By C.E. Pereira
Chapter 1: Liza’s first encounter with Death
LIZA was ready to bawl her eyes out. Where was Mummy? The room was packed with grown-ups and all she could see was legs attached to shoes. She tugged on a skirt until the lady looked down at her.
“What’s the matter honey? Where’s your Mummy?”
Liza’s lips trembled and her eyes filled-up. The lady was a stranger. She was not supposed to talk to strangers. She backed away from the lady, pushing her way between the sea of legs. Looking down at the shoes, she tried to spot her mother’s shoes.
She reached the door without finding her mother. Looking out into the corridor, she saw the room opposite was opened. She walked over to the room and peeped inside. There weren’t many people there but they were gathered around a big box crying and saying the Rosary.
She knew the big box was called a coffin. Her Daddy had told her that Grand Uncle Harry was now inside the coffin because he was dead.
Yesterday, Liza had asked her Daddy, “Is Grand Uncle Harry dead because he kicked the bucket?”
Daddy was silent for quite sometime before he asked, “Where did you hear this?”
Liza, with a serious look on her face answered, “Granny Eugenie was telling Grand Aunty Emily that Grand Uncle Harry had kicked the bucket and was now dead as a doornail.”
Liza was now more confused about “kicked the bucket” and “dead as a doornail” but she just kept nodding her head as Daddy tried to explain.
“Then how did he die, Daddy?”
“He was old.”
“Is Granny Eugenie and Grand Aunty Emily also going to die?”
“No. Now, who told you that?”
“Just now you said Grand Uncle Harry died because he was old. Granny Eugenie and Grand Aunty Emily are old. Are they going to die too?”
“No. They are not going to die yet. Your grandmother may be old but she’s strong as an ox.”
Liza started to giggle. She had seen a picture of an ox in her story book. Did Daddy think Granny Eugenie ugly? The ox was big and strong but very ugly.
Someone knocked into her. She was day dreaming again. So she tip-toed into the room. There were lots and lots of flowers and two big candles were burning near the coffin between a picture of Grand Uncle Harry.
The room was filled with the smell of flowers, candle wax, eau de cologne and a smell which Liza didn’t recognize. It will be years later that she will associate it with death.
All the different smells were over powering. To add to the discomfort it was stifling hot in the room.
She tried to look inside the coffin but couldn’t see anything. Even standing on her toes while holding onto the side of the coffin, she was not tall enough to see the inside.
How did dead people look like? She had seen a dead cat once and felt sick in her stomach. It smelled bad too.
While Liza was standing on tiptoes, someone from behind her lifted her up and she got her first look at a dead person.
Grand Uncle Harry looked worse than the dead cat. Liza struggled to get down. But the grown-up didn’t let go.
This time Liza did bawl her eyes out. In between sobs, she screamed for her Mummy.
When her Mummy finally carried her and cuddled her closely, Liza stopped crying.
In between hiccups, little hands still clung tightly to her Mummy. Frightened eyes, wet with tears looked sad and betrayed.
“I lost you Mummy. I couldn’t find you.”
“Shh… I’m sorry honey. I thought you were with Daddy.”
Liza hugged her Mummy tighter, not wanting to let go.
In a hush voice, Liza whispered in her Mummy’s ears, “Can we go home? Grand Uncle Harry’s face looks frightening. Don’t make me look at him again.”
Liza wanted to go home. But Mummy said not yet.
So throughout the day, Liza clung to her Mummy’s side, not venturing anywhere.
Even when her cousins wanted her to come out and play, she refused to leave her Mummy’s side.
Liza’s first encounter with death at such an early age has been etched into her memory. It will fade, but the memory of Grand Uncle Harry’s dead face in the coffin will surface from time to time.
For the next few days Liza’s dreams were disturbed by dead cats and coffins. She whimpers in her sleep. But come daylight, the cobwebs of those nightmares disappears. Laughter is heard and slowly Liza forgets her encounter with death.
And everything is right in Liza’s world again.
Cont: Chapter 2