Burden by Huina Zheng

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Mom, when you said you wanted to live with us, I thought you meant the seven-day National Day holiday, so I agreed at once. After all, we live in different cities and don’t often see each other. But half a month passed, and you had no intention of leaving. Ling asked me several times when you would leave. So, I asked when you would go home so I could take you to the station.
            Then you told me you planned to live with us, cook for us, and care for us. You said, “You are so busy running a restaurant. I can help look after Bin and take him to and from school. As a retired teacher, I can also help him with his studies. I can reduce your burden.”
            When Ling heard this, she gave me a stern look. I said, “Mom, you have a pension, house, and good health. Why do you want to live with us? Times have changed in China. A lot of old people don’t live with their married children anymore. You have to go with the flow.”
            You wiped the tears from the corners of your eyes with the back of your hand and said, “Your father died early. I didn’t remarry for you and went through a lot to raise you. I even paid for your apartment’s down payment. Can’t you even leave me a room?”
            I said, “I know you’ve sacrificed a lot for me, but if we live together, we will have many conflicts. You’re putting a burden on me.”
            You said, “My former colleague Chen lived alone after her husband died. She fell at home and broke her legs, and no one knew, and she passed away that way. She died of thirst and hunger. Do you want me to die as miserably as she did?”
            And with that, you locked yourself in your room and cried. Your whimpering came through the walls and disturbed Bin, who came out of his room and asked, “What’s wrong with Granny?” We told him you were going home soon and were sad to leave us. “Can’t Granny stay?” Bin asked. Ling and I looked at each other, and I said, “Well, we’ll discuss this with your granny.”
            Ling and I discussed it in our room. She said, “If your mother stays, I’ll leave with our son. I can’t stand her anymore.”
            She listed all your horrible habits like you only took a shower every two days and smelled. And you liked to interfere in our lives. She liked ice water, but you always told her to drink warm water, saying ice water was bad for her health. Bin didn’t do well on an exam, and when she lectured him, you said your grandson was only seven years old. You had been a teacher for decades and knew how important a happy childhood was to children. She put up with it because she was well-bred and respected the old, but she took all her anger out on me every night when I got home. Mom, I worked hard all day and had to deal with my wife’s anger for your sake.
            I wanted to fulfill your wish, but your daughter-in-law wouldn’t let you stay. I promised her I would make you change your bad habits and listen to her, but she refused. I had to tell her you had a pension of 5,000 yuan a month and a good amount of savings. I could ask you to trust me with your savings. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our restaurant suffered severe losses, and we were deeply in debt. With the savings from you, we could pay off the debt.
            Of course, I couldn’t tell you so frankly; otherwise, you wouldn’t give me your money. I would ask you to give me your savings for safekeeping. On the one hand, it could be used as treatment expenses when you fell ill, and on the other hand, it was safer to keep it here. Too many old people were cheated of their savings by swindlers. You should also give me your pension. The high cost of living in the city put us under tremendous pressure, and you needed to pay for your living expenses.
            Ling loosened up a bit but still hesitated. I continued to tell her that Bin would soon go to middle school. I could ask you to sell your house and use the money to buy a school district house for Bin, so he could attend a good middle school. And with you living with us, you wouldn’t need the house. It was beneficial for everyone.
            At this point, your daughter-in-law finally agreed. The next day, I told you these conditions; you could only live with us if you agreed. You said you could change your habits and obey Ling, but you refused to give in regarding money and the house.
            You said the savings were to secure your livelihood in old age; if you gave it to me, you would never get it back. As for the pension, you could give us 3,000 yuan a month. You also needed money to socialize. Your house was your root, and you would never sell it. Besides, Bin was only 7 years old, and we didn’t need to consider his middle school so soon.
            Mom, that meant you didn’t treat me like a son or trust me. But you said all parents knew how difficult to get money from their children.
            Neither of us could convince the other. In anger, I blurted out, “You are selfish. You want me to care for you but refuse to give me anything. My friends’ parents gave everything to them. Won’t all the money be left to me when you die?”
            You burst into tears and said, “People always say we should bring up sons to support us in our old age, but you want my money in exchange for you to take care of me. In the end, when I’m old and useless, I become your burden.” You knew I didn’t mean that. I was just angry, but you told me you decided to go home and live on your own.
            You didn’t call me for a long time. When I called you, you didn’t answer the phone. I messaged you several times on WeChat, but you didn’t reply. You were still angry, but Mom, I am your only child, and you can’t stay mad at me for long.
            I learned through your former student, Chen, who lived near you, that you hired a caregiver, installed a camera in the house he could access, and carried your phone all the time, just in case. I am relieved to know that you are well. Even though we fought at the end, I’m glad you’re okay. I will visit you during the Chinese spring festival. Things will return to normal. After all, I am your son and still filial to you.

Huina Zheng holds a M.A. in English Studies degree. Her stories were published in Baltimore Review, Variant Literature, Midway Journal and other journals. She lives in Guangzhou, China with her husband and a daughter.


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