Like any busy parent with a family, we relied on foreign maids. It seems so commonplace nowadays. I remember my late-mother-law saying to my husband Colin and I that she never needed maids in her day. My husband liked to point out to his mother that things were different back then.
I bet maids back in my mother-in-law’s day never tried to seduce husbands. Or tried to burn down the home and attempt to commit suicide.
Farewell to the old maid
Several years ago, we grew to be quite fond of Pilar, our old Filipino maid, but we had to say goodbye to her when her contract ended. She carried out her duties without complaint, really. Our five-year-old son, Brian was also quite attached to Pilar.
Our positive experiences with Pilar made me overlook my initial gut responses to our next maid. We switched maid agencies and they sent Gema, from Indonesia.
Feelings of unease
Gema was 25 years old and in retrospect, she already gave me chills when I first set eyes on her. She seemed too worldly for someone who claimed to come from the countryside. Gema had waist-length black hair and sharp eyes, like a crow’s. When we picked her up from the agency, she gazed at Colin for several seconds too long and admired our brand new Toyota Corolla.
Burning down the apartment
The first three weeks with Gema passed without event. However, one day I was at work, I received a frantic phone call from the management of my condominium:
“Excuse me, are the you one of the owners of this unit?” asked the manager.
“Your apartment is on fire.”
I called my husband and quickly left the office and drove home. When I arrived, there was a fire engine waiting at the foot of the block. My heart stopped beating until I saw Brian standing with Gema at the entrance. Luckily he was not hurt, just rather disorientated.
According to the firemen, a small fire had started in the kitchen and set off the smoke alarms. Since Gema had been home alone with Brian, I asked her what had happened. She said that one of the rings on the electric stove had caught fire. Which I found to be strange, because it was a new stove.
Then my phone rang — it was Colin, asking me to come up to our apartment. When I got there, the whole floor stank of smoke. The smell was even worse inside the sooty apartment. A fireman was standing in the kitchen (one side of the cabinets and counter had been badly scorched) and showing something to Colin.
“Your fire seems to have started from here.” the fireman pointed to a blackened round metallic container. It was the remains of the garbage can, with remnants of burnt newspaper stuffed inside it. Small sticks of what looked like used matches were scattered over the kitchen floor.
Colin quizzed Gema again over the cause of the fire, yet she stuck to the story she had told me. Since the stove was electric there was no need to light the gas with a flame, and Gema didn’t smoke. Seeing that all of us had been through a rough time I didn’t question further. Since our kitchen was out of order, we ate out for the next two weeks.
Flirting with my husband — and stealing his shirts
This part is the hardest to tell, mainly because when I tried to tell my friends about it they just made jokes and thought I was being paranoid. But I feel it’s difficult to see when you’re not seeing it from day-to-day with your own eyes.
A month after the fire, Gema started letting down her hair. She really had lovely shiny black hair, down to her waist. Every time she walked past my husband, she would swish her hair at him as if she was a model in a shampoo advert.
Colin ignored this gesture, but I found it annoying. When I tried to tell her to get a haircut or tie up her hair she would agree, but never do it. When I found a strand of long black hair in Brian’s porridge and then lost my temper with Gema. Only after that she tied up her hair.
But Gema’s flirting didn’t stop there. She would giggle at the most minor things Colin would say to her and a few times I caught her eagerly brushing ‘specks of dust’ off his suit, when he came home in the evenings. Normally she wore a t-shirt and shorts at home, but the t-shirts started to show her midriff and the shorts became hot pants.
The last straw was when I noticed that three of Colin’s shirts were missing. These were expensive designer shirts, so it wasn’t possible they were simply misplaced. I couldn’t find them until one Sunday, when I walked past Gema’s room while she was out.
She had forgotten to close the door. Through the gap I saw something familiar hanging from the ceiling fan — it was one of Colin’s shirts! I found the other two folded up under her bed.
To this day I still have no idea what she intended to do with the shirts. Perhaps she had a crush on Colin, or just liked the feel of the material. Some friends of mine suggested black magic, but that idea really creeps me out.
Gema jumps out of the window
When I told Colin about the shirt incident, he agreed that Gema had to go. Colin had also overheard that Gema often told random strangers that Brian was her son, while we were out in public.
Gema’s reaction was rather dramatic. She cried and said that she felt at home with us. I got really scared when she went to the upstairs window and threatened to jump.
We had to make a police report after that, since the commotion had attracted the attention of the neighbours, who had called the police. I remember the officer on duty being rather annoyed with Gema, because she tried to get his sympathy but he wasn’t convinced. I overheard him say to his colleague, “Another maid trying to act crazy to go home!”
Precautions for other employers
After all the drama my family had to go through, I would tell other people just to be very careful when hiring a maid. I suppose it is like a lottery, but please check with the agency if you feel in the slightest bit uneasy.
*Names have been changed to protect identity.