I gave her a half-assed apology and took my seat at the polished, wood table.
“You couldn’t at least wear something decent?” my mother whispered sharply, referring to my black mini dress.
“Oh this? I knew you’d love it,” I replied, looking down at the deep V-neck and lace trimming.
“So, what’s up?” I asked, faking interest.
“You know I hate it when you use colloquial phrases. Talk like a lady. I did not put you through years of speech to hear you say ‘what’s up?’ like I’m one of your ‘pals’ or what have you,” she said.
My mother graduated from Harvard, top of her class, received a masters’ degree in physics but went on to become a real estate agent because she – according to my father – was ‘too pretty for science.’ My father was full of backhanded compliments and my mother, critiques, aggressive, you-know-it’s-for-your-own-good, mother-knows-best, suggestions.
“Yes ma’am!” I replied, pursing my magenta lips.
I turned my chair at an angle and let my legs hang out; she kicked them back in place with her white stiletto.
“Cut that out. I’m getting tired of – Iman, are those bruises? Are you biking again? This is why we bought you a car, so you wouldn’t have to parade around, skirt flying up, covered in sweat –”
“–I thought you called me here to talk about something important?” I reminded her, motioning to the waitress.
“Yes, well I spoke to your sister and –”
“– Great,” I said knowing where this was going.
“She’s worried about you.”
“She should worry less about me and more about her cheating, misogynist husband, now shouldn’t she?”
“She said you haven’t been eating and that she heard you throwing up last night and you were crying and –”
“If she’s so worried why isn’t she here?” I said my voice raising an octave higher than my mother deemed appropriate for public spaces.
“Now, don’t go getting upset with me,” she whispered.
“Well, I’m fine,” I said, just as the waitress brought my water.
I drank it all in one go and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. My mother squirmed.
“I’ve got to head to work,” I said.
My mother reached into her purse, pulled out a white, personalized envelope and pushed it towards me.
“There. That should be enough to get rid of it,” she said, glancing at her watch.
I stared at her eyes – black diamonds in her skull – at her pale, paper-thin skin, the perfect lines of eyeliner on her lids, the nude lipstick on her lips, the touch of rouge on her hollow cheeks. She had no pulse, no blood running through her veins, not a single wrinkle in her face. She never laughed or smiled, so it made sense.
“It” I said, “is your grandson.” I pushed back the envelope and left.
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, BFA Writing