The front pages of all the major newspapers in Dubai––Gulf News, Dubai Standard, Gulf Times, Seven Days, Emirates Today––displayed the story that I only noticed after seeing her photograph! "Lura Morina Killed her Boss" the headline read, or something along those lines. Rumors and gossip exploded from that point like a broken water fountain among the migrant labor communities in Dubai––the small island of reveries. The pretty Filipina, Lura, the article explained, arrived in Dubai five years earlier on a domestic servant contract. It was rumored that she fled her sponsoring family and eventually seduced a wealthy old man from the region. At that time, I had not seen Lura for six months, and thus I merely read the news like everyone else.
I had met Lura on the coastal community of Jumeirah where I waited tables in a Karaoke bar. She entered the bar with two cocky men, and drank beer and smoked that type of light cigars that women like. Her effortless beauty bedazzled me––a beauty that did not befit her fate as a maid, but later augmented her chances as a prostitute. We became close quickly.
And yet she disappeared without any goodbyes. I came to learn that she had met a wealthy old man who had been known for his strange relationships with Asian sex workers. He was rumored to find Filipinas very attractive. And now, every time I pass one of the bars or a cafes that she and I had visited, I can still hear her genial, deep voice emanating through the revolving doors and blending with the mesmerizing music, the air conditioning, the plumes of hookah smoke, and the stench of beer concealed in the sweltering summer heat in this remote land that sits like a fleeting dream along the Gulf.
"We must think of death," was her only solution to everything.
"But not before you take away someone’s life. Right?" was my typical reply that I joyfully thought outsmarted her.
Early on the day she was executed, Lura telephoned and asked me to retrieve her belongings––a suitcase and some other junk––to keep or give away. Her voice was trembling and the way she evaded my questions and her repeated mention of the suitcase led me to believe that our call was being monitored. Later that day, I did claim her things from the Women’s Prison’s administrative office. For two months, I avoided going through her bag, and, when I did, I was shocked to find out that she left me letters written on food wrappers and concealed into tiny pieces ensconced in the pockets of her leather jacket. She wrote few days before she was put to death.
In three days, I’ll be executed. I’ll leave my suitcase for you at the main office––a green suitcase! I hope that you will take possession of what I left inside it. You’ll find some things that might be useful to you and others–and perhaps these letters. You can have the radio that we both bought from the Dubai Mall.
And the expensive watch that I stole from my boss is yours, too. You can have all the books which I lifted from your apartment. Taking these will repay my debt to you. About the clothes in the bag, do what you like with them. But give my black leather jacket and the wool sweater to Mary. She can also take anything else to pay her back. I left four pairs of jeans that might be her size. But please preserve my letters, family photographs, and the pen that I still like somewhere in your home. I want you to remember me with these––always.
Akira, I hope you don’t feel sorry for me. I don’t regret anything. I feel angry, perhaps, but not penitent. I feel a kind of hushed rage that rushes through my head and pushes me to embrace my end. Neither, do I feel sad. In fact, I feel peaceful and, to some extent, I have an inner clarity that I never felt before. Do tell Mary not to feel sorry for me. Tell her not to think–like we talked about before–that sex was merely a means by which I sought to stay here and for which others exploited me. I simply lack her 'American' sense of authority which puts her in charge of her sex life. Perhaps that position will allow her to save Asian women in the future. Tell her to stop thinking about me that way. I emancipated myself from everything that caused me pain and pulled me down. Although I’m now unable to sleep, I do feel peace and serenity deep inside. I know no one other than you who could understand this serenity. Didn’t you tell me when we were strolling through the streets of Dubai some time ago that happiness lies in being free from those who encumber our life and turn it into a constant hell? I told you then that I hadn’t slept for ten consecutive nights because I was laboring for my employers. I felt so dog-tired that I couldn’t have seen God more clearly.
