The crowds surpassed all our expectations and many people were left queuing outside, including several friends. Some people in the audience asked if what I read was published–it is not–and a friend suggested I should put it in this blog, so I upload the whole thing here.
My story-telling was divided in two parts: the Soul’s descent into the underworld at and after the moment of Death (a rather bleak journey), and the Soul’s return to the Earth during the one day in the year that she is allowed to go back to her loved ones (a merrier affair).
Both readings were dedicated to my dear friend Rita Guerrero, who passed away this year, and finished hearing her sing with Mexican band Santa Sabina–both songs were quite fitting companions to each part of the journey.
The words of Mexican poet Xavier Villaurrutia were interweaved with my text.
Here is the whole thing (with the songs included after each text, taken from Youtube as I failed to upload sound from my computer), and thank you all for coming (those who managed to get in and those who didn’t), for your enthusiasm and for encouraging me to publish this in my blog. Special thanks also to Jimena Gorraez and the Wellcome Trust, for their kind invitation to a wonderful day of remembrance.
The first story.
The Journey into Death
Here it is, again. I would call it a tingling, if I had a body to feel. Yet I do feel it, though there is no flesh left around me.
Shall I say it’s a calling then? And who may be calling now? Where am I supposed to go? Don’t the voices, their disembodied touch, know there is no space, nor journeying across space anymore?
I was at peace. Or how should I call it? The thickening silence, the aloneness, the sleeping with open eyes—if I had had eyes.
My eyes were torn away from me a while ago. But I have vision.
I inhabited the expanding vastness of absence, drawn into the wonder of the utmost intimacy with myself while already devoid of being.
Then something that felt like colours, ripples of light and shades, a mocking breeze started stirring the nothing of the air. I was disturbed. I felt the calling. I was awake from that sleep that was wakefulness itself. Now I find myself here, amidst neither light nor shadows, and walking, though I have no limbs to walk with. This land is not here nor anywhere. I am tired, beyond the tiredness of any mortal body, and the pangs of an anticipated joy the nature of which I do not know, a phantom of reunion, encounter, do not bring consolation: they hurt, they pierce, they stab me with the memory of something that used to be contained in the word ‘hope’. Something you are stripped of when you give up the flesh.
This land is no land! I sink. It is a swamp. It is an ocean, unwholesome, dark, though there are dazzling spans of azure and silver, sometimes—deceitful filaments of beauty laid there by godless hands just to better outline the body of darkness. I am in the middle of it, tossed by gigantic waves. The nothing that I am chokes. The air that I am gasps for air.
There are intervals when the storms subside. Then I walk on water, and it’s hard. I see no shore. I should swim whichever way to find a shore, I am so tired, so weighed down by the slabs of grief and hope that should forever have been left behind! But I have no body, no flesh around me.
It’s the beat of a sea in which I know nothing and I cannot swim, for I have left arms and feet on the shore. I feel the web of my nerves falling without me, yet everything flees like the fish become aware. I feel the pulse in my temples, a mute telegraphy answered by no one, for dream and death have nothing more to say to each other.
I was happy then, when time existed. Dazzling day and profound night had a meaning. I inhabited flesh. I was alive. My flesh was the tendril reaching for the substance of the earth, and the breath of the earth and the sea, the pulsations of light, the caress of the air. To inhabit flesh was the gift of tongues. The gift of sight and touch, of ears open to music, nostrils to take every fragrance in. I was body and soul: no division. I was.
Then it started, so slowly I first did not realize it. I can’t remember the moment when I knew it had crept in, that it was as much part of myself as body and soul, the uninvited guest that was now essence with me. The journey could no longer be delayed: I had to tear myself away from the miracle and the joy of flesh. Farewell to my eyes, my ears, my tongue, my skin! Farewell to the gates!
Was it possible? Was I really going to say farewell to the world I loved so, to night and day, the gentle rolling of time and the changes of seasons? Farewell to my flesh and the fruits of my flesh, my lovers and children.
