We took the train on our way back to the hotel from Disneyland. A lady standing by the train door was staring and smiling at my son, Enzo. It’s a smile a bit hard to explain, perhaps like a Mona Lisa, but not at all alarming. During a pause in my companions’ conversation, which is in Filipino, the lady said: “Buti pa kayo. Ako labing-apat na taon na rito pero hindi pa ako nakapunta sa Disneyland.”
In the conversation that ensued, we learned that her name is Lucy and she’s from Batangas. “Domestic helper lang po ako,” she said, and I had to remind her about this commercial reminding honest, hardworking people to remove “lang” after saying their work. She just smiled. “It’s sad that there are Filipinos in Hongkong who don’t acknowledge other Filipinos, specially the domestic helpers,” she added, speaking in Filipino, of course. I assured her there are just a few of those rotten kind, although deep inside I doubted what I just said. I’ve heard that complaint so many times before.
She said she just finished cleaning a house somewhere, and has to take two train rides and a bus ride to get to her next assignment. She’s been doing this for 14 years. She came back to the Philippines only a couple of times but that’s ok, she said, as her contract is about to expire next year. Then she can go home. Her daughter, who also worked as a domestic helper, went home, for good, some years back. She said she can’t wait to go home because it’s very lonely in a foreign land.
That expression of loneliness, however, never took out the smile that graced her gentle face the whole time we were talking. She was happy talking to us. She was smiling while we were talking about Bulalo and things back home. She was smiling during the entire time we were talking.
As I noted at the start, however, the smile was a bit hard to explain. I can’t find a suitable translation (perhaps you could help me) for “nangingilid ang luha.” She was holding back the tears. What she first said, borrowing a cliche, paints a thousand words: “Buti pa kayo. Ako labing-apat na taon na rito pero hindi pa ako nakapunta sa Disneyland.”
Maybe, while looking at my son, she thought about her family back home. Maybe she thought it’s unfair to have spent working away from her family and yet not having enough to treat them to a place where they would definitely enjoy. Perhaps I should have asked her about that bitter-sweet smile, but I thought maybe it’s rude to make people talk about something they don’t want to discuss.
“This is our stop,” I told her. We had to get off the train and transfer to the other line. I thought for a thing or two to say to her before we part ways. Perhaps a witty or memorable remark would be great, I thought. Nothing. All I could say was a line that should have never been used by a pharmaceutical company.
Ingat po kayo.