“Pumasok mutsatsa!” I heard Juanita’s voice inviting me in as I arrived in front of the kitchen door which was facing the garden. Later I found out that mutsatsa meant something like ‘girl-maid’ from the Spanish word ‘muchacha’ - a girl.
Juanita and two young boys were already sitting around a large kitchen table as a young man in a ponytail wearing a pretty feminine bib apron was doing the serving bringing the food to the table. Juanita pointed to a chair and I sat down as she made the introductions.
“Those are my two young boys Mollie, Alphonso who is twelve years old and Ruperto the younger who is 10. Benito with the pretty apron on is my eldest son and my joy and pride at the same time; he is just nineteen and my best assistant both in the house and in the hairdressing salon. Without him I wouldn’t be able to cope.”
I said hello politely but the two young boys simply ignored me, either because they were too hungry or because they were too shy. Benito on the other hand gave me a big smile and said in English with the characteristic Filipino accent, “Hi Mollie, glad to meet you, my mother was eagerly waiting for your arrival. Now I’ll be able to work full time at the beauty salon, the house is yours to run.” He finished his sentence with an effeminate laugh.
Wow! Juanita is setting the rules very fast I thought. I only could answer with a “Yes Ma’am, of course, I understand what you mean.”
She smiled at me but her eyes were cold, I could see it again, this woman was not a very warm person. She simply said this time, “Come on, let’s eat now and after we finish our dinner and before you collapse from jetlag Benito will give you a guided tour of the house and explain to you where everything is. Tomorrow I’ll explain a few more things to you."
As we started eating - and I must say I was starving by then - Juanita added, “This is chicken adobo Mollie one of the most popular Filipino dishes. Needless to say that you have to learn how to cook Filipino food since you are going to take over most of the cooking in this house. Benito and I will show you how to prepare some basic dishes.”
“Of course Ma’am,” I answered as I dug in my plate.
The two boys ate very quickly and went back to their room to catch up with their homework. After we all finished I offered to clear the table and Benito very eagerly started guiding me around the kitchen. I soon realized there was no dishwasher and all dishes and other kitchen utensils were washed by hand. Apart from that the kitchen was quite modern with all the necessary appliances, including a very efficient looking cooking stove.
I offered to do the dishes, but Benito took me by hand and started the guided tour of the house talking all the time in English with his strong Filipino accent.
I instantly noticed that the house though well maintained and equipped was quite dirty and messy. There were clothes thrown on the floor in the three bedrooms and wet towels abandoned in the two bathrooms. There were no bath tubs but shower booths and as Benito explained to me there was permanent hot water from a solar heater in the roof. I smiled as I remembered my primitive shower conditions in my shed.
Benito took me back to the living room where Juanita was sitting in a comfortable sofa watching TV from a large screen mounted on the opposite wall.
She saw us coming muted the screen and smiled in a benign manner, “I guess you saw the mess in the house Mollie, my Benito neglected his cleaning duties during the past few days knowing you were coming and put all his efforts to our beauty shop.”
“I can see that, Mrs. Rodriguez,” I answered remembering to address her the way she liked.
Benito, still wearing his pretty apron, turned to his mother saying in his soft rather effeminate voice, “Mama, I’m going to do the dishes now, Mollie will collapse in a minute from her jetlag; her eyes are nearly closing.”
He was right, my eyes were closing; I was falling asleep standing!
Juanita looked at me and said rather abruptly, “Off you go, Mollie, go to bed and try to have a good sleep. Tomorrow at seven I expect to see you in the kitchen ready for work.”
“Thank you Ma’am,” I managed to say as I started moving towards the back door.
“And Mollie,” Juanita’s voice stopped me, “Please don’t wear shorts tomorrow, just put a dress on and cover it with a full apron; you will find a suitcase under your bed. Inside are Conchita’s old clothes, you can air them tonight; they might be a bit musty after all that time.”
