I was washing the dishes, a task I regularly do whenever my friend or her mom can’t do the washing and I am not working or not hurrying to go to school. This Saturday afternoon was one of them. I soaked the sponge to absorb enough dishwashing liquid, held the porcelain spoon when all of a sudden, the little, white, fragile spoon slipped from my hands and fell on to the concrete floor tile. The image of the broken porcelain spoon kept on haunting me in a surreal fashion that it was all that I could think of for the whole time this afternoon.
I hid the evidence of my crime by throwing the handle and the remains of what used to be the part which carried the food to the mouth into the trash bag inside my room. Breaking a thing, even as insignificant as that porcelain spoon, has never felt this gnawing before, but this time it seemed like I committed a crime beyond forgiveness.
Indeed I felt I have. When the mother of my friend was preparing dinner a while ago, she discovered a part of the spoon which I failed to conceal. She then called me and asked me in Vietnamese about the broken part. I never understood everything she said, but I just told her I am sorry. She has this way of saying a sentence that causes fear in me. I just cannot imagine my mother saying the same thing to me that can lead to such magnitude of fear. I probably might not have fully understood the concept of a mother in Vietnam. The way I tried to explain in vain and let her understand how sorry I am for the broken porcelain spoon caused something inside me to rise and to make me feel unwell.
It’s the same feeling when my grade two teacher would catch me fighting with a classmate, I, being taller and bigger, and of course always won which caused that thin but pugnacious classmate crying for his mother’s presence. I didn’t remember a time I asked for my mother’s presence to alleviate my fever, rid me of the pain, or help me heal my broken heart. This spirit of independence could have been a result of growing in a family of six children when we understood an unspoken given that our mother will not be able to provide enough time for each of us, although we know she has nothing but overflowing love for all of us, an intensity of love that is more than what we can imagine.
When I was six years old, since my mother has to go to school to teach, I was left to fend for myself. I fixed my own chocolate drink placed inside a Tupperware tumbler just so my classmates will think, as well as their peering mothers, that I had a drink which my mother lovingly prepared for me. I didn’t want them to think that my mother was irresponsible that she allowed her son to go to school without anything.
I had to find my way to school and study my lessons alone because my mother only has one body which is impossible for her to do several tasks all at the same time. I didn’t take her absence against her. An image of me in shorts, incorrectly paired socks, unpolished shoes, and my kindergarten uniform reminded me not of my mother’s absence but the hard work she has to do with my father just to provide our basic needs. I’ve never taken that against them.
Although I’ve never cried out loud for my mother’s name whenever I am scared, hurt, or have failed, deep inside I am dying for her presence because I’m still her son after all.
I’ll go to Ho Hoan Kiem tomorrow and find a porcelain spoon that looks exactly like the one I accidentally broke.