Death is not Funny, Nor is Hamlet a Coward
I got a visitor today. My mother. It was a bright morning, one of those days when you get a feeling that something good will happen. And then mother came. And mother looked perturbed. And I realised it will be like any other day with nothing but madness all around.
She looked around the room a couple of times; I followed her gaze. There was nothing much to see here—a bed in the centre, a side table, a small window and a chair where she sat and couldn't find a word to say to her daughter. I thought I should say something to cheer her up. To lighten up the mood. Should I tell her how we spend our time here? How we do things on a whim and can easily get away! Only because we are not ourselves—we are deluded, insane, suicidal and it happily frees us from all social norms.
I wanted to ask her about something very important, but I couldn't remember it at the moment. It comes to me later. Why did she come alone? Is Baba still upset? Why doesn't my little brother, Asif who is no longer little come to see me? Does bougainvillea still bloom on the rooftop of the house? Do they have a cat now? A parrot?
She said that she wouldn't be able to stay long. She asked how long they would keep me here.
I said I don't know. I asked her about home.
She shifted in her seat. She wanted to go. I wanted her to stay, but I didn't press her. I asked her to bring Asif next time.
She hesitated for a second and then said, "Your father doesn't know I am here." She fiddled with the edge of her sari and stared at the white bed sheet. I looked at it too. I wondered why clinics and hospitals put white sheets; they should spread bright, colourful ones. The white sheet reminded me of burial. Suddenly, I recalled that as a little girl, I buried a tin box in the backyard of our house. I suddenly felt a strong urge to dig up that box and see what stuff I put in there! What childish frivolities! I felt a strong urge to return home. Told mother so.
She looked worried and struggled to find words. At last, she said, "We didn't tell anyone about your divorce. There are people back home who think you are still married." She suddenly started coughing. I offered her water, she declined.
She cleared her voice and continued very slowly and softly, "Your father wants to keep it that way…well, anyway, what good will it do to let people know? Divorce, suicide attempt, living-in-relation …" she shuddered. "What will people say? What kind of a daughter have we raised?" she sounded sad, hopeless.
The corners of my eyes itched with tears. I didn't want her to see that. There was a big fig tree by the window; a parrot perched there, pecking at a branch. I watched the bird and tried to think of something happy, something colourful. The wide courtyard of my parent's house flashed before my eyes, where I played hopscotch and chased a playful cat. I shook my head.
Before leaving, she put her hand on my head and muttered something, a wish or maybe a prayer. I pushed her hand away.
I usually pretend to take the medicines I am given here. But when the nurse is not around, I throw them away. Today, I took them all. The blue one makes me drowsy. It feels good to float between wakefulness and sleep; my mind fills with the noise of a thousand thoughts. Past and present mingle--I am a six-year-old girl standing before a dead lizard, wondering isn't death a funny thing?—I am a young woman, holding a book. What's the title? I squint my eyes to read it. It's Hamlet. I never liked the character— a cowardly man riddled with silly choices. But maybe I have been wrong all along. Death is not funny. It's a serious business. Like resurrection. Neither is Hamlet a coward! He is just a trapped man, waiting for a second chance.
Marzia Rahman is a fiction writer and translator.