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.
(c) Robert Raymer