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“Come on comeon comeon comeon comeon. Come to Lola. I have something for you.” Because he is very angry.
Today it is the mother he was hitting. She has her hand over her eye and I dab ice, the way I do his boo-boos. She lets her face in my hands. Then I take him away. But Williamo, he is strong. I cannot so easily hold. And Lola told a lie. I do not have anything. So I make promises. “Some-a-day,” I whisper, “I will bring you home with me. And there we will make the ice candy.”
He lies still, not any longer fighting. His bones fall in a pattern, like the veins of a leaf.
“I will put you in my pocket and feed you one candy every day. You will be happy. Because the ocean at our place it is very blue. The sky higher than here. And the fruits that grow on trees, very sweet.” Jackfruit, durian, lanzones. Attis. Santol.
“In my pocket I will give you one lychee. You can bounce for a ball.”
“If you were a kangaroo you would have a pouch,” he grumbles, better now, slower the heart.
Through the window I see my employer. She looks like she has too much assigned to her; she cannot complete it all before she dies. She holds the ice and paces, talking long-distance to a woman who reads books about the raising of children. When my employer becomes upset she calls this friend. My employer has the American problem of guilt. But you should not be guilty to your children. It is for them that you are working! Then I remember that check for a thousand, long ago. I do not like to think that; it still opens a taste of confusion.
But Williamo, he is better now. Only the mouth smears. I promise him candy, not the ice candy, just candy we can buy here. “But-ah do not tell your mother.”
I call to her, “Excuse, we are going now.”
“Okay. Thanks, Lole.” My employer believes she cannot live without me. She is telling her friend who reads the books that he is better with me than with her. Lil will tell her that this is perfectly normal. My employer, she needs to be left alone. But that is not a quality for a mother. Children, they are dependent for their life. “Playdate,” my employer says. “I can’t even stand the word.”
“Do you have poo-poo?” I pull out the diaper. I am paid to smell that. But what she said to her friend is true. With me, Williamo is no problem.
My employer, she says when a baby comes home from the hospital, a Filipina should arrive with him. That, for her, would make a perfect world. “It’s the Asian thing,” I heard her say once. “They’re more gentle with kids than Hispanics.” She thinks it is all Filipinos. Maybe every single human being from Asia. I could introduce her to a few. Claire walks out carrying keys. With a child small small, it is like a ball and chain. You are never free. Not even sleeping. “Bye.” She slams her car door. An escape. She will stroll in the conservatory, thinking about old songs. Americans, for them the highest time is college: books in a bent arm, on the way to learning. Us, we go to school to get the degree.
I push Williamo in the stroller and he sits. That is the good of fighting; it makes them very tired. The sun is solid, like many small weights on our arms. This neighborhood is ours during the daytime. You do not observe mothers, only in and out of cars, carrying shopping bags. In my place, I was, at one time, one of these married ladies. Now when I watch from afar, it looks like a lot of work.
I put coconut oil and zinc powder on the nose because Williamo he is very white. My albino grandson. All the while, I talk to him. Ruth told me, You have always to talk, even a baby, it is important. And I talk to him, more than my own, because my kids I had one after the other, five in nine years. In the class of two thousand and ten, at Harvard University there will be two Santa Monica boys saying to cooks in the cafeteria, Excuse, where is my adobo? Lola by then will be swaying in a hammock, back in the Philippines.
“What for?” He is young. He does not yet understand the importance of rest.
When we pass the play store, I turn in and ask, “Where is Lola from?”
He points on the globe.
Outside again, in the distance we see children, past tall trees, old in the glittering air. But Williamo says he does not want to play, not now, so we roll under the eucalyptus once upon a time from Australia until the eyes close. I knew from Ruth to work for a working mother. The women who stay home want their babies tucked in cribs for naps, so they can tiptoe in and peek. But Williamo, he can sleep on grass. Today he will nap in his stroller.
I told my employer already: When they go to Europe to celebrate their tenth anniversary, I will take Williamo to the Philippines. We are saving for the tickets. I cannot save much because every month I send home eighteen hundred. My kids, they are a little jealous, especially Dante and Lisa, because they have their own. And it is true. I am closer to Williamo than I am to my grandchildren. Because I see Williamo every day.
Tomorrow for the playclub, I will make tapioca. Williamo likes the big kind we have to soak overnight, so I walk to the grocery. For a long time, I worried this job. Then one day I was not trying anymore. Someone touches my arm in the aisle. “Hola!” she says. “Cómo estás?”
Here, they think I speak Spanish. “Hi,” I say.
“I know you. You’re the babysitter of the boy who says To be or not to be.”
I point to the stroller. Thumb in his mouth, eyes closed. “Not to be,” I say. My employer made an orchestra from a play by William Shakespeare. That is why Williamo. At the end of his speech, after ’tis a consummation / Devoutly to be wish’d, I told him, Then you bow. And he will bow.
“I’m Beth, Brookie and Kate’s mom,” she says. “You’re Lola, right?”
“I know Esperanza,” I say. Esperanza, she is the only one in the playclub not Filipina.
