A Saxophone In The Graveyard
I heard the cars being parked. They were back again. At the very same spot. This year too.
If I remember correctly, they were about thirteen or fourteen years old when they began their annual trip to this graveyard.
Who am I talking about? A gang of boys(there were about six or seven of them) who grew up in this very Mumbai neighborhood, whom I refer to as the ‘Cargo Company’. Why do I call them that? Because for as long as I can remember, I’ve always seen those boys in t-shirts and cargo shorts.
I’ve seen their happiness. I’ve seen their sorrow. I’ve seen them fight. I’ve seen them make up. I’ve seen them before their exams, preparing their contingency plans. I’ve seen them after those very exams, running out to play. I’ve seen their first kisses. Yes, each end every one of them. And, I’ve also seen their little break-ups. I’ve seen them grow up. Into fine men, if I may say so.
As usual, I expected the gang to walk up to me with their cans of beer. But, this time was different. A little girl came running towards the bench I was sitting on. She stopped in front of me and gave me a smile. She was missing her two front teeth. She had glossy black hair, tousled by the wind. Big dark brown eyes. An unbelievably cute child. And, for some reason, she reminded me of someone.
I patted the space on the bench, just beside where I sat. The little girl climbed onto it and adjusted herself. Once comfortable, she looked towards me, gave me a toothy smile. “Hi!”, she said.
“Hello. What’s your name?”
“Lavender.” The girl replied, still smiling.
“Lavender? That’s a beautiful name. But, not as beautiful as the person it belongs to.”
“So, Lavender, how old are you? Seven?”
The little girl’s eyes lit up. “No. I’m eight years old.”, she corrected.
“Eight! You’re a big girl then.”
Lavender shot me one of her signature smiles. “How old are you?” She looked at me eagerly, for an answer.
“How old am I? You see Lavender, that’s one thing I’m not too sure about.”
The child looked extremely puzzled. “Not sure? Everybody knows their age.”
“Well, yes I guess so. I guess, I’m eighty-three years old. It’s been quite a long time since I turned eighty-three.”
From the corner of my eye, I could see the girl trying to grasp how far eighty-three is from eight, using her fingers. Did I mention how cute she was? And then her eyes drifted towards my lap.
“What’s that?” Did I also mention that Lavender had the biggest beautiful brown eyes I have ever seen?
I picked up the shiny instrument that lay on my lap. “This, my dear, is a saxophone.”
The little girl became quiet, as she tried to remember something. “What does it do?”
“Music, my dear. I use it to play beautiful music to all those who lie here.”
The little girl looked at the graves. She nervously looked at me and whispered, “They can hear?”
“Not like we do. They don’t have any ears do they? But, they can feel the music. Music reminds them.”
“Reminds them of what? What did they forget?”
“Their lives. Their memories. The people they grew up with. It makes them happy.”
“Why are they sad?” Lavender placed a tiny finger on the shiny instrument.
“Well, they just drift around.”
The puzzled expression returned to the girl’s face.
“They cannot see, talk, taste, hear or touch things like we do. No one to love. They just move around. They have no purpose. No reason to exist. Would you be happy to move around like that?”
Lavender was quiet for some time. “No”, she said in a small voice.
“But, that is not what makes them sad.”
The little girl looked up at me. Her big brown eyes didn’t leave my face as I spoke.
“What really makes them sad is that they feel sorry.”
“Sorry about what?”
“They feel sorry for themselves.”
The child’s face betrayed a big question mark.
“Let me ask you this. When you go out to school, or even with your parents, do you look at the people around you?”
“And, most of the time, they are busy, aren’t they?”
The girl thought for a moment. “Yes.”
“Yes. So, could you tell me the difference between such a person and someone who lies here?”
“Um, the people outside can hear, see and talk?”
“Exactly. The reason the ones who lie here are sad is because when they could see, listen and talk, they didn’t. They chose to live their lives with no purpose. Without appreciating the things around them. Now, when they don’t have that choice, they’re sad. So, just to remind them of some of the happy moments they had, I sit here and play the saxophone. Tell me, why did you come here?”
“Papa brought me here to meet his friends and their kids.”
“Ah. I see. Where is your papa?”
The girl looked around. She then locked onto a tree, pointed towards it and smiled. “There.”
That’s when I realized why the little girl’s face looked familiar. I had spoken to her father, on this very bench when he was her age; a long time ago. The man walked up to his daughter.
“Lavender, how did you find this bench?” The man asked as he sat beside his daughter.
Before Lavender could answer, her father continued. “There is a story about this place. On every Halloween evening like this one, a spirit of an old man-Noah D’Mello appears on this very bench.”
The little girl clutched her father’s sleeve. The man gave out a small smile.
“Lavender, don’t worry. He’s a good spirit. A guardian spirit, you could say.”, the man smiled as if he remembered something. “It is said, that he comes and plays music to all those people who lie here; with a shiny golden saxophone.”
The girl went quiet. She looked up at me. In a soft whisper, she spoke. “Noah D’Mello?”
“It’s been a pleasure to meet you, my dear.” I gave her a small wink. “And Happy Halloween.”