by Monica Graz
I was standing in front of Signora, head slightly bowed, hands crossed in front of my apron. As usual, I was all messy after a whole morning of scrubbing and cleaning, but Signora couldn’t care less. I was there to serve her and strictly follow orders regardless of how demeaning they could be.
- How are you doing with your Filipino education, Molly? - she asked rather casually. - Is your Tagalog improving? Conchita believes that you are an eager pupil though you have so much Western influence in you that becoming an Asian girl requires probably more drastic steps.
I looked at her timidly, not knowing once more how to answer to that, not to mention that my poor Italian was a constant obstacle to fully expressing myself.
- My Tagalog is getting better, Signora, though when I am among other Filipinas I miss quite a bit, they speak far too fast for me. But Conchita is a good teacher; she speaks slowly and emphasizes the various aspects of the language, - I said hesitantly.
Wow! I managed to say it all in my bad Italian.
Signora wasn’t impressed at all, she simply nodded and continued: “Conchita explained to you the other day what your new identity appears to be, Filipino father, Romanian mother, etc...”
- Si Signora, - I answered with a slight curtsey.
- Let me ask you a few more personal questions, girl, - Signora said with a slight excitement in her voice.
- Tell me once more your real family situation, father, mother, other relatives?
- I am a single child, Signora, no siblings, father Canadian, mother English, they divorced when I was a teenager, father went back to Canada and mother remarried and recently emigrated to Australia. Basically, I am on my own, Signora. My parents made an effort to give me a proper education and then left me on my own. Now they think I am in Italy working a prestigious job.
- Prestigious job indeed! - Signora said ironically looking at me for the first time.
- Your work clothes are truly elegant, the latest in fashion, my dear, - she continued in the same sarcastic manner.
- Si Signora, - I curtseyed once more looking down at my stained dress and apron and wooden clogs, my truly ‘elegant clothes’.
And yet I was excited because of that. How odd human nature can be!
- Going back to what I was telling you before, Molly, - Signora continued. - It seems that you are more or less on your own and you will not be greatly missed by anyone close to you.
- It’s true Signora, - I answered truthfully. - I am basically alone in this world and I feel that as my employer and mentor you are the only person I can feel close to.”
Signora looked pleased.
- Mentor you said; I like that, Molly, because I feel that you are like putty in my hands and I can mold you to anything I like.
She looked at me, a sardonic smile on her face, adding, “and this time I think I know what I am going to do with my putty.”
I felt a bit puzzled and worried with all that putty business and I was about to ask for an explanation when I saw with the corner of my eye Signorina Bonifacio approaching fast, holding a dossier in her hands.
I felt uneasy when I saw her coming so purposefully, I always felt quite intimidated by her in a totally different manner than to Signora. who was, after all, my indisputable boss and, would I dare say, ‘owner’.
Signorina Bonifacio was quite cruel and cold towards me, as if I was a waste of her time, and that made me feel always wary in her presence. Signora saw her coming and her eyes brightened: "Ah Daniela, just on time. I trust you must have concluded your small project. Come and sit here next to me, I am all ears.”
She turned to me and added: "You better stay Molly and listen carefully, signorina Bonifacio’s project is about you and your imminent transformation.”
A mixture of excitement, anxiety and fear overtook me as I looked at both ladies sitting comfortably on the couch. Signorina Bonifacio gave me one of her looks, a mixture of contempt and disdain as I
continued standing awkwardly in front of them playing nervously with the edge of my apron. She looked with the utmost respect towards Signora as she started explaining her ‘project’.
- I tried to keep the costs as low as possible, Signora, as you advised me; all we care about now is how to change Molly’s external appearance because she already is a Filipina maid at heart, aren’t you girl? - She gave me a cold and ironical look.
I gave her a small curtsey saying at the same time in my bad Italian: “Certo Signorina,, yo so una serva filipinesa”
I used the term ‘filipinesa’, which was very demeaning in Italy, typically meaning someone very low in social status, someone who was the last in the society's pecking order.
Daniela Bonifacio looked back at Signora Matei, who was clearly amused with this manifestation of power towards me, and continued: “We need just five steps for the complete transformation, five easy steps without any doctor’s interference or any kind of operation:
Step 1: Permanent darkening of the skin. There is a magical plant coming from East Africa, it is called ‘bishop’s weed’. It exists on the market in capsules, I already ordered it through Internet, it will be here in a couple of days. Molly will be taking a capsule twice a day and we shall see results in two weeks time. Then she will have to lower the dose and take a pill every second day for maintenance purposes. No side effects and the results are spectacular, I saw case photos.
Step 2: Contact lenses to change the colour of her eyes from green to dark brown. All we need here is a visit to a good optician.
Step 3: Get her eyebrows waxed to create more space between eye and eyebrow. Then shape the eyebrows so that the eye appears smaller and more slanted. She has to visit your beautician for that, Signora.
Step 4: The same beautician can reshape her lips and use a permanent solution to make them look paler. Molly has naturally red lips and this is not an Asian characteristic.
Step 5 and final: that step already happened. Molly has now jet black straight hair. The question is if we have to cut them shorter for practical reasons. Maids don’t generally need long hair which can be unhygienic and not appropriate for the work they do.”
Daniela stopped to catch her breath and Signora clapped slightly.
- Very good Daniela, I am impressed, your project seems very feasible and economical. How much time we need to have her completely ready for her passport photos?
I was standing in front of them completely ignored. They were talking about my future in front of me as if I wasn’t even there. I felt like an object again. Just as well that Signora hasn’t asked me to go to the corner and cover myself with my stained apron.
- In two weeks time she can be ready Signora, and she won’t lose any valuable time from her work here, except of course for the brief visits to the beautician and the optician. I can organize those appointments if you want.
- That would be an excellent idea, Daniela, go ahead and do it. And as soon as Molly is a true filipinesa she can go and work for a few weeks at Malpensa airport. Conchita has a friend working there and I understand that Molly expressed an interest to see how it is to work outside a private home. Isn’t that true Molly?
Signora acknowledged my presence again.
- Si Signora, - I answered truthfully. - I asked Riana, who is Cochita’s friend, how was it to work as an airport cleaner and her answer was, come and see for yourself Molly.
Daniela couldn’t avoid making another sarcastic comment: “Good for you Molly, go to Malpensa and clean a few hundred public toilets, that will teach you true humility in life.”
Signora raised her hand to silence both of us.
- That’s settled then. As of tomorrow we start the final stage of Molly’s transformation to a true filipinesa maid.
She looked at me more strictly: “You can go back to work now, Molly, enough of this idleness, you have to catch up with your floor scrubbing.”
“Si Signora, certo Signora,” I answered, curtseying deeper than I did usually. I picked up my mop and bucket and moved towards the stairs, as Signora Matei and Signorina Bonifacio continued chatting amicably.