The drum begins right outside the bedroom window. First just the bass drum. An accompanying snare. Then trumpets.
I hurry to the balcony overlooking the side street. In front of the squat, warren-like neighborhood with thatched roofs patched with fading political posters, a marigold-garland covered SUV with “Antony Dead Body Box Company” stenciled on the windshield is surrounded by a crowd. The lift-back is open, as well as the casket inside placed feet first into the car, allowing a glimpse of an old man’s gray hair.
The band echoes up out of the close walls along the back of our apartment building. A few other balconies and door gates fill with onlookers. Except for the trumpets and drums, it’s quiet. No crows. No dogs barking. No autorickshaws honking horns. No scratching of brooms on pavement. Brass and boom swallows it all.
The band steps forward, slow, almost shuffling, followed by the car carrying the body, followed by the family, men and women and children.
At the first intersection, the women stop walking. Their saris appear to brighten as the men, in their muted t-shirts and shorts keep marching with the car. The women stand still. Stopped at the cross street, like a net caught them, they watch the back of the car as it gets farther away.
For a moment, the car pauses under the fuchsia bouganvillea that hangs over the wall of the trash filled neighborhood park that the cows use for a bedroom.
As the parallel lines of marigold petals and leaves extend like contrails, the women begin to wail. One, an older woman in the front, raises her hands palms up, as she weeps. They weep together until the band is distant.
Until the street looks empty and an autorickshaw driver decides enough time has passed for him to cross the intersection again. Until a little boy, in a diaper and t-shirt, has ridden his plastic scooter-car all the way into the street so far that he’s almost caught up to the women.
I stand behind the wooden screen on my balcony among my drying towels and watch until they quiet and turn, wiping eyes on the corners of their saris to begin the slow walk back to the wall at the edge of their neighborhood. One auntie, scolds the little boy for how far he’s ridden. One girl, still in her school uniform, wipes her eyes on her gray dupatta, safety pins still holding it to her shoulders, her braids still tucked in bows. A man keeps a group of toddlers still by telling them to stand against the fence while the woman pass. They squirm, and the second the street is clear run at full speed to follow.
I watch until I can’t see them any more.
And later, without music the “Antony Dead Body Box Company” SUV returns without the casket. The men of the family climb out and go into the house. Together they carry out the empty refrigerated metal and glass box around which they kept vigil during the wake. A few two-wheelers pull up, returning more men to the neighborhood. The street returns to its daily self, except for the lines of petals which the goats have already begun eating.
Early the next morning, walking to the autostand, lines of browning petals among the sleeping dogs remind me of the nearby family keeping vigil for thirteen days. May they be peaceful. The man who runs the small corner store tucked into our street’s elbow is standing in his usual spot. I say good morning. May he be happy. The woman who rises early to wash and re-draw the kolam in front of her gate is late this morning. Later I will look for her art. May she be safe.
Stepping on petals, on my way to do rooftop sun salutations and pranayama facing the water as the morning fishermen work, I am thinking again of my friend Eva who died this winter. She left her own trails in our lives. All over the world friends keep their vigils for her. May she be free.