Out Past Where the Mangroves End
My name is Sunditi Desai and I am dead. I did not know it, not at first, when I woke to the natural up and down rhythm of the boat on the river. I am the daughter and grand-daughter of fishermen; the neighbor, wife and mother of fishermen. Waking up out here alone didn’t seem so strange to me. It was only when I lifted myself up on the red edged corners of the canoe, and the fancy jewelry we saved for death and marriages bobbed against my earlobes and wrists, did I begin to know the truth of it. I’m 86 years old. I wasn’t getting married.
I rubbed my thumb against the gold bracelets that wrapped around my arms; followed the silver embroidery of a bright white sari I’d never owned; traced the dark spray of moles on the skin of my forearm. Skin that was lusher, plumper, more lovely than any that had been mine for 50 years at least. This is how I knew.
“You’re dead Suniti Desai,” my own voice whispered to me, come up from deep within my bowels. I wondered how it had come to pass, my death. Had it been sudden and violent? Crushed under oxen hooves or fallen from that slat bridge over the gorge? Or was it a slow creep, disease snuck in through an ear canal or an eyelid fluttered open in a dream. I wouldn’t know. Couldn’t. But I could still smell the jasmine garlands they were—my family, friends and neighbors—even now dropping into the river behind me.
I turned back to the shoreline to watch them set the paper boats into the water, each ship burning with a single, lit tea candle. The only light in a night without the sliver of a moon, without even a star to guide me. I could hear them chanting, their voices rising up in unison. Crying and wailing. I did not try to grasp their sounds into my heart. Instead I let their voices carry over the water and break against the wake of my boat, float away on its rippled waves. The life I had lived was already distant and hazy; a childhood dream long since left unattended. Continue Reading »