Watching For Goodbye


How does one wait for death? What do you look for, what signs do you wait for when you watch for it?

we are dying, we are dying, we are all of us dying,

and nothing will stop the death-flood rising within us

How do you greet death when it’s not coming for you, but for one you love? With tears and pleas? With a wobbling smile? With brickbats and burning chillies and ash thrown in that inevitable face?

I ask and ask; it’s at times like this that you realise that adulthood doesn’t mean having the answers to everything. Most adults, it seems, put a wise expression on guesswork and shots in the dark embroidered with a little perceived truth and optimism or pessimism, depending on who you’re talking to.

She gave me her name, her face, a nose-pin. I used to sniff the powder from the soft folds of her neck like a baby-faced crack addict; she would sit on the floor as I inched my way through meals, tell me stories, put me to sleep.

‘She’ is my grandmother, and my grandmother is dying.

When death comes for an immortal, hope goes first. Grief is going, draining at a jerky rate. Tears become texturised, gritty with salt because the human body is only 70% water, after all. It runs out fast when death comes for your immortal.

I want her to slip away in peace, to a place beyond pain. I want to cover her wasted body with mine and scream until Death shields his ears and runs for cover. I want her to sit up and order her kidneys to do their duty.

I want my grandmother, and my grandmother is dying.

I love her beyond reason. I hate her for dying, for being un-immortal, for forcing me to say goodbye to her without a kiss, without a wave, without a balcony in sight. I hate myself for not coming back sooner, for not having magic under my skin or in my voice, for not making her well. I hate having been born because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have lived through losing her.

I love my grandmother, and my grandmother is dying.

What do I watch for, what do I listen for? A whisper of cloth against a wall, a shadow slanting wrong? How will I know when to sit up and hold her hand, when to say goodbye for the last time so that it matters? Adulthood is a shot in the dark; a perpetual game of Bluff and old music. I have no answers. I can only hum the sounds of my Paati’s time (or a section of), and hope I get the timing right.

We are all, all of us, dying. She’s just going first.

Cutting Losses


Like a cool hand slinking around your waist, soothing, for a moment, the heat that lies thick and dormant on your skin. Only for a moment, and then it becomes another dropped anchor, another weight holding you back, pulling you down, pulling you back suddenly and sharply, so that your fingertips only just graze that which you wanted, were reaching out for; they flail, desperate, make a final grab, and close around nothing- holding blindly onto empty air.

It’s gone, and so is the weight around your waist, and you wonder if it was ever there. You stare around, and you can recognize nothing around you. There is nothing but you and the feeling that you’ve lost.

What you’ve lost, you can’t remember. Like a dream that a dream of you dreamt, or a dream within a dream, some half-remembered fantasy, some child’s world where you can step onto the stars, and the froth of seawater is stardust in your hands. Something that fades as you grow, and has faded into the loss that presses in around you now, from all sides.

You reach out again- a trembling hand, nothing like that mad rush and that impassioned last lunge and that desperate final snatch that came away with nothing. Your arm feels heavier than the heart that weighs down upon your lungs- even heavier than the sodden air that claws its way into your nose, down your trachea and into your chest, swelling it- as heavy as the loss that weighs down upon it, closing in around it, obscuring your arm, almost detaching it so that you almost feel detached and begin to wander, unmindful of how the heavy arm and the limp, shaking fingers continue to weakly grope for that which this faded imprint of you has forgotten…

The fog- mist- loss- numbness clothes your nakedness, and though your bare skin is visible for all who deign to see, you merely wander on. Nakedness does not matter to those who have lost. For yourself, you would rather walk naked in the free sun than be shielded from the body’s shame by the loss and the fog.

Something stops you, and you blink. A boundary. You turn, and walk back the way you came, though even this imprint of you loathes turning away, despises turning one’s back on the obstacle and walking away. Even now there is a dim memory of crushing boulders with bare, bleeding fists and shuddering from the cold of the torrent just crossed. And then you remember your arm.

You run. It is an odd thing to do, and you can tell that the mist and the loss are oozing along, trying to keep pace with you. It registers dimly that you must keep running, and you do.

You find your arm, almost dead on your shoulder, the pressing heaviness too much for it to keep reaching for that which is once more your heart’s desire. You are no longer detached; both arm and desire are yours once more, and you keep running.

At any moment, you expect to hit that boundary again, and there is still no fear in you. It seems to have been left behind  with the sodden air and the loss and heaviness, and though it is still grey all around, you run naked, visible to all the world, uncovered even by the mist.

Suddenly, your eyes are blinded. Sunlight thrusts its way into your eyeballs and your cold-deadened brain, causing you to let out a cry akin to when you were first lifted out of the womb. You reel, and stumble, and slow down, but you stagger on, warm and naked, undetached, light and whole.

You stutter to a halt as the first travelers come upon your path.

They stare and turn away, and mutter to each other. Their cheeks are bright red, and you blush of your own volition.

Still blushing, you creep away, trembling, still clutching the concrete idea of your heart’s desire in your hand, and wish fervently that you were clothed.