They were back.
She had one more window left. Living room.
Abandoning her current project at the window of the common toilet, the maid frantically reached for her rags, her pail of water and the washing agent. If she got there in time, perhaps they would not think she was –
“SKIVING, as usual,” declared Mrs Tan in a mix of crossness and smugness, as she saw her maid of two weeks scamper out of the toiler with her various cleaning equipment. “Taking the opportunity to hide in the toilet while we went out! Probably reading my magazines, or sending SMSes to that Filipine boyfriend of yours. Oh, my God. Barely two weeks, and you’re already skiving on the job! I won’t have a maid like this! You’d better clean up your act, or I’ll send you back home on the next plane to the Phillipines!”
The maid groaned inwardly – not half a month had past, yet she was already getting tired of her mistress’ constant threats to send her back home. She edged her way into the living room, hoping to be able to get the large living room window clean before her mistress said anything –
“Oh, my God. Look at this window!” Mrs Tan exclaimed in a sickening accusatory tone from behind the maid. “My, my, my. Apparently, you have not cleaned it. Clean it, and I want dinner at six.” The maid glanced meekly at the grandfather clock just beside the large plasma television – it was already 5.44pm. However, before she could bargain for more time, Mrs Tan had already disappeared up the stairs of the spacious mansionette. She was, as always, followed by Mr Tan, who shot the maid a sympathetic look and a guilty smile that meant nothing at all. Stupid henpecked man, cursed the maid.
Meanwhile, Horace Tan, the only child of the family, sat himself on the sofa with a loud ‘plomp’, and turned on the television to Nickelodeon. He was still in uniform, and had collected a few chocolate stains on it. For a Secondary One student, he was fairly stupid, but the maid had long deduced that he was the master of the house and the apple of his parents’ eyes, and she would do well not to cross him. Sighing disdainfully at Horace, she began to scrub at the windows diligently and quickly. Dinner at six would be a tall task, but she still had to try.
“Auntie! Get me a Coke!” The maid realized that that order was directed at her, even though at less than ten years older than Horace, she was definitely not an ‘auntie’ to him. Irritated, she wondered how many maids Horace had irritated to date – she had found out that the family had had countless maids before her, for some odd reason. However, she knew that if she defied Horace’s orders once, she might well, to borrow Mrs Tan’s oft-used words, be sent home on “the next plane to the Philippines”. Grudgingly, the maid trudged to the kitchen, got out a chilled Coke from the fridge and a glass filled with ice, and handed them to Michael with a strained smile that hid any hatred for him. Horace grinned smugly and took the Coke and cup without saying thanks.
Well, that’s that, thought the maid, who went back to her cleaning of windows. Or who would have gone back to cleaning windows, had there not been the sound of something spilling just behind her.
Horace had just spilled the Coke all over the velvet carpet, and he was grinning away, no remorse or shock.
The maid seethed, but she knew better than to scold Horace. Keep calm, keep calm. Remember what Ma said to me before I left for here. She said that over here, I was the servant, and would not be the spoilt princess I was at home. I now worked for a living, and must make it a point to please my masters. Oh, Ma… If you only knew…
She kept calm. A Coke-drenched carpet is all it is. No need to blow it all out of proportions. She got another rag from the kitchen, wetted it and went back to the living room, trying to clean it evenly. It was nothing she had ever done before – her mother always did the housework at home, and the maid instructing course said nothing about this. Still, she managed to prevent any stain from appearing on the carpet, much to Horace’s disappointment.
After that, she could not help grinning. It was a small matter, but she had triumphed! Triumphed over the pesky spoilt kid in the house. Triumphed over her own emotions. You learn something new everyday in this job, she observed.
Dinner – beef, cabbage and egg – was only ready at 6.20pm, but luckily for the maid Mrs Tan made no comment, as it was Korean soap drama time on the television, and if Mrs Tan had a weakness for anything, it was an emotional Korean drama. The Tans had a TV dinner, while the maid scooped a small portion of everything on her plate and ate quietly in a small plastic table situated in an obscure part of the kitchen, which her owners had set aside for her during meals.
When the maid was done with her dinner, the Tans were still watching television, so she took her initiative and decided to get started on some laundry which needed to be ironed. She went up to the master bedroom and started to iron clothes – perhaps if she did this fast, she would be given an early night.
She was more than half done with the pile of laundry, and was beginning to look forward to an early night and a good night’s rest, when up strode Mrs Tan.
