18 Jan, Tuesday
26° C

Getting by

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

It is incredible how much I depended on the help of my mother to get through daily life.

She went grocery shopping, shared the bills with me, and came with me when we had to take one of our two dogs to the vet, and of course cooked lunch for us and made her wonderful cakes. Oh, how I miss her lemon chiffon cake, her buttery pound cake, and the chocolate chip cookies, that melted in your mouth, that she would bake every week.

Now that she is gone, I do not have the courage to bake anything. Being in the middle of a deadly pandemic obviously does not help the mood of anyone. Add that to my grieving over my deceased mother, and it could spell total paralysis for me.

I laid her to rest in December 2019, in the Islamic section of the cemetery here in Brasilia, only a few headstones away from my father. It was a sunny afternoon, and I was in a daze of grief and disbelief that my beloved mother, so full of life, had left us after complications during a procedure on her heart that is routinely and safely done on millions of people younger than her every year.

I went home alone after the funeral, an emotional wreck, too tired and stunned to cry, not believing that I did not have my mother with me anymore.

But life must continue. Bills must be paid; the dogs need to be fed and taken to the vet, and I must eat every day. I still have not changed her name on the electricity bill. Our water bill continues to come in the name of my father, Mohamed, who passed away in 2008. I guess my mom never had the will to go to a Caesb office and go through the bureaucratic challenge of changing the name on the account.

Earlier this year, my mother’s landline bill began arriving with higher and higher amounts due. I had to scrutinize it closely to see that somehow thousands of minutes of local calls were being billed to her number. I called up the phone company Oi and complained, saying that given my mother was no longer on this Earth, and that I never made calls on that line, how come these thousands of minutes were being charged to her?

The attendant did not quite get what I was saying, but readily agreed to transfer the phone number to my name and switch it to a ridiculously cheap monthly rate. I was mildly assuaged, but still felt peeved at how someone at the phone company was charging so many calls to my mother’s number, when she was no longer here to make such calls, and the cleaning lady who comes in a few times a week, swore she had never made any calls on that line.

Of course, what I miss most is seeing my mother every day at breakfast, drinking coffee with her, and watching CNN and telenovelas with her at night. Not seeing her beautiful smile, hear her laugh on the phone while chatting with her friends, or hear her call our dogs Nelly and Penny to come inside and eat, leaves a horrible ache in my heart, one that will probably never go away.

It is winter in Brazil now, and the temperatures get quite nippy here in Brasilia because of our elevation. Admittedly, 11 degrees centigrade is not that cold, but after decades of living in sweltering Saudi Arabia and in tropical Brazil, anything under 20 degrees centigrade feels chilly to me.

So, every year in June we bring out our dogs’ sweaters that we put on them at night and take off in the morning. Occasionally I would send the dogs to bed without their sweaters, and my mother would protest, saying that they would feel cold. So, I continue the tradition, putting sweaters on Penny and Nelly at night, and I have even bought them new ones this winter.

Winter in Brasilia is synonymous with the dry season, and I mean really dry! From June to September we get hardly a drop of rain. The humidity plunges to below 20 percent in August, and inhabitants complain of respiratory ailments, parched skin and lips, and dry eyes. As I write this in mid-July the humidity is already down to 33 percent. The use of humidifiers is essential during this period, both in the living room and in my bedroom. Without one I wake up several times at night to parch my dried-out mouth with water.

We have a wonderful fishpond, with around seven orange and black carp, and a couple of wild ducks that like to visit and swim around it. Every year around this time the water level in the pond becomes perilously low, so we always bought several trucks of potable water to bring the level up. My mother would call up the man that regularly brought us the water, and he always recognized my mother by her slight American accent that she had when she spoke Portuguese.

Now that she is gone, I do not have the courage to bake anything. Being in the middle of a deadly pandemic obviously does not help the mood of anyone. Add that to my grieving over my deceased mother, and it could spell total paralysis for me.

This year is no different, and a few days ago I found a guy online who delivers such water. He charged me R$200 (around US$37.58) for what he claimed would be 10,000 liters of water. It took him 20 minutes to pump the water from his truck into the pond. Later my companion scoffed at the idea that 10,000 liters had actually been dispensed into our pond. I had to agree with him that without a device to measure the water pouring in, we would never know for sure how much water went into the pond.

And in the midst of this pandemic that has hit Brazil particularly hard — we only lose out to the United States in the number of infected and dead from the Covid-19 virus — came the news that my mom’s former driver, Elizabeth, had come down with the virus. I called her to see how she was doing. She said she was feeling much better and had been in isolation at home for the past ten days. She also told me that she had not been able to get medical attention at a hospital, so she ended up taking the left-over medication that a friend of hers had, who had also caught the virus. I marveled at how Elizabeth’s ingenuity while also deciding not to lecture her on the perils of self-medication.

When Elizabeth was driving for my mother I really feared for my mother’s life at her hands, given how badly she drove! She was a nervous driver, with not much confidence. She would hesitate in traffic when swift action was called for, and more than once I had to scream in horror at an impending accident and shut my eyes in fear of the near-misses she put us all through when she was at the wheel.

But my mother liked her, so she kept her on. In January, after I had come back from visiting my relatives in Texas, Elizabeth asked to resign, saying rightly so that I would not need her to drive me around, and that she already a job offer with a family for whom she had worked for before. I said, “no problem” and let her go. A few months later I called her to see how she was doing, and Elizabeth informed me that she had been let go in March by the family because they were afraid of the Covid-19 virus.

My mother’s orchids blooming!