The worst kind of death is when there is no one left behind to mourn the dead. It is when there is no human to look over the body while it burns. It is when there is no one to even set fire to the pyre.
Such was the death of the girl in the yellow dress – vain and the worst kind of death anyone could have. She had music rushing in her veins, but sadly, as I looked over the remnants of the disaster, I failed to see any relation of the blood that used to flow in her veins.
She just lay there, unmoving and unblinking in the chaos that enveloped her in smoke and rushed feet. Her hands, which used to play the keys of the piano behind the big oak tree, now rested stained in her own blood. The sandals that she would so gently slip off her feet to walk on the grass now lays knocked off her heels, meters away, somewhere on the weeds painted in red.
I stood behind one of the cars that had started rolling into the area. Soon enough, there were sirens blaring at every inch of the ground, and the medics rushed over to as many bodies as they could cover. Other people poured in too, trying to squeeze themselves over the police to get inside, and frantically circling around in the madness.
And just with that, most of the bodies now had their blood washed away from their bodies with tears of the people they were loved by.
All, but one.
The crimson continued to pinch patterns over the yellow dress of the girl. There was no one clutching her to their heart; no one hugging her to their chest and weeping and noticing the void that she had just created in the world; no one to just sit beside her and tell her all the good things that she was.
I waited; and then watched her being carried away in a stretcher. My eyes followed her until she was placed by the cross-line, beside the other bodies – bodies which were clearly not breathing any further. And even then, she was just there – with none to notice her.
Had I not been stuck in traffic, I would’ve been lined up next to her as well. I would’ve been dead by now too, just like her, only with the difference that I’d have my mother take the first train to here.
And now that I imagined myself dying while hearing her play the piano, I couldn’t help but wonder what song had she decided to play that day. Or if she sang at all, that the whole place blew up even before she could close her eyes, inhale a breath and feel the keys at her fingertips.
I couldn’t help but go back to last Thursday when I had last seen her in the same yellow dress – she would never wear anything else. She had been playing Kaleidoscope that day, which happened to be the song that my mother would sing whenever I felt sad.
It was also the first day when we finally exchanged something, something so simple as a smile. I knew she knew that I would always listen to her play, sitting behind the bush; but it was only last week that she waved and smiled in my direction before getting up and walking down the street.
I had promised myself that day that I would gather up my courage and talk to her the next week, but the next week for us never came – just like tomorrow never comes. It’s all now; not the next day or the next minute – not even the next second.
And I lost my now to the undue hatred of humanity.
It was after a few minutes that I noticed myself advancing towards her, involuntarily and of my own accord. I knew that I had no strength left in me to so much as even breathe an extra breath, but somehow, I found myself walking towards her.
I collapsed down beside her and put a hand around her wrist. I knew that I was not skilled enough to capture a pulse and I knew that she stayed no more, but hope is a strange thing.
I sat there for another few minutes, sinking my head into my legs and listening to the people clear up the area. I felt the crowd dissipate, and I watched them cry until their tears dried up. And I heard a few groans of pain and a louder fraction of loss.
“Why did they do it?” I heard a whisper beside me and looked back. A woman sat just a few feet away from me. Silver locks of hair were pinned in a mess behind her neck, and when she lifted up her head to look at me, I noticed a couple of frowns and creases ornamented on her face.
And then she spoke again, her eyes drained of any emotion as she looked down. “Oh Allah, why?”
Wiping my face with the back of my hand and rolling up my sleeve, I dragged myself near to the woman and put a slight hand at her shoulder.
“Are you alright?” I asked, but she did not look up and continued looking at her feet, her breaths becoming heavy with every second that passed between us.
After about a minute where she did nothing but look down and stay quiet, I gave one final and benign sympathetic squeeze at her shoulder and was just about to get up when she gripped my hand and stopped me from getting back on my feet.
She turned her face towards me, her stare hitting me directly at my face.
“I can’t find my daughter,” she said as her eyes welled up in less than a second from nothing, as if she had been resisting and screening the water to flow out but she just couldn’t anymore. “My daughter,” she croaked again.
It seemed like words hardly made way out of her throat, that she was somehow, and with an almost herculean strength, uttering words which were beyond her capacity.
I sat back beside her, glancing a brief look at the girl behind me, a few medics moving in silence over the backdrop of leaves hustling in the autumn’s call.
“What’s her name?” I cleared my throat and asked.
She did not reply immediately, but when she did, it was barely audible and I asked her to repeat.
“Nazia,” she said again, loud enough for me to just catch it this time.
“How about you go and ask those people over there,” I said, pointing to a van of cops as I couldn’t dare direct her to the doctors who were moving the dead bodies into another van. “You might find her name with them. They have a record of the people they moved to the hospital.”
She merely shook her head, her cries becoming more profound now that she wasn’t attempting to hide her grief and pain anymore. I found myself taking her hands in mine and brushing her skin a little with my thumb. “I’m sure that she’s okay,” I murmured under my breath and she drew back her hand.
“I cannot find her anywhere,” she said again and dropped her face into her hands. “I cannot find her anywhere.”
“Come on,” I said after a minute, not knowing what else to do, “I’ll take you to the people over there and they’ll help you get to your daughter, okay?”
