Sunday, September 6, 2015

Story: Molly in Singapore. Part 4.

This is an experiment for me. As much as I admire Monica Graz's writing I had still been bombarding her with endless ideas and suggestions. As I result she has kindly agreed to allow me to write a chapter of my own. The next chapter will come from Monica herself, possibly followed by one from me.

Molly in Singapore. Part 4.

by Camille Langtry I was sitting in a small room with a table and two chairs and nothing else. The grey door was shut. There was a mirror, taking up half of the wall to my right. I’ve seen enough movies to know that in reality it was a one-sided window that allowed people from an adjoining room to monitor me. I didn’t know how long I’ve been there, but it must have been a while.  Suddenly the door opened and a Chinese officer in a navy blue uniform entered, holding a thin folder, and set in front of me.

“Do you know why you are here?” he said by way of introduction.

I nodded nervously and the officer took it for a “yes”. He opened the folder and took out my passport and several pieces of paper.

“Are you Molegunda Angelica Apuya, born on September 10, 1986 in Romania?”

“Yes, sir, I am, sir.”

The officer shook his head disapprovingly and put my passport away.

“We both know this is not true, Molly. Or, shall, I say… - he grabbed a piece of paper from the folder and read from it in a rather dramatic manner - Julia Ann Simmons, born on September 10, 1986 in London, the United Kingdom?”

I was shocked. How did he find out? I thought all the documents prepared for me were in perfect order! Shall I admit it or continue to pretend I am what my Filipino passport says? My mind was racing as I was struggling to come up with a good explanation, something to get me out of this room.

“You don’t look Filipino at all to me, girl. Who were you trying to kid?”

“My mother was from Romania in Europe, sir, I look more like her than like my Filipina father.”

The officer snickered and took another piece of paper from his folder.

“Your father was Michael O. Simmons, a professor of history at Cambridge. I can certainly see a family resemblance here despite your darker skin” - he showed me a scanned copy of my father’s driver’s license from 10 years ago. “Luckily for him he’s no longer with us and wouldn’t know what his daughter was up to.”

I wanted to scream, to tell him to keep my dad out of it, but I was too scared to even utter a word.

“You don’t have anything to say in your defense? I thought so. You know, here in Singapore, we have very strict laws on identity theft. And extremely stringent immigration regulations. You’ve entered this country illegally using fake documents. You can face up to 10 years in prison and a very large fine.”

I wanted to protest, to tell him that this was all a game and I didn’t mean to break the law, but I also knew what his response would be. I tried to stand up, but suddenly realised that my legs and arms were now tied to the chair. The officer looked at me with a wicked smile... and I woke up.

I was in my tiny bed, my pillow and sheets completely wet from the sweat. This was my first night in Singapore and my nightmares were back. It was a recurring disturbing dream about being discovered that I thought was by now behind me.

After several months in Manila I have grown more and more confident in my role. The fact that nobody knew my real past and just assumed me to be who I said I was -  a half-Filipina who grew up in Europe and who is now trying to reconnect with her roots - helped me a great deal to become self-assured. Yes, I was periodically getting odd stares from some people and my Tagalog, while adequate to get around, was far from perfect, but I was doing my best to blend in with the other girls of my social class, imitate their speech patterns and mannerisms, try to see the world through their eyes. It was not an easy task. There was still too much Julia in me, with all her cultural background, all the books she had read, the movies she’s seen and people she’s met in her university days.

I had to constantly remind myself to be simpler, to dumb down. The fact that I was completely cut off from the outside world - I had zero knowledge of current international news and I haven’t read a newspaper or a news magazine since I left for Milan almost a year ago now - helped me a great deal in my quest. Instead, I was busy filling my brain with endless facts about Filipino popular culture I’ve learned watching local TV channels - all of this provided endless chatter fodder with the other maids I’ve met. Among a myriad of things, I now knew who Bea Alonzo was dating, that this year’s Miss Philippines was half-German and that Toni Gonzaga’s latest album was called “Celestine”. I’ve learned to enjoy local comedy shows and watched Pinoy Big Brother religiously.  None of this would have interested Julia Simmons, Ph.D., but for Molly Apuya this was the only window to the big world.  All in all by the time I was ready to depart for Singapore I’ve settled into my new life as a poor and uneducated girl, whose best hope in life was to become a maid in a good household.

But here in Singapore things were different. Signora Moretti knew who I was. There was now a non-negligible chance that someone else in this city would find out my secret too. I now realised with some trepidation what it meant: I was even more dependant on my employer than my official status as a foreign domestic worker entailed.  Not only could she have me deported back to the Philippines at the drop of a hat, she could also have me locked up in prison. I was now facing little choice but to follow whatever plans she had for me. Signora made it very clear that as a psychologist she was fascinated by my “case”.

I was not officially allowed to work until my orientation program and my medical tests so Signora spent the rest of the previous day showing me around the house, giving very specific instructions and - most worryingly - doing what seemed like psychoanalysis of my motivations. She seemed extremely interested in my responses - even though, as per her instructions, I’ve fully reverted to my “singsong” Filipino accent and a limited vocabulary of a domestic worker who has recently moved from her native village to the big city.

“Molly, I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to maintain your Filipina persona,” she repeated the point she made earlier. “People you’ll come across should have no doubt as to who you are. I understand this is your desire to assume this identity so I hope we are in agreement here. There is one thing though..”

She came closer to me, took my chin and moved my head to the left and then to the right, carefully inspecting my face.

“Hmm… Your skin is too dry. And your eyes… I’ve talked to Signora Mattei about the cosmetic procedures you’ve undertaken when in Milan to look more Asian. I understand there was something done to your eyes so that they look more Oriental, is that so?”

“Yes, ma'am. Signora pay por me to had permanent make-up, ma'am,” I said in my broken English of a Filipino FDW.

“Doesn’t look very permanent to me! Can you bring me your passport?”

I handed the mistress my passport and she opened it on the photo page, clearly worried about something. She held the opened passport next to my face, comparing the real me to me in the photo taken back in Milan and shook her head again.

“You’ve lost quite a bit of weight since then. And it looks like whatever was done to your eyes didn’t hold. You skin is dark as it should be, but your eyes are no longer slanted. They look too European. Do you continue taking the skin pills that Signora Mattei gave you?”

“Yes, ma'am”, I said with a small courtsey.

“Very well, continue to do so. As for your eyes, let me ask what can be done for you. We can’t leave it as it is. You no longer look like a photo on your only ID. I hope I don’t need to explain to you what this might mean for you in a country like Singapore. “

I knew that Singapore had a reputation for excessively harsh laws and problems with my documents were the last things that I wanted - especially with my British passport locked away thousands of kilometers away in Milan.

I looked at a cheap electronic watch next to my bed. It was 3:20 a.m. My orientation program was at 9:00 am, followed by a series of medical checks the following day - all of them booked by Signora Moretti on my behalf. I wiped the sweat from my forehead and closed my eyes, hoping that the nightmare will not return.