Professional Mourner For Hire

Latha Prakash posted under Melange Short Stories on 2023-05-18

The wind gusted through the branches. Brinda's head throbbed as she found her way through the crowded alley. Commuters honked incessantly. Ladles clanked against the cauldrons as the street side vendors whipped delectable meals. A prayer song that reverberated through the loud speaker was interspersed with the tintinnabulations of the temple bells. A middle-aged man picked up a fight with a stranger who probably ruffled his feathers. Sweat feverishly ran through her locks. The crisp white shirt clung to her clammy skin. The bracelet embellished with colorful trinkets painted reddish striations on her wrist. The scorching rays fell on her face and she felt a burning sensation in her eyes. Her dreary, mundane life had taken an irksomely interesting turn. The phone's GPS announced her arrival at the location. She turned to the right and noticed the words 'Jai's Abode' shine in hues of gold. She exhaled making a roaring sound. She unfurled the stole that protected her from the pollutants and looked at her reflection in the side mirror. She smeared her lips with a hint of pink and freed her hair from the clutches of the banana clip. She walked to the huge black-colored gate and knocked on it. Through the gaps in the gate, she saw someone approach her.  The gates opened and a short, gaunt woman likely younger than her greeted her with arched eyebrows. The greeting seemed hostile. Brinda felt flustered. 'Was it a local way of asking how can I help you?' she wondered and studied the woman from head to toe. Drawing air from between her teeth, the woman hissed. Brinda looked at her phone and made a note of the address one more time. She bent awkwardly trying to get a better glimpse of the house. The woman moved and blocked her view. Brinda grunted and decided to make the first move.  "I'm here to meet Mr. Jai," Brinda tried to sound polite. The woman acknowledged with a nod and ushered her into the house. Little pots painted in shades of pink, orange and blue were aligned on the porch. The words "Live today. There will be plenty of time for regret when you rest in the grave" painted on a wooden frame made her smile. She had made the right choice.  "Wait here," the woman pointed at a couch. Leaving Brinda alone, she disappeared. Brinda looked around. The room was sparsely lit yet there was no dearth of light. Indoor plants occupied every nook.  'The man must be a plant lover,' she mused, fidgeting with the pendant. "Why do you want to travel to India? Do whatever you set your mind on. But in our presence." The mere feel of the pendant reminded her of her mother's words laced with a certain cadence.  "Work here isn't challenging any more. I wish to explore new avenues," her words were met with a deadly glare.  "Let her go, Meera," her father's otherwise charming smile had failed at casting its spell on her mother.  Brinda was a freelance writer. Her articles received positive feedback. Ardent readers waited for her stories. Followers increased. The number of hits on her page rose steadily. But slowly, her work stopped appealing her.  It didn't excite her creative cells. Every story, every blog seemed the same. Mundane, monotonous, gloomy was all she felt. It was when she had come across an advertisement shared by one of her friends on her social media page. "Professional Mourners for hire" Those words woke her mind from a deep slumber. Her hibernating neurons turned vital. She clicked on the link and dwelled deeper into the subject.  'Mourner available for every form of pain and loss. Emotional loss, financial loss, loss of a loved one, heartbreak, pain caused by failure, excruciating misery caused by any terminal illness.' She didn't read any further. Their motto 'Your loss, our Tears' was the final nail in the coffin. The idea of someone mourning for the loss endured by others in exchange for money intrigued her.  'I will meet the mastermind behind this concept,' she thought with finality.  The thought of a new project knocking on the door left her revitalized.  A series of footsteps jostled her to the present. Behind the beaded drapes was a silhouette. A smoky and woody fragrance marked his presence even before he entered. The heavy aroma triggered something deep seated within her and she flinched. The beads made a rattling noise as he walked into the living room. The thick and lush eyelashes concealed his eyes like an oyster protecting a pearl. There was a certain coldness in his puffy eyes. She felt uncomfortable. She lowered her gaze and saw his chest muscles rise and fall beneath the fabric. His well-maintained physique and immaculate dressing sense were hard to not notice. She drifted to the corner of her seat and tried to get a better look at his eyes.   "Hello, how can I help you?" his baritone voice disrupted the silence leaving her visibly startled.  "I'm Brinda. A freelance writer," her words were coated with panic. He smiled and gestured to her to sit.  She looked around, soaked in the surroundings drenched in pastel colors and spoke, "So you are a professional mourner. Umm." "Yes, mam. A busy one," he said with his eyes fixed on the watch. All she heard was a shriek, "Get to the point." "Why did you choose to become a professional mourner?" she shot her first question. His wide jaw creaked, his fingers formed a fist and tears floated in his lifeless eyes. His cheek muscles tremored. Moments of silence later, his voice became low as a whisper, "Years back, I had returned from school only to find the lifeless form of my father lay abandoned in a corner. My mother sat by his side, her tear glands on the verge of giving up on her. Her heart heavy with grief and frail body not wanting to move an inch. Her eyes were fixed on the doorway hoping that someone would help her bid a decent farewell to her husband. People passed by our shanty, peeped in, cast a sympathetic glance at us and walked away. But no one had offered their help. Hours passed. Mosquitoes and flies hovered around him and it made me cringe." His eyes widened as he tried to conceal those tiny beads. His muscles tightened and cheeks turned red. A pile of air escaped his lungs. He looked at Brinda and noticed that she was staring at him keenly observing every bit of his existence.  He straightened his back, cleared his throat and spoke, "My father was a convict. He had made his share of mistakes. But he didn’t deserve all their wrath. My mother and I carried my father in a rickshaw and watched his body reduce to ashes. Flames of desertion had engulfed my heart that day, the scars still running deep within me. With pain and deceit strangulating my soul, I had decided that I would not let any other child go through the same ordeal. And, here I am a professional mourner." His lips crackled into a derisive smile. Scratching her pen against the writing pad, she looked at him. "What is the reason behind mourning financial loss or heartbreaks?" another question from her quiver was aimed at him. "Every loss brings with it its share of pain. Only the one enduring the loss can experience the gravity of the agony. Who am I to decide which loss is worthy of being mourned and which one is not?" he shrugged his shoulders. "Moreover, the number of gigs I grab depends on the wide range of services I offer," she saw his eyes glint. Nodding silently, she ran her hands on a metallic piece that lay on the coffee table. Lost in her web of thoughts, she held it in her hands and gently caressed it trying to feel every bit of a strange warmth it emanated. A tiny inscription glowed under the warm neon light. She squinted and tried to read it. "The inscription is in Japanese," his words left an imprint of disappointment on her mind. A faint smile escaped his lips. It felt like he was hit by a wave of nostalgia.  "A man from Japan had gifted it to me a few years back," he said as he looked at the talisman intently.  He then looked straight into her eyes and intoned, "A Japanese woman who visited our country some time back had lost her life in an unfortunate incident. Citing medical reasons, the authorities had denied her body being transported to Japan. My team informed her husband who was away on official business. With his approval, I made sure that she was cremated respectfully. Months later, he visited India. We organized a memorial for her. It was when he gifted me the Talisman along with a thank you note."  She jotted down a few pointers and stood up. Leaving her pen on the table, she walked around the living room making a note of the decor. In the corner was a cabinet painted in hues of brown.  "Can I have a look?" she asked. He agreed with a wave of his hand. She opened it carefully and stood still for a few seconds. Her fingers lingered over the contents while her stomach tumbled like a high-speed washing machine. In a dark corner of the cabinet was a glass bottle filled with ashes. By its side lay a dried rose enveloped in a paper bag. A greeting card, a partially torn photograph, pieces of broken glass, a yellow-colored thread, a stole were a few among the other things that were neatly aligned. A raw gut-wrenching odor made her choke. Leaving the cabinet open, she turned and gasped for breath. Letting out a huge sigh, she let the stench escape her body.  She wiped her face with a tissue and looked at him. "Your loss, our tears," he spoke on the phone in an amiable tone.  Her legs trembled. Her mind hollered, "Run." But she stood still her eyes stabbing him fiercely. That man intrigued her. Who was he? A troubled man or a weird hoarder of peculiar stuff. As she tried to sort her thoughts, he asked, "Is everything okay?"  