I stood up, taking her by her shoulder in an attempt to guide her to follow me. But she merely sat back, looking at me.
“She’s not with them,” she said with a low and broken voice and for the briefest second, I caught her eyes flickering towards the doctors who were helping move the bodies away from the site. My clutch on her loosened just a bit, and I shrugged the discomfort that was making its way up my spine.
“Just,” I said, my voice equally broken, “let’s get you out of here, okay? For all you know, maybe your daughter’s at home worrying about you. Where’s your phone? Try calling her.”
The woman was now standing beside me, an inch or two shorter than I was; her hands taking the support of my arms. “I – I,” she tried to speak and I watched her as she swallowed hard, unable to say anything for the next few seconds. And then, she closed her eyes, her hands falling to her sides, a tone of her surrender in her voice. “I was on the phone with her. I heard her,” she said, breaking down, “I heard a blast. I heard her turn silent.” She paused. “And then, I heard her no more.”
I did not know if it had been minutes or hours, but I simply stood frozen with nothing making its way into my brain. The next moment, I saw the woman sitting next to her, the girl in the yellow dress.
I quickly stepped beside her, crouching down next to her – without a word and as silent as a breath. She broke the silence.
Without turning herself towards me, she asked, “is she your wife?”
I did not reply; I could not reply. What was she to me? Who was she?
She was the person whom I would see once every week. She was the person who had the prettiest smile I ever saw. She was the person who would play music even when nobody stopped to listen to her.
She was the girl who played the piano. She was the girl in the yellow dress. And she was no more.
I did not even know her name, nor did I know anyone who would. It was like every bit of her identity had suddenly been lifted off this world.
I thought of Nazia – she had her mother to carry her name and her memory and her identity. But what about the woman who lay before me? Would anyone even come to see her? Would anyone even know or care that she would never ever show up again?
Would this park ever feel the absence of her being, or the absence of the mysterious piano that sat behind the big oak tree?
“You had a very pretty wife,” I heard the woman speak and I snapped out of my thoughts and replied with an immediate no.
“I didn’t even know her,” I shrugged, my eyes still fixated at her and the way her hair cascaded down her body. “She um,” I licked my lips before continuing, “she was not even an acquaintance. She was just there,” I said, hardly able to gather the courage to keep talking, and feeling a trail of warm tears slipping down my face, “and now she’s not.”
“It’s tough,” she said, more to herself than to me, “to let go.”
Then, she turned herself slightly towards me, giving a slight brush on my back. “But you have to. Bid her your farewell and kiss her goodbye. Maybe this is the thing that she needs most before continuing her journey forward.”
I just listened, soaking everything in and feeling how I wished for her to be alive. The woman inhaled a deep breath before going on, “I don’t have the strength to say goodbye to my daughter just yet, but I know that she’d want to see me.” She paused, struggling. “But I just can’t. If you’re brave enough, give her what deserved when she was alive.”
With that, the woman took my hands, kissed them and stood up to leave. I watched her shrink as she moved away, until finally, she was just an unknown blur at a distance.
I shifted my gaze back to her, and I wished to give her a goodbye and I wished to be the person who was there for her, even when she was not.
She was not going to die the worst kind of death. The girl in yellow would have a name she’d be remembered by; she’d have an identity; and most of all, she’d have someone who remembered her.
Two days later, when no one had come to see her off, I found myself walking into the cemetery center by myself. With a stark difference, the room was painted in white, quoting a distinct contrast to the heavy mood that lingered on the walls of the room.
I moved to the counter and person manning it – a short but a man with a lean frame – looked up from his glasses. “Yes?” he asked, shifting his eyes back to the register he was handling.
“I uh,” I replied after a moment, not knowing how to string my words together. I could not bring myself to it. Just the thought that I was doing this was enough to make my knees go weak and my stomach churn with a strange and uncanny feeling.
“I’m here to give the content of a – ” And I stopped. I did not have enough energy left in my to speak the words that followed; it was too much for me to hear myself say it. I felt the air being knocked off my lungs even when I tried to mouth the next words.
I repeated, looking elsewhere momentarily, “the content of – ”
“ – A gravestone? Tombstone? Headstone? Pretty easy words to use there,” the man said in an indifferent tone, his eyes still fixated boringly at his register.
He then finally looked up, taking his glasses off. “What kind?” he asked and for a moment, I was left gaping at his blatant disregard of the dead and his job.
“Uh, any,” I said, shrugging any form of anger that the man was injecting in me.
“Name of the deceased and the message?” he asked, putting his glasses back on as he picked up a pen and flipped the page of his register to a fresh and blank space.
I looked down at the floor, at the painting that hung askew on the wall, and at the ant crawling along the edge of the counter; but nothing seemed to keep me distracted from the hurricane of grief in my heart.
Giving in, and with utmost difficulty, I struggled past the lump that had formed in my throat, and spoke only as a whimper, the smallest voice that I could manage. “Eleanor.”
“Huh,” the man grunted, his pen touching the sheet of paper and his hands, more than ready to write the name I was telling him to.
“Eleanor,” I said. “Her name was Eleanor. The girl who played the piano. The girl who was loved. The girl who is remembered. Her name is Eleanor.”
eleanor: greek derivation
-bright, shining one
-also referred to the color yellow/golden