The woman stands writing on a small card. She puts the name and address and she scribbles Call me! We need help Saturday nights!
But I am not tempted. Esperanza says her employer leaves her exercise clothes, underwear and all, in damp lumps on the floor. The next time Beth Martin wants to see those things they will be clean and folded in her drawer.
I am a little popular. With my new weekend salary, I send home an extra hundred every week. In America, I am on the way up.
I push the stroller to the place of Mai-ling, where babysitters sit at a picnic table eating her fresh lumpia, light and porous, and savory adobo, with bay leaves planted by the landscaper. Mai-ling stands ironing, using an extension. Here, the man and the boy go out every day; it is only babysitters and children small small and sometimes a half-dressed woman upstairs, cataloging the possessions. Afternoons, they are not like this in Manila, even in the gated residential districts of Makati where outside you see only workers in uniform. In tea shops mothers gather with their children in an after-school world. Williamo still sleeps, so I park him facing the wall.
“My employers, they change when they move to the big house,” Lita says. “They really change.”
“For your salary, let them change!” Her employer is Alice, the doctor. The husband, he wakes up in the middle of the night when the stock market opens in New York. And Lita gets one hundred dollars a day. They live in a Beverly Hills mansion.
We compare jobs, the way women compare husbands. The house of my employer it is the smallest. But one day I will bring the disc with her music and play that little melody I heard. This is the mother of Williamo, I will tell them. Usually, you would trade a part of what you have, but not all. When I think of my husband Bong Bong, I see him bent over his table, drawing the lines of a white chrysanthemum, a tropical Christmas flower. I close a fist in my pocket. “But-ah, your employers, they are good.” I am always the one telling babysitters to stay. Because too much change, it is bad for children. And the two of Lita are well behaved, because they are Asian. Chinese, adopted.
“They don’t think I will leave but lot of people, they are looking Filipinas.”
“Rich people,” Vicky says.
“We are status symbols. Like a BMW.” I can usually make babysitters laugh.
“No, you know know what Alice told me?” Lita whispers. “In the hospital they have a joke, what does ‘yes’ mean in Tagalog? ‘Yes’ it means, ‘fuck you.’ ”
“Yes,” Vicky repeats, loud. “Fuck you.”
“Shhh,” I say. Williamo is a myna bird. Sure enough, the head pops up.
“What?” He is very advanced. “What?” He tugs my sleeve.
Vicky, she does not think! The employer here is usually in the house, even when we cannot see her. Some unmarried women, you wonder why. But not Vicky. It is a face I have seen before on retardeds, the profile a crescent, the jaw and forehead more out. Vicky thinks only about her meals and money. In our place, we would not know each other. Mai-ling I would never meet either, unless she worked in my house. A peasant, ethnic Chinese, she has no education. Only Lita lived in my social class, in the suburb next to mine.
“Alice will be very surprise.” One or two times a year Lita says she is leaving.
Lita wears the clothes of a wife, the fingernails filed oval, polished pink like the inside of a shell. Twelve years ago, she came here to work and married an American. Not in the church but in a courthouse, her real husband still alive in the Philippines. We call that Ca-Ching. But later on she got her kids here. All three.
She lifts a teddy bear from her bag and clicks a button in the fur, and a panel opens. “Look, it is a video. They are spying me. I should have known, the toys all wood. They would not keep a bear so ugly.”
One Chinese Adopted stands pouring a stream of glittering sand from a teapot. Her dress strains at the belly. I am always telling Lita, Do not feed so much. The mother a doctor. Why would you let your child be like that?
“A long time, that bear is in their room. They probably watch what I am teaching. They see their daughters learn to wipe.”
“Let I!” China says. We have Chinese Adopteds named Emma and Larkin and a blond, blue-eyed girl named China. “Let I do it!” She grabs the teapot from Emma.
“We will buy a film,” I say. “The parents will be the movie stars.”
“Alice, I really do not like.” Most babysitters, they do not like their employers.
“Ling-ing!” we hear from above. See. All along Sue, the employer, was here. In my house, I did not hide from my helpers. Mai-ling runs up and then comes back with another basket of laundry. I tap her belly, Slow down. Living here, with husbands across the ocean, we touch each other more.
Esperanza says last night in her place, the guy took everything out of the refrigerator, looking for a piece of meat leftover. Her hand slaps the mouth. “But I ate.”
A lot of what they talk about is food, what they can eat in the houses where they live-in. Many keep food under the bed. When the Sapersteins have chicken, Ruth will not accept a leg or a breast, even though she is the one preparing. “I take the neck,” she says. “I eat bones.” And she is working there, taking care Ginger nine years. I am lucky; my employer every night she puts too much on my plate. Lettie, the new babysitter, says her people are nice, but the food, it has a different smell. “I miss my baby,” she whispers.
Mai-ling hangs the blouses she finished ironing on a branch. Esperanza lifts one melon color to her cheek; it would look more on her than on Sue. Mai-ling has told us the closet of Sue fills tight with clothes. She is always buying. Two blouses here for Mai-ling to iron still have tags. Between the hangers in the closet of my employer, you could fit an orange. Her formal hangs on the end, inside dry-cleaner plastic.
