"Unfortunately, darling, your father and I are getting a divorce," Angela says unapologetically.
Mia blinks in surprise. "Really?"
The older woman nods and takes a sip of her tea. "Mmh, it's something that I've been contemplating for a while now."
"Overtime, we've just developed into a business relationship," Angela answers.
She is a high-powered professional consultant in one of the largest multinational firms. Due to the nature of her work, Mia barely sees her mother who constantly travels abroad. Usually, during her sporadic visits, Angela would typically wear her gray suit, reflecting the corporate atmosphere of her career. However, this time, she is dressed in casual attire.
"For a good portion of my life, I've been working alongside your father, and we generally worked better as a team. The DTE rewarded us with huge amounts of special benefits that are exclusive to couples, which motivated us a lot over the years," Angela says, almost monotonously, as she stares blankly at her tea cup.
"Naturally, we've been spending a lot of time together. I always thought it was a wonderful privilege, since we vowed to be with each other for the rest of our lives, but..." The woman sighs, tapping her nails against the cup. "Sometimes, seeing too much of each other can get really sickening -- especially if work matters are involved. The spark and romance has certainly died."
Mia nods slowly, trying to show some form of understanding. However, deep down, she has always felt a tinge of resentment towards her parents for choosing their busy careers over their own children. She felt abandoned when they left her to look after her brothers at age ten with their grandpa. Leaving behind their one-year-old son, as they couldn't be bothered to handle him.
Now Mia finds it somewhat amusing how their careers are pushing them apart.
"If the work stress is getting to you, maybe you should take a break and go on holiday together with Dad," she suggests with a small shrug. "You know... try to fall in love with each other again."
"If only it was that simple, darling," Angela says with a small smile. "We've spoken about this before, your father and I, and we tried to... spice up our relationship, as the saying goes. We've had many opportunities to rekindle our relationship but, unfortunately, it's not meant to be. It has reached a point where kissing him makes me feel nothing inside."
"Oh..." Mia takes a little bite out of her buttery croissant. "Does Rylo know about this?"
"No. I've tried contacting him, but to no avail," Angelia responds. She pats her daughter's knee. "Enough about me, sweetheart. Tell me about you and my grandson."
"Well.. erm, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately," Mia begins. "All this time, I've been too concerned with Max's communication skills. Of course, that's important, and it'll always be my priority, but I lost sight of other things that mattered."
"Hmm, what do you mean?" Angela asks, confused.
"A few nights ago, I had a... dream... that made me realize the significance of teaching and instilling morality into Max," Mia replies, plucking pieces of her croissant apart. "His moral development is equally important, along with his communication skills, to build good relationships with others. I need to teach my child to respect and value others, to help those in need, and to care for our environment. He needs to know right from wrong."
"I agree," Angelia says, sipping her tea.
"It's difficult to teach him these things because of his... lack of communication," Mia confesses. "When I try to talk to him, it feels like everything I say goes through deaf ears. I needed to go about this in a way that will grab his attention. So, I reached out to my friend, Christa and she told me that, instead of telling him what's right and wrong, we'll have to show him."
Angela dabs her croissant in her tea, as she looks at Mia curiously. "How?"
"By visiting some of the organizations I've volunteered to in the past. I called them beforehand and arranged everything, making sure it was okay to bring my son along. Christa joined us too. I was really glad that she did, considering there aren't many days when we can hang out together."
"Mmh... that's life, sweetheart," Angela comments.
"First, we visited my favorite soup kitchen," Mia says, clapping her hands together eagerly as she reminiscences. "I used to be the main chef there. Whenever my brothers stressed me out, I always found peace in that kitchen. I loved to make quality food that satisfied people's hunger. It made me so happy when they came up to me and told me that it was the best meal they've ever had."
There is a boastful smile across her face, as she speaks.
"So, when I returned with Max, the organizer, Gary instantly spotted us and sprinted over. It was great talking to him again. I did feel quite guilty, as I stopped volunteering a while ago because of the baby and work conflicts. Plus, ever since we moved here, I really haven't got the time to travel far. However, after my weekly grocery shopping, I've been donating to the local food bank, and I was surprised to learn that the soup kitchen had partnered with them! So, indirectly, I was still helping Gary and his team. That made me happy to know."
Mia meets her mother's eyes and she smiles innocently. Angela finds it difficult to hold her stare, feeling almost inferior next to her kind-hearted daughter.
"We took a tour of the place," Mia continues. "Not much had changed since I left. Meanwhile, I kept talking to Max and trying to make him see that it was our moral obligation to feed the hungry. We talked to some of the less fortunate there, and they shared their heartrending stories - I really hope Max understood them. We also talked to the other volunteers and they expressed their happiness for performing such selfless deeds. It was the perfect environment that I hoped would engage Max."
"Did it work?" Angela asks.
"Not really," Mia sighs. "Max didn't seem interested in anything at all. It felt like the usual day trip with him. Christa was having a blast there, though. I think she may have a crush on old Gary! After we left, she said she'd come back to volunteer around Christmas! That made me feel better, knowing that the purpose of this visit had been fulfilled in some way."
Angela's hand hovers near her empty plate. "Did you go anywhere else?"
