The familiar ringing of an outgoing FaceTime call travels through the room. The vibrations of its sound waves are felt strongest near my heart, but maybe I’m just nervous.
The ringing stops and my screen explodes with my mother’s face—she really needs to learn that she doesn’t have to be an inch away from the camera lens for me to see her during a FaceTime call. But maybe that’s her way of decreasing the spatial distance between us, with her in Oakton, Virginia, and with me here in Somerville. I find myself adjusting my grip and bringing the phone closer to me too.
– Haloo chōrī!
– Hello mommy!
– Haloo? Haaloo?
– I’m here, I’m here! Hello!
She adjusts her glasses until they’re nestled into their home address right at the top of her nose.
– Anī timīlā’ī kastō cha? Kē kēhi bhayō?
– I’m fine! No, nothing happened. I’m just calling to talk to you about the column I’m writing for school.
– Haloo? Haloo?
Her image blurs as a message replaces her on my phone screen:
The video will resume automatically when the connection improves.
As I’m left in this virtual space, I stare at the video of myself in the top right corner of my phone and look back at the message overlaying my mom. Poor connection. The video will resume automatically when the connection improves. But when will it improve? Through writing this column, I’m trying to improve it as I attempt to engage in conversations with my mom that I typically wouldn’t have—but will it work? Is this enough to overcome the generational and cultural barriers between us?
– Haloo? Haloo? Riva, kē bhayō?
– The Wi-Fi here is just really bad, but ok, let’s start. So, this week’s theme is desire.
Behind her frames, I can see hints of her eyebrows scrunching together and a wrinkle forming between them, as if to act as a boundary marker saying “HALT! You can’t scrunch any further!”
– So I want us to talk about wants, our wants.
– Right now, I want you to tell me where you are. And what are you drinking? Have you had anything to eat?
I look around. I’m sitting at an outdoor table at Kickstand Café in Arlington drinking their house-brewed chai latte. I had only had a salad that morning, but I knew the angry tirade that I would receive if I told her that.
– Yes, yes, of course! I had a sandwich this morning and I’m just at a café drinking some chai.
– Chai? Why are you going out and drinking chai?
Her words were dripping with hidden meaning: You know I make cups of chai every day for myself and it tastes much better than anything they say is chai here. Why are you going out and buying their chai instead of drinking our chai?
– Mommy, don’t get off topic! What are some of your real wants? Or, what did you want when you were younger?
She moves her head back from the screen and thinks. I wonder if she’s now increasing the spatial distance between us as a way to think back to a time before me; as if spatial distance away from the present makes traveling temporal distances to the past shorter.
– Yes, mommy, I heard you. Can you explain what you mean?
– Ok, when I was younger, I was living in Ilam, you know this. It was very beautiful, but we didn’t have electricity. Our neighbor across the border, Darjeeling, did. During the day, you would just see its hills and our two lands would blend in their natural beauty, but during the night, I would look across and see stars. Not just in the sky, but in the lands. It was electricity. I longed to live among the stars, how wooooonderful it would be.
Electricity. As she speaks, I take her in with attention. She had moved herself closer to me again. Her black hair is in a bun, which is how she usually wears it at home. A few strands had escaped, but they were hardly noticeable as the sun shining behind her illuminated them invisible. As she moves, a few gray hairs can be seen, gleaming like accidental pencil marks on a black piece of paper. Her mouth yields a delicate smile, but it is her eyes that I find myself focused on. I watch as they light up with the remembered lights of Darjeeling and imagine those lights reflected onto a distant night sky. I feel myself uncovering a part of her that was previously hidden by time. I want to see more.
– What else did you dream about? What personal things did you want from life?
– Personal things… hmmm…well I wanted what everybody else did. A good education and a nice husband. Is that what you meant? Times were different back then, I wasn’t thinking about things the way that you guys think now.
– What way is that?
– Well, you guys have so much more independence than I did at that age. You have explored more aspects of life than I had and because of that, think about life, question life, and want different things from life. You value things differently. For me, I know it would be considered small now, but wanting something like electricity was considered a BIG dream… Haloo?
– No, I heard you, I was just taking it all in.
I could feel her gaze on me, assessing me, as if trying to gauge whether I truly understood her. And I do—or at least I think I understand her as much as I can.
In my eighth grade science class, I learned that because of the mitochondria—which can only be received from the mother—humans carry more of their mother’s genes than their father’s. I’ve always carried that little piece of information around with me as a certified fact that my mom and I were more similar than the silence between us gave off.
However, time placed us and continues to push us in different directions. I was born during a different time, in a different place, absorbing a different culture, and every new person and every new experience made and continues to make our underlying genes a little less prominent. As we speak, I keep wanting her to divulge more information about her desires and have them be more “personal,” but movements across different times and boundaries (from Ilam to Virginia—with stops in Jhapa, Biratnagar, Kathmandu, and New York) have shaped her differently. I do think that what I consider her “personal” wants still exist; I think that she just might categorize them differently. So, I shouldn’t expect her responses to parallel what mine would be—that just wouldn’t be her.
– Hmm…okay. What about now? How does it feel to have your dreams of electricity come true and what are your wants now?
– Living among the stars isn’t as magical as I had envisioned. Problems, the darkness, don’t just go away when you turn the lights on. But I am happy. I am happy where I am now and I recognize my privilege. I’ve grown more independent since then and I am stronger now. Now… my wants are for continued happiness and my wants are with you and Susan as you continue to grow up. Everything that you guys want, I want for you two. So chōrī, what do you want? Actually… can we do this later? It is Bijayā Daśamī and I am going to the Durga mandir soon.
– Haha, yes, we can be done for now. Happy Bijayā Daśamī! Love you!
– Love you too, chōrī.