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Illustration by Rachel Wada

If Mom was a colour, she’d be yellow.

She’s talking on the phone, facing the sliding glass doors leading to the backyard, staring into the bare trees. It’s mucky outside. Droplets of rain stream down on the glass in front of her, sometimes joining together or shifting from one side to the other by force of wind. She’s dressed for comfort in a pair of leggings and a soft cotton sweater. She’s holding her old iPhone 5 up to her left ear, her right hand on her hips. “Holding your phone on the left is better to lessen radiation,” she used to tell me. Sure, Mom. Must be something else she read off articles from WeChat. “Don’t eat fruits after eating fish.” “Unplug the electrical appliances at night.” “Put your phone on airplane mode before you sleep.” I’ve heard it all.

If Mom was a colour, she’d be yellow. Maybe a warning sign-yellow.

Mom’s had that phone for too long. Still, she refuses to change it. “I don’t like switching phones. It’s such a hassle. What’s wrong with this phone?” Nothing, Mom. Have at your tiny phone. Mom doesn’t mind the same old same old. Mom doesn’t mind most things. She doesn’t mind if I ask her to help me with the supper dishes when she’s already been working all day. She doesn’t mind the boiling summers in southern China. She doesn’t mind using a 10-year-old desktop computer that never stays connected to WiFi.

If Mom was a colour, she’d be yellow. A mellow kind of yellow.

Sprawled on a couch in another room behind her, I can see the black-reddish hair she’s gotten from dyeing it to cover up the grey. It’s tied up in her signature low-maintenance ponytail. I’ve told her the red doesn’t look natural. It looks streaky. But, she doesn’t care. She likes it and says she needs to use up the red dye anyway. She’s been chatting a while now on that phone. Mom makes anyone feel welcome to call about their day or about their difficult husbands. She spends hours at a time, catching up with each or rambling about what she’s been up to. She’s lucky if I don’t catch her talking about her own difficult children.

Leaving Mom is never easy when we live so far apart

The blanket that kept mom cozy, and warmed my granddaughter’s heart

If Mom was a colour, she’d be yellow. A warm yellow that says, “Hey, make yourself at home.”

Mom sits down at the dining table, still on the phone. She’s smiling. When she does, her tired down-turned eyes soften and crinkle at the corners. The fine lines she hates appear and the apples of her cheek lift up with the rest of her tan face. Then, she breaks out into an infectious laugh. The sound of it is familiar and comforting. Most of the time, at least. Sometimes, it’s a front so she doesn’t burden us with her troubles. She’s never learned to put herself first. Other times, it’s her way of dealing with discomfort that only makes things even more uncomfortable.

If Mom was a colour, she’d be yellow. A glowing honey yellow with intricate layers.

She’s absent-mindedly tracing the same flower over and over on a piece of paper while she talks. Mom is absent-minded a lot of the time. She forgets what she wants to tell me the moment I’m there. She forgets the names of foods and common household objects. She forgets if she’s cleaned the cat’s litter. She forgets where she left her iPhone 5. She also forgets how often she lectures me about staying safe from men when I go out.

Mom is yellow. But, she’s also many other things. Mom is crimson red when she talks about Asian hate crimes and how the former U.S. government fostered hatred against China through the media. Mom is baby blue before bed when I crawl inside her thick duvet to say goodnight, knowing her phone is already on airplane mode. Mom is a soft lavender when she gives me a hug before I even tell her I needed it. But really, she’s any colour I need her to be.

But, if Mom was one colour, she’d be yellow.

She’s yellow when she dances in the kitchen, preparing fried rice for supper. She’s yellow when she sings off-key to Chinese songs from the 1980s, mumbling half of the lyrics because she doesn’t remember them. She’s yellow when she plays with and cuddles our cat, Reuka, the one she swore she wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole at first. She’s yellow when she bakes us banana bread with our overripe bananas. She’s also yellow when she admits she forgot to add eggs, as we bite into dry greyish bread that’s risen half the regular volume.

I sense the phone conversation nearing its end. Mom is tired. She’s always complaining about it and about all the things she has to do around the house. Yet, she still finds time to help me with the dishes when I ask, check up on her friends every day and lecture me about everything she suddenly remembers. Mom hangs up. She does a few of the dynamic stretches she learned from yoga class. I ask her who it was. She tells me it was Grandma. She sighs, “Grandma is so repetitive. It’s almost like she forgets she told me the same thing yesterday.”

Minna Feng lives in Montreal.

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