A week without Lani! I can’t remember the last time I was in such a panic. The closest comparison is perhaps when I still had a toddler and the yaya went on her dayoff—not so bad itself, since she went after bathing her charge and feeding the child breakfast, and returned in time for supper.
But a week without Lani for a senior charge like me!
Lani is my own sort of yaya. She has gradually taken over my roles and responsibilities through her four years with us: She began as an all-round help, doing the laundry, marketing, cooking and cleaning.
She’s now secretary, too, keeping files and doing bank errands for me. She has become so good, that at a signal she performs—an entire orchestra under my baton.
Her story is a familiar one. A young provincial wife abandoned by her husband, she put her only child in her parents’ care and came to work in Manila, ending up with us. In her first three years, she had taken her vacation at yearend, timed with our own.
But this time we allowed her extra time off for Holy Week: We were going on a foreign trip, and she’s going home for her son’s preschool graduation. But our plan fell apart, and we just didn’t have the heart to frustrate her own.
And so she went and we stayed, and I was forced to reacquaint myself with the kitchen, which I only oversaw from the dining or living room through a window and seldom visited with any working purpose.
Now I had to do things myself, but first, I had to remember the rules I myself had set down, mainly for sanitation and orderliness.
Sponges, towels, containers, all color-coded for separate purposes and applications, awaited the touch of the master, but the master herself was lost: She had forgotten to be reminded and updated before Lani took off. Ah, memory may have failed me, but not my better senses: I changed the sponges and the towels and kept off the containers.
I didn’t forget how to brew coffee, but had on my own to relearn to cook rice, which required a different formula for every type; I also needed to reread the instructions for replacing the water filter.
All in all, I had been managing unrevealed, unembarrassed, until time came for the stove to serve its purpose. I didn’t know which knob turns the gas tank on or how much degree of turn is safe. The same problem presented itself for the stove—what knob for what burner.
Terrified of the risks, I confessed to the condominium handyman, who, knowing better, came up and did his job without the slightest trace of a snicker.
I was a stranger as well in the laundry room and didn’t even dare uncover the washing machine, which would have been the first time for me to touch it since it was installed. So I hand-washed, but only my own delicate wear. My husband’s used clothes, I put in a pile to wait for Lani.
But one night I knew I had to start washing some of his things, too. Wearing unfamiliar peach-printed shorts, he looked like a stranger—in my bed!
“Are those mine?” I asked.
“No, Lito’s,” he replied, burying himself even deeper in his book. His brother had stayed with us for a visit and, quite obviously, left his peaches.
On the seventh day I rested from preparing the only meal we took at home, and at 9 a.m. we were at Italianni’s for a three-hour breakfast. Back home, I felt recharged enough to change bedroom linens and bath towels. And not wanting to overwhelm Lani with wash, I had the driver take the bulk of it to the laundry downstairs.
It felt like I was on the last stretch of a run, on my second wind, surprising even myself while puzzling my husband as I swept the floor and wiped surfaces. That done, I began to skate around on two rags covering as much floor as I could.
“I thought you said Lani was arriving 7 a.m. tomorrow. Why are you cleaning the house now?”
“Nakakahiya naman kay Lani, no?”
At exactly 7 a.m. the next day I was awakened by a text tone. It was Lani, in my dreams already downstairs arriving in time to cook breakfast. But, no, her bus had broken down in Batangas, and would resume the journey only after some repairs. That meant my husband and I would have to go back to our continental breakfast of yoghurt, pan de sal with apricot jam and butter, and brewed Benguet coffee.
Very much master again of the kitchen sponges and towels, I washed and dried the dishes. It certainly felt good to know where everything was again. And having reclaimed lost territory, I couldn’t wait to hand it back to Lani.