The 59th death.
[By Karthika V.K.]
She died on the day the monsoon hit the coast of Kerala. A neighbour reported having seen her walking on the beach late in the evening, her face upturned to the gathering wind before the rain came down. They found her snug in bed the following morning, if a little stiff. She looked curiously content, like she’d been dreaming of words and family and basketball and friends and lovers past.
Some of the best years of her life, Karthika always said, were spent in a house beside the backwaters, where you went to sleep listening to the sound of water lapping against the shore. When she decided to stop going to work full time, the first thing she did was to rent a house by the sea, where she would sit for hours at her table, reading and editing manuscripts, and looking out the window at the expanse of water sparkling in the sunlight. In the evening, curtains drawn, she would put on some music, pour herself a glass of something and get on the phone to her husband, who might be in the forest bordering the next town or somewhere at the other end of the world, lying in wait for an elusive bird so he could photograph it in the early morning light. Sometimes she would watch reruns of Game of Thrones or listen to recordings of Auden or Dylan Thomas or Arundhati Subramaniam reading their own poetry. And then there were the evenings when a favourite writer turned up to chat about the old days and brainstorm ideas for a new book. As she lay in bed, later at night, listening to the rain drumming on the tiles, she would reach for her phone and WhatsApp an old friend or troll a few trolls, just to keep her hand in against the right brigade. Who knew when those old muscles might need flexing again?
“It was her idea of a perfect life, wasn’t it,” her older son said to his brother as they raised a toast to the memory of a woman they had both loved for her amazing ability to stay out of their lives.
“Yes,” the younger boy agreed, “but what on earth are we going to do with her collection of P-books? Not even the local library will know what to do with them.”
“Yeah, and we’ll have to shut down AWPP, that helpline she ran for Anxious Writers and Publishing Professionals.”
“She was rather weird, wasn’t she, even if she was our mother? Forever falling in love with some book or writer and neglecting the rest of us while she talked on the phone to random people whose lives she knew inside out–though she never told.”
“And remember those guilt trips she used to go on, about people she hadn’t called back and deadlines she had missed?”
Karthika thought it best to not stay and eavesdrop any more on the postmortem that had clearly just begun and anyway, it was time to go. The queues for next-life-requests would be long and tedious to negotiate, though she was hoping not too many others would be keen on her exact profile: Fearless deep-sea diver, Imaginative cook, Superb driver of all things on wheels (the adjectives were important, even if they went against all the principles of blurb-writing). And yes, male, single, and destined to live a short life before moving on to the next….
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