Short Story by Serene Goh Jin-Hong (Business Mirror, March 31, 2019)

Mum’s the word ilustration RICA - Business Mirrorw.jpg
Mum’s the word ilustration RICA/Business Mirror

Winter Solstice. The day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. When the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky. Chinese celebrate this day with family reunions, coming together to eat rice dumplings in hot peanut soup. Dong zhi isn’t the same day every year on the Roman calendar. But somehow we always remember.

She doesn’t stay with us now, my mother-in-law, Angela. We still meet, from time to time, for Chinese New Year, Mother’s Day, her birthday, Mid-Autumn and Winter Solstice. Always outside, at some expensive Chinese or Japanese restaurant. This evening we meet at Sushi Tei, in Raffles City in central Singapore. Midpoint between us in the East, and Angela in the West. She appears, holding onto wildflowers, the kind people bring to temples as offering. A sign of gratefulness to the gods. She looks like she has put on some weight.

“Has everything been good?” She asks us, looking at her son. Kit does not respond so I tell her everything’s going well, and thank you. She continues looking only at her son.

Is she also living well, I ask.

She gives some complaints about her room being too hot, that there is no aircon, but adds that a strong fan will do the trick. She likes her landlord, who is also her hirer. He drives his taxi cab in the day while Angela takes over for night shift.

***

Two years ago.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Does she not get it? I rephrase, for her endearing, uneducated mind: actions have consequences. I don’t say this aloud. Chinese women tend to keep secrets.

It’s ten PM. We’ve just had dinner at an expensive Chinese restaurant she chose for my husband to pay for. Fried rice, the cheapest carbo-loaded dish, shared three ways. Angela had twitched at his selection, not-so-secretly displeased. She’s unhappy her son shows so little filial piety. But she’s had a lot of practice in forgiving. A second later, big-hearted and charitable, she offers in Chinese, “I’ll drive you home.”

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