By Aaron Zhang
Grandpa said he would die at the end of the month.
He would die when the lights are out,
And all the old people in his village would die with him.
‘Quick, quick, strangle me with a rope. I can’t live with it.
Quick, quick, send me to the place where there is light.
Darkness is creeping into my body and chokes me from within.’
Mother came back home from her night shift and closed the door.
She took the pumpkins out of the basket and laid them on the floor.
And the door was open. She closed it and put her shoes on the rack.
And the door was open. She went out to Grandpa’s house next door.
Mother found him dead in the corner of his bed, all curled up.
Sobs, whispers and telephone rings. Aaiya, waaah and naaah.
The night is torn open by a wail of Grandpa’s name.
Father, the eldest son, was summoned home, wide awake from deep sleep.
Father had quarreled with Grandpa because of his mad talks.
Father had given him the face and the stare that belittled him.
Now he climbed onto his bed, called his name and caressed his curled-up body.
‘Father, Father, straighten up your arms so that we can dress you up.
Father, Father, straighten up your legs so that we can dress you up.’
Father was in full tears, touching all over Grandpa’s dead body.
Grandpa gave in, let go of his arms and legs, and lay flat on the bed.
The Buddhist funeral lasts for three days, all rituals performed accordingly.
Chanting scriptures for mercy on his sins and pity on his soul.
Death is a blank page, crammed with invisible words, to be burned by the coffin.
‘Here, burn some paper money for your Grandpa to use there.
Here, sit by his side for a while and think of him for the last time.
Come, come, hold high the bamboo lantern to guide his soul to the reigns of the dead.’
The coffin is opened up before the funeral cortege for the final meeting,
And everyone pulls at the bottom of Grandpa’s trousers.
The government will pay for the crematory fee as it is the rule.
Grandpa is laid on a stone table, all dressed up and covered in heavy quilts.
The iron door opens, and O the stone table moves slowly inside.
‘Run, run, Grandpa, run fast, run fast, the fire is coming, the fire is coming.’
An hour later, the iron door reopens and spits out scattering fumy bones.
The undertaker shovels the bones onto a newspaper that Father has prepared.
The undertaker vacuums the ashy remains and dumps them onto the newspaper.
Sheltered in a black umbrella, Father carries the red box filled with bones to the bus.
To the mountains and to the tombs we go, to the place where Grandma sleeps.
‘Grandma will no longer be alone in the cold mountains any more.
Mother will snort at Father for having outlived her for so long.’
The tree that Grandpa had planted in front of Grandma’s tomb grows huge now.
It casts a leafy shadow over the top of the tomb, a shade of green quietus.