Mothers will go all out to care for their children.
I am her firstborn and the only one with a skin disorder. Red, itchy, weepy and crusty areas covered parts of my body. There were numerous visits to government clinics to seek treatment, where she was reprimanded and once even rapped on the knuckles by a female doctor for being a “bad” mother. I remembered the tears of shame that welled up in her eyes.
Temple mediums told her that I had “dirty blood” and needed to drink turtle soup to cleanse it in order to heal.
And today, if I listen closely to the echoes of my past, I can still hear the hapless animals desperately struggling to claw their way out from a pot of boiling water. No words can describe how I felt when I was old enough to understand.
Suffice to say, they died in vain, and the ghosts of guilt and remorse will haunt me forever.
Like most children during the Japanese Occupation, she had no formal education though she learnt to read some simple words and write her name. Together with her sisters, they used to get up at the crack of dawn to tap rubber. Fair of face with a cute mole at the side of her nose, she left the village eventually and ventured into town to learn a trade.
Before long, she earned enough as a seamstress to cap her four front teeth in gold as was the fashion then. With this flashy smile, she met a handsome man and soon they got married.
To supplement his income, she worked from home and together they toiled hard to raise a hungry brood of four.
Forty years on, life became easier for her. She no longer had to work and could even afford to travel to different countries for holidays.
During her spare time, she tended to her orchids and for company, she had her dogs. During the weekends, both husband and wife went to the market together to buy ingredients to make nutritious soup to feed her returning children, grandchildren and their dogs. Our all time favourite was her fried chicken wings which were out of this world.
At this stage, I wish I could write how this simple and ordinary woman is living out her sunset years in relative contentment; but this was not to be as her ageing heart weakened. She couldn’t be persuaded to have a pacemaker inserted as she had this erroneous fear that it would keep her heart beating even when she was dead.
Then, she complained of numbness and spasmodic pain shooting down her legs. An MRI confirmed the degeneration of her spine – constantly in severe discomfort, she could neither sit nor stand for long.
Her mobility became greatly compromised. Physiotherapy, pain medication, CT guided adhesiolysis and epidural injections, traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture – she went through them all, save for surgery (which she was deemed unfit for). We tried everything but her relief was often short lived. Her appetite suffered, her weight dropped and she began to age rapidly.
There was no longer much quality to her life and to add insult to injury, her mole began to mutate into an ugly “in your face” tumour. Plastic surgeons recommended for it to be removed lest the cancer cells caused further harm.
This was excised a few days ago and a portion of skin from her cheek was harvested to reconstruct her nose. Now she has fine stitches criss-crossing her wrinkly face ala Frankenstein.
My poor mother. Daily, she prays for God to end her misery. What hurts more is the insensitive talk among a relatives who alluded that her sufferings were retribution for what she did to the creatures in the past. I’m so sorry that she is stricken by guilt and, as the sole consumer of the soups, I’m remorseful too.
Are we to believe that the spirits of the turtles are back for their pound of flesh?
Ma, please know that I wasn’t unaware of the things you did, how you tried to get rid of my chronic skin problem. I know you tried your best and I’m grateful. Dear Lord, please bless my mother and give her the courage to fight on. Be her hope and strength.
Ma, I love you for all you are to me. Happy Mother’s Day!