She wore a dress the shade of the setting sun. In her hands rested a basket of chocolates, their purple wrappers winking cheerily as they reflected the fluorescent light of the LEDs that lit up the hallway. In the distance she could hear the low murmur of meaningless condolences.
She had chosen to attend the memorial service and not the cremation. She didn’t want to tarnish the last, warm memory she had of him. After seventeen years, they had bumped into each other in a mall, he with his wife and son, she with her daughter. The kids had looked on in bored indifference, tapping away at the screens of their respective smartphones; they were used to these unexpected five-minute-reunions of old acquaintances. Smiling gently, he had introduced her to his wife, “This is Amaya, and Amaya, my wife Meera.”
Meera’s eyes had widened slightly at the name, but she had grinned, blurting out “Well this is less awkward than I thought it would be.” Suddenly, the iceberg looming in the horizon had melted away into the warmth of laughter all around. For seventeen years, she had occasionally amused herself by imagining Meera. Now, Amaya found that she rather liked her ex-husband’s wife, if only for her honesty. Before leaving, they had exchanged numbers, knowing fully well that neither would call. Until five years later, when Amaya had picked up her phone to see a message- He passed away last night. I would like it if you come.
Her daughter, Avni, had frowned at her choice of outfit. “A bit too bright, don’t you think? Mom! Don’t tell me you’re taking chocolates? It’s a funeral, Mom, dead people, don’t you remember?” Amaya had smiled, patting her on the head, “Well yes, darling, it is a funeral. But the person who died always loved life more than death anyway. He said being sad at funerals was the biggest cliché ever.”
But swinging her basket on her arm now, she couldn’t help but feel slightly apprehensive. Would Meera misunderstand? After all, for most people, death is a solemn affair. Even as she was considering going back, the lady of the house walked out. Her face lit up with a small but genuine smile as she spotted Amaya. With hurried steps, looking all around, she reached Amaya and took her hand in a brief, heartfelt clasp, “I am so glad you could come.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” she said.
“Come, let’s go to the garden for a while. They won’t think to look for me there.” Meera whispered.
“They?” questioned Amaya.
“Oh all those ‘well-meaning’ relatives. God! I hate funerals. Oh! Are those chocolates? You’re possibly the only sensible woman around this place. I hate Alok right now, even more than I miss him. Why did he have to die and leave me alone with these people?” Meera chattered on without pausing for breath, almost as if she was afraid she’d run out of oxygen before she finished.
Amaya suppressed a smile. She could see why Alok had married this woman. “He hated funerals too. He always said that they cease to be about the person who died or their family. Instead they become…”
“…places for self-important pricks to feel like they’re useful and God’s gift to society!” Meera completed, as they started giggling like schoolgirls.
“So, I know this sounds slightly insensitive, but what do you plan to do now?” Amaya asked, passing over the basket of chocolates.
“Oh I’m glad you asked. Rishi’s all grown up and doesn’t really need me around. So I think I’m going to go on that trekking trip to Ladakh and Leh that I’d always planned. Oh, and maybe, set up a food blog. I’ve always wanted to do that.” Meera grinned wryly, “Not quite the model widow, right? Here I should be wearing white, and crying my eyes out and talking about how life will never be the same again…” she trailed off.
“Well, life will never be the same again.” Amaya smiled, suddenly thrown back to the moment, years ago when she’d said a goodbye to the same man. She’d spent weeks, or maybe, months shut up in her room, writing feverishly, hoping the words would spread out and fill the spare shelves, the other side of the bed and everything else. Then she’d published her first book, and Avni had come along, a babbling one-year old left all alone in the world, and her world had changed forever.
Lost in thought, she almost missed Meera’s whisper, “But how am I going to do all this without him?”
In that moment, Amaya understood why she’d been specifically invited. When you’re wondering how to live without the person whose presence is a habit, as ingrained as the ringing alarm or the morning coffee, the best person to ask is the one who’s done just that, and survived.
She gave the only answer she could honestly give, “I don’t know how, but you’re going to.”
With a swirl of reddish-orange, Amaya turned the corner and vanished from view.
Meera popped a chocolate into her mouth as she headed back to the funeral.