A Death Endemic to Us
Anahita Singh was studying Science in an unnamed city in the United States. It was a busy city, boisterous and cutthroat. Nothing like Anahita herself. She often explored its outskirts, claiming the city was much too loud for her. She circled the suburbs on her fir green bike, looking for an unnamed and pervasive feeling of peace. Her family’s home in India was situated in a quiet village that boasted of fertile farm lands. Cars, no matter how small or old, signified wealth, and wealth was rare. It was one of the reasons her parents wanted Ana to settle in Boston. They were excited about the opportunities it would provide her with. They wanted a job for her upon graduation and a marriage with the possibility of citizenship.
Two Septembers after her first semester in college, her friend told her of the Mt. Auburn cemetery. It was only a bike ride away from their favorite brunch place. So, one Sunday, she peddled her way to the cemetery gates, alone. The sun was out and green was everywhere. Masses of little lilac flowers grew around the graves. Ana walked beside her bright blue bike, pushing it up hills and down pathways, pausing to stare at the graves. Signs marked the different paths, naming them Fir Avenue, Galax Path, Dogwood Road.
Carved monasteries marked some graves; there were houses, urns, towers and flower beds. Some had beautiful Celtic crosses, standing tall in the sunlight. Others had angels and castles on the top of the buried bodies. The Dowbridges were buried next to the Jones family, and the Goddards next to the Atkins family. Other families had mini-mausoleums with names sketched on one side. The Woodards had an entire plot along Hibicus Lane all to themselves.
To Anahita, it seemed that the wealthier you were when you died, the bigger and better your grave would be. In a twisted way, it was a means for translating social status into the afterlife. Anahita thought about her parents getting cremated in her little village, along the river that ran through the entire state. It was the same river that contained ashes of their old servants, deceased grand-uncles and most recently, her young cousin. She believed in the flames transporting the soul to the heavens. She envisioned Ramu Kaka with his filthy rag draped over his shoulder, looking up at her from whatever work had been assigned to him that day. She imagined him with little Arvind, who wasn’t strong enough to beat tuberculosis. She hoped they were all taking care of each other up there. At least in ashes, everyone was equal. In ashes, nothing remained.
The more Ana walked around, the more the names she saw connected to her life, but the more distant that made her feel. She saw the Kendalls’ graves and immediately thought of her English professor. Jones was her roommate’s surname. Reagan, like the ex-president. Banks, like the boy she met last weekend. At first, it was a game to spot the names that were real to her. After forty nine such findings, the game wasn’t fun anymore.
There were no graves at Mt. Auburn cemetery with her last name on them. None with those of her cousins or neighbors or old friends. No Singh or Patel or Mishra. It was futile to expect her ancestors to be buried in this little unnamed town, of all places. But that didn’t stop the disappointment from flooding into her veins, causing her to ride her bike as fast as she could away from the cemetery.
Anahita returned to her little village upon graduation, despite the dreams her family had for her to succeed in the land of opportunity. She knew she was breaking their hearts by refusing to accept an easier life. But, she wouldn’t budge. She wanted to join Arvind and Ramu Kaka. She wanted ash to equalize her thoughts and dreams, with those that shared her culture, her skin tone, her tongue. She could care less about being buried on Galax Path.