Sadness came first, the anticipated grieving, all the love that would necessarily go unsaid—not enough time, not enough words. Then the fear. What would I hold on to, devoid of flesh? How would I be? I had not even stopped to consider the pain.
But it came along too, in due time. It hurts, the tearing away from the physical chord. There were times when it was hard to tell what or where I was, the pain of matter slowly dying around me was so overpowering. My loved ones feared I disappeared then, gone into another dimension, but no, I was there… I was only quiet, as if sleeping, but fully awake. Dazed, speechless before the spectacle of my own separation.
I wished to speak to no one. It wasn’t lack of love, no. It was rather that the certainty of love, the love lived in what was swiftly stopping to be my life, was too great, too definite, it filled me entirely and I wanted it to find its last form in the vessel of flesh, to become me, before the moment of division. I needed to see myself, the thirst was unquenchable, the mirror was all polished now, whole, no more place for concealment. Such reckoning with what one has been in the world of the living can only be fulfilled in solitude.
Grief, sorrow, fear… They cannot be shared. They are the mirror, and they are the cast of the Soul, to its most minute scratch and scar and trait.
What, I wondered, was the purpose of a Soul’s descent onto Earth, her investiture with the magnificent garment of flesh? What unspeakable cruelty could lie behind the illusion of beauty, wonder, love and ecstasy fleetingly trembling in the air before being torn through decay, separation? The painstaking learning, through joy and through sorrow, the disciplined journey into love and creation, what for? To be engulfed by loss and darkness…
No one knows how dense the darkness is until she finds herself beneath it. Unbreathable. Unbearable. Neither Soul nor body could contemplate an all-merciful God who could inflict such merciless agony, so fierce that body and Soul became indistinguishable—everything was a close-knit mesh of excruciating pain and even the physical world around it, the mystery of creation itself, were part of that pain that could only come from something far worse than evil: a void, an absence, the essence of all loss, the vortex that ate it all: all life, all joy, all beauty, all love.
Had I not been at the gates of Death, had I not known that it was Death herself the harbinger of darkness, I should have sought refuge in her.
I could not. I was already in her. There was no refuge. So I had to bow my head, my whole body bent in pain and my spirit crushed, and go under.
I will tell you how it is like, down there.
You close your eyes when you cannot fight any longer. The wailing has ceased. There is no more voice left to cry out loud. The banging against the walls in rebelliousness and rage has subsided—no more strength left. Rage has been swallowed up by grief, and grief has finally been enveloped by yielding. Life, Death, their inextricable bond has finally subdued you, you are indeed no-one. You have to let go of everything. Even breath… it is painful when it finally abandons your breast… It was the divine wind that carried your vessel along beneath bright skies. You still have an infinitesimal fraction of time to be awed by the beauty, so alien to any thought or even feeling, of that last tear that runs slowly down your face… the last one, after all those tears cried when you were flesh, the rivers of your heart that are now finally taking you away.
Then you hear the bells. You hear them without ears, they resound somewhere that is both inside and outside you. You know they toll for you. You know they call you. You know they are the last song of your heart. You are bound to follow.
How strange it is, that having lost all your senses you are not banned from experience. You are rather immersed in it, you are the phenomenon of experience itself. And thus you know that you are brought somewhere that is down under, below, beneath. Beneath what? Beneath Earth and the sea that you have already abandoned. Beneath the entire universe, beneath yourself, beneath all blessings, beneath the realm of light. Beneath faith. Beneath, most of all, God.
Do you know what is the colour of hollowness? Not black nor white. There is nothing absolute about it, nothing definite. It is the dirtiest shade of grey, abominable, and it chokes you. It is the stain that is left when everything has been taken away from you—your entrails turned inside out. Only that when you are dead, you have no entrails. You are the greyness itself. That is the essence you cannot escape from. That is you. Greyness has many layers, many worlds revolve within. It takes something vaster than time to traverse it, an endless journey. It is a spiral—you are bound to get lost.
