He lay there in a pool of blood, his head hollow.As if the insides had been scooped out with a spoon. A salty taste permeated his mouth, choking him. All he could hear was the slow beating of his own heart reverberating inside his head and some faraway voices.
Then there was nothing.
He had felt no pain, just the slight unexpected surprise when he had been hit with the fatal bullet on his forehead.His face held the kind of expression people make if tapped on the back unexpectedly. Nothing monstrous or horrifying. The expression remained as time stopped on its tracks for him.
He lay there in a pool of his own blood, losing the fight and the cause he had embraced with so much passion, like a new lover. Now the cause lay flowing from his being; escaping all over the asphalt like a cat let out of the bag.
To the lifeless body with the surprised expression you wanted to say ,’What did you expect from fighting a lost cause?’
So much not lived, incredibly young.
It was a damn shame.
His mother had been feeding the chickens when the people bearing the terrible news came. She had been counting the chickens in her head and checking for eggs in the coop.
When the men told of the incident; the bowl with the chicken feed fell from the mother’s hands scattering the timid chickens all over the courtyard. As the chaos died down, silence overwrote the scene. Her reaction was not immediate, her tears would not come. On her lips a half smile still remained from greeting the news bearers. The expression of surprise in her eyes would have matched the expression on her dead sons’ face, had she seen it.Her mind would not register what she had just heard so her eyes followed the path of the scattered chickens.She wondered if they had gone into the new flower beds.
Her unsuspecting husband was still tending the marigolds as two of the four men with the unfortunate news walked towards him. She saw her husband crumpling up in a heap upon the flowers.The morning smelled of marigolds.
Seeing her husband collapse, she snapped out from her stupor and ran indoors.The men ran after her, concerned. She ran towards the corner where the three ancestral stones were laid for worship day in and day out. The ancestral stones had drunk enough chicken blood and rice beer year after year after year. Her ancestors had not protected her family from evil and misfortune, they had not done their part.They deserved no reverence.
She screamed and kicked and upturned the stones with blind rage and threw them one after another out into the courtyard. By now the neighbors had started collecting around the house and gasped in terror as she did the unthinkable of desecrating the ancestral stones, spitting and cursing at them!
A rooster crowed in the hot mid- morning.Through all the rage inside her, all she could see was a blur and all she could feel was a pair of hands holding her down gently.Tired now, she raggedly breathed in short haggard breaths as her legs gave way and she shook violently with the pain of loss to death. It broke her heart,it broke her soul,it broke everything sane inside her mind.Her body gave in to those hands that held her,they sat her down on the mud-floor ,legs sprawled rocking to and fro,slippers missing from her feet, as she felt Hell for the very first time.
The death of a family is painful but the loss of one’s own child is a curse that can never be undone,the pain once felt never to be forgotten.Her silent tears made rivulets on her weathered face,dusty from the ash of the ancestral stones and dripped down the front of her velvet maroon blouse.
They told her then that they were bringing ‘the body’ in.
‘As if he had no name.’she thought, ‘no identity, as if he never was.’ ‘As if he never warmed my lap as a child. As if he never brought the firewood home and lit the stove in the mornings,so that I could rest.He was such a good child,’ she cried silently. ‘My very best…and now a body.’ She panicked with the thought that she would never see him again,no matter how hard she tried,no matter how much she wished. Her son was gone to a place from where he would never come back;it filled her with dread and desolation.
They finally brought his body, and people gathered outside in a crowd. Everyone looked sad but it was not their son that had died. Though genuinely mourning the death of the young man who had grown up before their eyes,they were relieved it hadn’t happened to them,that they were not the ones who had to bury a young son.
Carried by his rebel comrades,among the mourning crowd inside the house,the body was laid. The mother got up from her previous numb silence and her cries of unimaginable loss pierced the atmosphere as she embraced her dead child. The chicken still clucked in the courtyard. Time still moved from morning to early afternoon and the sun still scattered the scent of the young Marigolds.The women of the village had gathered all around the mother now and trying to comfort her. When they laid his body down; his nineteen year old face with the shadow of a beard had gone yellow due to loss of blood and looked like wax.The blood that he had sacrificed for the people and the cause had made patterns upon his face caked in a standstill like a rebel soldier standing guard. His head was held together with a black handkerchief to hold his fragmented skull together along with its contents; pieces of brain matter that no longer functioned, thought or felt emotions nor believed in ideals. The bullet mark on his forehead was hidden under a coin.
The witch doctors came with their drums in the hot afternoon. They beat the drums to prayer and songs,trying to get in touch with the spirit of the young man. Other family members prepared for the body for the burial,bathing and wrapping it in white linen. People came in to pay their respects and covered his torso with satin scarves.The smoke from the stick incense was sweetly thick and gagging,they smelled of death.Some people took over the kitchen to prepare tea and meals for the people who would stay for the wake. Some went to the bamboo groove to cut fresh bamboo for the prayer ceremony.
That night they would call out to the spirit of the young man who had been forced to leave this world for the next so abruptly. They would talk to him through the witch doctors,ask him if he was ok,if he had any wishes,if there was anything that they could do to ease his passage into the next life. The witch doctors kept playing their drums in haunting beats and chanted prayers for the young dead boy.They called out to him to come and talk to them to tell of his suffering. They sang songs to comfort his soul which might be scared,lost or angry.They told him not to fear,that they would lead him,they would teach him how to carry on after death.
As the heated afternoon faded into the night, the crickets sang in unison as if it was a dirge.Slowly the moon came up and the mother sat near the window for a little breeze, in the silver half light, could have sworn that she saw him from the window, standing beside the old plum tree, looking so forlorn.