They exchange secrets; two strangers on the bus.
CAUTION: This story contains references to domestic violence and descriptions of childhood emotional abuse.
I stood at the podium looking out at the sea of faces, unfamiliar and familiar, the funeral director’s words still ringing in my ears. It’s okay to be raw and honest. There’s no right way to grieve. They’re just looking for the comfort of a shared experience from you.
If you wanted to set your life on fire, there wasn’t a better combination than Mabel Cunderdin, and Edward Willard’s limitless credit card.
Music surges through the speakers. Salt-N-Pepa tell us to push it, and I survey the sea of shocked faces. Not really funeral fare, Mum.
‘No sombre music, Gillian.’
Yes, Mum. No sombre music. But you could have at least let me warn folks.
A steady breeze blew through the deserted streets of Old Town lifting dust and debris into a ghoulish danse macabre. The blades of the old windmill whined their arc through the air, the rusted metal cogs and gears screeching in protest.
Shanti wound her window down and inhaled the fumes. She loved these late-night gas station runs with Appa. It was their time together. No Amma worrying over money, or which Aunty had insulted her this week. No Anna, pretending to be older than his years, trying to impress Appa by discussing politics like a good son, or whether the stock market was a pig or a cow; some animal Shanti couldn’t remember. It was just her and Appa, an exclusive event.
Crimson splatters line the walls, crime scene tape girds the door. Shattered glass, a single lily, and pristine white shagpile carpet grace the floors.
He lifts the needle, abruptly silencing the Shostakovitch piano concerto.
Tipping back his trilby, he scratches his head. Who still uses a record player?
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The fans circle, humming sonorously, making no difference in the dense hot air. My aunt and I sit surrounded by cascades of colourful, gold-embroidered silk as the small birdlike dark skinned shop assistant claws more saris from the shelves, fanning them out to their full glory, allowing the light to catch the subtle changes in hue, the double colours, the intricate embroidery. Motherless since the age of three, Amayi, unmarried, unencumbered by children of her own, has always been my substitute mother.
The old woman sits, stooped and wizened on a small wooden stool at the front door of her cottage. The skin at her throat sags and droops, as if two sizes too big for her. Her gnarled fingers trace shapes in the air and her lips move in their silent dance, forming words that will never be spoken. She beckons to me, chuckling knowingly, and my feet hasten to her command.
She wakes with a start. The air feels stale and cold. In the darkness, she fumbles for the bedside lamp, and jostles the bottle of whisky that stands vigil. Night must have fallen while she was asleep. The gentle click of the lamp reverberates in the silent room, but there’s no light. The power must be out. The sheets are crumpled from her thrashing body, a glass lies shattered on the floor, an empty pill bottle, the lone warrior, in the midst of the shards.