He caught her off guards for the second time and she felt queasy. Did he read her mind? Through the corner of her eyes, she watched him raise his eyebrows. Making sure that her friend's number was on speed dial, she sat on the couch. "What did you learn about me?" he clasped his hands and rested them on his knee.  "You are interesting," she sported a smile. 'Scary too,' she shushed her mind.  Her eyes wandered back to the cabinet. Images flashed before her. She shut her eyes tightly but the flashes failed to stop. She had to get it out of her mind. Steering clear of her doubts was the only way out of the dungeon.  "What are those?" her fingers trembled as she pointed them at the cabinet. "Those are a few mementos I have collected over time. They are a testimony to the services I have offered to the disconsolate for around a decade," he said smirking visibly.  She tilted her head and a look of puzzlement crossed her face. He leaned against the cushion and waited for her to speak. A multitude of thoughts racked her mind and she felt the frayed nerves bulge on her forehead. She flexed and unclenched her fingers as she walked to the couch.  Seated cross legged, she asked with a tint of hoarseness in her voice, "Did the grieving family members gift you those articles or.." The situation was fraught with discomfort. She couldn't complete the sentence. The once ultra-fine snigger on his face turned prominent like a sense of pride hit him like a vigorous wave. She gripped the wooden arm and shifted in the seat with her gaze fixed on him.  "A part of the collection was gifted to me while I had taken the rest in memory of the lost," he boasted. "How could you take someone's ashes or their photograph? That too without the family's consent?" she clenched her jaw. "What will the family do with the ashes? They would immerse it in a river, pollute the once pure waters further and eventually forget about their loved one. The photograph would be framed and left to rot in a corner on the wall. In my custody the deceased will live forever," his words were a decibel higher than usual.    She broke into a cold sweat. Her veins pulsated and she frowned, her face displaying a sense of disgust. Sunlight peeped in through the trees and fell on his face, brightening his algid eyes.  "What you did is wrong," a wave of anger shot through her.  It felt strange. She wasn't connected to any of them. But the sight of the ashes, rose or torn card made her feel lost. It all felt like Deja Vu. Glances from her past peeped through the corners of her mind and she felt a clutching pain in her gut. Tears streamed down her soft cheeks and landed on her white-colored frock. She plonked on the floor with things strewn all around her. She flung a plate at the wall and it fell on the floor making an ear shattering noise. Her parents rushed into the room and stopped in their tracks looking at her disheveled state. Her mother rushed to her, held her hand and made her stand up.  "Are you okay, Brinda?" her mother's eyes narrowed in anxiety. "I'm not able to find grand pa's pen," sobbed Brinda. "Oh, it will be there on his desk," her father smiled. "It's not there," her cries reached a crescendo. Her father frantically searched the desk and cabinet. But it was to no avail.  "You said that Grand Pa now lives with the stars. He used to stroke my hair gently and read a story to me every night. He used that pen to write letters to me. Now he is gone. I hold that pen tightly whenever I miss him and feel his presence by my side. That pen too left me just like Grand Pa did, " she wailed while the time she spent with her grand pa flashed before her. "The maid must have stolen it. No one else has access to his room," she heard her mother whisper. 'How could she take my grand pa's pen? Did she not think even once before stealing his dearest possession?' she felt an instant repugnance clasp her.  That incident left an acidic imprint on her soul.  "Who decides what's right and what's wrong? " his words thundered across the room. He stood up and took long strides with his hands shoved deep into the pockets.  "My rendezvous to indifference and meanness had happened at a very young age. Those piercing eyes and serrated tongues left inveterate scars which became deep-rooted with time. The society didn't bat an eyelid before ripping my childhood apart. So why should I worry about them?" his eyes turned red and the eyeballs threatened to pop out of the socket. "But those articles are someone else’s memories. Memories that will help the grieving traverse the journey of agony and blistering pain. You snatched away their only solace. It's unpardonable," she didn't bother to conceal her emotions.  She dug her feet deep into the carpet and waved her hand in dismissal. Her hand hit against a huge vase that was positioned on a round table. It fell to the floor shattering into pieces. The top of the table slowly opened and her eyes burned. She turned and her blood froze. Taking short, shallow breaths she inched closer. Amid huge chunks of ice lay human parts enveloped in polythene bags.  "That wasn't meant for you to see," his raucous tone made her feel dizzy. The hair on her skin rose and fluttered in the sparse air circulating in the colossal room that now appeared dingy. Her shoulders hunched and legs trembled. Her neurons acted waywardly. She couldn't think straight. Words failed her. Pointing her quavering fingers at the table, she looked at him her eyes shooting a million questions. "They reaped what they sowed," he whispered and his smirk turned nastier.  She took a few steps backwards and twisted her leg. She fell to the floor and flinched. He dragged a chair and sat facing her. Drawing his eyebrows together, he let out a huge sigh. She wished she could crawl out of the house. She tried to stand but the pain in her ankle prevented her from doing so. A part of her shirt lay under his foot screaming for mercy.  "Let m...e  g..o," she stuttered.  "You wanted to write about me. Didn't you? You wished to unravel my secrets slowly, layer by layer and showcase it for the world to see. Why do you want to step back now?" his voice was low but frightening. Her throat went dry. Her breathing sank and everything seemed hazy. "Why did you....." she couldn't complete the sentence. "Those aren’t random body parts. Those are the tongues that pierced the dead with their words. Those fingers were pointed at the lost. Those hands had chosen to abandon the lifeless bodies and let them perish. They are sinners who deserved to be punished. It's a grievous crime to not let the lost souls rest in peace. Those heartless scoundrels got what they deserved. Those unscrupulous people didn’t let the deceased leave the world in peace. Why should they get a decent farewell?" he was calm yet she felt a storm engulf her. She bit her lip and cursed herself for wanting to meet the dangerous man who threatened to stab her with his cold eyes.  "I contacted the so-called victims on the pretext of knowing more about the departed. Luring them with money, I watched them walk into the snare and I rejoiced blood ooze out of their body. Their body was diced systematically and stored in that secret refrigerator for me to savor," he spoke. Peals of laughter escaped his lips like bubbles that fizzled out of a fizzy drink.  "You are a pyschopath," she muttered. His eyes bore into hers and he said, "I'm a professional mourner by day and an executioner by night. I’m not alone. I’m blessed with many supporters who discreetly work for me." Images of her parents flashed before her and all she wanted to do was to snuggle in her mother's warm embrace.  "Let me go. Your secret is mine now and will always remain one," she sounded earnest. "My parents need me," she cried. "So did I need mine," he sounded more menacing than ever. Bending towards her, he stretched his hand as though he was about to grasp her neck. She froze and minutes later, "Leave now and hope we never meet again," an imperious smile flashed on his face. Her legs wobbled. But gathering courage, she limped out of the house without looking back even once. Two weeks later The doorbell rang. Brinda's mother opened the door. Her eyes were sunken in the socket. Jai stepped forwards and introduced himself. She walked into the house and he followed suit. "I don't usually accept international gigs," he was courteous. "Your profession had amazed Brinda. She wanted the world to know about you. She hoped that her words would shed light on the services you provide. Your presence will help her soul rest in peace," spoke Brinda's father amid tears. Jai nodded and sat on the floor cross legged. "How did it happen?" he asked. "A road accident," Brinda's mother clasped her mouth. "A car hit her and she died on the spot leaving us alone to wither away," Brinda's father fell to the floor. Jai closed his eyes and chanted a prayer. Brinda's parents joined him. Minutes later, he walked to Brinda's photo frame and said in a muted tone, "I'm sorry. But you had to go." He turned and saw that their eyes were still closed. He picked the ring that lay by the frame and slipped it into his pocket. 'This is my favorite memento,' he leered. He shook hands with her father and left. As he walked down the alley, he thought, ‘I’ll be punished for my deeds someday. Sooner or later. But until then I will do what I deem as appropriate.’ Raindrops fell on his cheek. He felt as though his father approved of his actions and blessed him. Meanwhile, in Jai's Abode the petite woman washed away the blood stuck to the car's wind shield.  "You were just a pawn in our game, Brinda," she spoke aloud.  'He will always thrive under my care,' she thought as she remembered Jai avenging her father's wrongdoers.  And, the sky suddenly turned a shade darker.      Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!