Death. It’s Part of Life.

16 Feb

I’ve been reminded of this cliché all too well over the last few days.  It all started late last week after quite a long day.  I was exhausted but not ready to go home.  What’s a girl to do?  Take advantage of her spa membership, that’s what.  I opted for a pedicure, my first non-DIY one in over six years and desperately needed after months of walking around India in flip-flops.

The rickshaw driver veered toward the curb half a block away from the spa.  Instead of asking him to drive to the corner, I was going to walk the rest of the way.  I fumbled around my wallet, looking for exact change.  He started waving his hand in my face and pointing toward the rear of the rickshaw.  I thought he was pointing toward the meter.  “Yes, yes, one minute.”  Jeez, this guy is impatient. He kept waving his hand and pointing.  I looked behind the rickshaw, thinking someone was standing there, waiting for me.  No one.  He pointed to the ground, right where I was about to step out of the rickshaw.

“SHIT.  SHIT.  CHALO!  CHALO!  CHALO!”  Go! Go! Go! He just laughed; he wasn’t taking me seriously.  I began hitting him on the shoulder.  “Chalo!  Chalo!  Shit!”  He pulled forward a couple of hundred feet.  “Ok, stop.”  He was still laughing.

The image is still in my head.  A cat was hovering over a rat, which I presume it had just killed (not that I’ve seen many dead rats, but this one looked freshly dead), and was about to eat it.  I don’t think the cat would have appreciated my stepping over it and its dinner so that I could get to the spa.  I’m not sure how the rickshaw driver assumed I would react to that, and I’m still unsure about whether or not he pulled over where he did on purpose, but I either gave him exactly the reaction he had hoped for or he was very amused at the way I freaked out over something that didn’t phase him a bit.

Then this morning, as I walked out of the house to go to the bus stop, I noticed a procession of men dressed in white coming from a few houses down.  As I passed through the gate, four men passed by carrying a wooden platform.  A dead body lay under a white sheet and garlands of flowers.  I walked along side the crowd as they carried the body to an ambulance, parked near the bus stop on the main highway, waiting to transport the body to the crematorium (yes, an ambulance doubles as a hearse).

I stood at the bus stop. Four men filed into the ambulance after loading the body into the back.  I scanned the rush hour traffic to look for my bus, and was interrupted by loud sobbing coming from the ambulance.  I haven’t seen many men cry in my life, and I definitely haven’t seen an Indian man cry.

I looked into the ambulance.  A young man, maybe around 30, hovered over the platform, his hands on the body, and wailed.  It was a heart-wrenching sound, one that seemed to silence the hundreds of honking cars and screeching brakes.  If you could define true sorrow and heartbreak with a sound, this man’s cry would have been it.  I looked around at the bus stop; no one else seemed to be phased.  In a country of expert starers, I was the only one in the group entranced by this scene.  The man continued to wail, and I continued to stare until someone in the procession closed the doors of the ambulance and it began to drive off.

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One Response to “Death. It’s Part of Life.”

  1. Jackie February 16, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    Wow super intense! Let’s follow this post up with a happy one, please. Two weeks, two weeks! PS: Has it really been six years since our NYC summer when we get pedis all of the time?! xxoo

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