When Signora Moretti departed I had the chance to inspect more carefully my new room. It was tiny and hot but I noticed a small ceiling fan. I managed to start it by turning a switch next to the door and a soothing current of air embodied me gently.
I inspected the tiny bathroom as well and I found in the wall above the toilet a small window looking to some sort of back balcony. That was a huge relief because I started having claustrophobic feelings in the windowless room.
I looked more carefully at the uniforms in the closet. They all looked brand new; six different dresses plain or stripy were hanging in various pale colors. Nothing unusual there, typical front buttoned maids’ dresses with the usual white collar, and white piping around the short sleeves and the front pockets. I felt the material, light but hardwearing polycoton material, the right kind for multiple washes. Next I saw two more dresses a dark blue one still plain looking and a fancier black one with a lace collar, clearly the ones for formal use as Signora Moretti mentioned before. Then I noticed a dark green tunic and matching trousers with an elasticized waist, the kind that hospital orderlies wear. That puzzled me a bit; I couldn’t imagine myself wearing something like that.
I also saw several aprons of all kinds and plain cotton underwear, several bras and panties in a dull cream color, nothing fancy there as well.
There was a full size mirror in one of the closet’s doors. I removed my clothes and for the first time in months I was able to look at myself completely naked.
I was shocked, to put it mildly, with what I saw. I saw a rather small skinny woman looking back at me. I must have lost several pounds during my stay in Manila; the endless hours of manual labor plus the tropical heat and the rather poor quality of food I was allowed to eat created that effect.
My skin was a shade darker since I left Milan some months ago. I never stopped taking the ‘bishop’s weed’ pill, one every second day, I still had a good supply of those. But I also noticed that my face skin was dry since I couldn’t afford to buy any kind of moisturizer cream. I then looked at my rough hands with chipped nails, the hands of a manual laborer. Even if I wanted, I couldn’t hide it anymore; after several months of being a domestic servant I looked the part even without my maid’s uniform on, my badge of servitude.
‘Stop flannelling Molly Apuya, your new Mistress is waiting for you.’ I murmured as I rushed to the tiny bathroom to have a shower.
Half an hour later quite refreshed after a cold shower, again no hot water in my bathroom, but I was used to that after the months I spent in Manila, dressed in a uniform dress and a full white apron I timidly walked back to the kitchen. I looked at the big clock in the wall above the gigantic fridge. It was 3.00pm Singapore time.
I stood awkwardly in the middle of the room not knowing what to do when Signora Moretti came in holding a mug of coffee in her hands.
“I thought I heard you coming in Molly,” she said in English looking at me with a critical eye.
She had a sip from her mug pointing at a French press coffee maker on a bench top. “Now you look as you should with your uniform dress and full apron on, a proper domestic servant. Help yourself to some coffee; you probably need a shot of caffeine before you collapse from jet lag.”
“Thank you Ma’am,” I answered in my Pidgin English, slightly curtseying at the same time and then I went and served myself some coffee.
She sat down in one of the kitchen chairs putting the mug on the table. She made me feel uncomfortable as she kept looking at me in an amused and faintly ironical way. She was simply dressed wearing just a summer dress and yet she was elegant and chic like only Italian and French women of a certain class could be.
I felt small and insignificant standing in front of her dressed in my cheap and ugly uniform, like a prison inmate. As I should have expected, she never asked me to sit down and after another sip of her coffee she said casually, “You probably don’t know that but Signora Matei and I are very close friends and we go quite a way back. She confides to me a lot and just before my husband took that post at Singapore as the no2 of the Italian embassy, she told me everything about you and I mean everything. I know all the details about Julia and how she became gradually Molly the Filipina maid.”
I felt a strange lewd shudder as I heard those words from Signora. Was that excitement? My feet were trembling and I was blushing furiously as I asked her hesitantly remembering my training in Housemaids Academy, “May I speak Ma’am?”
She looked at me amusingly saying, “Yes, you may Molly.”
For the first time in months I spoke in proper English, realizing with some trepidation that it wasn’t that straightforward anymore. I had to make an effort to find the right words avoiding at the same time my funny Filipino accent.
“It is probably for the best Ma’am that you know where I come from. It took me months to reach that stage and be able to arrive here as a Filipina FDW. I know it is a peculiar path the path I took, but somehow I can’t stop it; the impulse to continue in this path is beyond my logical capabilities, it is a strong inner need. Signora Matei called it once a vocation.”
I stopped to look at her worrying that she might get crossed with me. Probably it wasn’t my place to try involving her in my inner troubles and problems.
Her look had something professional when she answered me, “You know Molly, before I gave up my career to follow my diplomat husband around the world I was a registered psychologist dealing with all sorts of disorders, But I must admit your disorder fascinates me, I never met another person like you who wants to go down the social ladder so dramatically and also willing to change her identity and even her ethnicity. It’s quite unbelievable.”
I looked at her surprised, almost flattered. Nobody before approached my case from that angle. I was about to thank her when she continued rather more briskly this time.
“You must know though, before you reach the wrong conclusions that like Signora Matei I enjoy having a person like you in my employ. You are going to be a true servant in this house. After all you arrived here as a FDW and you will follow all the procedures and formalities required by the local authorities. And like Signora Matei I expect you to be down on your hands and knees scrubbing floors when needed. But we have time to come to the details of your employment here.”
That brought me back to reality and I managed to say with a slight curtsey, getting back to my Pidgin English in a Filipino accent. “Of course Ma’am, I understand fully Ma’am!”
And as if she remembered something else Signora Moretti added, “And be aware that your Julia secret is only between you and me. Everybody else including my husband Dr. Moretti and of course my two children who you will meet later today and everybody else concerned in this city know only your so called official CV, the half Filipino half Rumanian gypsy woman who was born and brought up in Europe and later in her life went to Philippines trying to locate her father’s relatives. Is that clear girl?”
“Yes Ma’am, it’s absolutely clear Ma’am,” I answered with another small curtsey.
“And Molly,” she added again, “Make sure to maintain your bad Pidgin English when you come in contact with people here. You should never forget who you are now, a Filipina maid with the minimum knowledge of English. Now you finish your coffee and then we can talk about more practical matters. I guess I should give you a guided tour to the house.”