I wouldn’t want anyone to heed this matter and start rumors. What happened concerns me alone. It is nobody else’s business! I wanted to get rid of him because in doing so I’d also be able to heal the pains that I felt all over my body. After we came back from the desert, he began another cycle of abuse. Every time he went on game hunts, he would abuse me. He’d just sit grumbling and bellowing in my face because of the hunt. He’d first turn on the light in another room, sit there, and cease talking to me. He would simply sit and gaze into the void. He would just sit there for hours on end with a cigarette dangling from his lips as if he deliberately shaped himself into all possible forms of indolence. He might then order me to get him a glass of whiskey. And then I would stand before him degraded and subservient, for my job was merely to go above and beyond the call of duty to satisfy him. Time would freeze like ice as I stood there on the ready, eager to obey his orders. That would happen over and over again.
Does that make you smile? I can just see you smiling now, Akira, with your eminently white teeth on full display––just laughing at me.
But it’s true. I had nothing else to do other than remove the misery from his old body and shatter it under the sunlight.
I failed to listen to the voices of suspicion about him that echoed in my mind. Because of him, each member of my body was abused and sore. I had to care for his needs and overlook my broken heart. I really hoped that someday I’d see his face light up with joy and cheerfulness––just like those happy, colorful flags on the United Nations building. But he was always livid and sour. Every time he became angry, he made me feel that he even owned my soul.
My lost soul! My mother used to say that our souls were lost the day I was born. I was born on the same day that Benigno Aquino––that great political leader who stood up to Marcos and his wife––was assassinated. Aquino walked away from his self-imposed exile in the United States to find himself again in Manila.
But what happened to him? As soon as his plane touched down, five military officers entered in order to escort him out. He was all smiles. My mother would give an audio-visual enactment of the scene as she recounted it dozens of times.
She would recount, “the officers planned to take him down on the back stairs and through the workers’ doors in the rear where a military vehicle was waiting to take him to prison. As he approached the stairs, gunshots rang out, and a man was heard screaming: Putok ng baril. Putok ng baril!” Gunshots! Gunshots! After the cacophony of gunfire ceased, Aquino lay dead on the airport floor. I was born on that ill-fated day, my mother said. Since then, our life has been uncertain and hard-scrabble.
And now, here, I am in Dubai––a world of surreal tales and stories, of staggering wealth, and destitution, of adventurers and rogues, laborers and smugglers, as well as countless hookahs and prostitutes.
My dear Akira, please don’t wait too long to give away my belongings. Our friends might find them useful. But do keep my letters. There’s really not much time left. They might simply dump my suitcase with the rags, scraps, and other disgusting things that older prisoners would want to be tossed. I thought it wouldn’t require much effort for you to swing by and inquire about the suitcase.
After all, the items might be useful for somebody. My stuff could also be a window into my life for you. Remembering me might be the only way to let me rest in peace––feeling I was with you.
I’ve been reminiscing about us lately. I recall the times we talked about death and how we said the eternal peace that it might bestow was something that nobody could understand. It was one of your theories that you instilled in us. Do you remember our discussions about the end?
I recall how you used to make our heads spin until they ached with the wild gobbledygook of philosophy and history that you intuitively absorbed from Emerita Quito at De La Salle. That was why we–Mary and I–called you the clumsy thinker. But the truth is you’ve always made us proud. Your words never failed to influence us no matter how much we pretended to flout them. You perhaps never knew how much you inspired me. I still admire you, and your words are etched in my mind. I repeat them to myself every time I feel abandoned. Your "this world isn't worth a spit" is something that I now not only say but know.
I still remember how you would transform a disaster into a charade. The way you played with words, cracking jokes, and parodying others––all those talents. I once used to think that you’d become an artist; not a waiter in a bar. I even felt certain that you’d one day become an actor––you know, in a film or on stage. But you didn’t take good care of yourself. Perhaps you didn’t have enough confidence to be an artist or an actor. Poverty and humiliation destroyed our self-confidence. I know it did. Poverty has destroyed us, offered us to the world as demeaned faces speaking a bizarre and deceptive language.
