by Monica Graz
I was pushing my huge cleaning cart emptying the waste baskets and getting ready to visit the three toilet complexes that I was responsible for. It was about 11.30 am, peak time for Malpensa airport and people were wheezing around me without paying any attention to the cleaner.
I stopped briefly and looked at the passport queue. The EU citizens were moving very fast, their passports barely checked. The non EU citizens’ queue was at a standstill, passports thoroughly checked, visas required.
A faint smile appeared at the edge of my lips as I remembered myself arriving in
Milan some months ago as Julia a citizen
looking at the exhausted migrant cleaner pushing her cart. UK
Now I was this exhausted migrant cleaner. I looked at the plasticized card that I had to wear around my neck. ‘Molegunda Apuya – airport cleaner’ it said and the photo attached was my Filipino passport photo the one in which I was dressed in a maid’s uniform. Today I had to start my shift at 6.00 am and I was going to finish at 1.00pm, seven continuous hours of hard manual labor except for a fifteen minutes break at 10.00 am for a coffee and sandwich courtesy of the airport catering services.
I looked at my cheap wrist watch, I had to rush and start the cleaning of the toilets, as I would need at least one full hour to finish cleaning the three complexes, each one containing six WCs three for men and three for women plus a toilet for people with disabilities. I smiled to myself when I thought of it. In an hour give or take I had to clean twenty one toilets!?... And I had to work around people in a rush all the time. I had to block each complex for twenty minutes, put the label ‘cleaning in process – mind the wet floor’ and really attack the mess people tend to leave behind. Men were usually more disgusting than women peeing quite often all over the toilet bowl.
My only consolation when I was doing the toilets was that I was aloud to wear rubber gloves. That gave me some sort of protection from all sorts of germs, thank God for that.
I was heading for my first toilet complex when I saw an airport security guard, walking fast towards me waving at the same time.
He stopped in front of me in a few seconds, looked at my plasticized card and said, a tone of urgency in his voice, “Molegunda, just follow me, A young boy got sick and made a mess in the waiting area of gate 34, not far from here, you have to clean it.”
“Yes Sir,” I answered knowing that I had no option; I had to do what I was told.
My heart sunk when I saw the mess. I put my rubber gloves on and I started the disgusting job of cleaning the vomit of a young boy all over a chair and the floor. The smell was obnoxious and everybody moved several feet away of me as I was doing my job.
As I was working I could hear some comments around me.
A man’s voice was saying, “Thank God for those poor migrant cleaners that come from the other end of the world to literally clean all our messes. Can you imagine an Italian or any other Western woman doing that job?’
And a woman’s voice answering, “Of course not. God knows where this girl is coming from. She looks Filipina to me, but she could also be Indonesian or even Sri Lankan. Probably she has already several children back home relying on her for their survival.”
“No Sri Lankans are definitely darker than her, she is a Filipina, I saw her name before,” I heard the man’s voice again.
“Perhaps you are too observant, dear,” I heard the woman’s voice again being ironical then I lost their voices as they moved away.
As I finished cleaning the parents of the little boy approached me and the mother put discreetly in my hands a two Euros coin with a thank you.
I blushed and tried to refuse it but she insisted telling me, “Keep it dear, have a coffee on us, you did a great job.”
“Thank you Ma’am,” I answered truthfully because for over a week that I was working at the airport this was my first human moment, the first time ever someone talked to me in a kind manner.
I looked at my watch again as I started pushing my cart towards the toilets, I really and truly had to rush now, I was running out of time.
As I started cleaning the first toilet complex my mind drifted away to the events of the past week with mixed feelings.
The ungodly hour I had to get up to be at work at 6.00 am. The two buses I had to take, the people traveling in them mostly migrant domestic workers like me. Then the return to Signora’s house which took me more than two hours. I usually was back after 3.00pm. Conchita and Riana were right; all I wanted when back was a hot shower and a rest.
But of course I still had to contribute in the house. At about 7.00 pm back in uniform I had to help Conchita with the dinner preparations and in some occasions I even had to serve the evening meal.
I was in bed by 10.00 pm with a tiny television always on watching from a satellite channel Filipino soapies. I was falling asleep with the TV on. Conchita was certain that during my sleep I was absorbing the language, something like Hypnopaedia the wonderful Greek world for sleep learning. The alarm was set for 4.00 am. I would quickly prepare, put my cheap clothes on and start traveling at 4.30 to be at my airport work at 6.00 am.
Jennifer Connolly and Daniela Bonifacio were both right as well. I was certainly living in a protected environment before, being a live-in maid in Signora’s house however harsh the work was. Now I was exposed to the real life hardship of a migrant domestic worker.
I was about to finish the floor moping of the first toilet complex and move to the next one pushing my oversized cart when I froze in my tracks by the sound of a familiar very posh sounding English voice right behind me.
“Well, well, look at you Molly, the Filipina airport cleaner. I knew I would find you somehow!”
I turned around, feeling that I was blushing all over though I wasn’t certain if that could be visible because of my dark skin, and of course I came face to face with Jennifer, looking the epitome of elegance, carrying a small suitcase the kind you could take aboard the plane with you.
“Halo Mum,” I said reluctantly remembering my Filipino accent, not knowing how to handle her in a public space like this. My instructions were very specific from the cleaning supervisor, stay away from any conversations or any other kind of familiarity with the passengers, just do your assigned job quietly and efficiently.
Jennifer kept looking at me an amused look in her face. “This uniform is even more elegant than the one you are wearing in Signora Matei’s house; I love in particular your comfy tabard - pinny that protects your dress from all the impurities of this vast crowd.” She said ironically, a smirk in her face
I decided to be more direct with her, a security guard was already looking towards our direction, “Sorry Mum, me not allow talk to passengers, have to keep doing my job and have two more toilet complex like dis one to clean bepore de end op my shipt.” I said in excellent Filipino English in a half illiterate mode.
“What a Filipina you became, this accent is so much like the maids in the Consulate,” She said and then continued in a more teasing and ironical tone “Isn’t that exciting Molly, having to clean all those toilets?”
By that stage the security guard was standing next to us. He ignored me and turned to Jennifer, “Is everything all right Miss?”
Jennifer looked at him impatiently, “Of course, everything is fine, I just said to your cleaner here to be careful with the wet floor, it has to dry completely before she removes the ‘wet floor - mind your step’ label.
“Certainly Miss,” he answered formally seeing Jennifer’s haughty look, “I am sure our cleaner is aware of that, she has strict instructions about that, she could be dismissed if she is not careful.”
“I’m glad to hear that officer,” Jennifer answered back giving a last contemptuous look at me as she turned and started to walk towards her gate.
I watched her back as she was moving so elegantly, her fashionable clothes fitting perfectly. She clearly was flying back to
for work or pleasure or both. London
I looked down at me as I started pushing my cart, my drab uniform, my heavy clogs, my mops, brooms and dusters protruding from the cart. Was I jealous of Jennifer, her good job her elegant clothes, her prospects in life?
A jolt of pleasure in my spine like an electric shock gave me the answer to that. No I was more satisfied in my present station in life. My submissive slave genes were kicking on again. I was exhausted but not regretting anything that happened to me the past few months. I couldn’t help it though of being apprehensive about my Filipino future as planned by Signora. I had this strong feeling that after my two weeks job at the airport I was going to depart from
. Where, how, for
how long were unknown factors to me and also a source of anxiety. Milan
I looked at my watch again as I arrived at the second toilet complex. It was already past midday, I had less than an hour to finish two more toilets complexes, I should really rush now!