A List of Places My Mother Was Old

Mahreen Sohail

  1. My mother is old at the yogurt shop. The small storefront tucked in between two pharmacies, the inside walls painted white. A boy ladles yogurt into a polyethylene bag, hair parted to the left with clumps of gel.
  2. My mother is old in the car sitting next to me as I drive, my wrists tight and young in front of me, hands on the wheel, wrinkle-free.
  3. My mother is old at the butcher’s, walking through flies buzzing around hanging carcasses, a prophet in the wrong part of town.
  4. My mother is old when we have guests over. She watches the kitchen door while the guests talk to each other. She waits for the juice, worried about the arrangements. Have you had enough to eat?
  5. My mother is old when she walks like all the women in her family, when I walk like her. She doesn’t put one foot after the other; she puts her feet to the side turn by turn, like a bird waddling.
  6. My mother used to be beautiful but now she is old. Now she has a chicken face, mouth stretched into a straight flat line, chin drooping, expression befuddled.
  7. When my mother becomes old, I see her in sharp focus. She wears her clothes with grace but her hair is white, her face falls under a weight, she walks with a limp. She is not invisible.
  8. My mother becomes old after my father falls sick.
  9. My mother becomes old when she fearfully talks about love and its ending.
  10. My mother becomes old when I tell her about my life plans. I am not in love but I am trying to be, with a boy who lives in another country. Her life rides circles around me.
  11. My mother becomes old when she’s twenty-two and has her first miscarriage. Afterwards my aunt (my father’s cousin) looks her up and down and says, Maybe something is wrong with your body. Ten more years until this statement is proved wrong. Even then, it is only proved half wrong because she has twins, one of them dead, one of them me.
  12. For two days they let my suddenly old mother believe my twin brother is alive. When I am handed to her alone, she loves me with the love she had reserved for two babies. I’m two in one, she tells me as I grow up.
  13. My mother becomes old when, thirty-seven years into their marriage, my father cries. When he says I have lost all control, weeping exhausted into his plate at the dinner table. She looks at him then and becomes a tree growing out of the chair she is sitting on, taller and taller, ready to engulf him and his fear of dying. I watch her do this for the rest of his life. Two months and three days to be exact.
  14. My mother becomes old when my younger brother tells her he cannot live in the house with her. He says, I have a life. The statement is clean and clear and free of guilt. He is a boy. Sons take care of their mothers, she says in response.
  15. My mother becomes old when she has to show me how to be a son. She says I must be kind, I must be compromising. She says I must not worry too much.
  16. I am born when my mother is already old. I know her as old even though I have a picture of her on my table in which she is wearing a white shalwar kameez and standing with her sisters on a path leading up to their childhood home. The three of them stare sepia-faced at the camera, the youngest with her thumb in her mouth. My mother has short hair in the picture—something she always objected to when I was growing up—and she is staring angry into the lens as if she knows what is coming.
  17. My mother will grow old. I am sorry she is old. I want to see us waving and bright, together like birds in the sky. How will we tally what the years took from us? Her children’s childhoods, her husband, her own parents, supple limbs and short hair, as seen in pictures. My life in other countries.
  18. One day my old mother tells me that as a girl she spent an entire year growing out her hair, oiling it every weekend, carefully wrapping it in coils and tying it up for hours. She says she did all the fashion of the years, the flares and the small, tight shirts. She says she wore makeup in her eyes, tipped the ends of her liner like the wings of a free parrot. She says she loved my father even though he could be cruel sometimes, as people we love often are. She says they had many years of love. My mother says she is sad my twin died. My mother also says she lived a full life and now I must live mine, though I must stay. My mother says the right thing happens to you, and sometimes the wrong thing happens to you and maybe this is all the wrong thing but you must take it, the good and the bad, and feed on it until you are young again.

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