I was never happy before I met you. I’ll always remember the first day we spent together. I lay under the sun on a green towel that I stole from one of my bosses. I skimmed through the English language fashion magazine that I stole on my way out of a bookstore. You sat nearby smoking and gazing at the ships. I stretched my hands out to take a handful of sand. I thought I looked like I wanted to do a postmortem examination of a dead body. You looked at me with a smile in a way that made me blush. I turned away to gaze at the sky.
I still remember every word you said to me as we strolled alongside Dubai Creek. We searched for a safe haven or a remote, hidden bend where others' eyes could not follow us and where we could enjoy a kiss, a nice touch, or a gentle whisper. I still cherish the gorgeous morning that we spent on the beach in Jumeirah. We didn’t sleep until daybreak, when the sun slowly lit up the sea and rose up like a giant sunflower. We stood speechless in awe of the exotic colors over the clear blue horizon. Then, a Bedouin man’s watchful eyes pursued us and diverted us from this magical view. At first, he was content to watch. But then he tried to get closer. You looked at me with tears welling up in your eyes. This is a land that emasculates and debases men.
You shared with me your endless list of concerns that you ironically voiced with a laugh or a smile. You said you tried everything––love, prejudice, anger, chaos and serenity. This world hasn’t given you anything, Akira. You quit big time like a failed prophet. When I got closer to you, your voice turned peaceful and soft.
You opened a wide door for me in your heart that I felt able to see all your hidden secrets. Everything fell behind that pain that artistically bestowed this look on your face. We both agreed that humans are cruel yet fragile and weak. At the first test, this weakness and fragility become obvious. Humans hide from afflictions like timid rats.
As for me, I decided to make my life different. When I was in Manila, I felt exceptionally pretty. I felt I’m too pretty to be nothing more than a maid like my mother, who wasted her life serving a wealthy man in Hong Kong. I dreamed of becoming an actress or a TV news anchorwoman. Both dreams seemed impossible to attain in Manila. I had to leave, I decided, even if it was on a domestic servant contract at first and then I’d look for something that better suited me. That was the only way to set myself free of loneliness.
Akira, I used to sit alone until I felt that my body was melting in that house that kept tightly walling on me like a shrinking shirt. I used to imagine talking to a person in front of me. But my words would evaporate like mist––the walls didn't offer a listening ear to me; and neither did the crude furniture in the room. I tasted sadness in my throat, and it choked me and pushed me to escape from poverty, corruption, and crime. I used to dream of traveling to another city that I read up about before I came to Dubai. I used to think that by going to Dubai, I’d never again listen to this broken record that was efficiently recycled in our country. I sought to free myself from these voices that began to screech too early in the morning. I’m talking about the sounds of hatred that were pushed into my head: insults, abusive words, gunshots, screams, political cheering, clapping, police vehicles, ambulances, etc. I wanted to deafen my ears or go to Dubai–that jazzy city that popped out from the desert sand to offer everything. Yes, Akira, it has a beautiful musical stillness; the ancient voice from Arabia that keeps reviving like a forever flowing river.
From high above in the airplane, I saw Dubai as a city of skyscrapers on the edge of that desolate land that spread out towards the sea. Five, six, and seven-star hotels and resorts appeared everywhere. The sea has a clear blueness to it, and the sky has distinct brightness with a few pale clouds visible only immediately after daybreak. When the plane landed, both heat and humidity kissed my face. I licked my lips and gulped down the dryness in my mouth. I instantly felt something abstruse in this city that made me shake ecstatically. It could be the intense brightness that enveloped it.
The minute I set foot in the airport, I felt swallowed by its massiveness––a giant mall of glass, silver, marble, and gold! The high gates of this mall extended beyond what my eyes could see. Giant palm trees appeared tall alongside thousands of travelers in the deafening marble lounges. Businessmen and European tourists; African merchants; Filipino workers with shining eyes; slim Indians! I felt suddenly tiny among these people. I hadn’t come here to lie on the beach or to window-shop at the gold market. I hadn’t even dreamed of going on a safari or sightseeing the swirling desert dunes. Yet I had in common with these people the ambition to live a buoyant life and to have a job with a regular paycheck. I hadn't known before then that the Ellis Island that I heard about as the gate to a flourishing future of indescribable wealth was in fact a real nightmare for people like me. From that island shot up practices of modern-day slavery, which only occur behind closed doors where wealthy bosses enslave their personal assistants.
