Saturday, September 27, 2014
Story: Departing from Milan. Part 1.
I was dressed in a quite simple manner when Conchita took me out to meet her Filipino friends that warm Sunday afternoon. It has been the first time I wasn’t wearing my maid’s uniform since I arrived in Signora’s house two months ago; the first day I had the chance to go out as a ‘normal person’.
Since I had no other clothes except my maid’s uniforms, Conchita gave me an outfit to wear and I was dressed following her instructions. A pair of black cropped trousers, a pink polyester blouse of some sort of cheap glittery material, a pair of canvas shoes, a silver cross around my neck as my single piece of jewelry. I kept my jet black hair in a tight high ponytail and I had very little makeup on simply to emphasize my more oriental looking eyes.
I secretly smiled thinking that Julia my old self wouldn’t be seen dead in that outfit. And yet, Molly the Filipino maid was looking quite natural in it.
I felt funny and nearly guilty when I went out of the house without a uniform dress on plus my obligatory apron. My hands were trying automatically to smooth my nonexistent apron front.
During the bus ride Conchita explained to me whom we were going to meet and what was expected of me.
“Molly, you are going to meet three of my best friends in this city. Bonita, Linda and Riana. They are working in Milan for several years. Bonita and Linda are live-in maids like you and me, but Riana is employed by a cleaning firm. At the moment she is working at Malpensa airport.”
I instantly thought of the cleaner I saw when I arrived in Milan two months ago: pushing her cleaning cart and looking so tired and disheveled. Could that have been Riana I wondered?
Then I heard Conchita’s voice again lecturing me in her pidgin Italian with Tagalog words thrown in. I really had to concentrate to understand what she was talking about having to cope with the noisy bus as well.
“Now girl, my friends know nothing of an educated English girl called Julia. All they know is that you are Molly the second maid in Signora’s house. You are a mixed race person born somewhere in Eastern Europe, Romania if I remember well, and grown up there in an orphanage until you were able to come to Italy to work with semi-legal papers organized by Signora Matei. Now she tries to obtain a Filipino passport for you since she found out that your father was of Filipino origin. Of course she is using her influential friends and some money to manage that”
I stood there open mouthed looking at her, “I never heard that story before Conchita, nobody told me. Signora never mentioned that to me. An orphan? A Filipino father?”
“I tell you now girl!” Conchita said emphatically. “Signora authorized me to explain that to you. Signorina Bonifacio was going to inform you, but she is away for the weekend, so Signora asked me to tell you before you meet my friends. Do you have any objection to that, Molly?”
I still looked open mouthed at her, but somehow I felt a sinister pleasure hearing all that, a completely new identity was created for me. A Filipino passport? How weird. But then again, I was becoming a Filipino maid fast, wasn’t I?
So I simply said in a humorous way, “Well I guess we are fellow Filipinas now
Conchita, aren’t we?”
She laughed, rather nastily I thought, adding, “You have a long way to go girl to become a proper Filipina. You still have to learn to speak Tagalog correctly plus, of course, you still have to develop the right attitude towards your betters in life. ”
I felt slightly uneasy when I heard this last phrase, it sounded like a threat to me. But then she hastily added, “Get ready, we get off at the next station. Try to speak to my friends with that mixture of Italian and Tagalog as we communicate together. Don’t even dream of using any English words. Capiche, ragazza?”
“Ho capito, Signora Conchita,” I answered slightly ironically, but I could see from her pleased expression that she liked to be addressed as Signora.
Soon we all were sitting around a table at a downtown cafeteria sipping our soft drinks and eating ice cream. The girls were pleasant enough to me, but they soon lost interest since my language skills were limited. When they asked me what I would consider my native language I answered without much thought, “but Romanian of course, I grew up there.”
They all giggled saying happily that they didn’t know a single Romanian word and continued chatting quite fast in Tagalog with the occasional Italian and English
I was looking at Riana trying to remember if this was the cleaner I saw two months ago at the airport but I couldn’t tell, I wasn’t certain. She sensed my looking at her and she turned and started talking very slowly in Italian to me.
“You know Molly; now that you found your Filipino roots you should go back there and get the feeling of your country of origin. Conchita mentioned that your Mistress Signora Matei is getting a passport for you. That would give you the chance to travel, but make sure that you have a visa to come back. Your employer must endorse you otherwise you will not be able to come back unless of course you enroll in Manila in one of those domestic agencies that send maids abroad. But then they could send you anywhere in the world from Singapore to the Middle East.”
I looked at her quite frightened, realizing that with my new identity my movements would be quite restricted and always in collaboration with a potential employer. I
heard and read in the internet quite a few horror stories about maids being abused
sexually and treated literally like slaves in Asia and some Middle Eastern countries.
All of a sudden a cloud of doubts encircled me. Was I carrying my fantasy a bit too
far? Should I start thinking of an escape route? And Riana, as if she understood my fears, added, “This is why it is to your interest, Molly, to stay with Signora Matei who, however strict and demanding she can be, certainly takes good care of her servants. This is the impression I got from Conchita who is quite happy working for her.”
“I am too,” I added hastily remembering at the same time that Signora was keeping my British passport under lock and key and I had no access to it since my arrival.
Plus she was going to all that trouble to create a new identity for me, something that would undoubtedly cost her a considerable sum of money. At the moment I wasn’t certain if I should be pleased or worried about it.
Riana continued chatting with me as the other three were happily gossiping, giggling like schoolgirls.
“Do you have any experience, Molly, working outside a house? Have you ever worked in public spaces like cleaning office buildings or public transport places like the airport where I work at the moment?”
I got very interested when I heard her talking about her work. I still had a fascination and a strong fantasy to work in one of those places.
“No, Riana, I never worked in any public space and I often wonder how it is. Is it
harder than working as a housemaid?”
“It is different,” Riana answered without hesitation. “Though you are supervised from a distance you are basically alone surrounded by hundreds of people who simply ignore you. I am always fascinated how alone I am in the middle of all that havoc. I quite like it though to tell you the truth. As I move around pushing my cleaning cart I secretly watch all those faces happy, anxious, shifty, worried etc.”
I was fascinated by her description; I wish I could do it for a bit, just to get the feeling of being a lowly cleaner among all those travelers.
“I wouldn’t mind working for a bit in a public space like the airport,” I said,
spontaneously expressing openly one of my secret fantasies. “But of course it is not up to me to decide; Signora is my employer and Conchita as a senior maid has to talk to her.”
Riana who clearly seemed to take a liking to me said, “Leave it to me Molly, I’ll talk to Conchita, I might convince her to persuade Signora to let you go for a couple of weeks. After all she was coping alone in Signora’s mansion before you turned up.”
I didn’t have time to answer because the other three stopped chatting and started
getting ready to go. Our day off was about to finish, we had to head back to our