The Autumn Leaves

‘All say, “How hard it is that we have to die” — a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live’

~Mark Twain

 

As we stepped out of the airport at night, tiny rain drops hit upon us; a gloomy backdrop to go with a dreary mood. A relative came along to pick us up. Not a word was spoken for a few minutes, everyone a little uneasy, some sad, some teary, some awkwardly unaware of the etiquette that the situation warranted. Something hung in the air, something spread the sadness around. Finally, the topic was broached…

On arriving at the home of my deceased uncle, we were met with a small gathering of men, related and distant, sitting quietly, discussing in hushed tones the funeral arrangements and guest lists. Their manner elicited a tense calm that betrayed the pain emanating from my aunt’s intermittent wails in the background. In another room, the women waited, crying and sitting around the makeshift casket that… held….

They invited me in, sitting me down next to his younger son, my elder cousin. I dared not to look anyone in their teary eyes, even though none of those pairs were strangers to me. My elder sisters, aunts, sisters-in-law were quietly discussing in between the infrequent bouts of cries, the why’s, the how’s, the he-was-in-pain’s. The atmosphere was one that I had had the fortune of avoiding till date. What seemed, quite contrastingly, calm, was the body next to me, lying in a peaceful slumber not to be awakened from, voluntarily or otherwise. Covered in a white sheet, it held what used to be my uncle, my mother’s senior-most living brother; a man with a once-lively demeanor reduced to mere skin and bones devoid of life, health, energy, personality, voice, hearing, and all the little things that make us who we are. I looked and I looked at the calm dead in the room, trying as hard to avoid the looks and the sounds from the living…

I stepped out for a few moments, to catch my breath. Something suffocated me inside, if not the death, then the way the living reacted to it. Death seemed fine; what it left in its wake, quite the opposite. The sights and the sounds and the vibes left me grappling; mildly aware of the happenings around me, unsure how to react, uneasy about how I felt.

The night outside provided a quiet refuge from the goings-on inside. On my way out, I noticed a change. I realized how nothing inside the home spelled anything other than the gloominess it was rightly supposed to – the quiet tones, the wailing, the awkward, nonchalant ignoring of the cries to discuss the funeral arrangements, the photos of the deceased plus family, the low-hanging faces, the dim lighting, the slow revolutions of the fan and its quiet, mournful, repetitive symphony. Nothing spoke of any light or ray of hope. The night on the other hand, woefully unaware of the happenstances within, quietly went on. The moon shone, the cool winds blew, the silence reigned. Passers-by smoked to dispel the cold, people shut shop to go home and take a well-deserved rest for the day. Cars went about lazily, no one stopping (why would they?) to pay their respects to the man who lay dead inside; just another house on just another street; on just another night…

Yet, as if reading a thought, to pay its homage to the dead, on this silent and otherwise normal night, it began again, to silently pour…