You are given a dog to guide you. Who gives it to you? Are there any gods, or spirits, watching over you? I don’t know. It doesn’t feel like that, the dog is no consolation. It is the colour of ashes, and horribly silent. It doesn’t bark, its footsteps have no sound. Nor do yours. You walk side by side. Your body is dead but your imagination is not, and so you are given an imaginary body for the journey—to suffer the more vividly through it all.
You are impelled to cross a mountain range—blurred peaks in varying degrees of dirty greyness. You start climbing, breathless (you have no lungs, no breath), the dog by your side. But this is no natural orography. These mountains never stay still. They tremble beneath you. They roar, they shake. They crash into each other like fantastic prehistoric beasts as you attempt to climb. Chasms open beneath your feet, you find no rest, and you are tired, oh so tired! You will to close your eyes, though you have no eyes, and the volition takes you to the realm of dream—of nightmares.
All those faces around you—the ones that fear is made of. The toothless smiles, the grotesque grimaces, the piercing eyes burning with evil. They mock you, they want to see you crawl, lick the dust, the mire. They want you humiliated: you are no-one, you belong nowhere, you have lost everything. You are dead. And you have to crawl and wail—so that you understand.
A mighty tremor throws you off the highest peak. You fall with the sickening thud of a boneless body, your imaginary eyes blinded with dust. You have reached the fields beyond, but you still won’t be at peace. There is the wind—it lifts you off your airy feet. It strikes you from all sides, nowhere to run. This wind does not come alone: its gusts are laden with piercing knives, all glimmering obsidian scraping your flesh. And you thought you didn’t have flesh anymore! You thought there was no more pain to feel! But there was, and you feel it. You are to be torn and shredded, so that nothing inside you remains hidden.
You hear water running somewhere. It is dense water, it moves slowly like death itself. You walk in that direction nevertheless, the dog’s freezing breath on your heels. You want to escape it all—the wind, the knives, the fear, the mocking faces. The confusion, the overwhelming grief. You reach the river. It is dense indeed, and red: opaque crimson. It has a metallic odour. Sickening. A river of blood it is, the precious blood of all those dead before you. The entire humanity that went this path before has poured here its wealth of blood, and you don’t know why—because you are terrified and sick—but you plunge into it, and so does the faithful dog behind you. You let the red thick current carry you away. You feel its warmth, the first embrace you have received since crossing to the other side. A faint memory of rosy sunshine flickers behind your eyelids. Nearby you hear the jaguars’ roar. If you open your eyes, and wipe the blood off them with the back of your hand, you can see the fire burning in their eyes peering everywhere from the encroaching darkness. They won’t let you abandon the river, they want to exhaust you floating on the waves of blood, they want to steal your soul, all that you are now—because you are dead.
You have no voice, but you feel like wailing and ask with rigid tongue, ‘What was the point of all the wholesomeness of life, my devotion, my worshiping at the sacred wells?’ You feel teased, abused, like an innocent child drawn with sweet songs to some chamber of horror. You doubt everything that was most sacred to you, everything you held for truth. Death, you realize, brings out the worst in you: your fear, your weakness, your helplessness. The monsters of fear and need in you. Your face claiming for mercy—for love, compassion, mercy!—has no expression now. It is the distorted mask of your broken self, a stillness that bears no rest but emptiness, and though there are no mirrors in the landscape of grief, and you have no eyes, you need neither mirrors nor eyes, because you are the grief.
So what do you have? What magic have you called forth to preserve your soul? A shiny green stone in your mouth, lying cold on your imaginary tongue. And remembrance.
Remembrance is a forest.
You expect naked branches, gnarled trees tearing at the memory of your flesh, for you have lost all hope and can’t conceive any escape of horror.
But it is only the forest of remembrance.
