A mother contemplates her ailing daughter’s life without her support.
By Cam Dang
You wake her at 6.30 a.m., help her sit up against the wall, and brush her teeth. She spits, tries to spit into the plastic cup you hold under her chin. Wipe face. Thank you, mum, her eyes say. Once upon a time, you would have melted.
Why can’t you stay a baby? is your thought as you get behind her, hook your arms under her armpits, and drag her to the toilet. Other homes in your village still use the Vietnamese squatting type; you had no choice but to spend your entire year’s saving on a Western toilet bowl. Your house is tiny, but you’re sixty-two year-old and your little girl thirty-five. By the time she’s plopped down onto the toilet seat, your bones crumble. Afterwards, you clean her, drag her back inside, and feed her breakfast. Sometimes food shoots out of her mouth for no reason other than she has no power over her body. The fingers can grab things but are unable to lift a spoon of rice without dropping most of it before reaching her mouth. Sometimes she giggles uncontrollably, stares without seeing, and pees without feeling the need.
Which is why you put a nappy on her before you leave. And a loaf of bread, an empty plastic bowl, and a sheet of paper. You double lock the door and then go to the market with your tray of vegetables, praying you sell them all. At noon, when every man and his dog are having a nap, you go home to your girl. Her nappy is full, as always. You wipe her down, put on a clean one, feed her, clean some more, feed yourself, and by then it’s time to head back to the market. Before leaving you get the plastic bowl, now filled with pieces of paper, empty it, and give her another sheet.
You’re back at 5 p.m. Dinner, cleaning, bath, watch a bit of TV, sleep. Comes 5 a.m. and the whole thing starts all over again.
You’ve been doing this for over three decades and as the years pile on, your hope flakes away. Some nights you saw her outside dancing in the rain. You woke up and decided that God, if there is one, is a sick bastard. But not as sick as some of his children, the ones you read about in the newspapers. Priests molesting boys. Fathers raping daughters. Carers assaulting patients.
You ask yourself how your girl is going to survive in this country once you’re gone.
The answer is, she won’t.
Then what is the point in all this? Why must you put yourself, and her, through each day knowing things will only get worse? For all you know you could drop dead tomorrow. Will the government send her to one of those beggar camps where who knows what men do to women like her: with full breasts, slender thighs, unable to even feed themselves?
Tonight you’ve come to a decision, one you keep running away from and coming back to for the last ten years. No more going to sleep praying to the sick bastard that you wake up the next day. No more pain shooting up your hip bone and spine and wrists. No more ripping paper.
After dinner you feed her a handful of pills, one by one with sugarcane juice, her favourite drink. Then you turn off the light and sit down next to her on the straw mat, the bed mother and child have shared throughout seasons of the sun and the rain.
In darkness, you begin to feed yourself the same pills.