Looking the maid in the eye, as if she was sickened by the very presence of the maid in HER room, Mrs Tan scrutinized all the ironed laundry, trying to pick up flaws. She finally found what she wanted – one of her favourite red dresses which had more than one small crease.
“Oh, my God. Look at these creases! Is this how you iron back home in the Philippines? Sickening, really! Oh, my GOD! Come, let ME take over the ironing before you spoil all my clothes!” Mrs Tan made to snatch the iron from the maid, but in her haste –
Mr Tan was watching football with Horace in the living room, when both of them heard two simultaneous screams coming from the master bedroom that made their heads turn.
Horace laughed, before turning his eyes back onto the television – but Mr Tan knew that something was wrong, and he knew WHAT was wrong. His wife. Experience had taught him that when his wife saw enough of the maid of the household, trouble ensued. There was a reason why maids had arrived at this household expectantly, only to leave a few weeks or months later, utterly dissatisfied.
He entered the master bedroom, having prepared his reassuring and encouraging smile. However, all that was lost – it was the floor that first caught his attention. The iron had dropped from a distance, causing a sizeable hole in the parquet. Sitting on the bed was his wife, who was uncharacteristically staring blankly at nowhere at particular.
But it was the maid that confirmed his suspicions that something very wrong had happened. She was distraught, sobbing quietly in a small corner. Her left foot was swollen, red, and part of her skin had been burnt off.
“In conclusion, Your Honour, in light of the constant verbal abuse that the defendant has inflicted on my client, that eventually culminated in brutal physical abuse, I recommend that the defendant be convicted of maid abuse.” The dark-skinned lawyer gave a bow, before turning to his client and giving her a warm reassuring look. Morier gave a wan smile in return. She had asked to be seated in the witness stand, as her foot still hurt from the incident, and she had not been able to sleep properly the past three weeks.
After Mrs Tan was convicted and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, Morier immediately met up with her lawyer, and planted a kiss on his cheek, which instantly flushed red.
“Oh, thanks for everything, Darren.”
“You know what I said before, Morier. I would do anything for you. That’s what I slogged so hard in the law firm for – I want to give you a better future.”
They kissed again, and, suddenly self-conscious, Morier started walking over to the cafeteria in the Subordinate Courts, muttering something about wanting to have lunch.
“So what are your plans?” Darren looked at Morier with his searching gaze. “Going to find a new employer?”
Morier smiled. “I will be taking a break, and going back home. With this foot –“ she pointed to her left foot, which was heavily bandaged and in a very loose sandal – “I can hardly walk without feeling pain, let alone work like a slave for others!”
They continued walking.
“And you, Darren? What do you have in mind for the future?”
“I’ll be here. I can’t go back – my family rely on me to send back money, you know. For now, I’m just a small-time attorney. But – but – I promise you, Morier, I’ll be waiting for you to come back. With your son.”
My son? Joseph?
Morier started tearing, greatly moved. For once, she had found someone who accepted her for who she was, someone that did not look down on her…. And her son.
They continued walking.
Just then, Mr Tan and Horace, who was then engrossed in his GameBoy™ and oblivious to his surroundings, walked past her. Mr Tan, whose eyes were red with tears stared at her, before looking her boyfriend in the eye and snorting.
“These Filipinos,” he muttered as he walked away.
This story is a reflection of my opinion of the tough life a domestic help, or maid, leads in Singapore. I also tried to include maid abuse – the classic element of a Singaporean newspaper. However, you may have noticed that this story is not like the usual chronicle of a maid’s life. The maid wins in the end with the mistress’ conviction, and what appeared at first to be an ‘unworthy’ Filipino boyfriend turned out to be a totally respectable lawyer who defended his girlfriend against her employer. In short, I was playing on stereotypes commonly related to maids, and changing some for a refreshing change.
I also touch briefly on the basic units of a modern nuclear family found nowadays, in slight disdain. The child, an only child, is usually spoilt, immature and slightly overweight, due to high standard of living. He or she also treats the maid rudely, knowing that the parents side with him or her, and not the maid.
The story is written in the maid’s perspective, and I brought up many incidents which showed her rawness at the job. I wanted to show that many maids are not experienced and able to handle any situation you throw at them – they are merely human like us, after all. Some are barely above 21, some may have just flown over here with no idea what to do, only knowing that they must work or have their family starve back home. In short, this story represented my idea of how a young maid faced problems daily with her own emotions, not to mention the added pressure and apathy their owners treat them with.