London, England, 1986
It was hard enough being intelligent, ambitious and educated for a woman looking for a job in the City, but being English of Jamaican parentage didn't make things any easier.
It didn't help that her Mama burdened her with the Christian name, Shaniqua, to go with the equally awkward family name of Bumrod. When she didn't get an intership with a City bank upon graduating Christ Church in Oxford with first class degree with honours in Economics, she put it down to her name, so by deed poll she transformed herself into Fiona Wainright and thereafter had no trouble finding interviews.
Once on the interview list, she soon landed a starting position in the Corporate Communications department of a major American bank who had just gobbled up and mashed together a merchant bank, two brokers and a jobber.
It was Shaniqua's, pardon, Fiona's, mission within the team to find ways of convincing the English that they should either start thinking with an American focus on the bottom line or find another opportunity elsewhere.
Fiona loved the work. She loved awakening every morning to Mama's coffee and bami or ackee and scrambled eggs, getting on the train from Lewisham to London Bridge, walking across London Bridge with the herds and taking up her post in the last row of the brand new open plan trading floor that stretched out across a vast expanse encased by tall, plate glass windows that flooded light into the working environment from every direction. The open outcry Stock Exchange trading floor had been closed for less than a year but already brutish barrow boys and slick ex-Guards gentlemen were working the multi-line telphones and price screens as if there had never been any other way of trading. It was noisy, vibrant and fun. Champagne flowed at lunch. Wine after work. Cocaine was everywhere and Fiona was in demand as the 'dusky' brain with a body to go with it.
Her desk was her domaine. Whatever was asked of her, no matter how late it took her into the night to deliver, she delivered. She gathered influence, minute by minute, day by day, scrap by scrap until Directors and Chairman consulted her before taking important decisions.
She was overvalued and underpaid and she knew it. But every time she pressed for more she got the same answer.
'Sorry luvie, you are a cost centre not a revenue centre and costs must be kept down.'
Her father was a bus driver for London Transport and it was not until she discovered that his union pension fund was being managed by the bank did she find the opportunity to improve her potential income. But that opportunity would come at a price.
She would be forced to choose between defrauding the owners of that pension fund, working people like her father and mother, or being shut out of the world she desparately wanted to become part of.
It was a dilemma that would imperil her own life as well as the well being and prosperity of people she loved. Was it a price worth paying? Can we move up without stepping on those left behind?