Flash Fiction: Mourning by Shahnaz Bashir

Mourning | Art Work by Rollie Mukherjee

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. [Matthew 5:4]” 
Holy Bible: King James Version

“Don't say mourning. It's too psychoanalytic. I'm not mourning. I'm suffering.” 

Roland BarthesMourning Diary: October 26, 1977-September 15, 1979

Sobbing softly, the ladies sat against the crewel curtains, the embroidery on their shawls matching with the one on the heavy curtains. As if things in their type of houses are unwarily made to match their psyche, Haajra Baano thought. She keenly noticed how tactfully, with certain inherent art, the women sitting opposite her in the large hall gently sniveled. She really wondered how it was possible to maintain grace in tragedy. How modestly the women wiped their tear-kissed faces, daubing their cheeks tenderly with their triangularly folded pretty handkerchiefs. How they maintained decorum in such a sad situation.

It was not a joke after all. The only son of Kirmanis had been crushed by a speedy truck on the bypass.

More and more relatives arrived, more consolation floated. Haajra Baano wondered that how had it been possible for these women to have a deeply organized sense of dressing at such a time, for such an occasion. Even closest kin, the maternal and paternal aunts, had donned clothes with a sense that didn’t even need death of a nephew to get altered. Almost all of them had worn slightly yet intricately embroidered winter wear. The clothes were lighter shades of fast colours. Pure Pashmina shawls wound around their torsos coincided with the dresses without fail, and mild yet expensive jewelry lit them up with a modest charm.

Haajra’s heart had been rent asunder by the loss of this neighbourhood kid. She had seen him playing in the nearby playground with other kids.        

Her pain flew in from her sense of harmonizing her own tragedy with others’. Three years ago her younger son Waseem had been killed by army for “mistaken identity”. Ever since she had been mourning all the time, even throughout her household chores or even through her laughter.

Here among Kirmanis she choked from a social restraint. She felt like screaming at top of her lungs but she could only weep within, observing her surroundings. She noticed that amongst the gathering of mourners the multi-horned stag head impaled on the western wall of the hall stared at her only. She resolutely saw its glassy, bleary-eyed, unsettling cold look. The mourning here was so subdued that sometimes it felt like being in a circumcision party. The impressions created by somebody’s back on an unoccupied maroon cushion next to her mocked her. The shadows between its paddy creases had a dark wry smile in them. Baano diverted her gaze and left quietly.

She staggered back to her home three houses away, breathless with unexploded emotions. As she reached, she dashed to the kitchen, gingerly closed the door behind her, threw off her dupatta, screamed aloud, bitterly cried for the neighbourhood kid, beat her chest with her fists, pulled her hair until her elder son Mukhtar arrived.

Mukhtar was accustomed to all this. He just sat in a corner of the kitchen, watching his mother and saying nothing. After sometime Haajra pulled herself together, gathered her hair into a tight bunch, picked up her dupatta and covered her head with it. Then she went to the sink, ran the mixer-tap, carefully adjusting the hot and cold knobs to have the right amounts of both mixed up into the flow, and began washing dishes. She asked Mukhtar if he had delivered the flask of nuun chai, the salty tea, to his father at his grocery. Mukhtar said that he took two rounds to the shop. Not only had he delivered the tea but he had also refilled his father’s kaanger with live embers from home. Haajra Baano smiled. After some more time she was laughing at a funny anecdote that Mukhtar was narrating to her.    

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