Maya lifted her chin off of her chest. She rubbed the crusty gunk out of her eyes and coughed, once, to clear her mouth. To her right, her mother lay prone on her hospital bed, a ventilator breathing for her and a seeming myriad of tubes snaking in and out of various ports up and down her body.
Instinctively, Maya reached into her backpack. Among her juice boxes and bags of peanuts was a small, zip pouch. She lifted that sack onto her lap and took out one of the strings of beads that snuggled within it. Like the other strands in her sack, that small rope of oblong, calcium carbonate deposits had been entrusted to her care since she was an expert pearl stringer.
Maya regarded her mother, again. Her parent had been in a coma for three days. It was probably okay to work on a project. She wasn’t needed and likely wasn’t even noticed.
The stringer pulled a spool of silk thread from her tiny satchel. Her price reflected not only her skill but also the high quality of materials that she used. She also palmed her embroidery scissors, but then returned them while frowning.
Looking around her mother’s side of the room, which had been disinfected clean and curtained off from the other half, Maya spied an unused urinal. Nodding, she again reached into her pack for her scissors.
After cutting the string that she held, Maya allowed its glistening bits to fall into the urination bottle. It had been no trouble to remove the plastic that had sheathed the single-use bedpan.
Satisfied, Maya removed a beading needle from her small bag. She enjoyed working with such long, flexible tools.
Once more, Maya looked over at her mother. Nothing had changed. Shaking her head, she threaded her needle and frowned again.
She was working with Akoya pearls, which are the sort of oyster seeds that most people mistakenly believed are a natural black. In truth, such gems are radiated or dyed to achieve their color. People, too, sometimes offered up false luminescence.
Many individuals, like the ones who paid Maya three times her labors’ worth, similarly paid exorbitant prices for sham coloring on concentric layers of crystalline sediments. They made heroes out of villains, too.
Maya set a few pins on one of her knees. She used them to help her tie knots among pearls. Knotting keeps luminaries from being damaged by friction and from scattering when being restrung.
One of her mother’s machines began to beep. The waves on its screen began to change. Nurses rushed into the room. They were followed, shortly thereafter, by a doctor.
Maya’s mother’s eyelids fluttered. When they stopped moving, Maya’s mother slowly opened her eyes.
The nurses pumped fists into the air. The doctor took her stethoscope to Maya’s mother’s chest. When she pulled away from Maya’s mother, the doctor smiled.
Color drained from Maya’s face. She could play the “good daughter” as long as she did not have to actually interact with her mother. All was not forgiven.
Mother noticed Maya. She smiled.
The doctor urged Maya to approach her mother to hear anything her mother might want to whisper to her.
Maya frowned. She was dutiful, but not self-harming. She wished she could become a loosened pearl. Nonetheless, she did as she was bid.
“I knew you had forgiven me,” breathed Mother.
“She’ll be off this floor in no time,” smiled the doctor.
“We’re so happy for you,” exclaimed one of the nurses.
When the medical entourage at last left the room, Maya stuffed the pearl-filled urinal into her backpack. Her mother’s hospital bills would more than cover one disposable pee holder.
Next, Maya carefully gathered her tools and returned them to her small, zip pouch. She stuffed that container into her haversack, next to the appropriated urinal. She sealed her pack.
After looking up and down the hall, she placed one foot over the room’s threshold. Childhood was like a strand of pearls; precious, unique, vulnerable to damage. Turning, she spoke without inflection, “You were never forgiven.”