What is a memory? Holding a hand, when one had hands to hold, when there was no barrier to feel the touch of tenderness. Holding a hand you love, that rests in yours in trust, childlike. Kissing that hand, kissing a beloved forehead, a blessing. That is a memory: living amber, living flames, fairy-tale images reaching out to you through coloured crystals. Holding the frail hand of a friend who is dying, feeling in its brittle skin the wealth of a life’s time creation flowing from it. Lying down quietly across the ocean in a candlelit room to accompany her in the transit to the other side, hoping that she will be spared the devastation of the realm of greyness, that she won’t have to climb the crashing mountains, that she will be safe from the wind charged with black shiny knives and won’t have to plunge in the river of blood. Closing your eyes knowing she is dying now and hoping Death’s landscape will be bright for her, as her life was bright. That is a memory. Dark tendrils that touch you when it is you yourself the one crossing the threshold. When you are all alone in the delirium of Death, a memory is both a dart thrust through your heart with most piercing pain, and a soft petal run across your face in tender consolation. A flower. A dark hollyhock, blood-like in the midst of the day’s glow, menacing in beauty, swaying against the wind in the end of summer, pierced by the setting sun, letting beams of dark transparency through, singing its brooding melody in the end of love. That is a memory. The glory, the vision granted to you in being alive, unique and holy, all contained in its luxurious petals, in the wildness of its rough stalk and leaves. The joy and the pain, the two summits of ecstasy between which human life is like a toy suspended.
The forest of remembrance says, ‘no more, no more!’ That its constant whisper. You walk through it, the dog by your side—his head bowed, the dog of Death is melancholy. You walk weighed down by a tearless sorrow—the dead, remember, have no tears, no eyes to cry with. You wonder what sense is it then, that allows you to see the first glimmers.
What is it? Gold? A golden butterfly? A golden flower?
The infinite flower of Death. The infinite flower of God, its numberless petals are the Soul’s fingers spread out to reach existence. The link between here and there.
You were pushed through the mountains, the valley and the river of horror, the forest of remembrance, so that you could find the path between Death and Life, backwards and forwards. It is a path of flowers, and they are made of gold. The Soul is not lost after all. All they could take away from you was the green stone on your tongue. You fooled the wild beasts! You are still whole!
It is true that the path is sown with bones—you can hear them rattling as your airy feet stumble amongst them—, but you know that bones are seeds, and they will rise again into life. The blood-splattered skeleton with its human eyeballs’ necklace sings of abundance, fertility, treasures innumerable grown from the bountiful earth, rich in bones, rich in past lives.
You hold the golden flower in the palm of your hand—your airy hand, ghostly, yet awake to the myriad petals’ touch—. You feel again the tingling, the calling, and follow. Ahead lies the vineyard, reunion. This flower is your lamplight.
The second story
The Journey Back
I hear the bells toll. Unceasingly. They have been going on and on forever, surrounding this awareness, going through me. They have become my heartbeat, throbbing against the bare bone of my ribs.
There is a voice too, it is calling me sweetly. I don’t know whose voice it is, I don’t remember names, or faces, but I can feel the fondness. It is the voice of someone I once loved.
‘Where are you?’, it says. ‘What are you now?’
‘Now I am dead’, I find myself compelled to answer. ‘I am resting. I listen. Silence around me is so pure that a mere sigh might tarnish it. Memories offer themselves up to me, suspended, in relief, with the colours they had back then. I remain motionless. Every minute stops and falls to make space for a closer one. It isn’t hard to die. Everything lies in not making a single movement, in not uttering a single word, in fixing your eyes on one point, near, far.’
I am moved by the tenderness of talking to this voice. And yet, I am so tired.
‘Why have you come?’, I ask. ‘Why do you wake me? Look at me—I am intent on listening to the endless silence, hollow and hard, to the winter sky that is nothing but ashes of something that burnt out centuries and centuries ago… I am living my Death here, my present Death alone, my Death that I cannot share, that I cannot cry.’
