Sometimes, grieving is done in motions, not memories.
A faint line of blue stood out among the monsoon clouds. The afternoon sky was engulfed with a familiar sadness as the last of the shops closed their shutters to steal a quick nap, the alleys lay empty and all the stray dogs found some covered corners to rest in. Such was the glory of my locality, it was nothing special, maybe even a bit too plain, but its dormant nature granted the residents a comfort that the main city could only wish for. Yet, there was no denying that just as the sun was about to set, the shops would reopen and the usual crowd would come in mimicking the same rush as anywhere else in the world.
As I walked in the streets I grew up in, I failed to recognize a few elements which I assume were new. The consecutive line of cigarette stalls, the panipuri vendor, tiny cubicles of printer shops, an even tinier flower shop and a fragrance showroom; these were the contemporary editions draped in and around the area. Some shops had closed down permanently and others had come and replaced them, the place where I used to get all my stationary from was now deserted. Things had changed.
I left my home seven years ago and never came back. I stayed in touch with my parents, often calling them up to celebrate the victories and mourn the downfalls of life. They’d even come to stay with me during the holidays, but somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to come back here.
That was until my cousin committed suicide last week, the motive behind it was still vague, she had sent out a couple emails to her loved ones the day she had died. I was one of the recipients of the email, I haven’t opened it yet. I came primarily to help out with the final rites, the shradh and bhog and other such rituals. Though she was distraught, my aunt assumed the role of meeting and talking with the guests who’d drop by at odd times with sacks of rice, fruits, vegetables, lentils, sugar, salt, oil… the list was endless. My mother helped my uncle go through all the paperwork and my father and I tried to look after all the details of the remaining formalities. We spent five days in total chaos, running about here and there, talking to government workers, laborers and priests. But as the night dawned upon us, we’d fall silent, sleepless, but silent. I was afraid I’d see her in my dreams, waving her final goodbyes as she disappeared forever.
It struck me as strange more than melancholic, the person I’d spent a majority of my life with was now gone, abruptly and without warning. The creaking of the fan and the little dots of dirt splattered across the ceiling became a witness to my thoughts as I tried to find a possible reason. Was my cousin happy with her life? No, not really. But suicide? We talked every two weeks or so on the phone, were there any signs? There was a tinge of guilt that tore through my heart, I was sure my incapability of truly understanding those I held dear to me led me to this. A life without her. An ultimatum the universe itself handed to me as cosmic punishment for being so blatantly ignorant. I simply needed to know why she had to leave, even if my heart couldn’t take it. The day after the shradh my curiosity ate me alive, my fingertips hovered over the email, eventually giving in and clicking on it.
The last vulture was not near the Masjid, but by the roadside litter, heaving as we looked on.
Those were the final lines of her email, the final words she’d written to me, along with mentions of how much she cherished me and well wishes for the future.
There was a Masjid in my neighborhood, and the dome would often house vultures of many shapes and sizes. They stood there, atop, still and unbothered by the azaan or the passersby as they looked on into the distance. It was a very common sight, the vultures would sometimes change their minds and fly towards bigger structures, their favorite was the huge gray and gloomy apartment building down the road. As a child, I’d see them while returning from school, absolutely terrified. Surely, they could use their claws to swoop me in their clutches with ease, and then they would fly far away from home and leave me in a foreign land. My cousin, however, was fascinated by them. She often said they were holy creatures, huge and mighty so they could do God’s work, and that they were harmless to polite souls. In retrospect, that might have been an act she was putting up to end my constant bickering, but there was perhaps some sort of ingenuity in her sentiments. She’d stop walking whenever she would see the vultures and stand still in admiration for a few minutes before I whined. By the time I was ten, the population of vultures had significantly reduced, with only one or two of them left. People argued that it was the pollution, the weather that killed them off, but to kids like us, it remained unexplained.
Thus, I found myself going on a stroll for no rhyme or reason, taking in the essence of my roots. The clouds were starting to thunder and firm winds flushed into the scene. Reaching deeper into the alleyways, I finally found the spot which was formerly used as a garbage dump. There were betel nut stains on the surrounding walls, and the walls themselves were colorless just as they had been in the past. Nothing much had been altered except that there was less garbage than the day before. As I walked nearer I was expecting some sort of a compelling presence, as if my hands were intertwined with someone else’s. Facing the foul smelling packets of rubbish, I hoped for a glimpse of my cousin, for a glimpse of the last vulture, heaving.
But there was nothing. Be that as it may, it was evident that the only thing left for me to do was to accept her death and move on. It was crude, bitter and conceivably selfish, but it was inarguable.
Soon after, a light drizzle started to pour and I jogged towards the lane of my house. The stray dogs embraced themselves tighter, the faint blue line had gone and it was time for all the shops to open up again. Noise re-entered the alley, umbrellas were being opened and I bid farewell to a part of my life that I would lock away for another seven years or so.