Damia needed her beauty sleep, and she had warned her husband beforehand that the kid would be his tonight, and no matter the call; a nightmare, a bed-wetting, hunger, or just plain attention seeking behavior, it would not be her, and he understood, because Atirah, the apple of their eye, was not getting any of her mamma tonight. Tomorrow was a big day for mamma, and she had to be up by 7am for a long drive.
She had married her college sweetheart. They crossed paths during an excursion back in 2nd year of med school while tracing the steps of the Pyramids of Khufu, when they heard another voice speak in familiar language. They both said ‘hi’ and decided to have coffee. And on started a beautiful friendship which blossomed into a lifelong commitment. Salim was a good man, and her father immediately loved him. They got hitched as soon as they graduated and soon after, their first miracle took center stage in their lives. Despite being a mother and an doctor, Damia did her best to balance it all out. But in truth, she would barely be standing on two feet if not for Salim and vice versa. Her success was owed all to her God and her family and despite coming home weary and exhausted everyday, the smiles of their little baby made it worth every minute.
‘Remember the Fatwa,’ her husband joked.
‘You have nothing to worry about dear, I know my faith. I am only paying respects,’
‘I am kidding dear,’ her re-emphasized, ‘I know she was a close friend. They might be non-believers but we are to still respect their rights just as they would respect ours.’
She tucked Atirah’s blankets underneath her in her tiny bed for a snug fit and kissed her goodnight before catching up to her husband already in their bedroom from across the hall. ‘It won’t take long. Just the burial, and maybe some prayers.’
The early morn was a sombre grey, where the densest of the cumulonimbus clouds gravitated to mourn as the people did as well over at St Ignatius Church. Sheila had a rather large family, and everyone came from all over the country to pay their respects. Some even flew over from overseas. Her heartbroken grieving parents stood strong, and braced through to prepare for the funeral rites. The priest was noted the night before and was kind enough to attend the wake at their home. The church was booked for the morning, the van fueled and ready, the casket bought and prepped exquisitely and in it the body already embalmed and decorated, vibrant and immortal as she might have on her wedding day. Daniel stared at the flower arrangements she was made to hold, frozen firm in her hands but cleverly disguised to look and feel warm and dainty. She looked beautiful. It was like she was still asleep, like the many times they have seen her between her shifts in the on-call room, the counter top, or sometimes even the elevator. It was the last image he would ever have of her. All her smiles, her nods, her jokes, and her tantrums, all gone, not even the silent rising and falling of her bosoms as she breathed in rest. Death was different, and she wanted you to know it. All was to be missed, because what lay before him was not the friend he knew before but who she was now, just a still inanimate doll, a memory to be revered, respected and that was all.
‘She was a poet, and I didn’t know that till 2 days ago. I remember when she was 9 and she would write these little notes down. Her teacher said something about poetry, and she wrote the cutest little line, ”I like bees because bees are yellow, if they sting you, you cannot swallow,” ‘ her father chuckled midway into his eulogy. ‘It was rather bad, but I told her to hand in whatever she thought was good enough and she got a ‘C’ for poetry that class and never wanted to do it again. And this was from last week,’ he held up a piece of paper and started to tear, just thinking to himself how different things were just a mere week ago.
‘ ”He looks for the colors in his life, and he sees plenty, yet the colors unseen brings him no worry, rather he be blind would he? He thanks his maker, begging him to see, the one color that he may not be,” Mr Thomas patted his eyes gently with a handkerchief. ‘I don’t know what I missed sweetheart, but I hope you found that color you’re looking for. The Good Lord knows I saw every color in the world every time I saw you my baby girl. I am so amazed, intimidated even, at the remarkable woman you grew up to be. Your mother and I are still going to be proud of you, even now, even though you decided to not talk to us anymore. But nothing changes. We are still your parents and we will wait for you, keep an empty room for you, and pray in our hearts for you. So until we see you again, be safe up there sweetie.’
Karen, the mother, wept until there weren’t any tears left from her sockets. Her face was swollen, her tear ducts dry leaving a trail of salty residue over her aged wrinkles. She buried her head in her napkin avoiding the light as the dehydration gave her a blasting headache on top of all the sleeplessness and exhaustion. The family was very supportive though, and helped in every way they could. Daniel and the few friends did some light lifting as well, whenever permitted.
The men of the house carried the coffin into the van, as the poor mother knelt at the church steps wailing, with a few other women beside her rubbing her back and shoulders doing the least they could to provide solace. Her daughter was leaving her, for good this time and no amount of prayer and pleading could bring her back, not a for another meal at home, not for Christmas, not even for a hug or a kiss goodbye.
