Legos and Ghosts

Freya Anjani
13 min readMar 13, 2023


This is the first piece of fiction writing that I’ve ever posted here, because I always felt like I didn’t have the talents and gravitas to write fiction. The only reason this writing came to be in the first place, even, is for my Fictions Writing Class last term. Nevertheless, I hope some of you can appreciate and even like this piece.

‘Haunting some woods.’ by Cale Atkinson on Twitter

Trigger warning: mentions of suicide, drug overdose, and substance abuse.

I have two things on my mind: cheese and my imminent death.

Cheese because, for some reason, the lobby of this hospital smells like a day-old grilled cheese sandwich. And my imminent death because… I’m in a hospital lobby that smells like a day-old grilled cheese sandwich, and I already really hate hospitals. But none of this should matter right now, nothing else should matter other than the fact that my absent mother is laying somewhere in this godforsaken building full of dying people with tubes down their throats.

I walked over to the receptionist, who looked up at me and smiled way too big for someone who has to work in a building full of disease.

“Hello, welcome to Mary Anne Memorial, how can I help you?”

I shuddered, "Yeah, um, I’m looking for Nina Majnun? I was told she passed out or overdosed or something like that and was brought here.”

The receptionist raised both her eyebrows and looked over to the computer in front of her. She gave me a polite smile, a nod, and raised her pointer finger as a sign for me to wait. I stood there, uncomfortable, tapping my fingers on the counter. I hate hospitals, they remind me of fevers, stomach pumps, and mothers. Well, my mother. She was a nurse before she fell face first onto the earth. She used to wear scrubs with little duck patterns on it, and she would bring me stale bagels from the cafeteria. But she also brought the smell of medicine, and the weight of life and having to witness death five times a day with her, and it made her bitter. It made me bitter too, because she would bring that gloom inside of our house, and I think it never left us.

“Ah here we are, she’s still in the emergency room but her room should be ready soon. It’s just down there to the left.” Said the receptionist, way too cheerful, again.

“Right, thanks.” I said, and she smiled with an obnoxious nose scrunch. Forcing my feet to walk, I went to the direction of the emergency room, dreading every step and every breath I had to take during this 2 minute walk. When I turned left, there was an automatic glass door, and a lot of people in white coats behind it. I shuddered for the second time, and walked in.

As the glass door opened, the air turned thick and noisy. I gagged inside my mouth and looked around the room for her. Most of the patients are covered with curtains and I wasn’t sure whether I should walk in or ask someone first. Before I could panic over this decision, a tiny woman with pink scrubs walked over with a clipboard and muffled something behind her mask.

“Sorry?” I asked.

“Looking for someone?” She squeaked.

“Oh, uh.. I was told by the front desk that Nina Majnun is here?” I said, unsure.

She looked over at the clipboard while mumbling, “Nina.. Nina.. Nina.. ah yes. She’s stable now, we had to pump her stomach out an hour ago but Doctor Glenn wanted to keep her overnight just to monitor her. We’re still unsure if she needs the psychiatric department’s intervention, so it’s best to just see her situation for now.”

I felt full and sick, like I just swallowed a bunch of information I didn’t want to know. “Oh, right, okay. That’s.. That’s great right? Is that great? I mean I don’t know, I just got the call half an hour ago and I wasn’t sure what to do. What do I do now?”

She looked at me with a horrified, worried look and her eyes turned so big and round that it scared me too. “Right… you can come with me to see her.” She said timidly. I tried to stand taller, but I felt so small, so I just nodded and tailed her deeper into the room.

After the fourth curtain, she stopped and gestured her hand for me to come in first. I looked over at her in horror, and she just glanced at the curtain with an encouraging smile. I peeked inside and saw her.

Her hair is gray now, and it’s thinning. The curls are still there, but they look withered and tired. She’s wrinkled like fresh laundry, and she looks like she’s asleep with a really bad dream. She looks small, and I felt smaller. I felt a pool of water filling up my lungs and I gasped as I staggered back. The tiny nurse looked at me with concern, and grabbed me by my arms.

“Ma’am, are you alright?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do this. You need to call another close kin or whatever because I am not cut out for this.” I said, holding back tears.

“Ma’am, yours was the only number she listed as emergency contact.” She said, I blinked away my tears. “Everything else in her phone are wiped clean, and the on-call doctors suspected she attempted suicide, but we need her to wake up first before we can assess further. But however the case may be, we need a legal guardian or the closest relative to sign the papers for her because she’s currently unstable.”

I stared blankly at her. Of course, my mother choosing a cop out by suicide. Why am I even surprised? I still couldn’t move so I just froze there, so the tiny nurse grabbed a chair and guided me to sit.

