I come home weeks after graduating at the top of my class to find my mother staring intently at her home screen. Mouthing words, she says carefully,
“Give gave given”
“Do did done”
“Lose lost lost.”
She seems lost, yet she pauses the video, looks up and smiles and tells me she’s so proud of me. I listen as her voice glides gracefully in our mother’s tongue. Frequently, she asks how to say this and that in English because at the age of 46, my mother’s English is the static on an old radio when it is playing a song. A song she is always humming but can never remember the lyrics of. My mother’s English is a wedding song heard only on special occasions.
My mother got married at 21, writing her final exams wearing heavy makeup and huge jewellery, they slowed her down. She tells me she already found her result before they were announced, one of the very few moments in her life when she could predict the unknown, and she miserably had to accept that she had failed the exam irrespective of her performance.
On some days, my mother beckons me to help translate WhatsApp forwards, translate the arguments I had with my father on the family group, these alphabets forming poisonous vapours suffocating her lungs after everyone leaves.
She said if she could do it again, she’d learn English so in a room full of people, she’d be heard. She’d know her voice mattered and when her children whispered, she’d understand their code words.
So, if she could just do it all again she’d go back to college and study more before marriage, and I ask her, why do you have to do it all over again, “why can’t you just begin now?”
“You can still go to college, sign up for spoken English classes, you can still have all of these.” She smiles, mouthing a few sentences all summed up to just one word – Sacrifice.
Your father needs tea at 7 am every morning
Your grandparents need me 24/7 every week
I’ve give gave given everything for this family.
I’ve do did done everything that is my duty.
I’ve lose lost lost my chance.
Sacrifice, amusing how you do something all your life not knowing there is a word for it. My mother calls this conversation a lost cause. How funny, I wrote in a language I believe she hates now.
Yet somehow, she still manages to be proud of me. I’m her silver lining, her speck of hope in an enveloping and consuming field of despair.