"But more than that... a father."
"Don't worry... We'll find her."
There’s a difference between the ethic that you claim to hold and the ethic which holds sway over choices—and the latter is reveal in the moment your convictions are truly tested.
A visitor would have seen a man standing alone by the gate as the sun reached to touch the soil of our village. It had begun its morning arc, and the blues of night had yielded way to the gold of a new dawn. A gold like turmeric spice, or an ochre robe. A gold like the sand kissed by the sun. And alone in that great golden quietness, alone in the stillness of a new day, stood just one man.
I was that man. I stood there seeking respite from my troubles under the sun. The news had come to me horribly the night before: My younger daughter's husband Gopal had taken ill. Soon we heard that he was feverish and shaking from chills. And then before midnight--before I could offer rites and prayers on his behalf--the messenger returned to our house, bowing and wailing--to tell me that my son-in-law lay dead.
In a moment of anguish, I told myself, "If only Deena were still alive! If she were alive, she could surely help!" Perhaps with her womanly arts of care and herbs, and a well-boiled chicken, my wife could have even saved Gopal. I don't know. What could cause Gopal to die so soon? His worst enemy could not find a fault or error to blame him. And I know he was very good to my daughter Neela for those two short years.
I sought refuge from all these thoughts in my time, watching for the light of dawn. We say "the day will follow the night," but I always want to see it happen. Not long ago, a young man mocked me for this. He caught me walking back as today, and called to me, "You checked that the sun came to work on time again?" I swatted at him. He dashed away, chuckling. I chased him down the road, pretending to scowl. But it was such a struggle to hold back my own laughter that I could hardly breathe. Finally, I gave myself up to it, and then we both stood there, laughing. Why could today not be exactly like that day, with the only cause for provocation or worry being one youth's idle jesting?
If that same youth saw me here right now, I would greet him and report that the sun was not a day-laborer to be checked up on, but a kingly warrior fighting a great battle with excellence and splendor. Once more the sun arose and chased away the cold enfolding blues and purple-grays of night.
But every day is not just like the other, even though they begin alike. Today, as on other days, I huffed and heaved, pulling myself along the dusty road to my shop. The keys clinked as I fumbled them out of my pocket to unlock for the morning's obligations. Stepping inside was a little like stepping back into the evening.
I shuffled along, winding between the tall rows of rolled-up rugs, and the luxuriant piles of carpets on display. It is a cool and musty building, but the eastward-facing window had just begun to admit the warming rays of encroaching sun. Those rays gilded the motes of dust hanging in the air, and the motes, for their part, responded by dancing in the illumination. There was my desk, with the pen and its ink ready for me. However, I could see nothing to look forward to but the cups of scalding tea I would drink four times before walking home. Those cups of tea would measure out portions of the long day; they would break it into pieces that I could endure.
Soon my apprentice arrived—as early as ever. Why should it surprise me that a morning's work should begin in such an ordinary way? He smiled, shining white teeth glowing out at me. Then he became very sober and serious, seeing my own serious face. And do you know what that young man did then? He touched my hand and said to me, "Don't worry; we'll get her. We'll find her. The rites will be accomplished."
If you have never been to my land, you may not know the funerary customs of our village. Many villages in our land have done as we do for long generations past. The traders' tales tell of villages across the great river which grow careless. And can we understand how this happens? Of course! The young people forget the old ways, and who can tell into what harm that will lead them? The traders also tell of places where a man's widow is kept alive and a chosen animal is sacrificed as a replacement. In my fathers' days, this was never so. But in a village like ours--where every offering is renewed day by day--the ways that were taught to us are always remembered. They are always practiced.
To be continued…
Note: I have not given up on writing “The Dance, The Worship, and the Years of Silence.”
In fact, I thought I was simply going to post it as an “unfinished” story, and am glad I created more new installments than I expected to—and will again at some point.
This one, though… this one is completed, and I will dole it out over the next few months.