Listen to this story, narrated by C. S. E. Cooney:
Peeling cocoyam with my mom one evening
in the kitchen, she put forth the question
that must have long been bothering her mind.
Steam had formed tiny beads on her face
so that it became indistinct from her sweat.
Though it was 6 pm, the sun was like
it had been in the afternoon, glorious
and warming anything in its path.
Did you live with him like he was your wife?
It was the question I had been dreading
for a while, knowing that one day
someone in the family would ask
about the friend I had been living with
until he died, but she had been blunt,
perhaps emboldened by the steam rising
from the pots and the strain of moving them
from one pan support to another
with her bare hands without reducing the flame.
In the short while that the blue flame rose up
as if to fondle my mother’s chin,
I could see him ghosting up in the room
like something that would as soon vanish.
My sister was bringing in curry leaves
from the backyard, bleeding their perfume
in her wake as she made her way to us.
My mind was making a perfect detail
of him leaning against the cabinet,
more present to me than my sister was,
perhaps also waiting for an answer.
Alas, my mother was ready to discard
the years of upbringing she must have thought
she had instilled in me and my siblings,
ready to discard years of self-anguish
at what I might have become — might in the sense
that she still strongly believed I could change.
It must have hurt to have not received
any reply from me, in my old way
of pretending that I had not heard her
and washing the leaves like they needed
the thorough washing I was giving them.
But more hurt by the truth that my silence
was subtly telling, and consoled by it,
the uncertainty that my silence bore,
masking the brunt of her disappointment.