When the Skype video call with my sister ended, I walked outside. My thoughts were inward. I realized that I was not thinking about her, nor my mother whom we were just talking about, nor the ghosts that now filled my mother's waking thoughts at ninety years old. I was thinking about me--
how I had grown into a woman who could leave duty behind. Even the word "love" filled me with a sense of duty but left me cold.
As the youngest daughter, I had the duty of caring for my parents. The duty of obedience to them and of being my mother's old age companion and caregiver. At the age of nineteen I had left not only my mother and my duties but my country and had never looked back.
It seemed my adult life had been about looking for places in decay, then looking after strangers. I had grabbed at new duties with energy I should have given duties cast aside. I looked for strangers in need in a wealthy country. I had become a lawyer then traveled into the U.S. southwest to serve on an Indian reservation. I love the people I work for; meaning, I feel a duty towards their well being.
I took in dogs that nobody wanted. Now they are so old they can barely get up and sometimes will not eat. I calmly feed them, care for them.
My relatives have thought, she cares more for beasts and strangers than her own parents.
I walked outside and looked up at the vast sky. November should be cold. Yet it was one of those "Indian" summer evenings. It registered in my mind that the moon had changed position yet again from where I thought it should be. Knowing little about the skies, or the effect of the earth's rotation through the seasons, I would view the sky like the face of a clock with all fixed numbers. Even when the evidence was there -- that everything was never in the same positions; that the moon especially seemed to jump all over the place -- I persisted in treating the sky as if it were simple and that I was the one who, every night, forgot what it was.
There is no beginning, middle and ending for a daughter who hasn't fulfilled her duty.
It was around five p.m. now in Kuala Lumpur.
My sister told me that our mother had not slept now for three days. She had started seeing her deceased mother and brother. Their apparitions were scolding her. She was talking back to them, it seemed, in Malay, but if you listened closely, it was some gibberish language. She was confessing to her ghosts in code. My sister was afraid our mother had lost her mind and would never come back to us.
The thought of my mother speaking to ghosts didn't alarm me. It seemed normal that my mother should be scolded by them, because she was scolded by her husband and by her own children, even by her youngest, almost as soon as each of us could run away.
If you are scolded, you must have done something wrong.