Mohamed Latiff Mohamed

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an excerpt from The Widower

IT was a Thursday, early in the morning, and he was already at his wife’s grave. The roses were blooming, their petals a burning red, sprinkled with drops of dew. Scores of jasmine flowers had bloomed, spreading their fragrance far and wide. The yellow tent that sheltered her grave was also wet from the night dew. The smell of the red roses and the blooming jasmine filled the space of the grave and struck him hard when he opened the tent-flaps. He placed his hand on the red earth that was covered with frangipani petals, cananga and bunches of crushed pandan. He squeezed the earth along with the flowers. He looked up at the sky; a few stars still twinkled dimly in the light of the dawn. His wife’s grave was illuminated by a single candle, its light wavering when he lifted the canopy. The coolness of the dawn pierced him right into his marrow. 

The voices of the cananga, frangipani, gravestone and morning dew teased him, as if mocking him, as if ridiculing him, as if comforting him and as if giving him advice:

“What else are you waiting for, go home!”

“What do you want here, go home!”

“Enough, let your wife pass away in peace!”

“It’s as if you can’t bear to let your wife face God!”

And then the memories of his wife’s voice intruded:

If I die first, will you always visit my grave?

Don’t be carried away by your grief! Your people have progressed; they have been liberated!

Don’t forget to take your pills for high blood pressure and diabetes!

Don’t worry about the problems of your people; they know how to protect their own dignity; what are you so worried about?

All day and night, you think of how many of your people are in the army, in the commandos, how many did not get the president’s scholarship, your people are too lazy to read, how they like to waste, do not understand the meaning of prayers when each time they pray; why do you keep thinking about your people; the question of race doesn’t arise anymore, the question of language has long been resolved, your people have already finished with their struggle; only you are still thinking about these things!

If I die first, will you promise that you will marry again? Please marry again, find a wife who is kind, who is devout! Don’t think too much about having money because not all women are crazy about money. Find one who is poor, don’t worry if she’s not a looker; most importantly, a woman who is kind, who is devout, who is religious, honest and loyal to her husband, a woman who fears entering Hell, promise me, dear!

Pak Karman could hear the sound of the prayer call faintly from the western horizon. The cascade of the muezzin’s voice was so melancholy, so sorrowful, so wounding. Phrase by phrase of the prayer call alighted on the rose petals. The roses then unfurled their petals. The earth was fragrant. The air was scented. The entire span of the sky became redolent with the fragrance. The clumps of clouds became fragrant. The dawn breeze was fragrant. The entire cemetery was enveloped in fragrance.

© Epigram Books

by Mohamed Latiff Mohamed
from The Widower (2015)
published by Epigram Books

 

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