As I had feared, that woman finally gave up. She was defeated by the suffering that she had been enduring. The word from the hospital was that her organs had failed. I regretted this failure after she had endured for so long, while receiving visits from her friends who always brought their sympathy.
Her name was Adelina Lisao. I had known her since she had moved in to our house. In the beginning, I didn’t like her. She was short, dark and had curly hair which annoyed me. She reminded me of a Maltese dog; one of my friends from the past. I still miss that dog which belonged to my neighbour. But, as time passed, Adelina’s care for me made me appreciate her. It didn’t take long for her to become a friend I could rely on.
“You whore! I’m going to kill you!”
Mak Cik’s shouting was accompanied with the high pitched sound of smashing plates and glasses which we could hear almost every day. When it was like this, I just had to bide my time, growl in annoyance while waiting for Adelina to come out and see me with her eyes red from crying.
I was long-accustomed to Mak Cik’s bad temper. But I couldn’t have known that Adelina’s arrival would make her even more bad tempered. Even though she was already more than middle-aged, Mak Cik seemed more like an aging lion who was always hungry who treated Adelina as her pray. If anything went wrong she would explode in a fit of rage. And, in Mak Cik’s eyes everything Adelina did was always wrong.
But, it wasn’t all Adelina’s fault. Mak Cik’s favourite son, Aqil, was the main cause. Aqil, who was almost forty hadn’t followed his mother’s advice and got married at a young age. Instead, he satisfied his desire by taking it out on the house maid. Aqil raped Adelina – not just once, but repeatedly. And, this always enraged Mak Cik who blamed Adelina for flirting with her son.
“Don’t do it…Please don’t…Let me go…It hurts…’’
That night, I tried to help Adelina who was groaning in agony. I was shouting, warning Aqil to let go of Adelina. But, my efforts were in vain. It turns out his instincts were more animalistic than mine.
“Shut up! If you say anything, I’ll kill you, whore!”
People are sometimes scared of animals because they think they can kill them. But, as vicious as some animals are, they also can be humane. There have been several media reports about how animals such as lions, snakes, and a gorilla and others have used their knowledge to save a person’s life. But, typical of their huge egos, many people deny the fact that animals are also capable of thinking. People feel that they’re above animals, even though, in reality, they often treat each other cruelly.
“I’m sorry …. I didn’t mean to … Forgive me…”
“Do you know how much this dress costs? It’s more expensive than your wage! Give me your hand so you know how hot the iron is!”
It was still the early morning and the sun had barely risen. Adelina could barely sleep out of fear and anxiety. The dress that her boss was to wear for work had become damaged as she had set the temperature on the iron too hot. It was an accident of course, but, Noor, Mak Cik’s daughter wouldn’t understand and she had a temper just like her mother’s. Noor felt that burning Adelina’s hand was the only way she could make her understand the mistake she had made and also warn her not to do it again.
Everytime Adelina prepared food for me, I always watched her closely. Silently, I interpreted the marks that were left all over her body. The red marks on her cheek from being slapped by Aqil. The bruises on her legs from being hit with the broom by Mak Cik. The burns on her hands from Noor putting the iron on her. Her red ears as a result of Mak Cik pulling on them. And, her own red eyes as a result of crying so often. I tried to get Adelina to talk with me to cheer her up, but, as usual, she wasn’t able to understand my language. This was made me annoyed.
I didn’t know where Adelina came from. I didn’t know why she had to be here in this place which had become a kind of hell for her. I only knew that in order to work here, she had to sacrifice a lot – not just a lot of energy, but also her own feelings. I couldn’t work out what made humans so patient? Was it because of their stupidity? I could only see Adelina’s patience in facing all the cruelty from the occupants of this house as a kind of passive acceptance of her fate. Forgive me Adelina, I don’t mean to insult you. It is just that I’m so frustrated at what your condition.
“Hey! Why are you sleeping here? This is my bed!”
