Straight, no chaser | Inquirer Opinion
Young Blood

Straight, no chaser

In 2011 my mother died, and Sokoto, Nigeria, did not witness the cosmic pageantry of a very important tragedy. The endless African skies did not open up. The gods toyed with the ones below and then retired for their beauty sleep. A death like hers, devoid of romance, is a tired formula. It was biology, ecology—straight, no chaser. The diabetic body shut down, it was put in the ground, and the next day the sun rose as usual.

Likewise, her family in this continent went about their everyday adult affairs because for them she had been dead long ago. She had been for me as well, and so when I found out in 2013 that she was gone for real, it was not so much a discovery as a confirmation. I killed her off; perhaps everybody did as well, not out of malice but convenience. Or maybe desperation. An absent parent is a theory as substantial as spare change—at best, or worst, an unknown that vexed, accused and offended us for our ignorance and willed helplessness.

We all waited, the maybe-orphaned kid and the village that raised me (not in the healthiest, most professional way but hey, they tried)—waited, waited for Godot. When does waiting end and resignation begin? When does one decide to forget, or does one decide at all?


Two years is so short a time to separate mother and daughter, yet how impossible, just impossible, to traverse. That is because mother and daughter were also separated by the rootlessness of their relationship, the pointlessness of a supposed shared experience that never was and never will be. Who was she, anyway? What was she? Old pictures lost in the endless moves. Pretty Christmas cards (when they still came) that her idiotic daughter used to embellish her school projects (I am so very sorry). Letters written in English, in self-possessed cursive. A woman described (or dismissed?) by her own folks as too brainy, too strong, too fiery, too ambitious, too much English, too high standards, too everything. As if all these modifiers were enough to contain too big a life and a personality, and do them justice. Much wisdom.


Poor daughter cannot unsee what Fate has mischievously scrawled on the wall. There are questions that multiply like bacteria, and just as diseased if one’s not careful. For example: What did she sound like? Why didn’t she wonder, worry, remember? Remember. Remember me?

How could you, Mother? How could any mother? (How dare ask the daughter, who was herself in cryogenic suspension.)


Poor daughter is faced with many more sleepless nights. It stings, it burns. She survives a wave of resentment, only to be pulled away by an undertow of guilt. Maybe she tells herself, Well, at least her mother had a good life. And then maybe that pisses her off because it was a life without her. Maybe her mother didn’t exactly have a blast because, again, it was a life without her. Or maybe she did precisely because it was a life without her.

Daughter wants to shut up her brain. She is tired of dredging up every crappy feeling a human being is cursed with the talent of conjuring.

However, feeling better is an art. It takes time to master, and it is not for everyone.

Then again, maybe eventually when all the craziness has died down, when daughter has rid herself of the bad juju, when she has cut her mother loose (flesh, spirit, past), maybe, maybe.

Maybe the umbilical cord from the grave does not have to be a noose. Maybe, Mother, the idea of us both does not have to suck. Maybe the worst of you will be forgiven, and mine, too. And the best of you will live on, live on in me.

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Michelle Faulan Chedjou, 28, was born in the Philippines to a Cameroonian father and a Filipino mother and has lived here all her life. She works as an ESL teacher in Pasig City. Her mother was an English teacher in Nigeria.

TAGS: deaths, Family, mothers, parents, tribute

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