Good Mother, Good Son
By Tiffany Ong
She wonders if the mother he knows today is going to be the mother he will remember forever. She can't even take her own baths now, and what happened yesterday was disastrous – she soiled herself before she could make it to the toilet. The inevitability has now not only set in, but also asserted itself, demanding them to take notice of the situation. Who would have imagined that she would one day need assistance to? Where's her former self, the loquacious one who struts around with an easy gait?
Today, she feels she has become two persons, one who has this urge to just throw in the towel, only to be held back by the other selfishly obstinate one. Deep within is this voice, meek though it is, telling her to have faith in her son and give it a try. Still, she isn't sure if she is prepared to face the consequence of breaking this web of deceit, her deceit.
Today, she feels somewhat confident, unfounded it may seem, in their situation. Her son holds her hand today, as they cross the street, and she detects trust in their touch. So caring, so tender is her son. She has so much pride in him, and silently congratulates herself on bringing up a good son.
"Ma, wait here, I'll get you your kopi. Don't go anywhere else." And, of course he will remember how she likes her kopi – black with less sugar. He never fails to get it right. As she sips her coffee, she feels now is the time. And so, she begins, "Boy, don't think I'm so helpless. I'm not what the doctor said," and follows it with a litany of complaints about how demeaning it is to be looked after like a child.
Her words, whiny and petulant, are forceful. She is surprised by how she manages to articulate her thoughts, and is touched by her own words even. She thinks it may work this time. Her prelude is necessary to what's to come – the secret that has been nestling in her heart. She looks down at her hands, the grip on her cup of coffee tightening. She is ready to hear what her son has to say. But all he can say is, "Don't think too much, Ma."
People say she is lucky to have such a good son, that instead of sending her to a home, he has opened his door to her. They say her daughter-in-law is such a large-hearted one, to have welcomed her into their house without question. They say, in fact, she is better than her own daughter. They tell her to remain positive, because things aren't as bad as they seem. As long as she has her son, she will be taken care of. Or so they say.
Deep down, she's thankful, no doubt. She's a good mother, hence she has a good son. What goes around, comes around. She thinks of all the help she has rendered to those in need. She feels she has been a considerably good person all her life, except for that one matter, the one concerning her son.
And so, this is how she has been tussling with her emotions, the waxing and waning of her guilt. She needs an anchor of some sort, lest she'll be torn apart.
She says to her son, "Take me to Waterloo Street today, okay?"
He continues stirring his coffee in a slow, momentous manner, his eyes intent, as if in its swirl, and that the brown beverage is supposed to reveal an answer. Sometimes, she wishes her son could be less quiet. He slips into this pensive mood sometimes. It makes her nervous.
"Okay," he says, finally. "But let me make a few arrangements first."
He takes out his phone, scrolls for the number and starts typing a message. He wears a serious expression. His finger lingers over the screen. He checks what he has just composed, before clicking "send." He puts the phone down. His hand returns to the coffee and resumes stirring it with his teaspoon.
The phone chimes, and he picks it up to read the reply. He looks satisfied with it.
"We can go after this cup of coffee. We can have some vegetarian food there too." Indeed, what a good son he is. Her heart warms to the thought of what someone has once told her: "You are well taken care of, as long as you have him."
Then, her heart grows chill, but what if the woman turns up again? Her heart begins to flutter. Oh, how she hates this feeling! She really needs to go to the temple this time, the thought is far too unsettling.
At the temple, she insists on kneeling. After much fuss, he finally relents. In fact, she makes him kneel too, so as to make the point that this too is what her son is praying for. If only he knows the turmoil she has been put through. She wants to be assured that he is not just a good son, but a good son bestowed on her.
For the first time in her life, she feels the need to ask the Goddess for a favour. It isn't too big a favour, one that is within Her powers. Afterall, isn't She the almighty one, and the merciful one? Surely, she will pardon her for her folly?
With the joss sticks in her hand, and her son's hands over her shoulder, she begins her most earnest prayer ever. First, she asks for forgiveness, for the way she has allowed this deceit to be carried on for so many years. She gives instances where she has attempted to confess to her son, only to be thwarted by this or that. Next, she gives reasons as to why she needs him now more than ever. She then blames her late husband because after all, the mistake begins with him. For what he did, the damage he brought to this marriage, she believes her ways are justifiable.
In the presence of the Goddess, she allows herself to be vulnerable, and for the first time she feels free, but not quite yet. She needs to finish her prayer. She needs an assurance from the Goddess, that his mistress should never have the chance to come near them, at least not while she's still living and breathing. Not that she's so unreasonable and cruel to deny her son a reunion with his real mother, but because she needs him more than ever, and because she can't bear the thought of dying alone and uncared for.QLRS Vol. 18 No. 3 Jul 2019