‘What about us?’, says the voice. ‘We wait for you. We dream of you, and when we don’t, we miss you. We are preparing the welcoming, we are lighting your way back home, we…’
I stopped hearing it. Maybe it went quiet again, or it was drowned by the din of the bells. Or the dancing… There were feet stamping around my grave, round and round… They followed a pattern, a rhythm. And there was music too, someone was dancing around my grave! I could hear children laughing, high-pitched sweet voices singing. They were singing for me, laughing for me, with the simple golden round gift of happiness.
That was the balm seeping through, the blessing that shattered the everlasting winter that had frozen my blood, the eternal winter that had dried up my yellow words, the paralyzing sleep, the ice gag in my mouth. The blood that had frozen and become crystal, then hard marble, rendering me motionless in time anguished and slow with the secret, imperceptible, mute life of the mineral, the log and the statue started melting, and though I was cold bone with no more flesh around me, the warm blood of remembrance travelled around the nothingness I was and gave me back a tree of veins for it to run through, a joyous memory of flesh, embodiment.
I could see them dance, though I lied beneath the earth in my mineral self. There were many of them, boys and girls, their heads glowing, and their dance was both impeccable and mad. They were not alone. The dazzling white of bones shone here and there: a skeleton. They passed it around, they embraced it with laughter, mockery, tenderness, it was their favourite toy, their darling sibling.
They were so pure and wild.
Suddenly all my senses were awake, again.
Someone was baking bread. Someone was burning incense. And the fragrance of a thousand flowers impregnated the air. From the remains of me something gathered in the foul, confined air of the grave, particles that had been part of me but were no matter. They came from the realm of remembrance. Remembrance is a forest… so the air was not foul or confined anymore, it was no longer the trapped space of the grave—it was an open expanse suffused with the breath of trees and the warmth of sunshine. There the particles gathered, took shape, shone as they dived in the air like butterflies.
I, who had been dead, submerged in time—intact, clear, definitive, with not a lightning, no obscurity, as if bathed in the water of a mirror that would melt with its light everything futile, I who had been dead as if naked on an ice divan on a hot day, thoughts aiming at a single fixed target, I who had been dead, happily cut off persons and things, seeing them as the camera’s lens ought to look, with precision and coldness, I who was dead was suddenly seized by the wave of wonder. For I realized that the force behind the dance of shiny particles gathering in the fragrant air was the long forgotten, the long obliterated experience of joy.
Joy! I was a happy dead, a happy corpse, a happy sack of bones! And there were children dancing and singing around my grave.
The bells kept on ringing. It was not a funereal toll. It was the sheer intoxication of joy. ‘Get up!’, they said. ‘Open your eyes, your new eyes, your new gaze! Get up from the cold lonely soil! All the love you ever had, all the love you ever gave is moving with the seasons, blooming, it has taken root again in the golden flower of God, it has run its faithful cycle and you are here, among us, love and memory all around you, so get up! Come, come! Follow the fragrance! The musicians are here, the food, the garlands! The time of the living can’t wait!’
And so I did get up. My heart that had been burnt to ashes was beating again within my breast. I had flesh again, a luminous body with which to get up and leave the grave, come out into the open day, receive the sunshine, bathe in its light. And walk.
With joy came memory. All those faces! All of a sudden they were within me, around me. The beloved faces, the gestures, the smiles. The names. The sound of their voice, the ring of their laughter. My family, my lovers and children. Ah, the sunshine on those faces! The play of light and shadows on their hair. The sparkle in their eyes… My new body was full of warmth, a strange vigour, a cleansed force that impelled me forward. I truly did not know, did I walk? Did I fly?
The living were all around me, stretching out their clean hands. They gave me a dress, a clean fragrant gown. I put it on and I realized that light was coming from me, as if I was the Sun. Surrounded by the living, they held my hand, they led me along down the dirt winding road into the village. They were gently calling my name. They touched my face with their hands, soft like children’s, they described to me my own face with tender voices. They loved me so much that they reminded me who I was, who I had been, who would I always be, for nothing is ever destroyed or forgotten in the memory of the world.
