Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Funeral Procession by Robert Raymer

Loud clanging and the beating of a drum woke me from a dead sleep. For several

moments, blanketed in tomb-like blackness, I assumed that the ruckus I was hearing was a

continuation of the storm that had raged throughout the night. The longer I lay there, the more 

I was convinced that something else was taking place outside the hotel. Whatever it was, I 

wished it would stop; it was forcing me awake. The persistent noise refused to go away…

Instead it grew louder and sounded more like a parade.

I edged myself around Suna, careful not to wake her, and groped my way through the 

darkness holding onto the table, the wall, and the sink. I fumbled several moments with the 

wooden shutters before finding the latch, unhooking it, and thrusting both sides open.

Sunshine poured in, drenching me with far too much light. I blocked out what I could with my 

hand and squinted until my half-opened eyes could adjust to the intense brightness.

On the narrow street below, a Chinese procession in full swing passed in front of the 

hotel. Leading the way, a truck carried several people beating gongs and drums, 

accompanied by pre-recorded hypnotic chanting. Squeezed in with the musicians was an 

odd assortment of food, including a whole roasted pig. A crowd of people dressed in black 

walked behind the truck. Some wore gunny sacks over their heads like makeshift hats, 

others held dark umbrellas. Despite the gaiety of the music, no one in the procession was 

smiling. Several, in fact, were crying. It took several moments for it to sink in what was 

going on; then I saw something I never wanted to see first thing in the morning….Suspended 

from a long pole like freshly captured quarry and shouldered by several men was a casket.

Trailing behind the mourners, several Indians pushed purple sedan effigies on wheeled 

carts. The men struggled to keep the uncooperative wheels going straight. The wheels 

clearly had a mind of their own. The effigies, like circus clowns, were constantly and rather 

comically on the verge of crashing into each other. Yet no one was laughing.

As I watched the funeral procession pass by, I felt a distinct uneasiness, an urging not 

that unsimilar to what I had felt upon boarding the ferry to Penang. An urging that refused 

to go away…. I tried to remove the gloom from my mind. I wanted to think about life, not 

death. I wanted to dwell on the present, particularly last night with Suna, and the future. 

Today was a new beginning for me. Today, I realized, was also a Monday, a day for 

getting things done. A day for tackling long overdue tasks. From my years of running

Copycat Boston, tackling long overdue tasks first thing Monday morning was an ingrained habit. 

Clearing unwanted tasks would give me a sense of accomplishment and would propel me 

through the week. The one task I had been avoiding since arriving in Penang was calling 

Patricia. Finally, I felt ready to make that call…confident to clear the air and put everything 

behind us so I could move forward with my life here in Penang. I owed that to Suna.

Patricia was my past. Suna, if she’d have me, my future.

If only there was a phone in the room, I’d call Patricia right now, get it done and over 

with. Last night I glimpsed one at the front desk. Even if the clerk allowed me to use it, 

which I seriously doubted, it’d afford me no privacy, plus the inevitable interruptions from 

guests coming or going or checking out. For a moment I felt stumped. If only I were back at 

the E & O….The thought crossed my mind that if I hurried back to the E & O, I could make 

the call, get cleaned up and be back before Suna even woke up. By making that call, I could 

have the best of both worlds: an unpleasant task completed and the prospect of spending 

the rest of the morning in bed with Suna.

I didn’t like the idea of leaving Suna, but I knew that if I waited for her to wake up, the 

mood would be different, the call would not be made, and the opportunity would be lost. 

Knowing my tendency to procrastinate, it could be days before I got around to it, assuming 

Patricia could wait that long. The one thing I feared more than anything was having Patricia 

show up in Penang. I knew Patricia, and she knew Penang far better than me.

I kissed Suna on the shoulder; however, she didn’t budge, sound asleep. I got dressed 

and left a note on the dresser informing her I would be back within the hour. At the bottom 

of the note, I added those eight magical letters I hadn’t had the courage to say to anyone in 

a very long time: I LOVE YOU.

While waiting outside for a passing trishaw or taxi, I noticed an elderly woman bent 

over as she tied flattened cardboard boxes to a wooden cart, oblivious to the traffic 

swerving around her. The woman straightened up yet remained doubled over, permanently 

crippled. She continued to push the heavy cart along the road to forage for more boxes. 

When she came to where I was standing, she turned her head sideways to look at me. Her 

eyes were cold and gray and the expression on her sun-baked face was lifeless, akin to 

death itself. As she continued to stare, I felt a sudden chill and had a premonition that 

something bad was going to happen. This lingering feeling, coupled with seeing the funeral 

procession, caused me to reflect upon the wisdom of leaving the sanctuary of Suna’s bare 

side in a bed still warm from the heat of my own body.

© Robert Raymer

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