“The Last Parlour”, reads the board at the entrance to the room. For someone who has never been to a real parlour all her life, it seems a paradox of sorts that a parlour should be the last place I should visit! I float alongside myself as they wheel me into the room. It feels strange that what had been a single identity a few hours ago, has split into two now. One is me, who is lying motionless on the stretcher and the other is me who is floating with myself. Did that confuse you or did you find that funny? I thought that was funny. But I never thought I was capable of saying such silly things, or laugh at my own jokes! Maybe situations such as these bring out your funny side! Again, it’s a pity I had to wait this long to bring out that side of me.
Someone, probably a ward boy, fishes out a tag that says ‘1729’ and slips it on my left toe. There are two more people accompanying us, perhaps helpers. From the stretcher that has been my bed until now, they lift and park me in the cold storage of the morgue. It amuses me to think how I, who had been Ratna, until a few hours ago, have suddenly been elevated to the status of a ‘body’, and now, I am a mere number.
The ACs in the room tells me I’m supposed to be feeling cold, but I am not. And I’m sure the ‘me’ who is lying inside that huge chest isn’t feeling cold either. That way, I have hated ACs all my life. The men are speaking to someone outside – ah, my daughter. I can tell she’s weeping, and I’m supposed to feel bad that she is upset, but I don’t. She’s waking towards the chest and one of the men pull it out. My daughter looks at my lifeless body and caresses my face. More tears run down her cheeks, and I know I should want to wipe them, but I don’t. I just look. And then, they all walk out, locking the door, leaving me alone with myself.
I want to look at myself now. It’s strange, I have never looked at myself from outside. No, I realise that that’s not entirely true, I have. I have looked at myself in the mirror before, but what I see now is different. I don’t even have to pull the chest out, I can just slide in, but look at the irony, the door to my body is closed. I cannot enter it again. How often have I wasted time trying to open shut doors not bothering about entering the one that was always open. And now try as I might, this door that was always open, is closed and funnily enough all other doors are open and I no longer care about entering them.
I look at myself and wonder if this is really me? I observe the black marks under my eyes and think of all the sleepless nights I’ve spent worrying. I realise how futile that was. I look at my ears - the golden studs are gone. Those were my favourite. How did I even think, I would be able to take them along? I look at my nose – they are wide, visible signs of a tube having fed me all these days. The upturned nose, no longer so. In the end, all it served was to feed me - food, not my ego.
The night passes quickly than I anticipate. The door opens again and this time there’s a stream of visitors. They’ve all come to see me – the me, that’s inside the chest. They look, they weep, they speak comforting words to my daughter, they tell her what a wonderful person I was. I wish they’d said that to me when I was still alive. But again, I don’t think I have said that to any person who was alive either. See? I’m being funny again. Their affection wants me to feel happy, but I can’t. I just look. I float about, looking at people, unable to feel their pain.
Again, it’s time for me to move. People shift me from the chest to the stretcher and then to a van. I float in, hovering above myself. There’s more crying. Many people leave, bidding me goodbye. Some accompany me.
We reach someplace and they shift me from the van to pyre. Moments later, I can see myself burning, but that sight doesn’t move me. Slowly, they leave, one by one. At last, my daughter leaves too. I realise that this is the farthest they can accompany me. I’m on my own now. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do next. I just watch the embers glow golden and keep watching till they turn red and finally grey.
One of my identities is gone. I remain.