Hello everyone, this story was initiated from the prompts from Julie Duffy’s Storyaday.org. I participated in the one in May’ 20. :) Enjoy!
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The Morning Ritual
He stared at his English assignment sheet again as he twiddled with his pen. The assignment was due the next day, and he had the whole week to work on it. The topic was straight-forward; in view of upcoming mother’s day, they needed to each write about what their mother’s hobbies and share it with the class. His English teacher had said, “If your mother has many hobbies, pick one that you think is the most unique and you can share that with everyone.” The exercise was an annual one for Primary 4 students, and the school would award a prize to both the mother and child if the student were to win. Points were given both to the quality of the writing and also the presentation style during the sharing session with other students. While most students were excited about the assignment, Thomas felt a sense of uneasiness.
His mother’s hobby was writing obituaries. And not just any obituary — She loved writing obituaries of herself. Each morning, she would pick two obituaries from the obituary section in the paper and read aloud to everyone at the breakfast table. “It is for inspiration for my own,” she had said. No one at the table would comment about the habit, neither Dad nor his sister. It felt like a regular family conversation. When he was about five years old, he had told one of his friends at the playground regarding the obituary morning ritual. He shoved his friend hard to the ground when he commented about his ‘weird’ mother. Since then, he never told anyone about the ritual. The thing was, his mother was a regular mum, in all other aspects. She went to work, cooked, cleaned the house and nagged at them about homework.
The previous winning entries for the mother’s day event were compiled in a folder in the school’s library. He knew this because the library was almost like a second home to him, and he had been friendly with the librarian Mrs Lim. As there were no rules about reading the past entries, Thomas started reading them the first day after the assignment was given. The competition was started in the school ten years ago and the top two winning entries were kept in the folder. Thomas loved reading but English had never been his strongest subject. Though his grades were not bad, they were not great either. His teachers often commented that his composition writing needed to have a clearer and more consistent storyline. He never understood what that meant. When Thomas finished flipping through the folder (all twenty entries), he came across nothing that seemed un-ordinary. The only one that might have raised a few eyebrows was the entry about Mrs Danisya who loved taking the children out for fishing. Though if it had been a Mr Danisya, fishing might not be a hobby that appeared unique. He could not say the same about the writing of obituaries.
Every few weeks, his mother would share about her latest written obituary. Some of her obituaries were written based on facts and events that had happened. Most were written to include events of the future. One of her obituaries had mentioned that she was leaving behind ten grandkids, but there was no mention of her daughter or son-in-law. His sister and he would start asking hypothetical questions about where she thought her grandkids might be, or if Dad would love them more than he loved them both at the time. There was another obituary where she had indicated that her wake would be held in outer space and her ashes would be scattered there. Thomas loved those family exchanges about her obituary; there was no sadness or feelings of morbidity about the obituary but just laughter and happiness amongst themselves. But he also knew those exchanges were not the norm in other families.
He knocked on his sister’s door. She was three years older than him and had recently started secondary school. Unlike him, his sister had been the high flyer in their primary school. She was the older sister who was at the tip of the tongue of most teachers in the school. Given the frequency he was called “Sasha’s brother”, it would not be surprising if teachers did not know his name. He had hated it so much at the beginning of school that it affected his health, but he loved his sister and overtime, the situation had a lessened impact on him.
“Come in,” she called out.
“Hi Sash. I have an English writing assignment that I want to ask you about,” he said.
She looked at him and smiled. “Mother’s Day? Do not write about the obituaries,” she responded as if reading his thoughts.
“So I should write about baking?” he asked and waited for her reaction. His mother hated baking.
She raised her eyebrows and glared at him. “How did you…”
“I read what you wrote. The winning entries are all in the library. You won second place, and I never knew. Do Mum and Dad know?”
“No.” She was silent for a while. “I was relieved I did not get first place. I had imagined Aunt Helen as Mum when I wrote it,” she continued.
“I do not actually mind the obituaries but I do not know if I should write about it,” he said. His sentiments, however, did change a year later when his mother started giving him the obituaries to edit as part of his weekly English homework practice.
His sister shrugged. “Just remember that you have to share your work with your class. And if you do write about something else, at least write about something Mum does not hate. Or just make sure you do not win,” she said before ushering him out of her room so that she could finish the rest of her school assignments.
Thomas returned to his room and started to write.