Even before I started reading Nancy Drew Mysteries, I knew that early on I already had the makings of a young detective. At the age of five, I had a yaya named Petra (not her real name) whom my mommy trusted very much. Petra was small and smart, very wiry and moved around the house like a Mexican jumping bean. She knew how to impress mommy and would be so very caring and loving towards me when she was around.
Every time mom would leave the house to shop or to work, it would be an entirely different story.
Petra would order me around like she was a drill sergeant and I was her soldier. I had to follow her every order, or else she would pinch me. She would tell me that even if I told mommy about her behavior, mommy would not believe me, and so at five years old, I learned to keep my silence, to keep the peace.
I was a very picky eater and everyone in the family knew this. Meals would take forever because I liked storing and chewing food in my mouth. I know, gross. It was such a hassle to feed me that my nickname at home became Miss Nguya (chew) Now that I think about it, perhaps it was my only way of exerting control over Petra. I would piss her off by making her wait. She would always tell me to hurry up and finish my food because she had other things to do. At that time, we had three helpers at home, and Petra’s only job was to look after me, feed me, help me get dressed for pre-school, and put me to bed at night. I often wondered why she was always in a hurry to make me finish my lunch and make me take my siesta.
Petra liked to threaten me with “sili” the tiny red ones, and tell me that she would make me eat them if I didn’t finish my food right away. I was smart enough to know that she would not carry out her threat. I would take my sweet time, chewing my fried chicken and watch her glare at me. One day, I noticed that Petra was more impatient than usual but I paid no heed to her threats as usual. Unfortunately, she was probably having a bad hair day, and decided to carry out her threat by rubbing several tiny chopped bits of red sili over my lips. I screamed, howled, and bawled to high heavens until mommy came out of the bedroom to check on what was happening. Too frightened to complain, and because my tongue and mouth were burning, I couldn’t say a word. Petra immediately fabricated a story that I had swatted her arm and kicked her, so she decided to put some sili on my lips as punishment.
Sadly, my mom believed her, and told me to behave better during mealtime. “Next time, be a good girl,” she said. I didn’t know what hurt more that day — my lips that felt that they were on fire, Petra’s blatant lies, or what I perceived to be my mom’s betrayal.
The following days, during mealtime, I continued to “punish” Petra by eating and chewing my food slowly. My five year old mind was already plotting how I would get even with her for the horrid thing that she had done to me. But what can a powerless five year old do? Every night I would pray in bed and ask God to get rid of Petra.
One morning, God finally answered my prayers.
I was playing in the garden and Petra was watching over me when the postman arrived. I ran to the gate to meet him but Petra was fast, “Pssst, you just play there!” She glared and shooed me away. I saw the postman hand her some letters, and noticed that she was smiling in an odd kind of way. I had never seen that expression on her face. Curious, I trailed her back into the house and once we got to the kitchen, I told her that I needed some water. She put the letters down beside me and went to get a glass of water. Petra did not know that I already knew how to read well. I glanced quickly at the envelopes, and looked at the address where they came from. It was a long word. I had never heard it before. I made a note to ask my daddy about it on the weekend when we would have reading lessons.
The following weekend, as I sat beside my dad for breakfast with our books sprawled on the table, I asked him, “Daddy, what is Muntinlupa?” My father’s eyes looked they were going to pop out of their sockets. Very calmly, he asked, “Where did you read that word?” Flipping through the pages of my book, I replied, “Petra. She has letters with that word on the envelope.” I glanced up at my dad and could see his furry eyebrows meet. I knew right then that Petra would be in trouble. He took a deep breath, and continued with the lesson.
That same afternoon, he told me, “Let’s go to Matsuzakaya (in Cubao) so that you can go on the kiddie rides.” Matzusakaya was my favorite store in the world. I got dressed and noticed that Petra was very quiet. She also could not look me in the eye. So off I went with daddy and we spent the whole afternoon on the rides and came home with a huge stash of candy and books. Mommy met us at the gate with a serious look on her face. Daddy asked her, “Where is she?” And mom replied in a somber tone, “Pinahatid ko na sa pier. (I had her brought to the pier.)”
The yaya from hell was gone, and I was finally free.
*Muntinlupa in 1970 was the home of the New Bilibid Prison, the National Penitentiary. After our reading lessons that morning, daddy had gone into the helpers quarters behind the house, and confronted Petra about her pen pal. It turns out she was corresponding and was already, having a relationship with an inmate from the maximum security section of Bilibid. Daddy decided to send her back to her hometown in the outskirts of Cebu that very same day.
Photo : 1970. Mom and me at the American Battle Monument in Taguig.