By Chris Simon
"Now you can take over," Mum said days before she died,
her face lurid yellow against her socialized English hospital sheets. She
meant her fish & chips den in downtown London. No roomier than the
decapitated top of a Beefeater bus, it was nevertheless prime real estate.
"But only if you want to."
That part did not sound like her. So I sat by her bed
and waited for her to retract, to tell me I should take the bleedin' job
and not consider myself above wrapping kipper and fries in newspaper for
the rest of my life. But she offered no such pointed advice. Instead, she
lay as if sponged clean by her pain, for which she refused medication,
her cancer just so much hot vegetable oil splashing out onto her skin.
And reiterated: "Do what you want. You needn't worry about me rolling over
in my grave. There won't be bleedin' room."
I waited several months before running the advertisement,
then turned down two interested buyers, both of whom wanted to tear down
the place, then rebuild. I waited one more month, selling at last to a
Punjabi woman who hoped eventually to put her daughter through university
by plying samoosas, papadams with curried chicken, apple halwa. She'd got
a bank loan, worked out how much of each she needed to sell to make her
loan payments and still put aside money to cover her daughter's first year.
It was a lot of food.
"And after that?" I ventured.
"After that," she said, scowling so the red kumkum dot on her brow folded almost in half, "the girl can make her own bloody papadams."
Copyright © 2001 Chris Simon
Chris writes both fiction and nonfiction. Having grown
up in South Africa, Germany, and the USA, he tries to write about identity,
place, the making and unmaking of home. He has a Ph.D. in anthropology,
and tries to draw a little on that, too. He has published in several print
journals and online zines, even dabbled in poetry. Short stories are harder.