Paloma knew something was wrong when she got home from school and found that her mother was home. Her mother was rarely home at all, and for her to be sitting in the kitchen, waiting for her, was a sign that something was very wrong, indeed.
She had prepared a snack, a Japanese ceramic cup of cold tea and a plate of fried rice topped with a semi-soft omelette. Her mother was not much of a cook, but this was a dish she had perfected, and it was a bit over the top for just a snack.
It was also rather more of a snack than Paloma usually had after school. She needed to be at swim practice a little later on, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to swim after eating a big plate of food. She sank onto a barstool at the kitchen island and eyed her mother with suspicion.
“I thought you might like something to eat,” her mother began in Japanese. She paused, waiting for a response.
“Thank you,” said Paloma. She replied in Japanese but it felt weird and formal. She didn’t speak it much, since she didn’t see her mother too often. She squirmed in her seat. She had homework, and she had to get to swim practice a little early today, because she was going to be the stretching leader for her group. The stretching leader also had to make sure everyone had kickboards, pull buoys, and water bottles ready. This took time, because some of the less reliable boys in the group didn’t even know what they did and didn’t have at the start of practice. If they weren’t ready, Paloma would get chewed out by the assistant coach with the ponytail. The point was to get the group to function well together as a team, and for the kids to feel guilty about being responsible for getting the stretching leader into trouble, but the troublemaker boys didn’t care. It was a complete fail as a management practice.
Paloma hated being the stretching leader. Fortunately, it was only for a week. The ponytail coach didn’t like her, she was sure of it. This stretching leader thing was agony.
“Aren’t you going to eat?”
Reluctantly, Paloma picked up her fork. She speared a piece of omelette, wondering how much she could get away with leaving behind. She really could not eat this much food before practice. Really, what was her mom thinking.
Well, she knew that actually, her mom had no idea what she ate before practice.
Although it sure tasted good. Paloma hadn’t realized how much she missed Japanese food. The cook’s food was good but it was basic American food.
As soon as her mouth was full, she suddenly realized that her mom was going to tell her something important, and since her mouth was full, she wouldn’t be able to respond. It was a trick, she thought irritably. She put her fork down, and tried to look at the wall clock without being too obvious.
“I have to tell you something,” her mother was saying.
Paloma tried to smile and look encouraging. She chewed. Faster, faster, she was thinking. Just say it. I need to go.
But her mother was watching her carefully, and this made her feel flustered. She picked up her fork again and speared another piece of omelet.
Said in her mother’s Japanese accent, “Paloma” came out “Paroma.” Paloma wondered, not for the first time, why her mother had give her a name she had a hard time pronouncing. It was probably her father’s fault. The guy responsible for the Caucasian half of her genes. Yeah, that was it. He must have insisted on a Western name.
Except that according to her mother, he hadn’t been the least bit interested in her, so why would he have insisted on anything at all?
“I’ve decided to return to Japan.”
That made Paloma stop chewing.
“What?” she said, her mouth still full. Her mind raced. The way her mother had said it, it wasn’t clear who exactly was returning to Japan.
Her mother? Alone? Or the two of them, together?
For a moment, Paloma didn’t know what to think—was this good news or bad? Did she want her mother to go away and leave her alone?
Considering that most of the time her mother wasn’t even home, she had never even thought about whether she wanted her mother around or not. She just wasn’t around, and that was the way it was.
“At the end of the week.”
The omelette was good. It was really good.
Paloma took a drink of tea. The tea was good, too. She used to drink cold Japanese tea a lot when she was younger. When was that? In Singapore? Or was it in Florida? She couldn't remember. But it seemed as if in another time and place, her mother had been around more and had made her tea for her thermos. She would drink it at swim meets.
Or was that just her imagination? Was it the nanny who had packed her snacks and her thermos?
Was she going back to Japan with her mother? Was her mother leaving her here? In Texas?
Her mother had stopped talking and was gazing into space. Paloma glanced at the wall clock. She stifled a groan. She was going to be late.
“I don't think we should take much with us,” her mother said finally. She looked back at Paloma. “Anything you want, you can buy in Japan. It'll be easier if we just take a few things.”
“We're both going?” Paloma blurted out.
“What a stupid question,” her mother snapped. She stood up and threw a dishtowel onto the countertop. Paloma noticed to her surprise that the towel was wrung tightly into a stiff rope. Had her mother been twisting it in her lap? She hadn’t noticed.
“Throw away most of your stuff,” her mother said over her shoulder, walking out of the room. “You won’t need it.”
How convenient, Paloma thought. Being able to just walk out of one life and into another. She heard a door slam and her mother’s accented English rising as she called for the housekeeper.
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