During the first two months, I didn’t get paid for the work I did. I didn’t have a place to sleep. No private room nor a bed for me! I slept on the bare kitchen floor on a mattress that was no more than three inches thick. Perhaps that was the reason I ached all over throughout the time I worked for that family. I was forbidden from going to the mall and the cinema. I was barred from even taking a walk outside although I had a strong desire to simply stroll through the desert–just walking over the sea of sand like Jesus on water until I reach the very end of the planet. I wanted so badly to go down to Dubai Creek to see the stately ships in the port and to enjoy the sunset. But these wishes were impossible to attain for a maid held by a family that had always fought and shouted at one another.
My Madam had such a volatile temperament that it was impossible to satisfy her. She’d always want more and more work from me. Her children were very rude to me. I spent the first year slaving away inside the house. But as soon as the beginning of the second year, the family surprised me by asking me to tag along with them to the supermarket. And on a second occasion, they allowed me to accompany them to visit another family, but they made me wait in the car. When I went to the supermarket that one time, I chatted quickly with another Filipina maid and she told me that most maids should have at least one day off. Both Fridays and Saturdays were a weekend by law, she explained, unless the employing family had visitors. She said that I must be able to have at least one day off during the week.
And so, when I asked for a day off, the family decided not to take me with them to the supermarket again.
My Madam was always complaining. She’d wake me in the middle of the night and yell at me to clean the bathrooms. I’d spend hours cleaning even if they weren’t actually dirty. They literally held me captive in their wretched house for two years. They treated me like a rotten rag. Even when I wasn’t continually being summoned to clean in the middle of the night, I encountered other indignities. The children would trip over me or even kick me as they came down to fetch a drink of water. As for my boss, he’d get drunk and then rape me repeatedly while no one else noticed.
One day I fell into a deep sleep––I won't forget that because it was also a national holiday when my Madam and her children went to their relatives. I cleaned the entire house and fixed a meal for him and his friends who became drunk later in the night. I was so exhausted that I fell asleep earlier than usual in the kitchen. After his friends had left, my boss began to scream at me while I was still sleeping. He was unable to hide his exasperation and rage for wanting to rape me before going to bed. I was simply waking up from a dream. I had the right to dream in my sleep. Even the house rats, the plants, the furniture had the right to dream.
Nothing at all could have deterred him––not his drunkenness, rage, drowsiness, nor even angels. Raping me was the only way he could free himself from his life’s burden. He humiliated me to vent out his frustration with his wife and children, his losses, or his disappointing life. He came up with many ways to degrade me and crush me. I felt like a fragile bone in his hands. I had to obey and respond to his needs. What else was I expected to do in his large house outside the city on the skirts of this desolate land? Their house had no room for happy dreams; not to mention that he had confiscated my passport, money, and phone.
If there was one thing that I’ll always remember about him, it’s his hand feeling me up for the first time when I was slumbering. It jolted me awake. That rough hand moved frontward slowly and then squeezed my breast gently like a sponge. He unbuttoned my shirt and looked at my body. I was quivering in fear.
His face looked strict and he knew what he wanted. His jugular veins swelled out and shriveled as if he had to exert an enormous effort to come up with a natural rhythm. He took my dress off and looked at my thighs. As he reached his hands further south, he disliked how cold and shaky my legs felt. I focused meanwhile on the neon wall clock numbers where the short hand pointed to twelve. All the lights in the house had been completely turned off, but still his beast-like desire shone from his eyes. I kept listening to ticking of the clock to avoid his grunting and the heavy weight on my chest. He left disheveled with the look of a boat-billed heron on his face.
I continued my search for an opportunity to run away until I finally got one.
