Loyalty of a Labandera

clothesline 2

When I think of the word loyalty only one person comes to my mind- Siony, our labandera (laundry woman). She came into our lives when I was in high school to wash  and iron our clothes. I can’t remember now how my Mom  got to know her. She lived in the squatters area near our home where she raised her many children.

Siony was small and thin but managed to hoist our heavy bed sheets and curtains up the clothesline. She washed our clothes and that of  several families  in our neighborhood. It was not uncommon to see her always in a hurry, flitting from one house to another to earn her keep.  The fact is she was not good at washing clothes. My Mom incessantly complained about it  and would sometimes ask her to wash our clothes again.

But Mom continued to hire her because she was a master of the flat iron. With a flick of her  wrist, she can conquer the creases of clothes in any fabric. I would watch her iron our clothes so effortlessly and quickly. It is a gift from God, I told myself, since I don’t relish the chore. Her skill was well-known in our clan. Once in a while, some of our relatives would ask for her ironing services.

She can also be relied  upon to do other tasks for us. She was our dish washer during family parties and  became a  part- time nanny of my youngest brother. My youngest brother grew close to her that it became a running joke in our family that Siony is his real mother.When my brother got married, he would still request her to iron clothes for him. She would oblige even if he lives two hours away.

Siony worked in our family for so many years that she saw my brothers and I finished school, land jobs and get married. She was part of the ebb and flow, the joys and sorrows of our middle class family. When Mom died from cancer, she was as devastated as we were. Right after the burial, Siony claimed that she felt the spirit of my Mom while she was washing clothes. We kidded her that Mom must be checking again if she was washing our clothes well.

She lived a hard life. Her husband left her for another woman and the  partner she chose to live with was an alcoholic. But inspite of it she remained  a good-natured woman. Poverty drove her to be resourceful and grateful for any work that came her way.  Tired of being a  labandera and plantsadora ( ironing woman), she worked in a garments factory for a while. But she could not keep up with the long hours.

One time, I sent her an SOS text message. My plantsadora was sick and there were mountains of clothes that needed ironing. I live outside of Manila and it was a three-hour commute from her house. But I knew she would come. We gossiped like old times and I was again amazed on how fast she finished the ironing.

” Sisiw,” she joked. ( Sisiw is colloquial Filipino for ” That was nothing. It was so easy.”) A few months after that, I heard from my sis in law that she fell from the second floor of her house while hanging newly washed clothes. She died  soon after. I was not able to visit her at the hospital which I regret up to this day. For the last time, I would have thanked her for the generous spirit and  loyalty she had shown to my family.

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