Sirima awoke to air heavy with pending rain, calling birds, the clatter of passing people. She looked outside and saw a procession of people moving through the streets. Inside she could not find her husband. Off to cricket or tea, perhaps. Or just off. Crossing Rama’s Bridge, the ancient sandbank chain that once connected Sri Lanka to India, to be absorbed by the ocean, disappear and reemerge in a different life. Whenever he disappeared, her mind wandered.
In the center of the procession, she saw a coffin floating at the top of hands and heads. It was intricate, colored with gold and bright pinks and greens, mad cartoon-like faces, shiny green and red jewels. Outside, her neighbors were gathered in a small crowd. She walked to them, asked what was happening, who had died. They didn’t know. A religious leader, one said. No, perhaps a rebel warlord, said another. Maybe a great cricket player, a person truly worth such a display of mourning. Perhaps it’s empty, said another—a fake funeral staged by the government, to demoralize its enemies. Everyone grew quiet, pondering this possibility.
The coffin moved northwest, drifting clumsily toward India. The crowd moved with it, buzzing and swelling. Would they all fall in the sea, she thought.
Sirima stepped back, turned in a circle glancing for her husband. She did not see him. When she was a child, her father disappeared for long stretches of time. Ramesha, her oldest sister, would tell her, it’s all your fault, now you won’t see him again. Eventually, he’d return, covered in dirt, like he’d crawled from a hole in the ground, eyes and smiles older than before.
A body dead in a coffin, rotting in the humidity, skin and muscle consumed by worms. Or an empty coffin, a funeral of air, the world outside more ominous than the empty space within.
The wind gusted from the west. A monsoon was coming. The passing crowd was out of sight, followed by calm empty road. To her right, her husband emerged on the street, tossing and catching a blue cricket ball.