Suddenly, the person who was so much a part of your life isn't there.
He has gone away, leaving his body behind.
You gently close his eyes - the last thing you'll do for him.
And you look at your mother sobbing bitterly.
This should come as a relief.
He was in pain for so long.
Your mother was wearing herself thin caring for him.
She hadn't had a good night's sleep in months.
But you can feel nothing - no tears come.
Just a dead weight in your chest.
You hold your mother as she cries.
You look around at her brother, your sister, the few people there.
And see the looks of shock, of disbelief, of awkwardness.
Feel your mother's sobs.
And realise this is your burden now.
That you, the youngest, have to grow up.
You make calls. Your mother tells you who to call.
But you also make one call for yourself.
To the one friend you have in town.
The one person who can give you the strength that you so desperately need.
You send two SMSes.
To a friend and a boyfriend in Delhi.
Saying you won't be able to catch your flight today.
Then you go back to your mother's side.
Your cousin arrives - capable, practical.
He shoos the women out of the room.
You were hoping he would bring relief.
He knows what to do.
But he will not take your weeping mother off your hands.
And let you go off alone to grieve.
In some time they bring your father out
What is left of him.
Lay him out carefully on the living room floor.
Dressed up and peaceful.
You sit by him, the three women.
Touch him for what little time is left.
The house fills with people.
Relatives, friends, neighbours.
Elder sisters of your father.
One who is heartbroken to see her little brother dead.
One who explains that they took longer getting here
because they decided to have lunch first.
After all, one can't have lunch in a house of death.
Cousins arrive and try to comfort their aunt.
You hold one's legs as soon as she gets near -
Seated on the ground as you are -
And cry. The tears bring little relief.
She comes, your friend.
There are too many people for her to get near, to comfort you.
But that she's there seems enough, for now.
You are not left alone to face this strange new world
Where your father, who had ruled your lives
Does not exist.
It is time to take him away.
They wonder who will perform the last rites.
It's a tragedy, though they don't say it
for a man to die without a son.
Your mother speaks up decisively.
Your sister will do what's needed.
As your father had wanted.
They ask you if you want to go.
You refuse. Your place is with your mother.
But when your mother also asks
You realise you cannot face it.
You cannot see him being burned to ashes.
You will hide behind your mother's aanchal.
You touch his feet one last time.
Aware of the audience to what should be private.
They lift him.
And your mother rushes forward
Crying dementedly like a widowed bride
Sobbing that they cannot take him away.
You hold her back.
The house is quieter now. Just some women left behind.
One cousin helpfully observes,
Now that your sister is doing this for your father
You can do the same for your mother
when her time comes.
You are too numb to reply.
You take your mother into your room
Because she cannot face being in the room she shared with her husband.
More women follow. Someone talks of tea.
A cousin helpfully goes out to get some.
You cannot cook in a house of death.
Just one of the many things you cannot do
In the days following.
Eat cooked food,
Sleep or sit anywhere except on the ground,
Comb your hair.
Your mother follows everything,
Afraid of being accused of not doing enough for her husband.
But that day you don't think of all that.
But of your mother, and one woman by her
Talking of food and of her dead brother
As if nothing was wrong.
You ask an older cousin for help in shooing everyone out of the room
So your mother can rest.
You have never been polite or conventional,
But you are doing today what your mother or your father would do:
You are being the head of the family
Now that there is no head.
You hold your mother, talk to her gently.
There can be no sleep
But there might be some relief.
Someone comes. It's a friend you had called
When your father had seemed worse.
It seems ages ago.
Anger surges within you
Why come so late?
Did he think your father would wait?
Why had he said, a few days ago,
Call me if you need help.
What help had he come to render?
But you are polite.He leaves.
And is surprised when you are cold thereafter.
You finally get to talk to your friend alone.
There is not much to say.
You know she understands.
She always did. When he was ill,
she would show her concern
Unlike all the others who acted like they did not know.
Who did not come to visit. Who pretended nothing was wrong.
All the others who were not friends.
Your friend tells you she was in pain
But she never uttered a word
Did not let it show on her face all these hours
Because you needed her there.
I have previously posted on remembering my father.