(15): 17th, May, 2024 set in Mamoudzou, Mayotte, France

« It has come to this time, and you know it. »

« She is still young. She looks this way, and it looks hopeless, but I am not desolate. I know my mother. I know what she is capable of and what she is not. »

« So, will you disagree with what the doctors say and let your mother suffer because you are stubborn? »

« I will do what is best for my mother, and that is all. »

23 March, 2024

His mother made a choking sound. He and his wife were in the dining room picking at the crab with their hands. His mother could not do it herself, and so he took the crab and mashed it into a pulp to feed directly to her. It was common for her to cough while she ate, but this time she made a sound that was stronger than that. It was the sound of someone trying to expel food out of their lungs.

His wife came up from behind and patted her. The choking sounds stopped. He talked with his wife. They wondered if the pieces were too big for her. He tried some of the mush. There were some red wedges that even he could have choked on. He should have been more careful. At his mother’s age, just the simple act of remembering how to swallow was difficult. A lot of people at that age died because their throat muscles gave out.

Father hoped that day would be a good time away from this one. He asked his wife to mash the crab better. Whatever they served for the rest of the meal did not choke his mother. He did see some tears in her eyes, but she teared often. He observed her, tried to talk to her when she seemed in the mood to attempt speech, and when she had finished her meal and her throat was fully settled, he turned on the television, and they watched it together, knowing that he’d have to go to the hospital for work in an hour and be there for the rest of the day.

29 March, 1960

It was a festive night in the town of Mtsamborou. Because of the breaking of the fast and the start of iftaar, everyone was out on the street, getting fried brochette and snacks from the various venders. Boys were out playing ball. The women were in the hovels on each side, sitting on the steps, eating their meals, feeding their children, and partaking in gossip.

The young Abdou Madi was out with his brothers and his mother. His father was on the coast with his friends who were fishermen. It was rare for Abdou to be with his family, but he liked to spend time with them. Abdou was five. He saw the boys playing ball and it filled him with curiosity. He tried to run over to them, but because his sandals were broken, he kept falling over. His brothers laughed at him and called him names rather than help him up. Tired, he decided to go back to his mother.

His mother, who was known in the village as Zakia Madi, was sitting on their stoop. She was by the fire making the pilao that she would serve to him and his brothers and the other men and women of the household.

The pilao had a strong saffron, spicy taste. He would mash the peas with his tongue and swallow the small carrot pieces whole. The chicken pieces sometimes got wedged in between his teeth, and his mother would tell him to keep his mouth shut so as to not show the neighbours how unkempt his mouth was.

But his mother wasn’t that much better when it came to eating. She must have been hungry from the fasting. She took her hand to the plate and stuck as much food as possible into her mouth. Only one in every six hands went to her son.

It never really changed over the years. Whether it was during the breaking of the fast during the holy month or just food that she made regularly in her own home, Zakia Madi was a ravenous eater. She drank little water, but gulped down her food as if it were liquid, and that was probably where Abdou had learned the habit. Years later, Abdou moved to Mamoudzou for work and he learned to eat all sorts of things, from Chinese food commonly sold at nearby restaurants to the French styles of croissants and baked goods that were common in the capital. His mother never had that exposure and stuck to what she ate, but for Abdou, that was a good thing. Abdou became a father, and Abdou became a doctor, and Abdou became a fixture of the capital, but whenever he visited his hometown in the north of the island, it was like time was stuck in place, with his mother always bending over the fire outside of their small little hovel, cloaked in hijab, throwing spices and vegetables bits into the rice she was boiling in her pot.

2 April, 2024

« What is that sound? »

« Do not worry. She makes it when she is eating. »

« It sounds like a crow is dying. »

« Halima, this is the mother of my husband. She is like a grandmother to you. She is our family. Do not say such things. And today is the day of my husband’s birthday. Do you want to come here to tell him your wishes, or are you going to make him sad? »

« I am sorry. »

« Mariame, I am fine. Your niece means well. When people get old, they make different sounds. In time she will come to learn them. Now, Halima, you came here for a reason, I am sure. What is it? »

« Happy birthday, my uncle. »

« Thank you so much, my child. I am happy to see you here. »

« Thank you. Auntie, I have something else to discuss with you. We will go to the other room and speak. »

« Thank you for coming, Halima. »

« Anytime, my uncle. I wish a good day to you. »

« Thank you…now, my mother, do not make such a face. It is my birthday. She means well. She doesn’t know you. You are doing well, my mother. Now, open your mouth. Yes, like that. Good. Will you have some more cake? Eat, if you please. Eat… »

14 May, 2024

It was inevitable that her throat would stop working. She was an old woman, and she had lost most of the mobility in her legs and body. At some point the upper parts were going to go as well. But when Mother called and told Father that his mother, the great dame of the family, Zakia Madi, was blue in the face, and she didn’t know what to do, his first instinct was to think that she was dying.