“Ooh la la,” Esperanza says, holding up a black sleeveless.
The young babysitters, they are not married. They would like pretty blouses. I would rather wear my T-shirt I can wash. When I came here I had already turned fifty. Romance is a belonging of my children, an obstacle I worry for, like drugs. But the young babysitters, they do not stand in the evening, looking back across the Pacific. They face the big dry continent here. Thinking of cowboys.
The laundry machines of my employer stand in the garage, on the other side of my wall. At night, I wash my clothes, put them in the dryer, and my wall purrs. I go to sleep like that. Wrinkles web my shirts, but I cannot sleep anymore without that purr.
“Black is good on you!” Lita says. “Like a Spanish Lea Salonga.” Esperanza, she is Latin, too dark, but the skin looks good. A good dark. She is what they call here sexy.
The young babysitters, they are not like my daughters or the friends they bring home from University Santo Tomas. For my kids, I do not allow sport dating.
“Remember me for that one,” Esperanza says to Mai-ling. Because our employers, they give us their old clothes.
But a price tag flaps on that blouse with no sleeves. One hundred seventy. Two of those blouses, that is one week Mai-ling, and they are two months behind on her pay. The life of Mai-ling is for her son; the husband is dead already. Her health is not strong. All she can do is work and send money to her son who was taking drugs before. Maybe the granddaughter can get in a good school, a Catholic. That is her wish. Some nights before sleep, I think Mai-ling will work here until she dies. We will be the ones to give the funeral and send the body home. She is another reason I need savings.
All of a sudden, I turn to check—the kids, they have been too quiet—and I see them fall in fighting. I have to separate the two. Some nannies favor their own and some the other, just like mothers. As a mother, I was stricter with mine. But with Williamo, I am more fair. “Two-minute rule,” I say. “I am timing. You take turns on the truck.”
Before the end of two minutes, Williamo throws the bear. The thing drops near my feet with a jangle.
“Craft time.” I clap. Last week, we made newspaper boats. Then Sue had the idea to go to the lumber store. Mothers here find a way to make more work. We painted the wooden boats and put in small hooks she bought, and today I will tear a sheet for sails. I think of our kids holding strings to the colors of her blouses, cut and rigged for use. Then I take the sheet in my teeth and start the rip and show Lettie how to hem a sail. Lita is feeding Emma again. Emma eats too much! Mai-ling still stands ironing. The piles of bras, underwear, and T-shirts make different-shaped blocks in the laundry basket.
“Bing,” Esperanza calls. “Look your boat.” The boat floats, but the water stays still in this pool. Maybe if we turn on the jets for the Jacuzzi. Esperanza steps out her shorts, shaking her body into the bikini. All her parts fit the way they are supposed to. “Brooke, when you are big and rich, what will you do with all your money? Maybe you will live on a yacht!” Babysitters, even if they are in America one week from a swamp in the jungle, they know what is a yacht. The employers do not like us to tell these words to their children. But why not? That is the fun of here.
“I will buy you a house,” Brooke says.
“Oh,” Esperanza murmurs, happy in her cheeks. But this is a girl promising a babysitter; she will grow up and forget. The Latins, they are always watching telenovelas. It makes them too romantic.
Bingo! The jets start waves.
“What about me?” I call.
“I will buy you a house too.”
No one asks Esperanza why she thinks Brooke will become rich. She is rich now, already. But in the Philippines, we seemed a fortunate family when I was the age of Brooke. Williamo, he stands with his arms stretching, then he loses his balance and falls into the water. I hook him out, under the arm. My happiest times are when we are laughing at our life. For that you have to be the same. To be above other people, you will say goodbye to laughter. “How about me?” I hear Vicky ask Bing. “When you are rich, what will you buy me?”
He puffs his cheeks, blowing, trying to whistle, but nothin comes out.
Esperanza holds a sail to her cheek. “No?” But all colors look good on her.
“You know the house on the corner of Twelfth?” Lita says. “A lady, she told me the wife was first the baby nurse. The mother, she die in childbirth.”
“Yesterday,” Esperanza says, “we are walking and I see him—the guy. Oh, he is tall. Guapo.”
“Hand-sum,” Lita says.
The young babysitters they want handsome husbands. My employer, she would like a new stove. I wish only for money. To buy schooling. So my kids, they will have their chance. Degrees cannot make them happy. Not guaranteed. But what else can you give?
Today is Friday, the last of the month. Lita is selling the lottery tickets she gets from her bad son. She has two kids hardworking but the middle one, he just plays. Lettie Elizande buys a ticket. She wants to go home. She does not like anything here. I buy also. This week I can send home fifty more. I have thirteen hundred savings, my little mound. If I win, poof, no more Lola. That was all I wanted, when I flew over, my hands useless on my lap. But that was when all I loved was there. Now I have Williamo.
From the Hardcover edition.