Saturday, July 24, 2010

Death was a stranger.



Twenty seven.
She whispered in her favourite stuffed bear’s ear, as another drop touched her eyelashes and trickled down her cheek. The storm had sobered only an hour ago and left its thinning tributaries spilling off the potholed path downhill. The last of rain drops came slowly and fell heavily, like hailstones. She would loosen her arms around the decaying pillar in the portico everytime she saw one coming, swing her body skywards and shut her eyes just in time for the drop to fall exactly on her lashes and giggle forever; bobbing her face from side to side to dry her nose and wait for the next one.
By thirty one, the gentle mumbling came closer. She recognized this kind of chanting. She had heard it often in the valley but for some reason couldn’t place it today. The blur of white heading towards their hut made her heart thump. She felt an eerie sensation in her body every ten seconds and it became incredibly heavy to bear as the blur of white was of people she kept photographs of.
They were 7 of them, or atleast she could only count so many from the distance.

She thought she recognized a pallid, frail man.
It was her father.
But she felt like she didn’t know him.
This man was so sad. She had not seen her father this pale or weak ever. Or this sad.
Everyone had familiar faces, the aged man from the grocery shop, the boy with the broken cycle, the old lady who knit sweaters all day and many others who looked so sad, she couldn’t place them.
They kept a white colour lump on the ground in the inner courtyard.
Her eyes were calculating the stark contrast between the red oxide flooring and the white of the sheets as she ran in after them.
She had just noticed some dull, maroonish spots on the white cloth when she felt a hot wetness on her scalp.
It was the lady from the last house in their row, standing over her head.
It is such a strange day, the little girl wondered.
The lady never seemed to like her, always mean and angry. She remembered her threats of beating the kids up with a bamboo stick if they should steal from her peach plantations.
She must have come to show her father how they made her cry so he would punish her.

She quickly ran to her father and clutched his left leg tight and looked at him with endearing eyes to convince him of her goodness.
But she realized he could barely see her through the blur of tears in his eyes. Now she was convinced it wasn’t the mean lady. He sat besides her, his face a miserable show of pain and vulnerability, very unlike his usual self. She felt dampness down her cheeks too now. He held her so tight it scared her more than it hurt. His touch spoke for his helplessness. Like he wanted her to do something about whatever was making him so na├»ve with his emotions.
The mumbling started again. This time all of them hovered over the white lump like bees over fresh honey.
Her father just sat there, not even trying to make an effort to stand or move, as if he wished everything around him would turn still as he were and stay so till he would turn stone.
She gently drew her fingers from his moist palms trying not to upset his thoughts or bearing.

A man draped in a saffron cloth with a numb, impassive demeanor slowly pulled the sheet off. He was deliberately slow, as if the pace would keep the misfortune from happening.

When he pulled it off the crying became unbearably loud, making it impossible for her to take it in.
And when she looked at the face of the body it contained, she felt a strange tugging in her stomach, like a hard kick making her intestines churn.

It was the first face she had ever seen and the sweetest she had ever known since.
Those eyes were shut now, they used to be so big and round and bright.
She touched her fair cheeks, drained of their natural pink.
She had always wanted to be as pretty as her and if someone would tell her she looked just like her mother; it would make her very happy.
She wished her mother would get up kiss her. Surely she was allowed to wake up for her daughter and kiss her on the nose. And then they would later laugh on how scared everyone was and tease her father of being so timid.

They said the riots got worse. She was in the market place in Tehat buying some bread when the militants gunned down seven people, including her mother in a misfire. The bullets pierced through her neck and chest but noone would come out and help in fear of getting killed. When an old sweetmeat vendor carted the street hours later and found her body, her heart had stopped beating.


They asked her to be a brave girl and not cry even thought she wasn’t. Maybe they wanted her to.

They said her mother was in a land of flowers and snow, living with the angels of the moon.
That she was happy and at peace. Happier than she would’ve ever been here.
It made her sad. She though her mother was happiest when she saw her face every morning.
She didn’t know a happier place existed.

She didn’t understand. She had come to this world from her, after her. They were tied together when she was born. So when they cut the ties, did it mean that her mother was free to go?
How could she go anywhere without her? Especially to a better place? And how could she be happy when it made her sad and her father so unhappy that he cried infront of everyone?
Did this mean she didn’t love them and only loved the angels?

They only caressed her and hugged her in answer. Maybe they never got to ask their mothers either..
Noone ever told her what she was to do if something like this happened. Maybe it didn’t come from experience.
She wanted to go back to counting the drops but the rains had since stopped and the clouds fought and bellowed angrily. She quietly stood up, straightened her frock, walked out of the courtyard and sat by the decaying pillar in the portico with her favourite stuffed bear begging him to not start crying or she would too.