The Slap of Love: A Mother’s Day Story

I should have 9511 stories about my mother. One for my every day of my life that she was alive. Today, I’ll recount just one of them.

As just-above-waist-high kids, my brother and I used the local park for our evening sports sessions. In the winters, this mean cricket; in the summers, soccer. Play ended when it became dark; in the winters, this dreaded time came earlier than it did in the summers, and because cricket was played with a dangerous hard ball, nightfall was not a barrier to be trifled with. Summers were a different matter; we were playing soccer and kicking and running around with our feet. We could, often would, play well into the dark, testing the boundaries of how long we could stay out without getting yelled at for being late for homework or dinner.

On one such summer evening, our soccer game ran late as usual. The streets around us brightened even as the park darkened and our game continued. Then, the ball was kicked to the sidelines and appeared to run out into the street adjoining the park. My brother sprinted after it, desperate to get it back into play so the game could resume. Unknown to him a strand of barbed wire was strewn across one of the breaks in the park’s wall. In the daytime, this was clearly visible, and those entering the park from that unofficial entrance had gingerly stepped around this bizarre barrier. (Perhaps placed there to stop animals from entering the park).

My brother ran into the that strand of wire at full tilt. As he did so, we saw him lifted off the ground and become entangled, heard him scream, and then, silence. We  ran over, extricated him from the wire, and stood him up. His shirt was torn, his skin was scratched at several points, and ominously, his face was streaked with blood. Horrified, wondering whether my brother had been blinded, I walked him–stoically silent–back to our home, where, terrifyingly, my parents awaited.

My mother’s face blanched as she saw my brother’s face. But she said nothing as she raced to the medicine cabinet and returning with cotton wool swabs, a mug of water, and some antiseptic solution, quickly got to work. She efficiently cleaned and wiped and medicated. And then, one of her swipes revealed that the blood on the face did not conceal a gouged out eye. My brother had not been blinded; he had gotten away with a cut above the eye.

At this point, my mother slapped my brother. It wasn’t a hard blow; but a stinger across the cheek, nonetheless. My brother, quietly undergoing the patchwork till then, stared back at my mother, astonished and hurt. What was that for?

Watching this little drama go down, I wasn’t puzzled at all. My mother must have been petrified when I had brought my brother home late, a bloody mess. She loved us, powerfully, a love that often racked her with deep fears that we might ever be hurt in any way. But she had suppressed every other reaction of hers in favor of immediately providing succor to him. With the most immediate wounds cleaned and shown to be non-threatening, her relief had combined with the anger she had felt at my brother for subjecting her to that terrible anxiety.  That slap followed. I felt sorry for my brother but I felt for my mother too. I knew why she had snapped. And slapped.

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