By Mai Al Hinai
I remember the first funeral I had attended, unintentionally of course. I was just a seven year old then, but like kids of my age, with an abundance of curiosity. That day was supposed to be a happy one, but life had other plans – it gave us a different ending — and the day ended on a bit of a tragic note.
Some years back, we used to live in the countryside and there my grandmother used to keep her goats in a barn.
Occasionally, when the barn doors were inadvertently left open, the naughty goats would slip out. And it was a fun occasion for us, children, as we would then get an opportunity to chase them back in. Oh, under the pretext of keeping the goats safe, we would have a riot.
But my grandmother would always get annoyed and upset and worried when the goats sneaked out. We never could understand why, but as kids such things were beyond us.Moreover, my grandmother was afflicted by age and other illnesses, which left her physically indisposed and she could certainly not run after her precious goats as we did; which meant she had to depend on us to direct them back to the main gate of the house.
And that day was just like any other goat-chasing day. After a long ‘save the goats’ chase, rippled with fun and giggles that draped the whole neighborhood, something happened that I could not forget for a long time and also left me a bit scarred. When we were just herding the goats close to the barn, one of the goats, a rather old one, suddenly tripped and fell and in the bargain broke her leg. She remained on the ground bleating piteously. Apparently, it was very old and therefore it would have strained unsuccessfully to keep us with the younger, healthier ones.
Death of a poor goat
Although my grandmother was at a distance, she did see her goat falling down. And much to our surprise, she just got up and hurried to the rescue of her beloved creature. Later, we wondered how she could do that what with her painful, weak knees. But, she seemed to have forgotten all that as she rushed to the fallen goat.It did not hit me until I saw the terribly anxious look on my grandma’s countenance. And my heart just sank.No sooner than my grandmother laid her frail hands on her dear goat, the latter began to take her last breaths.
I froze. My cousins did the same and all our smiles froze too. Everything around us froze: the wind, the birds, time… And suddenly the deadly silence was broken by a heartbreaking wail that emanated from my grandma’s lips. She was down, hugging her goat and sobbing like a child with a broken toy. She had forgotten about everything else, even our existence.
Talking to the dead
This was the first time we were seeing this vulnerable side of our grandma and we did not know how to react. Suddenly, we felt that she seemed to be like any other child whose heart got broken — and not our senior-old grandma. Amidst her tears, she was also talking to it, and it seemed as though a dear family member had passed away: “Why did you leave, my dear? Why did you have to run so fast, when you were unwell? Why didn’t you stop? Why didn’t you act your age?” Warm, copious tears fell on an increasingly stiffening, cold body.
A pall of gloom
My grandma’s wails cast a pall of gloom that evening and her tears kept dropping like pearls from a broken thread. We just stood there, frozen, helpless and the pain slicing through us with each heart-rending cry.After some time, there was nothing to do but to bury my grandma’s dear goat and the house went deadly still and quiet after that. It was painfully quiet.That night, none of us engaged in any frivolity; there were no games, play or frolicking. And our grandma did not leave her room to regale us with her beautiful stories; her absence pained us even further.And like I said, I had attended my first funeral, sans invitation. More than that, something in me changed, although I could not fully place it. From then on, I could no longer feel happy when the goats broke free from their barn. That accident and my grandma’s wails would always bedevil my thoughts.This is called growing up, my mother casually commented.
Mai Al Hinai is an English Language and Literature graduate. Even as a child, she had always shown great interest in English writings styles and themes. She has evinced keen interest in other languages and different cultures and she is equally interested in music, literature, arts and the environment. “I hope one day I can publish my own book of short stories because I believe a story is better to be finished in one reading session,” she opined.