The Sound of Mother

~~ On a numb tongue

The man sitting next to me in the emergency room is a French Israeli, middle aged and coughing like a stuck engine. He clasps his hands against his ribs, and when he gasps for air in between his nearly choking breaths, he cries: Ima, Ima. Oy, ma mère. His teenage daughter sits nearby, but has her head turned away from him, an expression of simple chagrin on her face. I wonder if she’s embarrassed. Then her père limps over to the trash can and spits out a hefty blob of yellow phlegm. I guess that answered my question. I catch her eye and smile, but she looks away, turns back to her phone, probably to ask her friends to save her, or scold her mother for being late. Mère, ou tu est?

Mère, ima, mommy. Where are you? I scratch the rash on my right arm where a drip of prednisone steroids is inserted. My left arm is itchy too, but I can’t scratch it for now. I take out my phone, and send my mother another message. The doctor put me on a steroid drip, to calm down the allergic reaction. I’m sitting in the ER—tongue sticking out, flapping it around. Still swollen and numb. Breathing getting back to normal. Doctor laughed that the cause was Chinese medicine. Failed attempt at Eastern wisdom?  

It’s funny how distance doesn’t matter. My mom lives 2062 miles away, but she was the one to tell me to get to the ER, just to be safe. I took Chinese medicine for a bad cold. I read up about ‘Bi Yan Pian’ before, but missed the note on one of the substances—‘Xanthium Sibiricum’—a toxic plant in the sunflower tribe from native America. I’m guessing, just guessing, that’s what made my tongue swell and senseless, my body break out in a red rash. It was when my breathing became difficult that I messaged my mom. Mommy, it’s hard to breathe, should I call a doctor? Her response was calm, but clear: Just go to the ER to be safe, it will calm you down to know.  

It’s funny how age doesn’t matter. I look at the already greying French man, his face in agony. Ima, ima. The doctor has decided to call him an ambulance, the breathing machine is clearly not helping him. Oy, ma mère, merci. He isn’t calling for his father, just his mother. Mama, moeder, I thought.

It’s funny how baggage doesn’t matter. Yesterday, before my tongue went numb, I had a loaded confrontation with my mother. My argument: although I’m twenty-five and live 2062 miles away, I still need you. I felt bad for making my mom feel inadequate or guilty. It was me who decided to move away, but here I am, still a child, a daughter, and in need of a mother to check up on me. It’s too hard for me, that you’re not near me. So I try to avoid it. I care, I do. We cried and laughed. And today, even though I took a taxi to the ER on my own, I felt her guidance, her messages hugging me.

Em. Mm. Mijn Moeder. My Mommy. Ma Mère. Ima. Umm. Mmm. In phonetics the letter ‘em’ is ‘voiced-labial-nasal’, a soft meditative vibration that moves from the throat to the mouth, massages the tongue and lips—oohmm.

Perhaps this wasn’t a complete failed attempt at Eastern approaches after all. A lesson in Eastern medicine—the connection between body and soul. I needed my mom to fuss about me: my soul passed on the memo to my body, which passed it on to my mom. Merci. Medicine. Mommy.


About the Author
Geula Geurts is a student of English Literature and Poetry at Bar Ilan University. Dutch born, she has lived in Israel for six years and writes for survival, cultural identity and a strong sense of sound and rhythm.