There was a short Indian driver named Shitrum who had worked for the family before I arrived. I was barred from speaking to him, but I signaled to him once slyly and asked if he could get me a phone. Shitrum slipped a cellular phone under a large box in the hallway near the children's room. I hid the phone in my suitcase and began to text-message with him. I disclosed to him my intention to escape and he helped me out. On the first night, I slept at Babu's, Shitrum's friend. Babu lived in a dirty apartment. The kitchen was filthy, and the sheets that he took out from a closet were not only dirty but very rough to the touch as well. Babu behaved kindly with me throughout the day. As soon as the night fell, he took out a bottle of cheap whiskey and started to drink. I was worn out that day and wanted to go to bed. He suddenly turned rude and began to give me odd looks. I realized there was no good in saying no. If I said no, he’d either return me to my boss’s house or throw me out on the streets.
I didn’t feel pain having sex with Babu. I didn’t feel turned on, either. I had no feelings whatsoever. He did it all and I was just there. He stripped naked in the middle of the lit-up half of the room after he completely shut down the curtains. His body looked darker and felt almost cold. He first slipped right next to me. I then felt his rough hands wafting spices every time he moved. After he finished, he dropped down on his back to my side and wiped the sweat off his forehead. After a minute or so he made a quick dash into the bathroom without saying a single word to me.
In the morning, Shitrum helped me carry my suitcase and some belongings to the apartment of a Sri Lankan girl who worked in a nightclub. As soon as I stashed my things inside, I took a short tour on the Dubai Creek. I stood in front of a small Indian diner where fans hung high on the ceiling and moved fast. Workers sat at tables eating rice insatiably after they pinched it between their fingers and dipped it into curry. They looked happy and they beckoned me to join. I accepted and sat down. One curry dip looked so tempting that I broke off some chapati and dipped it so quickly. The bar owner provided me a bottle of beer on the house.
That's how I found myself in Dubai––in the city that rose up from the sand. I was eager to climb up the ladder of wealth in one go. I worked many jobs in the time following my escape. I waited in a bar, posed as an advertisement girl, a sex worker, and other things that I feel embarrassed to mention. I learned new ways to live and I spun my webs in the shadows. I learned how to trawl men and get money from them. I did my very best to tame my insecurities in the meantime. But my eyes were set on another place that was visited by elite businessmen, I was told. I knew I’d have an opportunity there and that I’d seduce one of them some day.
I heard much about the party that an old, wealthy Arab man threw in his villa over the sea once a month. I tried to get to him through Alexi, that Russian douchebag broker of women who businessmen trusted to find their favorite types. I got to know that the wealthy Arabs liked Asian women. Rich Indians looked for Russian women. And Greek men preferred African belles. The day Alexi gave me the invitation care, my heart almost skipped a beat. Alexi also helped me find a dress that would befit such an elite party.
And the day came. I entered the villa feeling both nervous and confused. I swiftly scanned my surrounding until my eyes acclimated to the dimmed lights to see into the dark corners of the villa. I immediately felt overwhelmed by worries as soon as I thought about the luxury in the villa that had an unparalleled view over the Dubai port. The flickering over the horizon seemed exotic. The back of the villa oversaw the port where some visitors gathered in groups or sat down on velvet, red sofas. Another group of visitors hovered around the bar. Alexi came forward to introduce me to the rich, old man who held a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. All the women sitting on the scattered sofas looked at me as they held drinks tightly and whined in voices that blended with the music. When the old man offered me a second glass of wine, I felt I was flying into space in search of more fantasies and energy.
By the end of the party, I was completely wasted. But I kept gazing at the invitees who looked, despite their uninterrupted dancing, as though they were killing each other. I felt as if the whole world was bending backward to serve, cook, and bake for them while they only had time to kill and exacerbate madness.
