My mother was always half-asleep by 8:00 p.m.
Each morning, she woke at 3:00 to begin the day’s chores.
My mother always knew when I did something bad.
Even when I did those bad things far away,
Somehow she knew by the time I came home.
She never got angry, but always looked sad.
When I peeked into the kitchen later,
I saw her crying alone.
My mother took sedatives.
One time she overdosed,
And I found her—
Passed out in the very bathtub
She had been cleaning.
My mother often went missing.
Sometimes it was for as short as one week.
Sometimes it was for as long as three years.
When I turned 28, she left for good.
She jumped from a tall building, and killed herself.
Everyone cried at the funeral.
Everyone except me.
They cried not understanding
The real meaning of her death.
My mother used to speak ill of my father and sister.
But to this day, I believe that she never said the same of me.
I mean, she stood in front of my apartment on the day she died.
At least, that’s what the building’s super – an old woman – told me later.
Twelve years passed.
One day, I went into my father’s room and
Opening the doors of my mother’s small altar
Found it coated in dust and grime
Like a filthy garbage can.
I felt sorry for my mother
So made it nice and clean.
Everyday since then, I’ve prayed to that altar.
In the process, all the evil within me vanished:
Violence. Hysteria. Sleeping pills. Coke. Addiction.
All the things that hurt those around me.
I may be a reformed man
But know that all the misdeeds of my past
Are yet to come raining down upon me
At some point.
Even so, I’ve become a little bit happier
That’s enough for me.
The face in the portrait inside mom’s little altar is always changing.
Whenever I’m tempted to do wrong, her face is stern.
Whenever I’m suffering, she seems as though she might cry.
Today, when I look at my mother’s picture,
I see the trace of a smile.
Only now am I beginning to learn what even children know.
Essay by Ko Kosuge
(Translation: Daniel Gonzalez)