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Saturday, Feb. 05, 2005 - 12:45 p.m.

The maid is only eighteen, but the distance that she traveled from the Philipines to Singapore in a single trip, is further than all the distances her parents have traveled in their lifetimes. She wakes before anyone else in the flat to prepare breakfast, and then rouses the children, a boy and a girl, dresses them, and walks them to school. She wonders what the children do in the large white building as she returns home to start the housework. She prepares lunch for "ye-ye (grandfather)" and then takes him for his daily walk around the park. He has had a mild stroke and cannot walk properly. He has to almost lean his entire body weight on her forearms and take the smallest, most child-like steps.

Walking with ye-ye takes an hour everyday and these walks are conducted in complete silence. But there is an understanding between them that transcends their age, race and inability to communicate. Ye-ye knows that she is the only person in the house who cares about him, even if she is paid to do so. For her, she feels sorry for him and sometimes, he can detect her pity. And so they walk in the leafy shade of Bishan Park every afternoon, an incongruent couple of an old Chinese man supported by the strong hands of a Filipina girl. In the house she is the stranger, yet she is the one person who spends any time at all, being so physically close to him.

The two years pass quickly, and the maid's contract is up; she has aged two years with each one in the family. She leaves the grilled door of the flat for the last time and returns to the Philipines. The children ask their mother when "auntie" - what they called the maid, is coming back. Ye-ye, in a moment of loss, tells his daughter he misses the old maid. The woman rubbishes both her children and her father, and says, as if the fact would console them all, that the new maid would arrive next week.


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