When I met Catherine, the first time after 10 years, almost forgotten how the sun glared through the cave of her hair, her constant pout, her headstrong philosophies, her stupidities and most importantly the friendship, she was already hanging from the ceiling fan by a noose.
1. A blue, silken dupatta was enough to hold her light body still, lifeless and stone cold.
I stood still, as if cast a spell by some witch of dark humor. Her widower, Shiraz, also a friend of mine, was taking her body off the knot, while I stood there staring at her shoulders shaking while Shiraz struggled to untie the deadly gag…
2. There was nobody around to help but me.
The couple chose to live in the same little town just as I did, were nowhere in contact during the last decade, and suddenly, one chose to kill herself and the other chose to call me for help. Public services such as the police or the ambulance were either busy on election duty or just didn’t have the infrastructure of manpower to help, but the neighbors knew it was a suicide, so Catherine, she had to be taken to the morgue. To be cut open, perhaps…
3. Shiraz helped me lift her on my arms, and as I stood their holding Catherine, the slight little thing as usual, but heavier than death now.
Shiraz threw a kick with his shin bones at her legs, breaking the stiffness of her limbs, with a cracking noise and her legs were not pointed straight anymore. She looked like she was sleeping now, especially after Shiraz flipped her eyes shut with a gentle wisp of his palms. I carried her outside, amidst the few good neighbors who bothered to crowd. Shiraz went for the cab. The driver must not know she’s dead. It’s too late for trouble…
4. We were mostly silent in the cab.
I was thinking about the little child that died a few years ago at the morgue of heart attack. His friends claimed to have seen a body move in the morgue and that was enough for the child to die of fright. I dismissed the thought. They will write anything for the spices. Little boys, don’t die of fright. It’s us who might.
I looked at Shiraz, at the front street, beside the driver. He had a straight face on, absorbing the past events in silence. God knows what will happen once he realizes the loss! As of now, he looked like he had a chore to take care off. The driver was half asleep and I felt a little strange as I moved my attention to Catherine for she looked so alive, looking out of the window of the moving car. When did her eyes open again?
5. When we reached the morgue, there was nobody to attend. The Coroner would not visit before 8 in the morning and the attendant was missing.
They gates were open and we decided to step in and wait. The corridor was too long for the two weak white lights on the walls. The lights flickered with an annoying noise every now and then. We took a seat. We waited in silence for the attendant to turn up – me, Shiraz and our friend, Catherine, dead and pale.
I remember Shiraz flipping her eyes closed but now they were gazing into the end of the poorly lit corridor. Her eyes looked so alive that I couldn’t help but turn my head to see what the dead woman was staring at. I saw, to my horror, a mound of unclaimed dead bodies, one on top of the other, lying on a rusty iron bed at the end of the corridor. I realized that the rotten smell that had had been lingering in my nose, probably came from this heap of corpses.
6. Finally, Shiraz rose and broke the silence. He had to break the unfortunate news to Catherine’s folks in Calcutta but his cellphone didn’t catch any signal inside the walls of the morgue.
He went outside while I waited in a corridor full of nameless corpses and the dead body of a good friend of mine sitting stiff beside me. Shiraz was out quite a while now and I had kept my eyes closed, slightly drowsy with exhaustion as I thought about my times spent with Catherine when we were young and happier. It was the trick of a tired mind that made me see, in my dream, a hideous grin of Catherine while she moaned faintly, that broke my trance immediately.
I opened my eyes and looked at her. She was still gazing at the corpses at the other end. While trying to calm my palpitation down, I heard something inexplicably strange. The moaning of Catherine in the little nightmare i just had a few seconds ago was not just in my head. I could still hear it – just as faint as it were. Catherine was quiet as the dead is supposed to be. I turned my head to the direction of the sound – it was the heap of corpses in the far end.
7. “Corpses don’t moan” I told myself, “I should lay off the marijuana and visit my parents soon. I’m just tired, burnt out and getting old. I must keep my nerves steady!”.
However, the moaning and groaning went on. One of the two lights, which had been flickering consistently finally gave out leaving me and Catherine sitting in the darkest part of the huge corridor. The only part where the light shone was the end with the heap of corpses but I dared not look over there no matter how obvious the moaning sounds were. I sat there, sweating like a pig – my spectacles slipped down my nose every other second and the rotten grew stronger.
I gathered the courage to look towards the heap. I couldn’t console myself because I knew what I had seem – the bodies at the top were moving and a pale skinny hand popped out and kept hanging from under the dirty white sheets with all the movement….
8. My nerves, weakened by abuse, couldn’t let me think clear.
I gazed with horror as the body at the top dropped on the ground with all that movement. I sat there, my throat choking, as i watched the bodies tumble down with the sheets wrapped around them, one after the other until it came down to the one in the middle that had been shaking everything else. This one didn’t drop on the ground – it arose.
It was covered from head to toe with the dirty linen as I saw it get out of the heap, dropping a few more dead bodies while at it and then stagger slowly across the corridor, towards me. I was scared, almost in tears as I clasped Catherine’s cold hand – I might have dug in her dead flesh with my nails.
9. It struggled with it’s steps towards me, covered in sheet, it seemed like it was trembling – the rotten smell grew stronger with each step it took.
I couldn’t look at it. I stared down and prayed for my heart to stop as the walking corpse finally stopped right beside me. I wanted it to put an end to this torture, even it meant my death but it just stood their breathing over me – I didn’t look but could tell it was watching me. I kept staring at the ground, waiting for the slay but it didn’t happen. I saw the sheet drop on the ground. The corpse was unmasked now. I heard it speak.
“Dada, matchis hai?”
10. I, who was prepared to be butchered by a ghoul, turned away from the gates of hell, erased, undead, was not expecting it to ask for a light.
So, I raised my head, in great anticipation and looked it in the eye for the first time. What I thought was a corpse seemed like a man still living but extremely inebriated with country liquor. He was Madan, the 40 year old attendant of the morgue for whom we were waiting so long. Later that night, he told me how he loved sleeping amidst the dead bodies.
He finds them soft, snugly and and sometimes friendly too. He didn’t, however show any remorse regarding how his nocturnal, necrophiliac antics had scared a curious little child to death a few days ago.