"Yeah, afterwards we visited the homeless shelter. We had brought along a huge box of donations with us, containing toiletries, non-perishable foods and some of Max's old toys. As soon as we entered the place, it was very crowded!" Mia says, as she breaks her croissant in half.
"It was more chaotic in there, than I could've ever imagined. I saw Jess, the support worker there, and a blonde woman next to her with a lanyard and walkie-talkie. The blonde woman kept yelling, "Make way for the EMTs! Make way!" When I asked Jess what on earth was happening, she explained that a drunken resident fell from her top bunk, cracked her head on the floor, and passed out, and she was being taken to the hospital for observation."
Angela gasps. "Oh my goodness..."
Mia hands her mother the other half of her croissant.
"Thank you, dear."
"It wasn't exactly the best environment to be around," Mia admits. "To make matters worse, Max had disappeared! It was the most gun-wrenching, heart-stopping feeling I ever had. I felt like I was going to lose my mind. There were so many people there, and he's so small, so he could've been hiding anywhere. If anything happened to him, I would've never forgiven myself."
She takes a deep breath, regaining her composure. "Christa and I scavenged the area like mad people, trying to find him, when we noticed that the back door was wide open. Outside, there he was, looking down at an unconscious body sprawled out across the tarmac."
"What happened?" Angela asks, intrigued.
"There were all these scattered pills everywhere and a syringe next to her. It definitely looked like the aftermath of an overdose. It's heartbreaking that people turn to drugs, for whatever reason. Seeing her like that made me glad that I've always been strict with my brothers, despite them calling me a party-pooper," Mia says. She offers her remaining half of the croissant to her mother.
"No, no, dear. It's okay. You eat," Angela says.
"I've lost my appetite," Mia replies. She places the broken croissant on her mother's plate.
"It hurts me that Max was exposed to something like this - especially at his age. Christa kept whispering that the person was dead, and we should get Max out of here. Then she ran back inside to get the paramedics team. I didn't want to scare or upset my son, so I told him that we must leave the sleeping person alone before she wakes up. For whatever reason, Max was fascinated by the unconscious body. He wouldn't budge when I tried to move him away. Eventually, he began to walk, and I noticed his little head turning back, still eying the body. It was the most interested he seemed during our entire trip."
"Wow," Angela breathes out, stroking her chin thoughtfully. "I certainly was not expecting any of this! This makes my news seem like... well, nothing, to be honest."
"It was an eventful day, to say the least," Mia says with a low-spirited sigh. "I honestly wish we hadn't gone there. If I could turn back time, I would. I was supposed to show Max the good in life, and how selfless deeds can make someone's day. Instead it just dampened mine and Christa's mood after that experience. I felt so sick that I kept throwing up, and Christa canceled our plan to visit Mondale - the children's charity. I felt that I couldn't continue without her, so I took Max home after the whole ordeal."
"Do you think he's learnt anything from your outing?" Angela asks.
Mia shrugs. "I don't know... I hope so."
Angela covers her yawn with her hand. Then she stands up and stretches her arms. "Where is my sweet grandson, anyway?"
Mia nods towards the door ahead of them, which was slightly open. "He's in there, playing on the computer. Lord, I can't stand how he's obsessed with his video games - but it's something he loves. I just don't have the heart to stop him anymore."
"As long as it is not harming him or anyone else, I don't see the problem," Angela says. She eyes the time on the clock. "It's late. I should be heading off."
"So soon?" Mia asks, seeming like a disappointed little girl.
"I'm sorry, I would stay if I could. I would love seeing Josh again! Send him all my love. Unfortunately, I have an early meeting tomorrow, so I really must go," Angela explains.
She pulls her daughter into a warm and cozy hug. "Thank you for the tea, darling, it was absolutely exquisite." She cups Mia's face in her gentle hands, as she smiles affectionately. "I love you and I'm so proud of you."
Mia returns her smile. "Love you too, Mom... When will I see you again?"
"Hopefully soon, my dear," Angela answers. "I certainly won't miss your wedding for the world! Your father will be there too, I'll make sure of it. Now, if you'll excuse me-" she heads towards the door. "I must say goodbye to the little man too."
Angela enters the study room. There he was, sitting on the spinny chair, preoccupied by the computer just like his mother described. He appears to be playing a first-person shooter game.
"Hello there, handsome. I'm sorry to disturb you," the woman says, as she walks closer to him and opens her purse. "I remember on my last visit, you really wanted these Maoam sweets, but your mom wouldn't allow it. Don't mind her, she's very fussy about sugar intake and rotting teeth."
She pulls out a bag of colorful treats and holds them out to him. Max peels his eyes off the screen and looks at her hand. Then he grabs the treat bag so quickly that his grandma couldn't even process it.
Angela giggles. "My, aren't you a little ninja? Make sure you hide them from your mom! And don't eat them all at once, or you'll get a tummy ache." She pats his tousled, black hair. "I'm off now. Take care, my love."
Butterfly: I completely agree. It's their circumstances, environment, and interactions etc. that shape who they become. Thanks for all your comments!
Anonymous: Good question. We will explore that in the later chapters.
Anonymous: Devil's reincarnation! That's an interesting theory. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't... Keep reading to find out.