The Ugly American’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Mothers
by J.A. Zobair
I’m hungry, she announces. Mujhe bhuk lagi hai. Nick is putting her luggage in the car, and later, when I tell about it, I’ll point out how funny it was—claiming hunger an hour after refusing breakfast. Not funny funny, Nick will say, and I will describe how I swallowed my laughter with a spectacular whooshing sound that she didn’t even notice. It’s not her thing, to notice: her daughter’s perfect southpaw pitch, the death of a Sikh teammate, jagged marks on first-summer-after-Harvard skin.
My mother is hungry, but I just stare at her, channeling the ugly American she thinks I’ve not only married but become. I don’t speak good manners anymore, my blank face says. I might sit on the couch while you sit on the floor. I’m that kind of person now.
There are leftovers, I finally say, referencing the bitter gourds and spiced pulses from the night before, the meal she downed with wrinkled-nosed sighs. She has made daily calls to the good daughter—conversations in her mother tongue debating the greater crime: that Nick is a heathen or that he’s a vegetarian. I pretend she forgets that I understand Urdu. But I know better.
It is her thing to remember.
I notice the new curve of her shoulders, the slackening jowls, and reach for her. But she’s already moving, taking her hunger and her boarding pass to the car. I follow, knowing we will burn each other up long before we let go.