Jul 4, 2009

Going off on tangents a la Sebald

It's one of those nights again.

My body's dead tired but my mind refuses to stop. Odd thoughts visit me when the lights are out and there's nothing for my eyes to focus on.

For some reason the memory of my long-deceased friend comes back to me. While I replayed bits of what I can remember of him, my mind goes off on a tangent. I tried to decipher the reason I am suddenly thinking of him. Maybe it isn't so sudden. The day has been filled with the news of a famous pop icon's death. Maybe that's what's gotten me to thinking of him. Amongst those that I've lost, his was the hardest one for me to deal with. Perhaps it's because he was especially close to me compared to the others. The fact that he was my age was certainly a factor. It seemed like a great injustice for his life to have ended while mine was still laid out before me. But I will not go there. Allah knows best and from Him come the best decisions.

The loved ones I have lost were almost all in their golden years or had been suffering from some illness or the other. Their deaths were expected, even presaged by the incessant visits by relatives and friends who would not have otherwise presented themselves so gravely under normal circumstances. Amongst my earliest memories of witnessing the coming of death took place in my hometown of Kota Bharu. The daughter of one of my mother's cousins was in her final days after a battle with kidney disease. I must have been six or seven years of age. I remember listening to the somber tones of people talking about her condition, giving a wide berth to the reality of what laid right before them. The dying one's sister described the difficulties of feeding her with an apathetic helplessness I couldn't understand. My mother suggested cooking some porridge, the kind we often make when someone was too sick to consume anything else. They talked for a while on how it was important for her to get the daily required intake of food and how best to achieve that. Porridge was the answer- it's easy to digest and easy to prepare.

I remember feeling confused. Was she not dying? Is it not inevitable at this point? Were we not there to say our farewells, pray for her soul and comfort her family? I couldn't understand why they were carrying on the conversation as if she might regain her health in a week or two. The talk was curiously optimistic, as if to keep at bay the grief that was sure to come. In the meantime she laid there, her chest feebly rising and falling while her eyes roamed the room half-open, staring at a future visible only to her dying gaze.

I remember looking for some ominous sign of the coming of the angel of death. Perhaps something dramatic that I would be able to tell my friends in our callow explorations of such weighty topics as death, divorce, evil spirits and the significance of birthmarks. I watched the bleak walls, the worn curtains dancing on the windows, the pale green linoleum floor and the furniture that were all pushed against the walls to make floor space for whoever came to visit. It was as if the sickness had spread its arms amidst the clutter in the house to make way for death, the same way a bodyguard parts a crowd to make way for a celebrity to pass through.

News of her death came several days later, alongside the news that my aunt's train was stranded on the tracks and that the coronation of the new Sultan of Kelantan is postponed indefinitely due to the rains that portended another wet monsoon, much to my pleasure.

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