I was still shaken by the reception I had from the immigration officers. Such arrogance! The passport control officer after scrutinizing my passport and my visa asked the obvious question in Chinese sounded English, ‘Do you understand English, Miss Apuya?’
‘Yes, sir, I do’, I answered timidly using my Filipino adopted accent.
‘Can I see the other papers you have? Education diploma etc?’
I showed him the papers I was carrying. He looked at them very carefully as I was becoming more and more anxious. What if he could see that my education diploma was false? Or even my passport for that matter? I was profusely sweating feeling my cheap lycra blouse sticking in my skin.
He finally gave me back the papers and waved me in. What a relief!
The customs officer, an Indian looking lady was slightly more sympathetic. She knew instantly of course. She looked at my passport and simply asked, ‘Are you here to work as a maid?’
‘Yes, Ma’am, I am.’ I answered remembering the advice in the Housemaids Academy that unless I was told otherwise everybody talking to me has to be addressed as Sir or Ma’am..
‘Welcome to Singapore,” she added without even bother to look at my suitcase. She simply indicated to me to proceed to the ‘nothing to declare’ exit.
As I came out to the very impressive Arrivals Hall carrying my few belongings I started looking for my name among the many people waving little placards, mostly representatives of various hotels looking for arriving guests. I got worried again, thinking of the negative scenario that nobody would be there for me and then what. Going back to the authorities and ask for what? To send me back? And who was going to pay for my ticket?
And suddenly I saw it, ‘Molly Apuya’. A very tall bearded and turbaned Indian was holding it looking already towards me. Did he guess? Did I look that obvious?
He must be a Sikh I said to myself, remembering that in Singapore there was a sizable Indian population and among them quite a number of Sikhs being usually taxi drivers or private security officers, remnants of the period that Singapore was part of the British Empire.
I waved at him with a hint of a smile and started walking towards his direction.
He smiled back his gleaming white teeth protruding.
“Are you Molly Apuya?” He asked in his singing accent
“Yes sir, I am,” I answered feeling relieved that someone was there for me.
“My name is Amritral Singh, but you can call me ‘Mr. Singh’, my first name is difficult for people outside our Sikh community.”
“Glad to meet you Mr. Singh,” I answered back a bit hesitantly waiting for his next move.
“I am the driver of Dr. and Mrs. Moretti, your new employers. Follow me please, we are going to the parking lot and then I’ll drive you to the house.”
Without any other word he turned and started walking with long strides towards the exit and I followed behind pulling my suitcase, nearly running in fact in order to keep in pace with him. Under other conditions I would have expected him to offer carrying my suitcase but with a bitter smile I realized that this wasn’t the case anymore. I wasn’t part of the privileged classes anymore.
As I was walking fast I was thinking about the name I just heard, ‘Dr. Moretti’. It sounded Italian and somehow familiar to me. Have I met a person with that name in the past?
And suddenly it clicked to me and I nearly lost my balance as I was nearly running now to catch up with the fast walking Mr. Singh.
I had met Dr. and Mrs.Moretti in an indirect way; I had served them as a maid in one of Signora Matei’s famous dinner parties. I was the one who wrote the little name tags and put them on the dinner table. I also remembered that Dr. Moretti was an active diplomat. Wow! Now it all started making sense to me, Signora Mattei had clearly put her finger in it. I went full circle and I am back in my Italian environment even as far away as in Singapore!
I also remembered that at the same dinner party my old friend and current young British diplomat Jennifer Connolly was present.
I was still in shock as I sat next to Mr. Singh who was driving an expensive SUV through the ultra modern highways of Singapore. He said a few words to me as we were driving, pointing to various landmarks of the City State. I was quite impressed of course but at the same time I was trying to gather my thoughts and try to understand what was happening.
My new employers must have been fully aware whom they were about to employ. They clearly knew who I was and they specifically asked for me through the domestic agency. What I wasn’t able to tell is if they were simply employing me because I was someone with a European background or if they did have an ulterior motive not known to me at this stage. And did they know the full Julia story or the version of the half Filipino orphan girl born and raised in Rumania? I sighed thinking that very soon I would know more.
I was deeply absorbed in my thoughts when I heard the singing voice of Mr. Singh as he was stopping the car in front of a big metal gate, “Here we are Molly and in a minute you will see the residence of the Moretti family.”
He said it as he pressed the button of a remote control device and the gate started to open slowly. We drove for a few more meters and he opened with the same remote control a large garage door where he parked the big SUV next to a small dark green mini. We were inside the house now.
My heart was racing as I stepped out of the car. I instantly felt the tropical heat after being in the SUV’s strong A/C environment and I started sweating again. I badly needed a shower.
Mr. Singh beckoned me again to follow him and we entered to the house through a side door. We crossed a small corridor with doors in both sides and immediately after I found myself in the middle of a large and modern kitchen. I felt the A/C again; it appears that the house has a centrally installed air conditioning system I thought.
Mr. Singh went back to the garage and at the same moment a very elegant woman dressed in a sleeveless summer dress entered from the other side.
“Bienvenuto a Singapore Molly,” she said in Italian, “Yo sono Signora Laura Moretti” then she continued in English with her lovely Italian accent, “I saw you briefly in Milan some months ago in one of Signora Mattei’s famous dinner parties, you were serving that night and I liked your efficiency.”
“Grazie Signora”, I said nearly curtseying starting to feel uncomfortable without a uniform on.
Signora Moretti picked that because she said, “I can see that you are tired, hot and disheveled, not the right image for a housemaid, so I’ll take you to your room, you can have a shower put a uniform on and then we can talk and I’ll explain to you your duties in this house and not only. Please follow me.”
She walked back to the corridor towards the garage and opened one of the two doors. I came behind her and I entered a small windowless room just big enough for a single bed, a small dressing table and a closet in one corner. She went straight to the closet and opened it. I saw several dresses hanging plus other items that looked like underwear and aprons.
She turned to me again, “You have several polycoton uniform dresses hanging in this closet, pick anyone you want after your shower except of course for the dark blue or the black one which are for more formal occasions. You will find matching aprons and some cotton underwear; the domestic agency sent me your size so I hope they will fit.”
She then went to the far corner of the room where she pulled a plastic curtain and revealed a miniscule WC shower facility with a small basin in one side and a toilet bowl in the other
“This is your bathroom Molly; make sure that you use only this facility for your needs, all the other bathrooms in this house you will be visiting only during your cleaning duties. Is that clear?”
“Si Signora,” I answered curtseying properly this time.
“Right, I leave you to it; see you back in the kitchen when you are ready.”
“Grazie Signora,” I said insisting on my Italian and realizing at the same time that there was no air-conditioning in the little room because I started feeling sticky again.