I followed the fragrance, I followed the music, the riot of colour of myriads of flowers scattered all around. I was not the only one. There were hundreds, thousands! of bright dazed souls, the uncertain smiles on their pale faces—the smile of doubt, amazement, even fear—slowly softening, becoming pure and bright and simply happy, blessed again beneath the cloak of sunshine.
They had no weight, they floated in their joy just as I did, and I believe that we would have cried if our bodies had still had in them the power of tears. What tenderness was contained in the simple paved streets baking in the sun and dust! What sweetness, the dwellings of men and women, the tokens of their small cares, the smells from their kitchens. What tenderness, their beds, the slight whiff of their sleeping bodies still on the bedclothes, the most imperceptible print that their shape leaves there night after night, the soft pillow that receives their heads so gently, with their dreams, their hopes, their sorrows!
So we went down the road, all of us, the happy souls returning, hearing again the beloved voices, recognizing their faces though we knew it was only their love that carried us, that their touch was an act of yearning, because they themselves could not see us.
Far away we could hear the most delightful sounds. An unimaginable crowd of children singing and laughing. Their voices were crystal-clear and I was told they were the little angels. The souls of all the dead children who had come down to Earth a day before us. It was good to know them happy, that they could laugh so, still so happy to return to the old playgrounds and hiding places, to their dear fathers and mothers and siblings, to their old little beds.
Immaculately dressed women were hard at work outside sweeping the streets. The village was a pristine picture, bright and clean, all the doors open, garlanded with flowers. We were invited in—the souls received by loved ones and the wandering too, those souls with no belonging, no love left on Earth. We were all welcome. Each and every house had a quiet room in the shade, candle-lit: a temple, waiting for us. They offered us water, we were so thirsty from the long journey! They offered us gifts: our favourite food and drinks, flowers, the small tokens we were remembered by shining bright beneath the candles.
Never in mortal life had I been offered such celebration. No feast had ever touched my heart so. If I had found a way to know how we are remembered, that we are not extinct, that we are not shaken off the Earth like dust the moment our last breath is gone, I would have endured with much more courage the awful passage. We were remembered beyond tears—with colour, with music, with beauty.
We kept on roaming through the streets, peering into every open door, every humble house, every lit temple. Then I noticed a change in the atmosphere; something was fading. It was the voices of the children—the dead children—. They were slowly quieting down, as if they had been a dream, they dissolved in the air, and I felt a twitch of sadness.
Not for long. There was raucous laughter nearby. We started to be pushed and shoved, though gently. We looked around, and we were surrounded by devils. There were many of them… or were they living men? The fun they had! And how they made the women and old people and kids laugh! They danced and drank, and they said the most curious stories about hell… Their hell was, it was clear, a much better place than the underworld I had seen myself forced to traverse. It was the hell of the innocent. The punishment for the inexistent sin of being alive: alive and made of flesh, desirous, longing, craving. Alive and bent for pleasure. Alive and reckless, proudly disdainful of impossible Death, more impossible for being ever present!
A devil took me in his strong arms. They were living arms indeed, brown skin, the firmness of muscles and sinews sustaining my imaginary body in the middle of the living world still standing. I could smell the sweet fragrance of morning sweat—the dancing and the sun after the early ablutions. He whispered in my ear salacious words that made me laugh. There is no space for prudery in Death. I laughed, and somewhere in me, in that incorporeal substance that I was, I felt a memory: the pangs of desire, the delights and the tortures of flesh, the freedom and the slavery of human bodies, wanting, ever wanting… And I felt sad again, just as I did when I stopped hearing the pure voices and songs of the dead children.
For it makes no difference whether if it is purity or lust that we miss, when we are dead. There is no difference. It is the simple act of being that fills us with longing. Remembering who we were, what roads we walked upon and who we loved. How we loved. Even our grief becomes a precious jewel shining in tortuous crimson, hanging from the trees in the forest of remembrance.
