It’s hard to be prudent when you’re ’bout to get your tit chopped off, so I wasn’t angry at her for dropping clumps of hair across the house, the way she used to drop us off at school, looking lost the way only an immigrant can. She should’ve shaved her head a week ago, right after chemo started, but she kept stalling. Nah, I didn’t yell at her for the mess. I was angry, and I lost it, because this was my ma and she was decomposing in this rented shithole. It was a derelict, leaky mound and because the lights weren't wired up she slept at seven and woke at four. I longed for internet and she longed for a couple extra calendars to stick on her peeling walls. She was nearing the end of possibilities and there I was scowling at the buckets used for showering, eyeing the cardboard box that served as a table. What we want for ourselves is never what we want for the ones we love. Anyway, my point is it’s better to die on a nice, thick bed than it is to decay on cheap lino.
So a couple days passed, her little head growing crop circles, hair carpeting the floor, and still she wouldn’t budge. ‘I’m getting better,’ she’d say with a hopeful smile. I watched her crawl around on her hands and knees, picking up her ideas of femininity before binning them along with her faith in God. I sort of wished she’d complain or get a bit fired up, but she’d swallow her objections with her meds, chewing on raw roots, wearing bright colours for that good energy and damn, she kept up such a good front for the both of us, I dunno why it made me so mad. Well after a while I realized that my ma was just a girl, a fish caught in a net, a girl caught in an impasse, wondering what had happened to her dreams of painting in Paris, her miniskirts and romance, and I didn’t think we had any more time for bullshit. I told her to get it over and done with. I was kind of mean about it.
That night we walked the dirt road into town, our words dried up with the dust. This rude hick did the job and I wanted to smack her pretty hard, her and all the callous things she was saying, but my ma just sat there, fighting back tears as black hair fell around her. Afterwards she felt like eating fish, so we followed the single streetlamp to a garish restaurant shouting from the corner. The food was overpriced and bland and I bet she was thinking, fuck this shit, I’m dying and I have to eat this crap? Her bald head shone in the bright light, and I didn’t know what to say so I just told her she looked like Natalie Portman, again and again between mouthfuls of rice. Sometimes it’s better to be taciturn, or you risk sounding patronizing or worse, repetitive. We had to pay before we left which seemed totally unfair. I mean, fuck, it was all unfair. She was dying, and I hadn’t gotten laid in months.
Joanna Cho is a recent graduate from the University of Auckland. She studied English and philosophy and doesn't quite know what to do about it.