‘Look at that girl’s hair,’ my mother whispers. She speaks incredibly soft whenever she does this, barely moving her lips. She is afraid of the girl hearing her but has no problem staring as if the stranger has just spurted an extra arm and is slapping the man standing in the queue in front of her.
My father shakes his head, ‘Does she actually think she looks good like that?’
I peer over my shoulder. It’s easy to spot this particular victim. Her pastel pink curls flow down to about her elbow.
‘Stop staring!’ my mother slaps my father’s arm. They both continue gawking until she leaves the café.
‘So,’ I change the subject of discussion, ‘how’s everything at home?’
My mother shrugs, ‘Same old, same old.’
My dad nudges her, almost out of the booth, ‘Tell Olive about Judy Green’s daughter.’
She rolls her eyes, ‘Got herself pregnant!’
‘She’s like fifteen,’ I say.
‘Exactly,’ my parents mutter at the same time.
‘Anyway,’ Mom sighs, ‘Everyone is of course extremely disappointed. She was going to become a doctor.’
‘She still could,’ I try.
‘And who will look after the child?’
‘Judy’s going to end up raising another baby,’ Dad peers over the rim of his reading glasses at his new smartphone, ‘and in her fifties. How do I take a selfie on this thing?’
Mom’s eyes shoot to the ceiling, ‘The poor woman,’ she takes the phone from Dad’s hands, presses an icon, and hands it back. Of course my mother knows how to take a selfie. Her Instagram feed is littered with them.
‘It’s only her own fault,’ my father adds, ‘We told her not to let Amber join those theatre groups. A bunch of marijuana-smoking hippies they all were.’
‘Thank God we never had these issues with you kids,’ Mom sips at her Green Tea.
I performed in all my plays in high school under the pretence of tutoring the primary school kids. I even printed out a certificate and forged my qualification as a recognized English tutor. The laminated piece of paper still hangs on the fridge at home.
My mother changes the subject before I can, ‘Have you made any new friends here?’
‘A few,’ I reply airily.
Dad lifts his arm, ‘Let’s take a photo for your brother and sister,’ he beams at the phone afterward, ‘Olive, your eyes are closed. It’s going on the Instagran.’
Mom beams at the thought of new people, ‘Lovely! When are we meeting them? Instagram, Richard, gram.’
I thought about this. I really did. My parents meeting Ayesha with her black clothes and matching soul; Alex with his current hairstyle being a subdued turquoise mane right on top of his head; Brandon and his gauged earlobes; Noah with her sleeve tattoos, and Hannah. Out of everyone, my parents would like Hannah the most. She was sweet and funny, and she was probably the most suburban-surfaced of them all. My parents would be drawn to the sense of familiarity with their own kind. But they couldn’t meet Hannah. The thought made me extremely uncomfortable in an inexplicable way.
Looking back, I wasn’t reluctant in having my parents meet Hannah. I was terrified of my Hannah meeting the parents, even before she was my Hannah. I was so afraid she would assume I shared their thinking and beliefs; their judgements and opinions. Which is silly, I know. Of course, I thought like my parents. I had spent my life with them; they had raised me. What completely escaped me was the fact that I was, after all, my own person. Just a vastly different one in front of them.
It didn’t cross my mind that my friends might see my mother and father as I often did: their good hearts, generosity and endless kindness. My mother’s willingness to share and include everyone around the table, my father’s empathy towards strangers and readiness to volunteer in our neighbourhood when it came to helping anyone out, but most importantly, their love. Even after thirty-two years together, they still loved one another as much as when they first met.
But I couldn’t take that chance. I had my two worlds and they were not to collide.
So, I did what I always seemed to do around my parents: I lie.
‘All my friends have left the city for the long weekend,’ I say, ‘or they’re finishing their projects and assignments before Spring Break.’
‘Oh,’ my mother seems disappointed, although this doesn’t last very long, ‘Speaking of Spring Break, did you hear what happened to Christopher Geralds during his break last year? You know Christopher, right? Lizzie’s oldest son with her second husband?’
I nod, not knowing at all, because it’s easier pretending I know who they’re talking about than launching into a conversation about people I don’t care about. We only have a weekend together and I don’t want to spend the next 72 hours discussing Lizzie and her second husband’s oldest son.
‘Well, he got caught with some sort of bush on him at the airport.’
‘Maybe he just hadn’t shaved for a while,’ I interject.
My dad snorts, leaning across the table to give me a high-five.
‘Stop it!’ Mom frowns, ‘The lad spent his entire Easter doing community service.’
‘It’s only his parent’s fault,’ Dad shakes his head, ‘If they hadn’t sent him off to that camp when he was sixteen,’ the lines in his forehead crumple at the thought, ‘That’s where he started experimenting with the other boys too.’
‘Richard!’ Mom’s bright blue eyes immediately dart around the packed café to see if anyone heard him. My mother’s biggest fear was people staring at her in public, so she married a six-foot tall Nephilim with a thick moustache and bellowing vocal range.
‘I’m telling you, Caroline,’ Dad ignores her pleas at keeping him quiet, like he always does, ‘What good does colouring in and talking about your feelings do to a young man? Turns them into pouf-’
‘Okay!’ I lift my menu to cover my burning cheeks, ‘What are we eating?’