The House Of The Dead
He found the intimate way she gently stroked his hand quite disconcerting. She no longer greeted his arrival, having long since retreated into a silent world from which she never returned. With no words now exchanged between them they sat together in silence, the only indication of her presence in this world was her stroking the back of his hand with that disconcerting intimacy. Both of them sitting lost in the quietude of their own thoughts. When he first noticed her leaving the present to visit some other place and a time it had confused him, an initial consternation that quickly became an acceptance as she increasingly spent more time in that other place. She was happy there and he had quickly learned to recognised when this time traveller, as he had come to call her trips to the past, had left the present to visit those happier times. They would continue a conversation as if he were there with her, returning to the present with her visits to this past world suspending her time in the present. She had no recollection of her time travel, returning from these ever more frequent trips into the past having no memory of their conversations. Now they simply sat silently together, she intimately stroking his hand, he knowing that it wasn’t his hand she was holding but that of the man she had loved and lost during the war. The man she had left the present to join in an eternity of joy and youth. He wondered if when his visit ended and he took his hand away, her connection with that happier time was broken and if it was what then happened to this time traveller.
Sitting beside her his thoughts drifted to those of his own youth, visiting the home reminded him of the time when he had lived in Singapore and his trip down Sago Lane, more often called ‘the street of the dead’. He was mortified by the thought of those rooms above the funeral parlours being a place where old people waited to die but now thought the street of the dead was a more compassionate place than this house of the dead. Chinese funerals were noisy affaires, the noise intended to scare away the malevolent evil spirits that always hovered around the dead. The people dying in Sago Lane who lived above the funeral parlours could watch those funerals with their magnificent floats, paper money and all the other trappings of wealth to be burned in honour at the graveside of the deceased, providing wealth and comfort for their journey to the next world.
He looked around the room in this home where people were sent to die and where the dead were quietly spirited away. If death was a time of noisy mourning and celebration in the street of the dead, a journey to a better life, a solace the living shared with the dead and the dying, it was not so in this house of the dead. Death stole silently in and evil spirits free to roam in its oppressive silence brought no solace with them. Suddenly the woman who always sat immobile and silent in the corner of the room screamed, crying out so lucidly that it frightened him. Not the cry of a demented person but a plaintive passionate plea from someone who had escaped from the torment of evil spirits, a cry for help in escaping from the living hell that those spirits who pursued her wanted to drag her back to. He had assumed, at least until now, that the woman never spoke but sat silently in the corner waiting to be spirited away unseen and unmourned by those around her. Then, as if recaptured by those spirits, the woman became immobile and silent once again, leaving him tormented by thoughts of the living hell she may have returned to. He squeezed the hand he was holding more tightly afraid that the woman’s scream and cry for help had caused an unwelcome awakening. Undisturbed she stroked his hand, this time comforting him and letting him know that they were both safe in her world.
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