The old man stood facing the grave. The muddy soil, fresh from rainfall the night before, spoilt his boots. He coughed loudly.
His son, sitting inside the car six feet away, frowned. He didn’t want his father to come out in the biting cold, but the latter had been adamant.
“Nancy, our son says that I am too old now to take care of myself. He wants me to leave you here and go to the town with him. After two years of visiting you daily, it is now time for me to say goodbye,” he whispered.
The plants behind the grave swayed in their nod.
Then he went down on his knees and started to collect pebbles from the ground.
His son dashed out from the car. “What are you doing?” he asked.
The old man didn’t seem to hear. He was busy mounting the stones one above the other to make a pyramidical structure. His son noticed plenty of such miniature edifices surrounding his mother’s grave.
“Cairn,” his father uttered. “I make one every day I visit your mother here. She was making these when I met her the first time.”
“When was it, Dad?” His son was fascinated.
The old man’s lips quivered, and eyes gleamed as he travelled back in time.
“Back when this tiny hamlet was the only village in the state with a functional primary school. The one storey building had room for two classrooms inside. The older children from Grade III to V took their lessons out on the ground. I noticed your mother during one such class.”
“She was sitting all by herself, more engrossed in the rocks of the terrain rather than the surroundings. She piled one stone over the other to make a Cairn. After a certain count of stones, she swiftly moved to the next one.”
“A dozen Cairns stood in a straight line when I walked up to her to enquire what she was doing. ‘I am giving a signal to my mother,’ she said without looking at me. ‘Dad says that Mom has lost her way in heaven and can’t come back. I am making these Cairns for her to see them from wherever she is in the sky and find her way back.’ I fell in love with her innocence right then without getting a glimpse of her face.”
He ceased his narrative and looked at the grave. The only sound to be heard was of the birds returning to their nests in the evening.
“It is my time now to give a signal to your mother. I am not as good a soul as she was. She should be prepared to show me the way to her when I join her in heaven.”
The son knelt to join his father.
Together in silence, the two made Cairns in memory of the woman they loved.
Glossary: In Nordic countries, Cairns typically indicated a trail and were left behind as a direction marker for other trekkers.
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