32nd Thread: How lucky my father was to be dead!
One morning my mother raised me from the bed where I was sleeping with my sisters. I approached slowly, afraid he’d wake up. A sob crawled up inside my throat, making me gag. His face was gray, but his half open mouth revealed the inside of his mouth, as bright pink as the dye for festivities. His eyelashes seemed longer. My mother put her hand on his cheek. She turned to me, smiling.
– Do not be afraid, he is with our lord. Come. Help me.
She undid his clothes. My mother always knew what to do and how and when. All I needed was imitate her, and fear and pain were replaced by order and meaning. I helped her lift his body to remove the cloth stuck under his buttocks. His hair, thrusting from the creases of his body, would not be of any use to him now. His sex scared me. It was the only part that still looked alive. Mom dipped a cloth in soapy water, then twisted it. The drops fell in the bowl in a melodious splatter. I wiped from his face the impurities left by life, Mom started at the feet, until our hands met around the navel of his emaciated belly. He was still young, but the disease has aged his body, the skeleton stuck out under the skin. Soon, only the bones would be left. We bury the dead and ten years later, we dig their bones up.
My mother and I cleaned those of my father. You will do it for me, when I leave this world. If a lot of tendons and skin remain, it means the dead has not yet arrived in heaven. He needs help. We rub the bones with sand, as well as the skull which sheltered the soul before releasing it. Once the bones are clear of any remaining flesh, we anoint them with oils fragrant with bay leaves and basil, because these herbs keep away the demons. Then we bring them down to the ossuary. Three other families also came to lay to rest their dead in the ossuary that day, and Mom officiated. T
he ardent light of the torches illuminated the tunnels, stacked on both sides by bones and skulls. The air was rich with all the souls who had found their final peace. The relics of one being were indistinguishable the other. Whatever their lives, whether they had suffered, whether rich or poor, domineering or dominated, only the scent of their holy actions remained. Mother prayed god to accept the men and women who had died and were seeking eternal bliss in his kingdom.
The families formed an eager circle around my mother, their face transfigured by her words. I was proud. When the ceremony was over, a young man arrived with a lamb that was sacrificed on a stone altar, to recall the promise of the lord to his prophet. When it was quartered and gutted, we each carved a small piece with a dagger and offered it to our neighbor. Then we washed the blood from our hands in an underground spring. The ceremony thus completed, the family that had brought the lamb left to roast it. We could have joined the feast. But instead, when we got home, we each had a bowl of lentils with a small piece of bacon, because that is all we need.