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.
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