Jaded

Leon Poh ‘19

Singapore

Mom’s hands sliced the tofu, making sure each piece was equally thin. Her hands moved so elegantly over the boiling grease as she maneuvered through the counter. She would always carefully place her bangle by the side of the cutting mat where she rinsed the vegetables. Her silhouette against the kitchen’s silk curtains was my earliest memory of her. Such beautiful hands, neither aged nor wrinkled. Right hand grasping the handle, the other carefully gracing the edge of the cabbage. After preparing dinner, she would slide the jade bangle back onto her left wrist.

I was just seven. I remember tugging on it whenever I held her hand, sliding my fingers within the space between the bangle and her wrist. Mom said that the jade bangle was the last thing grandma gave her before she passed, a year after her wedding with dad. I once tugged on it too tightly, slipping it off her hand. She would tell me to be gentle with it, that it would be mine one day. I didn’t understand it then.

Looking through her old photos, her appearance always changed. The clothes, hairstyles and backgrounds were different but one thing remained. The jade bangle prominently displayed on her wrist. It was a translucent emerald with dark green swirls that rested just below her wrist.

“What’s this bangle for?”, I once asked.

“It’s for your future wife.”

“Your grandma gave it to me, so your wife is up next.”

I would fear the bangle though. Everytime mom got mad, she would launch her outstretched palm towards my face, slamming her bangle on either side of my cheeks, leaving a gripping pain that lasted days. Her affection towards me as her only son was incredible, but her temper was equally remarkable; she had an inexhaustible supply of resentment towards any wrongdoings, and it raged fiercely for years. I never returned the resentment because I always knew she had good intentions.

She taught me how to speak with a deeper tone so she would stop getting called down for ‘inappropriate violence’ in school. Apparently punching my classmates in the face, after shoving and spitting at me and calling me ‘faggot’ was wrong. The look of disappointment on her face whenever she entered the office would drive fear down my spine. On the car rides back we had the usual exchange of words.

“I’m sorry for making you come down again, mom”

“Lower”, She commanded.

“I’m sorry”

My tears wouldn’t phase her. Her right hand grasped  the steering wheel while the other backhanded my face, striking the bangle against my cheek.

“Lower!”

She said it was for my own good. A woman would never fall for a ‘sissy faggot’ and I trusted her. I wanted to be the perfect son in her eyes.

“One day when you have children of your own, you’ll know”

She was tired of getting called down to school, listening to the principal repeating the same story; how I would punch some kid in their face after they spouted gay slurs at me.

I guess it worked. Over the years, I’ve learnt how to act like a man, talk like a man, and play sports like a man. She was proud of me as I was myself and I finally lived up to her expectations.

Until one day, she walked in on me kissing another guy in my room. Bursting out in tears, she screamed at him, telling him to get out of her house while grabbing my arm and dragging me out of bed to the living room.

“You know you could go to jail for what you’ve done?”

I stayed silent. Nodding in acknowledgement of her tears.

“Maybe you should move to a more gay country like the U.S”

I waited for that familiar slap once again but this time she froze as tears began to well up in her eyes. She clutched her bangle with her right hand.

“What am I supposed tell your grandma? She’ll be so disappointed”

Her voice shivered as she slipped the bangle off her wrist and held it out to me.

“I don’t want your stupid fucking bangle”, I whispered.

She flung it at me. The bangle bounced off my chest then to the ground, chipping its edge. I knelt down to pick it up and told her I still loved her.

“You don’t. You’re a disgrace”

She stormed into her room, wiping tears along the way before slamming the door. I stashed the bangle in my closet, below school books in a drawer.

She hasn’t asked about the bangle or my sexuality ever since. Occasionally, I would hear sniffles coming from her room and I would instantly be reminded of that day. All I could think about was the chipped bangle in the closet.


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