That Was The Day

The only thing he could see was a thick, cold milky layer covering the landscape, but he could feel he had arrived. The wet fog danced around his body; nevertheless, he went ahead because he knew it had to be close by. He walked and walked, singing a country song. The faltering sound escaped his clenched jaw when, suddenly, through the mist, an old man appeared right before him. The man had long gray hair and long beard, his face was covered in turmeric paint, and there was an inquisitive stare in his eyes.

“There are two dogs inside you: one is good, the other is bad. They are fighting. Which one shall win at last?” the man asked unexpectedly.

Perplexed, he didn't know what to say. He hesitated. The old man's stare demanded an answer and he was about to say “I don't know, I swear I don't know” when those bony hands started to squeeze his throat. He grabbed the old man's hands, trying to set himself free. He tried to think, but the words got jumbled in his mind. Are there two good dogs? Which one will win? One is bad? After all, there are two dogs inside of you... Two? One? Which one? Which one?

He felt increasingly restless, out of breath, and his vision was getting blurry. Finally, his words came back to him. “The one who gets fed better!”

It was only then that the hands let go, but claws appeared in their place. And, instead of the old man, an eagle took flight through the fog, disappearing in the horizon, where the red glow of the rising sun had started to appear.

An there was the Ganges. Now he could see everything around him. The pyres, the devotees wearing multicolored clothes and bathing in the water, praying, and offering lit candles. Others were throwing in ashes and bones from their loved ones who had been cremated in the stairs.

He watched in fascination as a man with shaved head lit up an enormous fire to cremate his father, whose body had just been washed in the dark waters. Only the men in the family could join in the ceremony, but he stood a few steps away―the son and relatives of the deceased did not notice his presence. He stood there, watching the flames consuming the pyre slowly, then the intensity of the fire made the head of the deceased explode. They say it was the moment when the spirit is released from the body.

He kept walking and saw a cow get closer to the riverbank up ahead to drink some water, without minding the shapeless carcass floating in the surroundings.

The body of an old yogi floated nearby, capturing the interest of some dogs. Women were washing clothes and, about a yard away, old men were chanting some mantras. On the other side of the river, men were passing ashes through a sieve, trying to find any jewelry or valuables that the family of the deceased might have forgotten about.

The smell of burnt sandalwood on the pyres of the forward caste was blended in with the smell of rotten water, sewage, and decomposing bodies, making him nauseated, but there was no denying the fact that the moment had arrived―it was his turn. He walked in that direction.

All of a sudden, he heard the ruffle of some skirts behind him. He didn't want to look, but an arm covered in bracelets got a hold of his wrist. His gaze followed that arm in curiosity until his eye met the face of the woman attached to it.

“Are you afraid of the dead?” she yelled, giving him no time to protest.

The question awaken a level of cynicism that seemed so inherent to him, yet so repulsive he was afraid of voicing it. He closed his lips, trying not to answer, but the woman's grip around his wrist was getting strong. He had to reply right away, but wasn't sure what to answer. He looked at her face in curiosity. She was a beautiful woman and her features reminded him of a time and place he couldn't identify.

She then flashed a broad smile at him, as if she could comprehend his memories. Her smile seemed warm, until the parted lips tore from her flesh, exposing her mouth full of parasites feeding from her and, within seconds, only the hollow of her eyes and her skull remained.

However, the bones of that hand kept squeezing his arm with an iron grip, causing him deep pain until the answer came to him. “Death is an illusion... Life as we know it doesn't exist... It's nothing but māyā.”

As soon as he finished his answer, he felt his arm being set free and the woman disappeared.

He finally reached the riverbank. Before he could put one foot in the water, he looked up, admiring the clear blue sky as if looking for confirmation. He felt so sure, an unshakable faith, something he couldn't remember ever feeling before. Ever.

He dove in.

Memories flashed through his mind, like a movie in vertiginous speed. 

Frog croaking on rock Tiger devouring prey Preacher saying a prayer Courtesan waving fan Mosquito biting arm Sailor setting sail Cow chewing grass Woman breastfeeding Bird taking flight Warrior lifting sword Dame lifting up dress Snake crawling Priest presenting Eucharist Hen laying egg Old woman brushing hair Little boy starving Bird pecking fruit Executioner beheading Teacher writing on board Cockroach flying Young man playing piano Dog chewing on bone Man reaching orgasm Young woman breaking leg Spider spinning web Girl embroidering Assassin killing

Everything went dark. He lifted his head. The moon was already up in the sky. He admired the timeless twinkle of the stars while floating peacefully. The river was empty and he was surrounded by silence. 

Then he heard the quiet toll of bells at a distance. No, those were not bells, but the sound was equally quiet. 

It was actually the jangling alarm that indicated the start of a new day in prison.

He woke up with a start, sitting in bed. He could hear the keys dangling as the guard came down the hall. He was coming for him.

That was the day of his execution.

MARTHA ÂNGELO was born in São Paulo in 1967. She graduated in Languages and Literature at the São Paulo University and works with projects that promote reading habits among children and teenagers. 

Her first book, O guardião da floresta [The Forest Keeper] was published by Editora Biblioteca 24 horas. 

She also writes short stories, chronicles, children's tales and poetry, and collaborates with A suprema arte [The Supreme Art] writing chronicles and movie reviews.

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