There was a heavy drizzle, and the casket was already in position about to be lowered. Ram was afraid to make his himself known, as he had not seen his friends in a long time, and all were present of course, heads down while the Christians sang their sombre hymns. He tried to hide in the background amongst the crowd, but he couldn’t help himself but make way forward to see the casket being lowered. It was a desperate cry to have one last look. Sheila was now in the ground and a mound of dirt and sand were being shoveled to encase the gorgeous mahogany. He wanted her to scream and stick her hand out, like in the horror films they used to watch, or open the casket and scream ‘what the hell are you people doing?’ but nothing happened, just rain and damp dirt, mud and grass, piling on until there was 6 whole feet of it.
The service was beautiful, and the crowd slowly dissipated as the rains grew more intense. Under a little gazebo, the five friends waited, just watching the rain and Ram’s boots while it sloshed in rain water and growing puddles heading for them. He closed his umbrella and gave the others a hug. Jenny didn’t let go, she needed just a second longer before she released him.
‘It’s different when it’s one of us isn’t it?’ said Damia.
‘You’d think you’d be desensitized, but no’ said Tzen, ‘it fucking hurts even more,’
‘Last I heard from her was a via a text,’ said Ram, sniffling, the rains obviously triggering his allergies, among many others. ‘She texted, ”please send the blood tubes to the lab, it’s the one thing I forgot before I headed home” and that was almost 6 months ago.’
Everyone took out their phones, Daniel read, ‘No, I hated that Eli Roth movie, no more stupid recommendations from you. I rather sit and watch regular pornography than all that torture shit. LOL.’
Tzen gave him a weird stare, ‘Hostel?’
‘Daniel replied, ‘Hostel’ and they both smiled a bit.
Damia read, ‘Girl, I want to buy a T-shirt for your baby, what’s her size like?’ to which she replied, ‘I’ll send you photos, you decide.’
Tzen had a long winded message, something he didn’t want to enclose. ‘She just said Hi,’ he said while he scrolled through a really long winded conference, which happened during a certain hard time he was going through. She was the only one there for him texting him to get through the night.
‘Girl, bring home some instant noodles,’ said Jenny reading her text aloud, ‘I’m starving’ it continued. She laughed and snorted, tearing a little. ‘And I texted back, “K”. She did enjoy those noodle though.’
‘To think this WAS her,’ said Ram. ‘That’s actually HER,’ he said pointing at his screen with all the text threads open.
‘Last thing she ever said in the group-text, ”Guys, let’s go for another movie,”. Nobody replied.’ The others surprised to hear Daniel say this checked it out themselves. They were all seeing it for the first time, hidden somewhere down, in the long lost stream of forgotten notification bubbles was one text sent just 2 weeks back, something that was directed at all of them and as Daniel mentioned earlier, not one reply.
‘Lets!’ said Ram. Tzen nodded, so did Daniel. Jenny seemed reluctant at the idea. Damia however was almost certain but as much as she would have loved to honor her deceased friend’s probable final request, her mind was more preoccupied with Salim and her kid. Her poor husband would be working an afternoon shift that day and they didn’t book a sitter in time, so she had to be ‘Mamma’ at home.
‘Sorry guys,’ she apologized, ‘maybe next time.’
‘I have an afternoon shift too actually.’ said Jenny. ‘I mean I could make the movie if it’s now, but then I would be in a rush to get to work on time. Rain-check?’
As happenstance would see to it, the rains immediately died down as if it heard her say that. The pavement safe for a few puddles here and there was alot safer to walk along to where their cars were parked lower down the hill. Tzen suddenly remembered that he had to be somewhere that afternoon and needed to cancel as well.
Daneil looked at Ram. ‘What about breakfast? Just the two of us dudes I guess,’
Ram couldn’t pass on the offer. He had questions, many questions. He had not really spoken to the girl for the past 6 months and suddenly she was in a coffin in the ground. Still, Ram was going back and forth in his mind whether or not he should bring the whole rooftop incident up. He understood that whatever it was, he needed to be Daniel’s friend first before anything else.
Tzen sat in the driver’s seat for quite a bit before leaving. He watched his friends go ahead while he grasped the leather of the steering wheel with both hands breathing heavily as cars honked ‘goodbye’ and drove off. ‘It brings back memories Sheila. It really does. You knew so much about her and all that she was going through. You were the one who diagnosed her when we invited you over. You said my mother walked funny and had little querks about her, and not healthy ones. And I remember when I opened up to you, and then that thing happened, and you just stuck a diagnosis on her. I was upset, very upset. But i guess it was more at myself, at the very fact that she was depressed and the whole family didn’t see it but you. And you insisted she seek treatment. Everyone was so sour with you, the bitch that caused a rift in the family. But you didn’t care because you did what was right and you insisted because I was your friend, even after that night. I still can’t believe nobody showed up from my family today, after everything you were to them. Call it Asian pride, maybe, I don’t know. They might not see it yet but I’m sure they’ll do someday. I promise you that’ll happen.’
‘You will?’ Tzen startled as for a mere brief second it felt like a figure of Sheila was sitting right next to him in the passenger seat talking back to him. ‘God, I really need some sleep,’ he calmed himself, turned one last glance to the hill and pressed the ignition.