She was frantic. Her phone was missing. She turned her bag inside out again, and her hands desperately reached into her empty pockets. Nothing. She can’t lose her phone. It took her 7 and a half months working 16-hour days to save up enough money for it. And she can’t bear having to deal with the sleazy man who sold it to her, biometric-ready. The police already stopped her twice that month, and thankfully, the phone was solid. She wasn’t sure whose IC was linked to her fingerprint, and she didn’t really care, as long as it passed. As long as it allowed her to pass.

She’s been in the country for close to eight years now. And running loose, as her own agent, for the last four. She escaped her previous employers who kept half her pay and withheld her meals when they wanted to flex their muscles. Show her who’s boss.

It took her awhile to be convinced. She was terrified of being deported. Terrified of not being able to send back at least a scrap of money for her seven year-old son who was growing up across the sea. But Ayu convinced her.

Ayu used to be a live-in helper as well, for the next door neighbour. And they would chat in the late afternoons when the bosses were at work, in the back alley, taking their time to bring in the laundry. Then Ayu ran away, and for a month, she was locked in the house, her pay docked. In case she had ideas. One afternoon, Ayu came by. She told her to run. That she knew of others like them, and they could get by, helping each other out. It was possible. They were careful.

It took four more visits, and a drunken fumble by Mister when Madam was away for her to make plans. And it was a relief. Ayu was right. It was better to exist as invisible shadow people in the city, doing jobs that no one wanted to do in exchange for food tokens, than to live like an animal in the precarious safety of someone’s home. But she still needed to send money back. And for that, she needed a phone. Food tokens and shop loyalty points can only be exchanged for phone credit, and it was the only way to transfer some form of currency back.

So she took any job she could. Often as the only woman in the lorry-full of migrant workers hired for the night to clear up the monsoon drains after a flash flood. Pulling all nighters sewing sequins onto small pouches for someone’s throwaway wedding favours. Taking on any cleaning job she could, for homes, weddings, drugged up private parties in Puchong.

And then she got connected to someone who could sell her a unit that was biometric-ready. It would cost her, but it meant being able to walk the streets in day time. It meant being able to do other kinds of work that allowed her some sleep. It meant being able to buy medicine from the pharmacy at the proper price instead of twice or thrice the amount from the woman who comes around every week with a pouch full of random pills. It meant being paid sometimes, in actual credit rather than in tokens or points.

And now her phone was missing. And the panic is scraping a growing hole in her stomach. She can’t lose her phone. It was linked to her fingerprint, and this can’t be rewired. Without an entry in the database, she can’t make a police report. This was a one-time only thing. A hack-job that exploited the pre-paid system of a single level link. She’s weeping, and she can’t stop herself. People in the LRT were starting to stare. She needed to get out of there. And all she could think to herself was, she can’t lose her phone.