Koviti Chronicles - Stories from the Pandemic
This story is a continuation from KOVITI AIKAE, another instalment in the ongoing Koviti Chronicles. Subscribe to my newsletter and follow along with new instalments as they happen!
The mother wants to go to choir practise. Where eighty people will spit breathe their germs on each other in the sanctified air of the church. I say no you shouldn’t go. She says, yes she can. And she will. She’s already got her yellow puletasi on. Pearl earrings and matching necklace. Her hair tightly pulled back from her face and coiled up in a fat bun. Pulled so tight it makes her eyes bulge and her big forehead even more prominent. A gigantic plastic red flower in her hair. It’s the sei that says she means business.
I am dressed to impress. I am going to choir to see my friends and nothing will stop me.
She’s clutching her handbag to her tightly. Like she thinks somebody (me) is going to grab it off her.
“I am the choir director,” she says through gritted teeth. “I must be there.”
She and I both know that choir director is a title which means nothing. Is honorary only to recognise her supreme elderliness. Mother doesn’t direct the songs or play the piano. She doesn’t organise the program or even choose the music. Of course the choir can practise without her. But I already know how this battle is going to go. I’ve endured this woman for twenty plus years. I know her.
“It’s alright,” I say. Big smile. Airy wave of my hand. “You do whatever you like.” I call for Siaki to come drive her to town.
She suspicious. “I thought you said old people couldn’t go to church. Or to town.”
“You shouldn’t. But you’re a smart woman and can make your own decisions. I’m only your daughter.”
She sniffs. A self-righteous sniff as she gets her giant handbag. “Its good you are learning some respect for your mother. I am the boss of me.”
“Yes you are,” I say. “So you go. I’ll just be waiting here with Dad. Waiting for the inevitable to happen.”
Her curiousity is hooked. “Waiting for what?” she asks.
“For you to get infected with somebody’s Koviti germs, get sick and die. Then Siaki and I will focus on looking after Dad and keeping him safe from coronavirus.” I smile sweetly. I have so much sweetness to give today. It gushes from every pore. So much sweetness, I hope she chokes on it.
“How dare you?” she is hissing. Drawing herself up as large as her five feet five inches will allow her. Feathers ruffling. An angry chicken about to battle. “What kind of child talks to her mother like that? You are ungrateful. What a waste of my love. A waste of my giving you life.”
On and on she spits and pecks. I am a curse. A burden. A millstone around her neck. She would rather have drowned than be a mother to me. No, she should have thrown me into the sea tied to a millstone when I was a baby before I grew up to be so ungrateful. (Sometimes when she gets extra ruffled, she misquotes Bible verses. Especially ones about millstones. Am betting next paycheque she has no idea what a millstone even is. She just likes how it sounds.)
And still she keeps going. I am selfish. Rude. Lazy. I can’t cook. I’m cheeky and disrespectful. I only bring shame on the family. A long time ago, maybe her words would hurt. I’m not sure. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t used to them though. And so I switch off for a few minutes. Go through To-Do list. Must finish marking essays Tell Siaki to refill Dad’s prescription when he takes mother to town.
Siaki walks in, reads the room immediately and slowly backs out again, mumbling something about going to get the car ready. For her majesty.
I know from experience that if left unchecked, Mother will rage on for at least another twenty minutes. So I put a stop to her. “Siaki is ready to drive you now. Have fun at choir.” I give bright smile. Then raise my voice so father can hear me from the other room. “Dad, did you want to go over your will again? In case your wife dies soon?”
The father comes out of the room, an eager smile on his face, his cane tap-tapping fast. “I have the papers here Mara! Let’s sit at the table.” He’s addicted to legal documents. Loves any opportunity to rustle them, sort them, file them and pretend to read them. Pretend because his dementia means that some days, reading doesn’t work for him. But he and I always pretend that his reading works just fine. He sits down at the table and puts his glasses on, gives Mother a distracted wave. “Go go. Have a good time. Sing loud. Mara and I will check the wills one more time.”
Mother gives me a look of loathing. If she could strike me down with a glare, she would.
I smile at her. Again. Give her a wave. “Don’t worry about us. We’ll be right here. Going thru the wills and making sure everything’s ready. Just in case.”
Outside, Siaki is shaking his head at me and rolling his eyes mournfully. He’s the one who will have to listen to her rage complain all the way to the church hall.
Why are you doing this to me? his eyes ask.
I ignore him. Instead, I sneak-track my mother’s progress out the door. She pauses by the side table and quickly, so quickly she thinks I can’t see her, she swipes one of the face masks I have strategically left there. A yellow one that matches her dress. And a mini bottle of hand-sanitizer. Then back ramrod straight, she stalks out the door and down the front steps to the car. Where I see her put the mask on.
Yes, success! I’ve won. Choose your battles. That’s what I always say when it comes to the parents.
I knew I couldn’t stop her from going to choir. But by making that the big challenge, I succeeded in getting her to think twice and actually use the safety measures. I know it's going to gnaw away at her the whole time she’s at choir, as she thinks about me and Dad reading wills and planning what to do when she dies. The woman is so stubborn she will only protect herself from Koviti if it's to spite me and prove us wrong. Right now she is screaming inside her stubborn musu heart -
I’M NOT GOING TO GET SICK AND DIE, SO THERE.
I have satisfied smile on face when I join Father at the table. It’s a point for me on the endless scoreboard of the war that is Mother and her youngest child. Ha, am sure that even my big sister the Dragon wouldn’t be as wiley wise as I am at handling this woman. Some days the Mother wears me down with her constant grindstone of words designed to make me into what she wants. Then other days, she is no match for me.
Another day, another Koviti battle.