So long, goodbye, farewell.

Sunita tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. If only she could tuck her scattered emotions so neatly away. This was the first time she’d been alone since Rajiv’s Commanding Officer had called. The C.O. had spoken quietly, calmly. She wondered what it was about death that forced a stillness on everything.

A life of promise snuffed suddenly out.

The C.O. had praised Rajiv for his courage, his selflessness. Sunita had stopped listening. Grief rode on the timbre of his voice, slipping unnoticed into her. When he hung up, she’d rung her parents and wept till her eyes were puffed and her throat dry and ragged. She’d delayed the phone call to Rajiv’s parents for as long as she could. It had almost undone her, but she hadn’t cried then. She didn’t feel she had the right to.

Mummy… Pappa… it’s Rajiv… his C.O. called…

His mother’s keening wails had seared themselves into her psyche, drying her tears.

Then the Aunties had arrived. In groups of three and four, they’d poured from cars, clicking their tongues against the backs of their teeth in sympathy for her loss, holding aloft Corningware dishes filled with curries, their cheerful blue cornflowers bobbing in the air.

Suni, we’ll take care of everything. Don’t worry.

The Aunties had been there a year ago too. On her wedding day. They had gathered around her, a squawking, chattering gaggle, pecking at stray hairs, tucking in errant sari pleats, plying her with bawdy advice for her wedding night. She had wished for a moment of silence then. She did not now.

Dear Mrs. Malhotra,
It is with deep regret…

The letters that had poured in were all the same, as if written by an automaton. Sometimes they addressed Sunita by her first name, sometimes she was a very formal Mrs. Malhotra, but always they were filled with sorrow and awkward condolences.

…we’re so sorry for your loss…

The sun dipped towards the horizon, and a chill breeze lifted loose sand, whipping it against her legs. Sunita loved the light at this time of the evening. Rajiv had loved it too.

You are in our hearts and our prayers.

She picked up the delicate paper lantern shaped like a hot air balloon, a small votive candle at its base. Taking the sturdy, golden Zippo lighter from her coat pocket, she held the lantern aloft and lit the candle.

“Goodbye, my love.” Sunita’s fingers fell away from the lantern, as the wind lifted it to the heavens together with all the dreams, all the promise she and Rajiv had had.

Image credit: Sky Lantern by barakbro/pixabay

Written for YeahWrite’s Fiction|Poetry challenge #357, this is part of a larger story that I’m currently reworking. Click the badge to read more entries. Don’t forget to comment and vote!

18 Comments on “So long, goodbye, farewell.”

  1. Oh man, this is so sad! I adore that image of trying to tuck emotions away like an errant lock of hair.

    I think my favorite part was the contrasting snippets about the Aunties – in joy and in grief. Just lovely!

    • Thank you! I love those quiet moments. There are always worlds contained within. And the Aunties! I was delighted-horrified to learn recently that I’ve BECOME one of the Aunties!

  2. I love how much you were able to do with just one action – preparing to say goodbye. I think my favorite part was also the Aunties. I understand wanting family to “hush up a moment”, but needing them in all their glory when your world is crashing down.

  3. Yes, aunties hold a special significance in all of the life’s events, happy or sad. We might find them annoying at on time but strangely comforting at others. Beautiful work, Asha.

  4. I echo the compliments and the favorite lines above. I also thought it was really smart to bring the Aunties into the story when you did. They’re not comedic; their actions are believable and appropriate. But they do provide some relief and a quick flash of a cornflower in the middle of sadness.

  5. This is so sad and lovely. I loved the appearance of the aunties and how it tied into her all-too-short history with Rajiv. I also like how the time skips and the interruption of lines from cards break up the piece and convey a sense of detachment that you get during times of grief.

    • Thanks so much, Laura! I’m always delighted when readers get what I’m trying to do. So often as a writer, you fly blind and hope what you’re doing works. It’s such a pleasure to have this kind of immediate feedback that allows me to fix/continue what I’m doing.

  6. Beautiful, Asha. The way you weave grief and joy together is just masterful, and the way you relate it to the push-pull of silence and chatter. Your use of the prompt word, automaton, was perfect, by the way. I’m rewriting something in my head right now so that I can use it properly myself.

    • Thank you, Tara! Both the Aunties and the corningware were such a feature of my childhood, that they were always going to show up somewhere in my writing.

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