“You can just sit here and wait until she wakes up, I’ll let you know if anything changes. Do you need a glass of water?” She said, and I shook my head. “Alright, my name is Denise, holler if you need anything.”

“Denise, Denise.. Okay, thank you Denise” I said, she smiled and walked away.

I sat there, frozen, for at least another half hour. My mind was racing and numb at the same time, and I didn’t know what to feel.

My mother isn’t a bad person, but she was the first person who made me believe that not all people are kind. The first time she made me stand outside in the rain after I accidentally knocked over her drink, I got a fever and she had to rush me to the emergency room. When the doctors asked she pinched my arms under the blanket and told them I didn’t want to listen to her when playtime’s over and I just had to run around in the rain. “Silly Ellie,” she would say. And I would somehow believe her. She never hit me, and she never said anything bad about me. But every time I do something wrong she would throw me out of the house, not speak to me, and return to normal after a week. Normal meaning the endless pills she drinks with alcohol that makes her jittery and loopy, normal meaning getting home fired from the hospital and roaming around doing nothing until the government found out and had to take me away.

I stayed with my aunt, her sister. Auntie Marla was always a crying mess. She cried as she picked me up from my foster home, she cried in the car on the way to her house, she cried as she apologized on behalf of my mother, she cried as she set me up in front of the TV and made me dinner, she cried whenever my mom declines her calls, she cried whenever mom’s name was mentioned years after she lost contact with us, and she cried on her deathbed. Auntie Marla taught me not to cry, taught me that my mother is a piece of crap that broke her heart, and that I should be glad I don’t have a sister that would leave me with her clueless twelve year old daughter. Auntie Marla would cry if she was here, and I’m glad I’m not Auntie Marla.

“Excuse me,” I woke up from my thoughts, “Sorry, but here’s your mother’s phone. It was the only thing with her when the paramedics came.” Tiny nurse Denise held out a chunky Iphone in her hand, holding it out to me. I accepted it and felt the weight of my mother’s burden. Denise walked away again and I wish I could throw the stupid phone at her. A baby cried on the other side of the room, and the smell of cheese got stronger somehow, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I left my bag on the chair and walked over to the waiting room. There were only five people there, two old women and three very impatient looking middle aged men. There was a kid’s corner with a lego set, and I walked over there without thinking.

The earliest birthday gift that I remember getting was a lego set. It came in a big bucket and the pieces were chunky so I was able to make big, tall buildings. Mom got it at a yard sale, and I can tell it wasn’t new because some of the pieces were broken, but I played with it for days. I picked up a yellow piece from the kid’s table, and I sat on the colorful foam carpet. Soon after, I heard my mom’s voice.

“Why don’t you try to match the legos by the color, Ellie? You can make a rainbow!”

“A rainbow starts with red, I can’t find any red.”

“That’s alright, I’ll help you. Here,” She moved closer and I could smell the hospital from her hair. “Here’s one red, one yellow, now let’s continue the rainbow, okay?”

I blinked and she was gone. I shook my head and rested my back on the cold wall, very aware that I accidentally pressed down a poster of the alphabet with my back. I haven’t seen her in five years and now that she wants to be done with life I’m the one left to sweep the mess? She spent most of my life being a ghost. What do you do as a twelve year old when the only love you’ve ever known is that of your unstable mother? The only love you know is a love where you’re always reaching in a dark cave that swallows you whole. The hands you wish to be there never hold out theirs, you are holding the damp air where they used to be. It’s endlessly walking and waving your arms, and you get nothing but the longing that goes to your stomach and lives there like a hunger that cannot be relieved. What coarse through you is no longer blood, all that you are is a big question mark. I was twelve when I figured out mothers mean nothing but pain. Auntie Marla was as good as a mother to me, yet she was a ghost too.

I tried my best to not be a stereotype. The girl with mommy issues, who turned cold and heartless and won’t open her heart for any genuine relationship? What a cliche. I didn’t want to be another number in the statistics of young women who are incapable of love, so I opened my heart. But I have nothing to give anyone. I was never taught to give, all I saw from the people who raised me are pills, alcohol, and tears. I was taught that my life was doomed wherever I went because I had a mother who did not love me. What do you do at twelve when the only love you’ve ever known had to go to rehab and would not speak to you through your aunt’s phone? You murder that love.

But when the love died and not the body, how do you mourn the ghost of somebody alive? How do you live knowing someone who made you is walking around the earth somewhere, refusing to love you?

I felt my stomach pumping itself, and I can feel one of the old women watching me with concern, the twenty-something year old sitting by herself in the kid’s corner. I opened my eyes and wiped my face, and I impulsively opened her phone.

