‘Kiss it goodbye,’ mum says. ‘You’re unbelievable,’ I fume. She knows me. I love wallowing in my sorrows. I embrace them tighter than my skin clings to my body. I just cannot forget. And how do you forgive someone who wronged you? When they hurt you intentionally? Mum? She is brilliant at it. Always swearing a smile for those I feel should be deemed no less than enemies. But that word does not even exist in her dictionary.
‘Sometimes, you make me wonder if you’re my blood,’ she says. No, I am not hurt but the quick glance she gives me, she sure feels I am. Didn’t she tell me I am grown up enough to understand rational from sentimental? ‘You are so different,’ she concludes. For good twenty minutes, we don’t look up but continue putting stars up the Christmas tree. Then she asks, ‘Tea?’ And without waiting for a reply, she escapes to the kitchen.
In the evening, she prepares to leave for the departmental store. I accompany her, a first. If she is surprised, she doesn’t show. I learn that mum doesn’t take the elevators. Explains her hurting knees. ‘Claustrophobia,’ she shields herself from my fury. We walk down the street together with comfortable silences enveloping us. At one point, the silence has grown to such a proportion, I fear it might explode.
Mrs. Berchman at the Halley’s Departmental Store is a nice woman. As always, she is excited to see mum. She immediately walks from behind the counter and helps mum get the things. I wonder if she does that with other customers too. Mum doesn’t seem to notice that I am left behind. I feel unwanted; jealous that the old lady has taken my place next to mother. The two of them emerge from a far-off aisle. Mum pays for the items and I am more than happy to leave.
Christmas extravaganza has taken over the square and is crawling up the buildings. The gigantic Christmas tree at the intersection is merrily draped in lights of myriad shades, making the tree appear larger than life. Foreigners relax on the benches circling the magnificent tree. I long to join the setting, wish to bask in the celebratory ambiance.
Mum too is absorbed in the grandeur. I tug at the hem of her dress but it isn’t enough to pull her out of her reverie. She is intently watching what my distracted eyes missed. I watch the scene unfold as a young man proposes to his woman at the feet of the tree. The shimmering lights from the tree lose their charm compared to the bright happy smile that has lit up the woman’s face.
‘What a cute couple!’ I remark. I look at mum and her moist eyes seem to me like a sea of surging emotions. Though she stands next to me, her voice seems strangely faraway. ‘Twas Christmas eve when I saw your father with her the first time. The square, the tree, everything dissolved around them and all that was left was that one image; your father and the other woman.’ She exhales heavily. ‘Twas Christmas and many christmases have come and gone since, but nothing could replace that memory.’
I reflect upon the unimaginable. Isn’t it amazing how just a few seconds hold in their fist a thousand pasts? Many Christmases will come and be gone, but this place now will only be about this revelation. The setting will replay the scene a hundred times; a scene conjured but never witnessed. Nine years is a long time turned short when looked through the lens of a passing moment. Mum is transported to that day; I no longer recognise her. Her tears flow unhindered, unaffected by the place and its people.
I am embarrassed, then sad, suddenly strange shades of anger take over and I want to scream. I was caught off-guard. Unaware of what was coming. Certain things are better left in the graves of past. How could you unleash upon me what you kept hidden for so many years? How could you lie, mum? She is still rooted to that place, in that time. Waiting, watching. I take mum’s hand. ‘Kiss it goodbye, mum,’ I say.
A cool wind blows that numbs my troubled thoughts. Under the tree, the crowd applauds.