Five years ago, when you agreed to take early retirement to care for me after a fall in the shower left me hemiplegic, I thought you knew that as the oldest child, you had a responsibility to care for your mother. Now I know you were up to something.
After your father died ten years ago, you told me to go to a nursing home or hire a caregiver, saying that the money your father left me and my pension were enough for me to live comfortably. Lan, you’re selfish. You worked in the government with high wages. Didn’t it ever occur to you that your brother Bin worked in a factory with a low income? He has two children to support. What would he do if I didn’t help him? Could he rely on you and Yan, his two sisters?
After I was paralyzed, you again suggested sending me to a nursing home or hiring a caregiver. I said, “People will laugh at me if they know my children abandon me.” Yan said, “I work in a faraway city. Big sister, you live near Mother. Please care for her.” You replied, “Bin should do it, not me. According to the custom, sons should support their parents. Bin is Mother’s favorite child. Moreover, we already paid for the down payment on his house.” I lost my temper and shouted, “Lan, you ungrateful daughter!”
Bin told you, “You’ll turn 50 in a month and can apply for early retirement, and your husband’s salary is high.” Finally, you said even though you would lose a lot of benefits and money for your pension, you would care for me. What did you mean? You wanted to tell me how much you sacrificed for me? Why didn’t you think about what I had done to raise you?
Yan said, “It’s hard for our big sister to care for Mother. How about Bin paying 1,300 yuan and I paying 500 yuan monthly to support our mother?” You all agreed, and I began to live with you.
At first, you treated me well. You changed my diapers, cooked for me, and turned on the TV for me to kill time. But you liked to go out, dancing in the park or playing cards downstairs, for two or three hours at a time. All this time, I was thirsty, and nobody poured me water. Of my three children, Bin was the only one nice to me. He called me and said he had transferred the money to you, asking you to make delicious food for me, not to save money for him. You took your brother’s money, but I didn’t dine well. I woke up hungry and thirsty at five, but you slept until six. I had to yell, or you wouldn’t get up and make me breakfast. When I wanted a midnight snack, you said you were tired and wanted to sleep. You wanted to starve me. You didn’t care what I liked to eat. You always cooked the same dishes. I didn’t want to eat, and you gave me a stern look and told me to open my mouth. I spit the food at you in a fit of anger. Seeing the taut expression on your face, I was relieved. Now you knew you couldn’t neglect your mother.
I like honey water, but you didn’t let me drink it, saying that drinking too much honey water would increase urine production and that the sweet food wasn’t good for my health. You just didn’t want to change my diaper. Although I was paralyzed, I could still punish you. I ripped the diaper and soiled the bed. I was pleased to see you angry. For an ungrateful daughter like you, you deserved punishment.
Bin told me his factory was shut down for two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He couldn’t make ends meet, but he still needed to give you a sum of money every month. I see it now. No wonder you agreed to take care of me. Under this arrangement, you won’t have to pay alimony; your brother will pay most of it. You made the most money among my three children but are the stingiest. When I scolded you, you said you had been waiting on me, and that was your alimony. You said you saved your brother and sister a lot of money in caregiving fees. You also said that the cost of utilities, nursing tools, and even occasional doctor’s visits added up to more than 1,800 yuan a month. You didn’t ask your siblings to share these costs, considering you were the highest paid. You tried to fool me with that lie? I’m paralyzed and old, but my mind is clear.
Last month Bin visited me and exclaimed how much weight I had lost. I burst into tears. He saw right away how you mistreated me. Your brother questioned you, but you said you had developed high blood pressure and lumbar disc herniation while taking care of me these years. You said your hands had calluses from giving me a massage every day. You said, “Since you think I don’t treat our mother well, you can take her back. I have waited on her for five years and done my duty. You, the son, should take care of her now.” Bin objected, saying he was too busy working in the factory, and his wife had to work and look after their two children.
I cried. As the saying goes, the eldest sister is like a mother. Yan, as the eldest daughter, you should take on the responsibility. Bin and Yan are so ungrateful because you didn’t set a good example. People say we should have children so we have someone to rely on when we grow old. But who can I rely on?
Huina Zheng holds a M.A. in English Studies degree and has worked as college essay coach. Her stories were published in Variant Literature, Evocations Review, The Meadow, Ignatian Literary Magazine and other journals. Her fiction “Ghost Children” was nominated for the 2022 Pushcart Prize. She lives in Guangzhou, China with her husband and a daughter.