It’s wiped clean to the default settings, but there was one chat on the messages app with a contact that says “Maybe: Ellie”. I jolted up and read through it, the first message dates to a year ago.

Ellie, it’s Mom.

I know we’ve not spoken in a while, but can we meet please? I’ve gotten better, and I want to apologize for not coming to Auntie Marla’s funeral. I have a lot of things to apologize for, but I’ll start with that.

I never received this, I don’t understand. I kept reading:

I think I may have your old number, this is the one Marla gave me three years ago. I thought I’d try my luck but I guess you’ve got another big girl number that I don’t know. I’m sorry. It was a silly idea anyway, meeting up after all these years. I guess we should leave it at that.

I thought, she can’t be serious. Even in text she’s indecisive. But it made me think about her gaining consciousness long enough to muster up the courage to meet me, and it made me feel.. Something. There were no more texts after that, and I opened other things on the phone. I found nothing until I got to the gallery, which had only screenshots of our old house listed on a real estate website, and a picture of my old lego set. I opened her browser and found that she had emailed the real estate agent that listed our house and asked him if she could come look around. She told him it was her old house and there might be something she left in the basement that she really wants to keep.

I just want to give it to my daughter, the rest can go.” Was the last thing she wrote to him.

My heart sank, this was a week ago. I digged through her email again and I found a draft of an email addressed to my work account, scheduled to be sent an hour from now:

Dearest Ellie,

I’m sorry. For everything, for your life, for my life.

I want the only thing you remember of me to be the lego set that I gave you. I don’t want anything else to stick, even though it may be too late. I don’t know what else to say and do. All those years I denied that I had a problem, and I chose to push through because I know you needed me. But working in a hospital, and never having enough money to get help, and watching you grow up having to endure me.. I just wish I was ever a person enough to be your mother. All I know is I’m sorry. And I’m sorry for being a coward.

Contact David Griffith from Cheshire Real Estate for the lego set. He doesn’t know anything else about me, or you, so don’t worry.



Love, Mom. She signed. Love. I’ve never heard her say that word, even when I was little. I choked on my own breath. I stood up and walked out to the toilet. I washed my face and thought about everything and nothing. My mother, a ghost. My mother, a ghost, left a lego set for me before she attempted to die. My mother, the ghost.

Having to love a ghost all my life is not a pretty thing. I wanted mothers like my friends do, not all of them are nice but most of them are there, at least. I’ve always wondered what it felt like to not think about your mom as a lost soul who walked out of your life. To love a ghost is to be willing to love the echoes of your own voice asking “why?”, over and over again. To love a ghost is to love the parts of you that they brought with them when they left, even when they remain no more, and she brought my childhood and what I could have been when she left. To love a ghost is to burn every night and do nothing but to let yourself become ashes every morning. To love a ghost is to yearn, with no ability to expect, plead, beg, and walk away. To love a ghost is to despise yourself. Loving my mother after all these years is the worst thing my heart has ever done.

I burst into tears. I hated myself, and I hated her. It’s sickening to know she was out there all those years, trapped within herself. It’s sickening because I know better, and I know she never meant to not be my mom. It’s sickening because even in her last moments she didn’t want to be remembered. I feel sick. I didn’t realize I had accidentally stolen the yellow lego from the kid’s corner, and I stared at it while my stomach turned into tides. For a second, I felt like a ghost too. Was I ever a person? Can one be a person when they’ve grown up raised by ghosts?

I walked out of the toilet, and dragged my feet back to the bed. Tiny nurse Denise looked up when she saw me and gestured to me to hurry back. I walked as fast as I could with my wobbly feet, and she told me something about mom waking up, but everything sounded muffled. They opened the curtain and my frail mother laid there with eyes open wide, she looked like a baby that was unsure why it had been born. A few seconds passed until her eyes found mine, and for a fleeting second, I saw relief on her face.

Everything felt blurry, and so many nurses were tending to her. The doctor was saying something I can’t understand, but all I did was look into her. I don’t think she can comprehend anything, let alone how grown up I must look because the last time we met I was freshly nineteen. It’s funny, for the first time she doesn’t look dimmed to me.

I don’t know anything about ghosts, or anything about being alive, or what it must’ve felt like being her. But I know a thing or two about feeling lost and alone, and I didn’t want to feel like that anymore. I looked into her eyes and smiled. I put the single yellow lego between her feet on the blanket, and stood here.

Through the drugs they must’ve given her; she smiled too. And for the first time, it was not a ghost I saw.



Freya Anjani

21︱Jakarta, Indonesia ︱ here to spill my brain, in the hopes they can move you to tears or prove a point | find me on instagram: @freyanjani