Anushree Bose | April 2022
There are three more people in here. The cavernous Church feels imposing from the sparse attendance. It is pretty early in the morning. Ramon wonders what brings these folks here. Maybe they come here every morning to water their soul. Maybe they come when they please without an agenda. He is confident that no one is here for a final goodbye, unlike him. Unlike him, they look like they are home. It is so quiet that even the faintest movement echoes through the large dome. Should have smoked a few more cigarettes, Ramon regrets, his nerves getting the better of him. The flesh-coloured dome looks worse than Ramon’s memory of it, resembling a rotund, rotting tent made out of a mammoth’s distended stomach. The white-winged cherubs with ugly adult faces on chubby toddler bodies frescoed across the dome do nothing to improve it. Out of seven, five cherubs have their bow and arrow aiming downwards, ready to punish whoever they fancy. Ramon could never relax under their smug expression; the cherubs seem too taken by their beauty to be bothered.
To Ramon, the best features of this Church are the glass windows encircling the dome’s base and punctuating the length of the spires. The glass window panes stained in bright colours depict contorted faces of merciful saints, their vivid robes billowing as they descend. The light filtering through these painted windows makes vibrant rainbows across the aisle. A few windows, as large as a person, are wide open, and through them, beams of golden light stream in. A lady as wrinkled as a mature willow’s bark is praying right underneath one such swathe of unfiltered sunlight. Her lips are moving feverishly in sync with the well-thumbed rosary sliding between the tips of her long, bony fingers. The floral headscarf holding in locks of her wispy white hair looks alight as if a fire is flowing in between the warp and weft of its silk threads. The scene gives off staged biblical vibes, supposing her acute devotion has precipitated instantaneous bathing in divine grace. Right here is a direct message for those willing to take a hint. But Ramon? He is wondering about the calloused hands that swipe these glass windows clean. He pictures those hands attached to a sturdy frame slightly bent with age; he then imagines that frame precariously perched on a tall, tottering ladder. He can see those hands stretching out to open these insanely high windows at the crack of dawn. He can envision the same pair of hands pulling these windows close whenever the wind outside howls like a wounded animal left to die. He longs to touch those mud-coloured hands, take them in his, feel where they are gashed or hardened from hard work, and where, if at all, they have miraculously retained their softness. Those hands, essential like the air filling out lungs, are made visible primarily by an absence. Those sturdy hands had belonged to Ramon’s father.
The last time Ramon had felt those hands, they were on his cheeks, drawing blood from his mouth and pure hate from his being. He was fifteen and had been caught kissing a boy. What a piping-hot scandal it was in their tiny devout town! The kiss itself was not that great – hasty, tight-lipped, as dry as a light peck on the cheek – but it was Ramon’s first with a boy, and it had gone through him like a jolt of lightning. It had done a definitive before-and-after split to Ramon’s bleary existence. Even if the way forward rendered him an outcast, there was no turning back for Ramon. This was seventeen years ago. This noon, Ramon will bury those hands, contorted beyond recognition from rigor mortis, looking nothing like Ramon’s memory of them. How much have I forgotten? Ramon worries. There is no way Ramon can be assured if he remembers the kindness of those hands correctly; the gentleness with which they scrubbed this cold aisle of hard marble or combed Ramon’s wind-swept hair smooth after those rare boat rides Ramon and his father took together. Ramon often marvelled how his father surrendered himself to a God who didn’t speak their tongue; a God whose Son – the supposed saviour – looked nothing like them; a God who decreed to love is a sin unless it is between a man and a woman; a God who made it glorious to sacrifice sons and be deemed worthier for it. With his father snuffed out like a candle in the wind, Ramon will never know how his father saw the light in this space of othering.
When Ramon touched his father’s body, his Papa had been long gone from it. The body was a stinking hollowed-out husk, unrecognisable under Ramon’s palm as he anointed parts of it with fragrant oil and holy water. Papa suffered the estrangement in his weakened bones, Ramon noted, while Ramon wore it on his heavily tattooed arms that he usually showed off by donning sleeveless vests, but not today. That sight of him would have repulsed Papa.
He had slipped off the tall ladder; they told Ramon as the coffin lid was closed shut on Papa’s face. Hit his head, lost consciousness for a few minutes and a little blood, but he was up in no time. Didn’t seem anything was wrong, someone said, and others nodded. He passed away peacefully in his sleep that very night. He didn’t suffer, they said; Ramon should take comfort in that. God is merciful.
Ramon’s eyes sting like a dozen bees have pierced his eyeballs. He wants to scream his head off. How do they know? How do they know Papa wasn’t in pain? How do they know Papa wasn’t drifting in and out of consciousness? How do they know my absence didn’t haunt Papa’s last breath? Instead, Ramon just stood there, frozen like a frescoed Cherub – lifelike and unreal – long last doing something Papa would approve.
Anushree Bose is a clinical researcher, avid reader, whimsical poet and moody writer. She has contributed to several short story and poetry anthologies through contest wins which are available on Amazon. She frequently posts poems, micro-fiction and book reviews on her Instagram channel @byanushreebose.
Photo by Elia Pelegrini
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