Mother died on July 15, 2013. On that summer morning in July, I didn’t cry. My eyes were bloodshot from sleepless nights and restless dreams but that was it. My compulsive personality came to the fore as I began planning funeral arrangements bearing in mind that my siblings could cry all year long, forgetting that there was a corpse to attend to. There I sat in my mother’s living room surrounded by all the knick knacks she had collected in her lifetime, chicken clocks, chicken prints, and more life-like chickens. The room was chilly and I shivered despite my throw jacket. Where were my sisters? At least one of them should have arrived by this time. Easily, I retrieved my IPhone from its compartment at the side of my bag and wondered who to call first.
The bathroom door began to squeak. Who could that be? I could only make out the shadow cast from the light bulbs in the hallway. Next came the shuffle of comfort slippers, a sound that was very familiar. Half-afraid and half- inquisitive, I craned my neck to see who else was in the house and walking down the hallway of my mother’s apartment. It was still very early and the only people I was expecting were my siblings whom I expected to come in from the front door I used. My phone slid from my lap onto the incense stained carpet as the figure came into full view. It was mother.
She shuffled into the living room and stood at a distance upon sighting me. “Excuse me, but who let you into this house? The housekeeper isn’t here yet or is she?”
“Nina! Nina!” Mother called out. With the furrowing of her eyebrows and lowering of her gaze, her face crumbled into a full blown frown. “Or are you her replacement?” she continued.
I slowly recovered from the shock of seeing her walking corpse and being in her presence. I started with a stutter-peppered form of hello only to be cut off.
“With those heels you have on, I doubt if you are cut out for this job” and she took my appearance in with disapproval.
Gathering whatever strength hadn’t been drained out by this unexpected encounter, I roused myself up slowly and made my way towards the door. Hoping that she wouldn’t chase me out of the complex, I briskly headed down the steps and into the street with no incidence.
On the third ring, Sister Number 1 picks up her phone. “Clara, I thought you said mother was dead,” I hissed into the phone. I could hear a water fight in the background. She hadn’t left her house yet. “If your 5am instant message this morning was a joke, I am certainly not laughing.”
“But she is dead, Michelle. Tell me, did she call out your name when she saw you. I guess not. She calls out Nina sporadically, an imaginary housekeeper that she never had or knew. She doesn’t know who she is half the time and recognizes us sometimes.”
Supporting myself on the building’s railing, I tried to find the words for Clara who never shows a sense of urgency and treats the most serious matters with great levity.
“Death is the opposite of life. Dead means a person is neither walking nor talking.” I came here as soon as I got your message to start making arrangements since I am the only one with a busy schedule here, only to realize that I have been tricked by my own sister.” I paid no mind to my increased volume and was ready to face any irate occupants who considered my conversation too loud for comfort.
“Michelle, our mother has Alzheimer’s and is in the late stages of dementia.
“We all received that diagnosis update from her doctor.”
Yes and you haven’t seen her in the last 5 years because you are the only one with a busy schedule, but suddenly you find some free time to chuck her corpse six-foot under or should I say her charred remains.”
“It has been a very busy season, Clara.”
“If this fact seems to escape your notice, mother is dead! She died the moment she forgot our names and herself. I have to go and attend to the kids. I will be by once their babysitter comes over.”
I caught the first wave of tears on the way over the phone and knew the conversation had ended before Clara said she had to go.
She was right, Mother was dead.