“Look, I can see that you are really busy. I’ll feed her if you like.”
My request was met with gratitude. She handed me a plastic bowl, a bright yellow plastic teaspoon and a slightly damp, pale pink face cloth. She checked that Lilia’s bib was firmly in place.
“Be firm with her. She can be very stubborn at times. Don’t you take any of her nonsense.” Patting me gently on the shoulder, she left me to the task.
I looked down at the contents of the bowl. A smooth, thick, grey green mass, the consistency of porridge, lurked at the bottom, giving off an indecipherable smell. I swirled it around with the spoon.
Encouragingly I looked at Lilia, smiling as I held the spoon in front of her.
“Mmmm,” I crooned, “This looks so good. Here we go….open wide…”
Lilia’s hand came up to pat away the spoon, her eyebrows wrinkled in a furious frown. Her lips remained resolutely closed. She glared at me with undisguised hostility.
“Now, now,” I chided gently. “Come on…let’s try again…”
She turned her head away, the spoon gliding over her cheek, depositing some of the grey mass in the hair beside her ear. I tried to wipe it away with the damp face cloth, but leaned as far back in the chair as she could, waving her hands in front of her face, mewling pitifully like injured cat.
It seemed that we had entered into a parody of a tango. Sharp twists of the head, and swift staccato hands movements kept the spoon away from her mouth. The bib took on the appearance of a modern art exhibition of smears of the grey green mass.
“Lilia! That is quite enough!” The bowl and spoon were taken from my hand and I was waved away from the table as the “expert” took control.
I sat down on a chair. Pictures flashed across a TV screen but I barely noticed. The volume had been turned down.
A tear slid from a corner of my eye and I hastily wiped it away. I glanced back at my mother, hunched in the chair. The plastic bib that protected her pale blue jumper seemed obscene. She had lost the energy to fight the nurse, and opened her mouth obediently.
A picture flashed into my mind of another time. How patiently my mother had waved a spoon of baby food in front of me, patiently prising my hand away from my mouth, encouraging me with wide eyes to let the aeroplane land on the runway.
Things had come full circle. She had become the child again, and like a child she was faced with a world that she didn’t understand and where she was unable to make her own decisions. Someone else held the spoon and fed her something she didn’t want to eat.
I glanced at the clock on the wall and suppressed a surge of guilt as I wished visiting time at the nursing home was over.
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