out that we had much less routine work to do, but it also weighed heavily upon us that mistakes would be far more costly. We had only 4 or 5 hours of administrative work each day, which left us free to explore new possibilities. Even though Romárlia and I were the same age, with the same educational background, it seemed that she always took the lead in our discussions. This was not because she was domineering or more outspoken. It was because she was always better informed than I, however this state of affairs had come about. She seemed always to have the answers to my questions and to be able to make decisions, whenever I was vacillating. Yes, though we were partners, she was in charge. Both she and I found this natural and agreeable.
She would give me little briefings on what to look for if I were going to go out to investigate a small building or store that we learned was for sale. At this juncture, it was premature to think of another large building like the one we already had, but our profits did enable us to contemplate some smaller, accessory operations. How she had become so knowledgeable in these matters is something that I could never fathom, but seeing her in action and listening to her explanations, I could not entertain any doubt about her right to be my tutor and advisor.
We shied away from the purchase of any apartment buildings, concentrating more on commercial real estate, mini-malls, stores and especially office space for doctors, dentists, accountants and other professionals. We felt that rents would flow more smoothly, with fewer enforced collections and defaults.
I rented a modest apartment in this period, and moved out of my parents' house, while Romárlia remained in the apartment she had rented when she first arrived in Zíma. We both could actually have afforded more lavish quarters, but discussing it again and again, we came to an understanding that it would be more beneficial in the long run, if we lived modestly for the time being, earning and saving.
Now that we had more free time, Romárlia resumed her dancing, riding and gymnastics. She cajoled me into taking ballet lessons too, and I did fairly well, although by no means would I ever be a swan of Romárlia's grace. We rode together now and then, renting horses from a local stable and using the bridle paths in Thríscula Park, which nearly encircles Zíma, looping around for miles.
If you had told me what dizzying heights Romárlia had in the back of her mind in those days, I would not have believed it. The average person owning an office building at the age of 20 would feel as if she had make her mark and be content to live the good life that this afforded her. But Romárlia had other things in mind than buying and managing real estate in Zíma. I just didn't know about her dreams and hopes. Perhaps she didn't want to discuss the future she envisioned until she was more certain of the likelihood of its attainment. In that way she would not face the embarrassment of admitting defeat if her aspirations miscarried.
As for me, I had never imagined that I would reach even the position in which we now found ourselves. I had considered advanced studies, thinking that later on I would be a professional in the medical or scientific community, but now I was willing to postpone such studies. I spent more and more time looking for ways to improve and expand our business, with Romárlia always leading the way.
The months rolled on, we worked and saved, and by mid-year in 6509, we were able to buy a second sizable building, selling off some of the smaller stores and offices we had been leasing. The second building was about a quarter-mile from the first, on the same avenue, Lagoon Drive, that circles Lémbaca Lagoon. These were both very smart, modern office buildings, perhaps not the most upscale buildings in Zíma, but very handsome nonetheless.