“Yes Mrs. Rodriguez,” I said with a half asleep voice. God, I couldn’t think properly anymore, all I wanted was to be in bed, any bed, I really was so tired. Tomorrow is a new day and I’ll have the chance to organize my room and everything else.
I went through the kitchen where Benito was doing the dishes. From the back he looked like a girl, ponytail and apron adding to that. I said good night in Tagalog, “Magandang magi Benito.”
He answered in English again, ‘Good night Mollie, see you in the morning, it is going to be a long and busy day for you.”
It was about nine o’clock when I went to bed and I instantly collapsed into a dreamless sleep.
I woke up at 4 in the morning feeling hot and sweaty and completely disoriented. For a moment I panicked feeling that I was in the middle of a bad dream. Where on earth was I? Then everything came back to me, the trip, my arrival in Manila, Juanita’s house and my humble dwellings. I was quite awake now. My cotton nightie was soaked from the heat and humidity. I certainly wasn’t at all used to those tropical conditions; my body was too ‘northern’ for that climate.
I couldn’t stay in bed anymore. I got up, turned the shed’s single light on and pulled from under the bed the suitcase that Juanita mentioned before.
In a few minutes I had on the bed a display of old and rather stale smelling clothes. There were several house dresses, simple cotton sleeveless dresses in various patterns and styles, dresses that I would find out later were called ‘duster dresses’ in Philippines, plus a few aprons either half or full with a bib. There were also a couple of maid’s dresses, nothing fancy, just short sleeved front buttoned dresses with white piping around the collar, sleeves and front pockets, one was light blue, the other pink with matching half white aprons. There were also some underwear inside the suitcase, just cotton panties and bras all in a white color that wasn’t that white anymore, it was rather a light shade of grey by now.
I looked at them again and then I looked at my meager belongings in my suitcase, just a few summer items that Conchita let me pack telling me that in Manila I wouldn’t need any wintery clothes and her sister would provide clothes for me. I looked again at the old clothes on the bed and a feeling of despair and abandonment overtook me.
All of a sudden I realized my desperate situation and tears came up to my eyes. I was in a totally alien country all alone with no money and no passport since Juanita took them away, no proper clothes to wear and a bleak and uncertain future in front of me.
With no money and no papers I found myself in a real predicament. I let it all happen pursuing a lifelong fantasy of mine, a fantasy to go down the social ladder and become something like an indentured servant just one step before complete slavery.
The mere thought of that brought to me mixed feelings of despair and excitement, fear and expectations for the unknown.
I dried my eyes and tried to concentrate on more practical matters. Conchita’s hand me downs were my clothes now and I was going to use them. I should ask permission though to wash them all before I started wearing them.
Then I remembered Juanita’s instructions, I had to wear a dress and apron tomorrow morning and I had not such an item in my suitcase, just T shirts, shorts and jeans. I decided to wear a maid’s dress and apron to please Juanita. I picked the blue dress that appeared to be in a better condition and put it in a hanger outside my shed door to air it a bit. I put the rest of the clothes away in a pile and went back to bed to rest for a couple of hours. Juanita wanted me in the house at 7 am and it was already 5 am now.
I fell asleep again for over an hour and I frantically jumped out of bed when I looked at my cheap wrist watch; it was 6:30 am already.
It was day light when I went quickly to my toilet shed for a brief cold water wash. I rinsed my nightie in the sink to take away the night’s sweat and dressed in my maid’s dress that fitted fairly well, in fact it was a bit loose; I must have lost some weight during the past few days. I looked at myself in an old broken mirror in front of the sink. My dark complexion was still there. My eyes without any makeup and eye liner on and my jet black hair kept in the back with a simple elastic band gave me a more European look now, a more Mediterranean rather than Asian look.
I smiled at myself as I tied my apron on. Probably it would be more exotic for a Filipino middle class family to employ a European as a live in maid, that would be like a revenge for all those Filipinas who worked as maids all over the world.
I looked at my watch again; it was minutes before 7 am. I walked timidly towards the kitchen door and knocked.
I heard Juanita’s voice from the inside. “ Pumasok mutsatsa!”