In conjunction with Mother’s Day which is just around the corner, I would like to share with everybody this abridged (The original is some 4-5 pages long) and adapted (I’ve added a bit here and there) version of a heart-wrenching and thought-provoking story written by a teenage student in Singapore; it won her the coveted first prize in an international English Language short story writing competition for students in the Commonwealth countries…..
Suddenly my thoughts were interrupted by the shrill ring tone of the mobile phone. “Yes? Britney speaking!” I cringed in discomfort. Never had I given her that name. But somehow the young people these days would rather be addressed by those peculiar tongue-twisting names than those pretty and meaningful traditional ones like “Mei Choo” (Beautiful pearl) or “Kim Lian” (Golden chain).
“Oh no! I’m so sorry, Cheryl, I’m afraid I can’t see you for lunch today. I’ve to take that ancient relic to the temple.” Ancient relic indeed. Being illiterate, what she had just said might have been Greek to me but I understood perfectly that she was referring to me and not in a very respectful manner. I kept my thoughts to myself and said nothing about it; after all, who would bother to listen to this silly, old woman, anyway?
“That was Tan Sri Talib’s daughter. I’m supposed to meet her for lunch.” Cheryl. I wondered what her actual name was. Siti? Or was it Aminah? I shuddered at the thought of the things they would do these days – the horrendous colour of their hair, those tight, skimpy outfits that would leave nothing to the imagination. Sigh! What was the world coming to? I sat tight-lipped in the backseat of the 4-wheel drive, clutching the plastic bag on my lap.
We zoomed past the other cars on the road as if we were late for some important meeting. She always drove so fast and I, for one, was not accustomed to such speed. With trembling hands, I pulled the seat belt tighter but was careful not to touch the patent leather upholstery with my callused fingers. She had specifically warned me about that. Finally, the vehicle cruised smoothly into the temple courtyard. I got out clumsily and made my way to the main hall. My head bowed in utmost respect, I hobbled in, and placing my humble offerings on the altar, I lit a joss stick and knelt down solemnly to offer my prayers to the gods.
“Thank you, Kwan Yin, O Goddess of Mercy. You have given my daughter everything that I had prayed for. She had sailed through university and is now very successful in her career. She may be rude to me at times but I know deep down inside, she is a filial daughter. Please forgive her, Kwan Yin. It is all my fault for I am such a silly old woman and such a nuisance to her.” Tears welled up in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. I wiped them away with my hand-embroidered handkerchief, tucked away neatly in the side pocket of my samfoo. Finally, I planted the joss stick in an urn of smouldering ashes.
I had been praying to Kwan Yin since the day my daughter was born, and despite my being most unworthy, the goddess had been kind enough to grant my persistent prayers. Sadly, the overwhelming success and the abundant wealth that had been bestowed upon my daughter had buried the girl’s roots. She seemed to have forgotten all the values that I had painstakingly taught her from young. Like a woman obsessed, she was trapped in the materialistic world of wants, wants and more wants. Tragically, she no longer worshipped the deities, just money. They were both the same, she and Mark, the man she had brought home out of the blue, and they were not even married, or at least, not in the true sense of the word.
I bowed to the east one final time to end the ritual and slowly made my way back to the vehicle. She stood there, waiting. A peculiar look was on her face; I knew something was not right but I just could not put my finger on it. Perhaps I had taken too long in the temple but it did not appear as if her patience was running out nor did it seem like worry or frustration. An unnerving feeling stirred in me.
The two of us sat in silence as the car careened down the highway. “Ma,” she finally spoke. “I don’t know how to put this but Mark and I have been talking about it and we have decided to move out. The property market is very good at the moment and we have managed to find a buyer willing to pay five million for that dilapidated shack. Actually they want the land to be developed into an exclusive residential area.”
But that was the house her grandfather had built with his blood, sweat and tears. It was with his own hands that he had hammered each and every nail that had held it together all these years, and it had unfailingly provided shelter and protection from the sun and rain for his generation, my generation and now her generation – the 3rd generation. I said nothing. It was not for me to say anything, anyway. After all, she, being highly educated, would know exactly what was best for her…and for me, as well.
“We think it is in your best interest that you move into the St Mary’s Home. It’s a very nice one, very comfortable and run by some Catholic nuns. I have been there, and I’ve no doubt whatsoever that you’ll be happy there. The nuns will take good care of you and you’ll have lots of friends to talk to, I’m sure. You won’t be lonely anymore.” The decision had been made, my fate sealed. I nodded. “Yes,” I replied, my tone clearly pathetic, “if it will make you happy…” I sank deep into the leather seat, letting my shoulders sag in resignation. She never noticed the tears that trickled down the corner of my eyes.
Did that bring tears to your eyes too? Did it tug at your heart strings? I guess the message is pretty self-explanatory. To all mothers reading this, a very Happy Mother’s Day in advance!