She Sweetened my Life


I walk down a familiar alley, and look for the two sweet puppies that so excitedly nibble at my ankles. Stopping abruptly, I catch sight of one of them laying on her side, tongue out, motionless, stiff. The brother watches over his dead sister’s body, perhaps oblivious to the fact that she has been strangled by death’s embrace. I simply stand there, and, like the brother, guard the few-month-old rigamortised flesh that only recently housed a playful spirit, not having the energy to move or the will to look away. A blur of Indian busybodies walk passed me, unaware of, or uninterested in the dark angel’s work. I am frozen in space and time, seeing only that which was once licking the very feet that still surprisingly have the strength to hold up my body that’s growing heavier with the weight of grief by the everlasting moment. A startling light touch to my elbow, and I’m pulled out of the stillness of my shock – someone is trying to grab my attention. A short Indian man with a pregnant looking belly and red stained teeth is speaking to me in Hindi. I understand only one phrase, and know what I have to do. “Maa Ganga.”
I catch my breath and walk away, hearing the man yelling after me, telling me to do what he has no interest in doing himself. The cleanest dirty work to be done. “Maa Ganga! Maa Ganga!” I ignore his screams but do not ignore his message or instruction.
The alleyways seem narrower, as if the lingering cows swatting at the relentless flies have gotten bigger. I walk into the first of the many tailor shops and ask for a piece of fabric. My mind is focused, determined, to do the deed which was asked of me by forces that are greater than my understanding. I utter a few words about a dead dog and the shop owner goes into his sales mode, taking out beautiful silks of vibrant colors. “Orange,” I say. I am told orange is for the holy ones. “It was a holy dog,” I reply, sharply. At once, I am understood, perhaps for the first and last time in this business-oriented place. The shop owner takes out a small piece of orange silk, a scrap, just big enough for a puppy, and hands it over with soft eyes. “Pay what you wish, madam” he says. I scramble up some rupee notes, hungrily grab the fabric out of his hands, touch my heart with my hand out of custom, respect, or discomfort, and dart out of the shop.
I buy a couple of strings of marigolds from a woman who’s been trying to stop me for days, and run back like a maniacal person, zigzagging between sweaty bulls, clenching the orange scrap of material for dear life, until I reach my dreaded destination. There she is, still motionless, a curious attraction for the midday flies. I kneel down, touch her unbending body, and again lose the ability to move. Her loyal brother must have realized that she was no longer available to play, because he, along with the Indian busybodies, have abandoned the tragic scene. I count to ten, taking deep breaths in between each number, before I shove one side of the fabric under the lifeless lump, and try to wrap her up, conceal her, like the precious gift that she was until her very last breath. The fabric is too small but will have to do. I try to pick her up, but her head rolls back, exposing a puddle of drool on the hot pavement, and my arms lose their strength and go numb. I feel a panic attack coming on, until a warm hand on my shoulder brings me back. An Israeli man looks down at me and asks if he can help. “You’re strong and doing the right thing,” he says. He picks up the puppy and motions for me to put my backpack on. I follow his instructions like a robot, and then she’s in my arms – hard, hot, and heavy, drooling down my leg. He wraps the marigolds around her body, touches my feet, and gently pushed me on my way.
Maa Ganga is further away than I remember. The stairs seem steeper, more dangerous, but I’m on a mission and cannot stop. The only real is the weight in my arms, my cautious feet, and the glistening river below. People around me are colorful, but I cannot distinguish one from the other. Some stop me and touch my rushing feet, some stare, while others laugh. I am transforming by the minute, from holy, to crazy, to just plain strange, a foreign weirdo who’s spent too much time in Varanasi. But they’re not real, only the weight in my arms is. At last I reach the banks of the river, take off my sandals and walk right in. There are soggy flowers and garbage all around me, perhaps bacteria that would eat my flesh, or human bodies that might emerge from the bottom at any moment, but I don’t care. I only need to get this precious bundle into the water, away from anything that can still cause it harm. When I’m up to my waste in the holy waters, I place the bundle down and pray. I ask that she returns in better circumstances, that her sweet soul finds refuge along the way, that her suffering may end. I cry for her as I have for a lost child because I realize that life is life and death is still death. I bow in gratitude for this experience, for yet another life that has touched my own in the sweetest of ways, for my strength to enact these last rites, and for this precious and mysterious existence. I walk away without looking back, knowing that the Great Mother has taken her back, looking forward for her to also wash me clean in my pending lukewarm bath.


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