Monday, January 2, 2012

Closer to Life

[Part 3 of the "Flights" series]

BY THE TIME his tears have dried, Abel's footsteps have gone slower, as though his feet were lifting half of his heart while dragging the other half along the mossy pathway, brushing against the cracked surfaces of aged tombs daubed in dirt and faded white. The afternoon sun has been rather unkind. The skyline seemed to have set the western front in an eternal glow of cinnamon, stretching his shadow way ahead of him in his solitary walk toward the cemetery gate. An outgrowth of bushes sprawled below the trellis, the green thicket blessed by the grace of light, the benediction of rain, and the flesh of those who have returned to the earth by way of decay. The last day of May offered no lullaby in its serene breeze, no comfort even, as it was for the length of summer. There was nothing, not even a dirge in the air. Martha and Madeleine shall sing no more, their voices having been lost to the muteness of an infinite rest and the whispers of god, their names now forever etched on marble.

“Hong Kong,” Abel mumbled, “Hong Kong.” He reached the end of the narrow strip of stepping stones and turned left to where the acacia stood in the distance. Beside the old tree, the gate, rusted and partly disheveled from its bolted swivel, swung open to the sea of dead. The rows of the departed extended up until the edge of the southern wall where a steep crevice on the ground marked the territory of the living — men, women and their fledglings sheltered by bunkers and huts of cardboard and lumber nailed together six feet below the base of the fence as though the neighborhood itself is its own graveyard. Abel stopped and took a deep breath, inhaling the scent around him he could almost taste the pungency of his own mourning.

Although the humidity had already begun to weaken, his forehead still had beads of sweat glistening in the afternoon light. A drop rolled down the scar on his cheek. Abel wiped his face, rubbing the palm of his hand against that hollow crease where a slice of flesh should have been. He was sure it was a knife, a blade perhaps, and not a baton that glimmered before his eyes nine years ago, striking him swiftly that day before he lost consciousness amid the paranoia. It was a riot he can barely deface off of his memory.

The acacia loomed larger and closer. Where Abel walked, the soil was a bit loose, his steps slow and steady in an effort to place himself in the safety of anything solid beneath his feet until his escape to the gate. He almost slipped, but his recollection of the past was not to be shaken by his momentary imbalance. The strike was inevitable but he could have simply went home and wallowed in the presence of Martha and Madeleine until his anger and despair have subsided. He could have walked away from the picket line instead, and he could have just taken it as part of his fate of having been born and raised under the zodiac of poverty. He could have done so, and things might have been different. His wife might not have left for Hong Kong, only to find out with scant relief that her college diploma could only land her a job as a household helper and not an engineer as she first hoped and thought. But all the same, Martha had to brace her self with the little ironies of life, especially in a land where there are more green pastures than one can begin to count with fingers that rarely held a decent wage.

But Abel knew all too well that it was too late for remorse. Not even his blood and heart can now redeem Martha and Madeleine from their eternal sleep. So upon reaching the cemetery gate, he looked behind and scanned the vista as far as his eyesight could permit. There was death everywhere — the mass of nameless graves and forgotten tombs, the huddle of houses sharing a space of the earth beyond the southern wall, and the rubble of concrete blocks left out to erode under the sun. And there was life everywhere just as well — the shrubs and grasses peering through the clay and sand, the wayward birds scuttling about, waiting for the wind to signal their flight up where the clouds are, and the creatures that feed on the departed, unwilling as they might have been.

Abel turned and briskly walked away, farther from death and closer to life. There was a smile on his face. He knew where he should go.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

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