There was much dancing in the streets now. The devils danced with real living women and with the dead as well. It was now hard to tell the difference between us and them. Dusk had descended on us. We had no more illumination than the trembling candle-lights showing through the windows, and all outlines were blurred, all frontiers banished. People sang—both the living and the dead. I remember I sang too, a song that had been old when I first heard it as a child, a song that was a bridge between all times past and now. There were moments when I could not have said if I had truly died, so real was the feeling of being alive, drunk on my own happiness, intoxicated by the smell of flowers and dance and laughter! And it crossed my mind that maybe no one truly knew at that moment whether if they were alive or dead. It was more than reunion. It was union. We all shared our common humanity, with our force of life, with our death and decay. There was no division. Life and death were Us. And that was the ultimate manifestation of love.
Suddenly I stopped dancing. I released myself from the arms that led me—not a devil now. It was a pretty young woman who rejoiced with all the might and joy of youth. I felt dizzy, stunned, and the thought came to my mind that maybe there was something wrong in that feast. I looked around: people danced and drank and laughed and were merry and kind to each other, they touched, they sang, and I saw a living skeleton moving among them—the most consummate dancer, the lightest, the quickest, passing through everybody’s arms in a flash of whiteness. What, I thought, if we were breaking some sacred order, by mingling that way? By uniting two realms that were meant to remain apart, piercing the mystery. By entering forbidden territory through a defiant act of love.
‘Do not worry!’, said an old, old voice by my side. I turned around and saw an ancient woman; her face was the craggy landscape of the whole history of the Earth, and if she was one of the living or one of the dead, I could not tell, though she smelt of earth and herbs and spices. ‘It is true’, she continued: ‘this is the world turned upside down. But this is necessary too. It is from the mingling of life and death, and of it only, that life regenerates. Our union will make the Earth flourish anew. Do not worry. Soon enough all will be in order again. The Divine Hand will part light from darkness.’
Should I have felt relief? I didn’t. I turned to look at the dancing crowd and I ran mad with desire to join them again, before the old woman’s words came true and order was established back on Earth. I made a feeble attempt at singing, the old beloved song again, but I had no more voice, I felt again like mist, and any attempt I would have made at sound would have been drowned anyway by the clamour that followed. I heard rumbling and then the dark sky was pierced by the most extraordinary light, dazzling flowers of radiance bursting in the sky, falling back to earth in an arch of colour before dissolving in the air. I smelt burnt powder, there was smoke and much laughter everywhere and it was hard now to make up any shape.
I realized then this was the signal. Order was to be restored. We were to go back to our world of shadows, to the grey icy stillness, the inscrutable land of the dead.
Indeed, soon the songs became melancholy and sad. No more could you hear the stamping of dancing feet on the ground. Rather the shuffle of thousands of feet as they walked slowly in procession. A smell of incense, still the fragrance of the thousand petal flowers, and again the ringing of the bells. ‘Back, back, back’, they said. ‘It’s time to go back’.
And I had long lost the gift of tears!
The living walked all around us, gently pushing us back, towards the village’s end. They all held candles in their hands, to light the way. If they didn’t we wouldn’t find the way, we would be forced to light our own fingers in order to see. But the living were gentle, they led us through with their mourning songs, the bells, the light, the solemn voice of farewell.
We reached the cemetery’s gates. The whole place was a source of warm amber light. All our graves had been cleansed, weeded, planted with new flowers, covered with candles. So we were not afraid. We had their sweet songs to wrap us up. We carried against our bosom all the cherished gifts they had given us. Most of all, I carried in my ghostly hands the warmth of their flesh, in my ghostly eyes the living flame reflected in theirs.
And though there was sadness in returning to the grave and the shapeless worlds that open beyond, I was contented: I had been reminded who I had been. I had been showered with memory and love. I was, I still was. I would not be forgotten, I would not be lost from the fabric of time. And I’d be called back to feast, every year, over and over again…