Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Maid's Tragedy

How time flies. Six more weeks, and fasting begins. This year, the Muslim months of Ramadan and Syawal parallel the Gregorian calendar.

This means Muslims shall begin fasting on the first of September and celebrate Aidil Fitri on the first of October.

On a personal note, this year marks my first Hari Raya without Mum. I don't really want to dwell on it though, it can be depressing.

I take consolation in the fact that I still have people whom I love dearly around me; there's Pak Abu and the kids for example, and my siblings and their respective families.

I am bringing on the Hari Raya topic for a reason; it was on a Hari Raya morning 10 years ago that a neighbour's maid hanged herself, all because of her employer's callousness.

I don't understand how some employers can be so mean to their maids. You hire them to clean up your mess, look after your house, care for your children, cook the food that you eat. Yet you use harsh words on them and belittle them.

Some employers are even worse. They physically abuse their maids for every mistake made and deprive them of whatever little comfort there is. How these people live with their conscience I don't know (perhaps they don't have any).

To digress a bit: I grew up sharing a bed with Hamidah, the daughter of our family maid. She was my classmate and also my best friend.

My grandma, bless her soul, 'adopted' Midah when she entered secondary school by inviting her to stay with us to keep me company.

We did things together and moved in the same group. We bared our souls to each other and shared teenage secrets - my crush on a teacher, her crush on a senior. I never saw her as anything but a sister.

We parted company when I was accepted into a boarding school but remain in touch until today. She is now a teacher in Perlis, happily married with children.

Her mother Selema (who died recently) was one of the kindest women I had ever known. She cooked and cleaned for us for almost two decades. Grandma treated everyone like family.

Back to the story of the maid who committed suicide - I remember that day clearly. We were staying in USJ4, Subang Jaya, in a house facing a popular playground.

I liked standing by the door in the evenings, taking long drags from my cigarettes (I was still smoking then) while watching the neighbourhood children playing under the supervision of their parents or maids.

There were a few squat but shady trees dotting the playground and some daring kids liked to climb those trees just for the fun of jumping back down.

That Raya morning I woke up early as usual and went about my housework. It was around seven-thirty when I realised there was a commotion at one end of the playground.

I went over and was told someone saw a woman hanging from a tree at the corner and called the cops. The body had just been removed and taken to the hospital.

We found out later that the body was that of an Indonesian maid working for a family living nearby.

Apparently, she told her employer she wanted to go and pray at the nearby mosque. They found her telekung (prayer garment) at the base of the tree.

The story behind the suicide came out later. It was so heart-rending that I still feel the sorrow while writing this.

Apparently, she found out her husband had taken a second wife while she was away. She broke down completely upon hearing this.

After all, she traveled far from home to find money to support the family, only to be so betrayed.

As it was near Hari Raya, she asked her employer for permission to go home to work things out with her husband.

At first the employer agreed, so she made all the necessary preparations to return home. Then the employer backtracked and refused to let her go. I was told she begged to go, but to no avail.

She became very quiet after that and went about doing her work silently. Perhaps she was in the pits of depression and had lost all hope, feeling helpless with no one to turn to.

All we knew was that come Raya morning she asked for permission to do her subuh (dawn) prayers at the mosque, and she did.

On her way back, she climbed up the tree and hanged herself. It was so tragic I still can't shake it off after all these years....

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