Mama?: A Story by Jess Yim Ka-mei

What does the word ‘mama’ mean? A lady who gives birth to babies? The one who nurtures little children into great men? A person who owns your flesh and blood?

A soft voice, sincere face, caring eyes, gentle hands, concerned personality, someone who take cares of our meals and our clothes, who helps us with our homework, guides us through our love affairs and to our marriage… is this the description of every mom?

My mom seemed to be an exception.

My mom always scolded me; even the slightest mistake would be viewed as seriously as an unforgivable crime. My mom never helped me study for any dictations, quizzes, tests or exams, and she sent me away whenever I asked a single question. My mom never showed appreciation for any of my achievements, from a mark of 100 in a dictation to winning a prize in an art competition. To her, nothing I did seemed to be worth praise. My mom always kept me at home, didn’t let me go to my classmates’ birthday parties, join school camps or picnics, participate in extra curricular activities … I felt like a wild-bird confined in a cage.

My mom never waited for me outside school, comforted me when I was sad or brought me to the doctor when I was sick. Once when I asked her to accompany me to the doctor’s, she just replied: “Kid, how old are you? Primary three already! Just tell the doctor how you feel and that’s it!”

Once, I did wish I could have another mom. I wished for a mom who could support me in every way, give me the courage to fight my fears and provide me with faith. I wished for a mom who could share my joy whenever I had tiny achievements; share my sorrow whenever failures came to me—to smile with me as well as cry with me. I wished for a mom who I could depend on for my whole life. No matter how bad the world treated me, she would the one willing to comfort me and say: “My child, have no fear, I’m always here and I’ll be with you forever.” I wished for a mom who would think of me, remember me and even let me live in her mind in case I passed away before her.

Only when my mom told me her story did I realise that I hadn’t understood her totally.

Her own father had been a nasty guy who flirted with countless women. Her own mother had been a young innocent gal who couldn’t even manage to take care of herself. Her parents did not offer a blessing nor give her a glance before giving her up, their child. When she was born, she was loved by nobody; she was a burden for the people who were responsible for her. Her foster family made her work all day long, beat her whenever they were angry and treated her as a maid to the family while calling her daughter. When she was three, she met her real mother and was told to call her ‘aunt’.

As she grew, she was had no chances to attend school, hang around with friends, go to parties, enjoy childhood or see the wonders of life. When she was eighteen, her younger sister found her and met her, but they were never to meet again. All she ever heard from her father was the message that her sister passed on: “never approach us again.”

Without knowing the idea of a loving family, she married a poor guy and gave birth to four innocent lives.

Can you blame a lady who had never been loved by her family for not knowing how to express her love and affection to her children?

Then suddenly, I remembered…The box of dolls my mom bought for me when I had high fever when I was three. Her mutterings of “put more clothes on” whenever the weather turned cold. The favourite dishes she cooked for me every birthday. The cakes she always used to bring to me whenever I was burning the midnight oil. Her visit to the boutique that I worked in last summer. The lovely shirt that I longed for and that she bought me when she went to Japan. How did she know I loved it?

Sorry, Mom. Your daughter didn’t know you before. Mama, I wish I had always known your story. And here I would like give you this poem:

The feeling of being loved
I always dreamt about it
Where was it? How could I seize it?
Someone told me it was just around the corner

A voice told me:
You can never lose it
Nor never pay for it
It dies as you die
It smiles as you smile
It suffers as you suffer…

I closed my eyes
Calmed my mind
Felt with my heart
And prayed to god,
“My Father, please guide me towards it.”

Slowly, from the total silence
A voice emerged
Far but near
Unclear but sincere
I wondered

I opened my eyes
A glimpse of light shone into my eye
I found that I had come to another day

But wait, the voice sounded again
Yes, it’s here
—it’s your voice, Mama

~Jess Yim Ka-mei (Hong Kong)


Return to Bloodlines: Poems and Stories about Family by Young Asian Writers (Asian Voices)



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