Father was at work, tending to one of his patients at the main hospital of Mamoudzou. He politely told the nurse who was on staff with him to continue the patient’s check-up, and he rushed to the ER, demanding that they send an ambulance. Father’s house was just on the other side of the hospital. It only took them a few minutes to curve through the snaking small roads of the city centre. Father was happy to see that his mother was alive. She was lying on the floor on her belly, with the caramel colour back to her face. He saw pieces of pilao and chicken on her orange flower dress and her unfastened headscarf on the table, as Mother had probably removed it while trying to get the food out of Koko Madi’s throat.

Koko Madi was too old and frail to be attended to with the Heimlich manoeuvre. The paramedic had to bend her at certain angles to make sure all the food was dislodged. Koko Madi coughed and flailed and ultimately vomited, spilling a yellow gruel of rice and chicken all over the hardwood floor. Koko Madi was put on a stretcher, placed in the ambulance, and sent to the hospital, alongside her son.

The news came after some tests that it was dysphagia. Father knew it had to be something like that, given how often Koko Madi coughed and hacked out whatever they fed her. The doctor who looked over his mother recommended that they insert a tube into her throat so that she could be fed with it. Father thought carefully but ultimately decided against it. His mother loved the taste of pilao too much. She would grow depressed not being able to eat food. Given that she was no longer able to walk or talk, food was the only thing left that she could enjoy, and Father did not want to take that away from her.

Koko Madi left the hospital, and Father told Mother over the phone that she really had to watch her as she was being fed. Mother asked Father what the doctor at the hospital had said, and Father said nothing. He would tell her in some days, when he had the free time to talk properly about his mother’s situation.

15 May, 2024

« Let her eat pilao, please. »

« It is a bad idea. »

« My mother loves pilao. If she were your mother, you would understand. »

« If she were my mother…well, since I take care of her all day long and all week long, it is like she is my mother. That is the truth. It is a bad idea to feed her rice. It will get stuck in her throat. Aren’t you the doctor? Should you not be the one saying this? »

« I suppose… »

« I suppose I have become the doctor of this family now, and the caretaker, and the one you vent all of your frustrations on. And it is unfair since you are not giving any payment. Remember? You are the one who is receiving payment. »

«You are not thinking correctly. I do not want to fight. You are my wife. I love you. But she is not ready… »

« Abdou, my love…the doctor said she needs to have her throat cut open. There needs to be a tube put in. Why did you not tell me? You are also a doctor. You would say something different if she were your patient. I know she is your mother. I know it is hard. But the mother whom you knew is long gone, my love. You have to really think about what is best for her. It has come to this time, and you know it. »

17 May, 2024

Father is not able to come into the room when his mother is having her throat drilled into, but at least he visits after the tube is inserted. He sees the strange little nob at the start of his mother’s chest. He goes immediately to grab her by the hand. She is making an anguished noise. It is like the helpless sound that animals make when they are about to be taken to the slaughterhouse by their owners. Father’s hand tightens around hers, and he feels her hand tighten around his, too, but her sounds do not stop.

The nurse comes to show him how to feed her. Father finds this condescending. He is a doctor. He knows how it is done. Still, at this point, he is the son of a patient, and he does not argue with her. The liquid is poured down the tube, making a strange gurgling sound, like putting oil into a machine.

But unlike a machine, Koko Madi has the most humiliated look in her eyes as she is being fed. She makes a protesting sound, but ultimately quiets when she realises it doesn’t change the outcome.

Father knows that she knows that what she is being subjected to is degrading.

She would have never wanted this. If she were still able to speak, she would have told her son to kill her then and there. Or she would have asked for her death months before, before she progressed to this state. She would have absolutely not wanted to live if she had known that her future would be a mindless body, with none of her organs or muscles working properly.

Though, then again, that is the future for all beings, even Father. What would he choose? Would he want to live on in a state barely considered life, because it was better than being nothing at all, or would he want to have peace, that sense of relief, that knowing of finality, when he could at the very least choose the end?

Father signs some papers to pay for the surgery. He doesn’t let go of his mother’s hand as she sits in her wheelchair. Mother was right when she said it. Father isn’t ready to let go. He wants to be hopeful. He wants to believe that this is the right decision for his mother. He wants to make sure his mother lives and lives and lives, even though his gut instinct tells him that all he has done is prolong the inevitable.

His mother’s hand grows sweaty and she lets it go limp, but he holds on. He tells himself over and over again that he will never let go. This is not one of his patients. This is his mother. His mother never gave up on him no matter what problems he faced. It is his fate, as a son, to do the same, until the end of her life comes.