excerpt of Mariadah Gham

 

Atifa belonged to no-one, yet she felt that everyone’s wellbeing was of great importance to her. Ved continued his journey around the village, each person bowed and acknowledged each other’s loss. Ved came to pass the home of Ahita. He paused as she stared from the archway. Looking down at the trail of flowers Ved had left, she did not bow, but continued to stare. Ved remained for thirty seconds in this lock of gazes, until his legs began to ache. He broke away from Ahita’s gaze and continued his journey of petals and bows, until he returned to his veranda to watch the sunset.

Atifa’s passing ceremony happened the next day at sunset and the whole village, apart from Ahita, came wearing white and carrying yellow ribbons. She was carried to the highest hilltop in the village on a large piece of wood which was beautifully carved. Her body was wrapped in crisp, white fabric and her hair hung delicately in two long, thin plaits, tied by yellow ribbon. She was adorned with Champa flowers and even now she looked like a sleeping goddess. Four men carried her from her home, led by Ved, followed by Nippu and Varshit.

Once they reached the top, the four men placed her down onto the tall green grass. The emerald blades bowed as if to say they, too, felt the loss of her deep in their roots. The village circled around Atifa’s body and row by row, they knelt with their palms touching the grass. They lowered their heads towards the ground and each person pressed their forehead down, thinking of days shared. After each person had finished they would move to the back and allow the next row to do so.

They repeated this three times. The first time was to remember shared conversations, meals and laughter. The second was to wish her a sound sleep and the third was to tell her what they hoped to achieve before joining her. The first two rounds were very much the tradition of the village, though, Ved knew how much Atifa cared for the aspirations of everyone she knew. He told them that the third bow would give Atifa something to ask about when the day finally came to meet again.

Then, one by one – the villagers laid down on the grass and made themselves comfortable. To complete the ceremony, the villagers had to sleep on the highest hill. No one knows where Atifa’s body would go but it was known that each person had to be asleep. When they awoke, she would be gone. It took a little longer than the rest for Ved to fall asleep. He had overseen many of ceremonies, but he hadn’t expected to lead Atifa’s ceremony. Ved’s health had always been somewhat less than hers, he thought he may pass first. He laid on his back and gazed upwards.

When they awoke a short while after, sure enough their goddess was gone. All that remained was two yellow ribbons from her plaits and the crisp, white fabric in which she was wrapped. Ved tied a piece of the yellow ribbon on the wrists of Nippu and Varshit and told them that Atifa would always be with them, even when they were old like himself.

Five years had passed and Ved still made tea each sunrise and left out two cups, both poured. After finishing his, he would return to their sleeping room, light some incense and stretch his limbs. When he returned, the second cup was always empty.

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