I was truly surprised when, in the middle of the night, I found Adelina sleeping next to me. If it weren’t for being tied up and not being able to move, I would have scratched her and kicked the annoying maid out. What was she doing sleeping in a place that wasn’t fit for her? Couldn’t she just fight against the cruelty of her boss, and for just once, resist the way she was being treated?
Initially, I thought Adelina was just going to sleep outside with me just for a short time as some kind of punishment from Mak Cik and Noor. But, after several days and weeks, there were no signs that Adelina was going to return to her own bed inside. I started to get nervous. The veranda is not a suitable place for a human to sleep. It’s dangerous for them to sleep outside as the night breeze can cause problems with their health – especially for someone who is not wearing the appropriate clothing. Human flesh isn’t like that of an animals which is thick and covered with fur.
At night, the wind blows and brings with it fragments of dew, while the trees start their transformation and emit carbon dioxide. The mixture of carbon dioxide with dew can cause an infection if humans breathe it into their lungs. Especially if this happens frequently over time and it leads to not only their respiratory system being damaged, but also the other organs in their body.
The night air, with its high degree of humidity – in comparison with that of the day – couldn’t simply kill Adelina immediately. But, the signs of being tortured slowly started to emerge as her face started to become pale. The low temperature and the marble floor and the coarse mattress made Adelina’s skin turn red. Her skin started to become swollen, redden, peel off, and some of it seemed as if it was burnt. The burn wound on her hand looked as if it was caused by some kind of chemical that she uses to clean the house with.
Adelina had a fever that night. She shivered with cold, but, thanks to the light, I was able to see that she was sweating. In the still of the night, I could hear the worms in her stomach. This woman, who hadn’t had a shower for days, was starving. She stunk of sweat and her unhealed wounds. I started to feel sick at the thought of being served her flesh. Of course I wouldn’t eat it; dogs too have taste.
“You have to get out of her Adelina! Go as far as you can! Find some help! Save yourself!”
Out of my feeling of compassion for her, I couldn’t help myself but instinctively bit her on the hand to wake her up and drag her away from this house in which the owners were asleep. The three horrible occupants of the house surely wouldn’t wake up until Adelina had long gone. But, she was too tired and exhausted and didn’t have enough energy to get up let alone to escape. I let go of her from my mouth. And I realised, that even though I had thought I was biting her only softly, I had caused another injury and she was bleeding profusely. Forgive me Adelina! I didn’t mean to hurt you!
On a normal day, Adelina would lie down on the veranda in the middle of the night when her jobs were finished. She would wake up before dawn, and start to work. But over the last few weeks, Adelina had to work even harder and without eating enough food her body started to shut down. She lost energy and she couldn’t really think or concentrate. She had lost the ability to function in a normal manner.
I stopped talking with Adelina and no longer asked her to save herself. It was in vain. Adelina no longer gave any reaction. But, as an alternative, I started to shout at everyone who passed by the house. Normally, I would just be quiet. I tried to ask for help; hoping that someone would come in and see the terrible condition she was in and then help her before she got even worse. But, the louder I shouted, the more people that got frightened. In fact, they started to avoid the house! It was so frustrating.
After months and months, the help that I was hoping for finally arrived. To express my relief and happiness I started shouting and barking as loud as I could.
That day, I saw several men come in and talk with Mak Cik before they left and called the police to set Adelina free. The same police came back the next day and picked up Mak Cik, Aqil and Noor, leaving me all alone.
I didn’t ever hope that Adelina would return to this house. But, I regret that she died before the matter was over. Mak Cik and her two children had to be punished for their cruel treatment of her.
I am a Rottweiler, a guard dog and Noor’s pet. But, as a good dog, I can’t accept the cruelty of my owner to Adelina who looked after me. If I have the opportunity I will provide witness to all the things Mak Cik and her family did to her. I will give the chronology of how Adelina as starved and burned and how it lead to her malnutrition and the failure of her organs. I would also defend myself and explain about the bite wounds on her hand. Those wounds were evidence of my failure to save her. My first failings as a Rottweiler; the best kind of guard dog.
Hong Kong, February 2018
I wrote this story to remember Adelina, a Malaysian migrant worker who died as a result of being abused by her boss.