A mafia member wearing a Brioni suit and a Breitling watch! A Greek billionaire, a master of smuggling! A Ukrainian pimp running prostitution networks! An Indian entrepreneur leaning over women like a cattle tick sucking out blood from his victims! And this old Arab whose arm I was holding on tightly! They stood there like heroes all surrounded by stunning women. Instead of hanging them in a public square for their crimes, they were surrounded by the most beautiful women in the world. They were making the biggest transactions in the world as they held on to cocktail drinks and smoked the most expensive cigarettes. Rather than throwing rotten eggs at them, we begged for one look from their eyes. Women from all over the place: Europeans wearing Louis Vuitton! Asians wearing Rolex watches! African beauties with unmatched looks and colors! I could hear these women's bellies grumble from extreme diets just to fit into Gucci and Saint Laurent dresses. But the truth was that we were nothing. Every woman who came in must come out looking like a winner. Emblems of victory would shine a gleam on each woman's face even for luring a paunchy old man from there. If she came back alone and was still wearing her knockoffs, she must have won the wealthy men's assistants instead. The lowest class of women, however, were those who looked overwhelmed by loss and shame.
I’d lived with him in this villa for six months. The place was designed by one of the greatest German architects of all time. The old man taught me to ski on an ice rink in the middle of the desert. I spent New Year’s Eve with him in one of the finest and most famous hotels. I became the center of gossip like Hollywood celebrities in a land where sex is sold like Coca Cola. I used to brag: "A wealthy man from Arabia fell for me." But nothing can be farthest from the truth. The selfish old man subjugated me completely. He didn’t need anything beyond his wealth. His insults to me felt only natural to him. He didn’t touch me out of love or compassion either. To me, he felt like a log that was only good for that fact. Life with him was a muddle of peculiar nightmares. If his creepy life were an art show, I’d only be a scribble on a painting on the walls. He was a cold–blooded killer of creativity. When his friends didn’t come to see him, he’d turn aggressive to me.
He’d only drink and drink before he beat me up. He gave me everything but love, Akira. And I began to lose myself slowly until I felt completely broken in spirits.
We took a trip to a remote desert patch one day. The view was dazzling––the perfect spot to kill and degrade. I was unable to read his mind. But I saw my grave looming in his eyes––a grave from sand in the middle of this expansive desert. The wind blew over the parched surface creating wondrous shapes. His companions had been hard at work digging out dirt to start a bonfire in a cavity in the earth.
The hissing of fire, the wild-eyed falcons, the insatiable hounds––altogether making a symphony of beautiful tunes. Animal hunters all around me, slaying prey animals and roasting them on open fire! Their faces looked gloomy and their rumbling voices got louder and then quieter as they devoured the well-cooked meat.
I watched them and longed to bury them in the desert or leave their dead bodies out for wild birds to feed on. I imagined burying them in a silent place so deep that the desert trees would drink their flesh and bones altogether. I was still raging, Akira, my fury became too much to hide.
The old man became too drunk and wanted to sit in the hot tub right after we returned from the trip––his weekly get-together with his pals. His beard dribbled grit; his eyes looked acuter, like the eyes of the falcons they were training. I thought he must have been very attractive in his youth. His killer eyes put me under a spell despite how much I hated him. And yet the way he looked at me relieved me from the burden of reluctance. I’d just stoop to doing any sin he commanded.
Before he got into the hot tub, he snapped at me to strip and join him. I took off everything. He got in and dipped his white beard in the water and then his eyes shone out with lust as he watched me strip. I didn’t get into the tub. I only sat on the edge where his shoulders lay under my hands. The pressurized hot water was flowing out powerful and sounded hypnotizing. The steam came upward and the plumes layered the bathroom, blurring the mirrors, the window glass, and the ceramic tiles.
Everything was misted by the steam that kept ascending upward from the tub. With his aged body, he was adoring how I calmly plunged him with my hands and then let go so he rose up slowly. He’d breathe comfortably before I re-immersed him––gently pushing him down on the shoulders. He liked that game while I felt the fume of rage growing larger inside me. This anger would take me through the roof, I was thinking before I finally bit my lips, summoned up all my strength, powerfully pushed him down with both hands, and kept his head completely under the water level. He hopelessly tried to cling to me. He kicked and kicked his feet but that didn’t save him from my rage. I let go only after he became entirely still, a floating marble manikin that the powerful flow of hot water gently bobbed.