“The law of nature instructs most animals to cherish and educate their infant progeny. The law of reason inculcates to the human species the returns of filial piety.”
– Edward Gibbon
“I’m busy, Mum! I’ll call you back later,” I said, trying my utmost to bury the annoyance in my tone with a soothing voice as I slammed the phone shut.
It was the third time Mum had phoned me in an hour, much to my annoyance. Ever since I left the household, Mum had been infrequently making phone calls, inquiring when I would be back for dinner. I didn’t want to change my phone number, lest it made her worry. Yet, at times, I did not understand why Mum couldn’t empathise and realise that I was trying to make a name for myself in the outside world! She really got onto my nerves at times… all she cared about was me coming home for dinner. If only she could leave me alone; and not make me suffer the burden of returning home, especially during Chinese New Year.
Dad had already kicked the bucket donkey’s years ago, a few days before Chinese New Year. I was overseas studying at a university in London when disaster striked. Then it was already too late. I never had the opportunity to celebrate Chinese New Year with him ever again. And had missed five years worth when I departed for London.
I had since entered the workforce and the corporate world, and was assigned multiple projects to be completed before the end of Chinese New Year. This was a tall order. The house was just a place for me to rest; I left for work early and returned at the eleventh hour every day, having little to no interaction with Mum. I was already inundated with paperwork and emails, notwithstanding the stream of phone calls from mum.
Today was different, however. It was the eve of Chinese New Year. When everyone else had gone back home to spend time with their families, I was still in the office rushing through my projects. Nevertheless, when I was halfway working on my project, I thought of Mum. I had promised her that I would come back for reunion dinner this year, having stayed up overnight the previous Chinese New Year. Moreover, envisaging Mum falling into the same plight as Dad, if I did not return, made me cringe. I could not afford to lose another parent. After much deliberation, I reluctantly took my coat and left for home.
As I was about to fish out for the door keys, the ray of light protruding from under the door caught my eye. Mum never stayed up so late. Slowly but surely, I fit the key into the keyhole and unlocked it.
Ornate walls filled with Chinese New Year decorations greeted me as my footsteps echoed in the apartment. The food was still at the dining table. However, the bowls of rice had already hardened. There were a variety of dishes that Mum had whipped up for me, in hopes of me to come home for the reunion dinner. Now the soup had turned cold. So had the vegetables. Flies were seen around the plates of duck meat and abalone, which had apparently turned bad. And there was Mum, still sitting on a chair, half awake.
Mum’s eyes lit up upon seeing me return and she instantaneously went to reheat the food, which had presumably been left at the table for close to five hours. As we sat down together for our first proper meal in so many years, I could not bear to look at how Mum had aged over the years. Some of her hair had started to turn grey; the freckles on her skin were more obvious as well. Her eyes emanated jubilance as we had finally managed to spend time together. If only I had taken care of her since a long time ago… then she would not have to go through so many hardships on her own. Yet, she still made the effort to prepare some food for me just for this occasion, praying that mother and son could get together for once.
Memories of me having meals with Mum and Dad flowed into my mind like iced tea. The bowl of rice was always laid before me to as I guzzled the spread of dishes Mum had made. That was when I was six; I am twenty-four now, adventuring in the outside world to pursue my dreams and careers, whilst Mum is at home, awaiting my return. The food was still as mouth-watering; the place was still filled with warmth, and I knew that no other home could replace this.
That was the most memorable and delightful reunion dinner I ever had. Unfortunately, it was the last.
Even before I could apologise, Mum left in her sleep that very night. I was happy, though, that I made it back in time to be by her side before she left, notwithstanding how remorseful I was for choosing not to be with her when I could. I made the wrong decision of putting myself before her.
Chinese New Year was meant to be a festival of celebrations and joy. For me, Chinese New Year served as a painful reminder of how I failed as a child, to be so obsessed with my very own endeavours that I forgot there was always someone waiting for me to come back, be it rain or shine. I forgot my priorities as a son, to always put my family first. Needless to say, I did not live up to the expectations of my parents.
More often than not, we tend to forget whatever that has been done for us, and choose to see things in our favour, thus neglecting those who have raised us up instead of thanking them. That was the excruciating mistake I made – a day of reunion had turned into a day of separation. To all out there, make amends before it is too late. There is still a chance to show your gratitude towards your elders and those who have helped you along the way, and not cry over spilt milk. Start off by coming home early for reunion dinner, for you never know when it might be the last.