I pour my mother another cup of tea. At ninety-two, mother is still healthy. Always a leader and loves the spotlight, her hobbies include complaining about everything, yelling, and humble bragging. This time she’s talking about my brother’s Audi Q5, how it hums too loudly and the front seat is too high for her likings. I know. She told me at least five times.
“Mom, I gotta go soon, but we’ll see you on Saturday, alright?”
“But I haven’t shown you that picture when you took a swim on…”
“You did,” I smile, taking out the picture from my wallet. “Here.”
“Oh, no, you keep it,” she sips her tea. “I don’t need it.”
I kiss her on the cheek. “You know, I’m trying to learn how to type, or should I say, relearn how to type.”
“The iPad we bought you is easier, you just need to tap it slowly,” I say.
“Typewriters are the way to go.”
“But you told me your fingers hurt every time you press down the alphabets.”
She grabs my hand, “There’s this thing I need you to do.”
She knows I’m getting irritated and she’s testing my patience. “Yes?”
“That stem research paper on ultrasound I did in ’82, there are many people who would like to read them again. I’ve been asked several times. I mean, it concludes that there are actually findings at the…”
“What do you need help with?”
“As you know, my fingers are forsaken now. You never let me finish my thoughts.”
“You want me to type it?” I let go of her hand and walk to the table, grabbing my purse. “I can ask Debra to do it.”
“I don’t want your assistant to do it,” she raises her voice. “I want you to do it for me.”
I sigh. “Okay mother, give it to me.”
“No, I’ll get it for you,” she clutches the arms of her chair. “Be patient, always be patient. I need time.”
I watch her struggling to get up. I look up at the clock. I need to be going soon, to nowhere really.
“Only I know where it is,” she lifts her butt up slowly.
Mother is still grabbing firmly to the chair while she tries to straighten her back. “Everything can be done if you put your mind to it.”
“You can actually tell me where it is and I can grab it,” I murmur, opening my right wrist so she can hold it. “It’ll be faster.”
“What did you say, darling?” mother smiles. “I can’t hear you when you don’t open your mouth when you speak.”
Father stood in the middle of my brother and me, holding both our hands. He never clapped. He just stared at her like an idiot. Her hair was still dark and puffy; with her straight posture, she waved like a beauty queen. Golden lights glared at her while the audience made noise.
The truth is I didn’t feel proud of her. Perhaps best unsaid, I have disliked her since I could remember. Hate is too strong of a word; dislike is more of a preference. I never like pickles and I avoid eating them. If there are pickles on my food, I’m bound to set it aside immediately. My mother, unfortunately, can’t be set aside.
When we came home after her award ceremony, I went to their room to say my goodnight. Father, eyes closed, was kissing mother’s forehead while she was yapping how the lights have blinded her for a mere moment.
If I ever found love, I wanted it to be based on my father’s views. He never minded that she took all of the attention. While mother ruled the house and must know every little details on every corner, father was a diligent man, a simple one, never talked much, liked to watch Star Trek and ate Bakmi GM religiously. Father died seven years ago. His heart finally took him.
I held Andrew’s hands tightly. I could feel his sweat on my skin. He clenched my fingers tighter. I tried to let go but failed. I wanted to fix my dress. I needed to do something to distract me from my mother. This was our engagement party, but it was over.
She has called us before the toast and said that Andrew needed to cut the cords.
“It would not work—”
We waited but there was nothing else that came out from her mouth. No discussions, no comebacks. Then she left us while she mingled with the guests.
“She can’t do this,” Andrew put his hands around my waist. “We can even get married right now and it won’t matter.”
“You’re amazing,” I tried to find a spark in his eyes, but he just looked red.
After everyone left, father sat next to us, holding his hand out for Andrew. “You are the only guy I know who knows how to cut durian. It’s not an easy task to do.”
Mother approached us and said she would omit me from her will if I stayed with him.
“Mother,” I walk to her, handing out a can of Ayam Brand. “This is the corn you like.”
She’s pushing a cart while looking at a bunch of bananas. Saturdays are groceries day. We’re shopping at the new store near her house. Mother’s face crumples when she asks for the price.
I say thank you to the girl and grab the bananas. “What expensive bananas,” she raises her voice. “I’m not paying for this crap.”
She throws the bananas to her right. They land on a stack of Lays. I glance back to the girl who is still watching. I put them back slowly in the cart.
“I don’t like the floors. They’re pretty dangerous,” mother continues pushing to the aisle of dried food. “I don’t like the lights, I don’t like this place.”
Her eyes swell up.
“What else do you need?”
She snorts and says a list of things. I tell her to start queuing and I’ll grab the other stuff she needs.
Andrew wiped my tears, then his. We’ve dropped my parents at Hotel Lincoln. Still standing in front of the hotel, we looked out to the small dots of lights surrounding Lake Michigan. The breeze slapped our faces.
“It might never work when we’re home,” I said.
“I can get a job at the Embassy or any restaurant,” he inhaled his cigarette. “Doesn’t matter. We don’t even have to live with your family. I can make do. We can start from the bottom. We’ve talked about this.”
I tightened my scarf and caressed his arm. I was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to fit in amongst my friends. Through her approval, everything would be easier.
“Coward,” he threw his cigarette down. “This is on you. Don’t blame your mother. You know it’s your choice.”
When we came back to our apartment, he packed his bags and left. I cried until I puked on the floor. A week after, I came home with my parents.
“Open wide,” mother ordered.
She put on her latex gloves, lubricated my insides, and told me to relax. Eye to eye for a split second, she glanced down and cold metal drafted in me.
“You look just like me,” she laughed.
The nurse smiled while holding her tray. With a scraper, she grabbed a sample of me. “Done.”
This was the first time anyone else has ever been inside of me. Too bad it had to be my mother’s hands.
She walked me out to the entrance. She turned to me before the driver pulled up. “As a gynecologist, the first female one in this hospital, I might add, I advise you to always practice safe sex. As your mother, I don’t think you should date until you’re seventeen.”
I said thank you and kissed her on her cheek. As unpleasant as it was, since then, I’ve always felt obliged to go every six months, as any woman should.
“Imagine losing him, mother,” I say. “But not by death. You wouldn’t understand.”
We are sitting in the car, waiting for her maids to come out of the house and fetch her.
“What do you mean?” she says. “Are we talking about Andrew again?”
I unlock the car.
“Oh honey, of course I know exactly how you feel. It’s rooted in our family, but it’s been twenty years. It’s just whether or not I want to acknowledge it. And I don’t. Frankly, I’m too tired.”
“You should go lay down. And the gardener will come this Thursday.”
“During the war, we don’t have that commodity. I’m sure you understand.”
“No, mother, I’ve never lived during the war. And we are not at war anymore—although we’re in a different one, actually.”
“I don’t want to argue with you. Although I’ve been managing this household for more than seventy years, apparently you know what’s best. My voice does not matter anymore. Do whatever you want.”
“I’ll see you soon, okay?” I glance at the mirror.
The maid opens mother’s door.
“Yes darling, and remember,” she moves her face closer to mine. “What I have with your father, you never have.”