From a photograph
Before the sun rises we will walk out to the river and say good-bye to my daughter. It is the way. I know this. I know— we know— that HE will take all of us one day, at anytime, and it is a blessing, and that is why we are thankful .
It is offensive to show any sadness because to be sad is to show anger to Him, to not trust Him, and that is a sin. There is much to be grateful for and I show it through my silence and my peace. She was a girl, and with the death of a girl there is celebration because now there will be space for a boy. Food for a boy, a future for a boy. And, I am pregnant now so it will be a boy. The girl is gone and in His kindness he has put a boy in my belly. We know this. Yet, I feel empty. Somewhere inside of myself where my daughter once slept curled like an egg warming my blood and filling me with something I can only call love, I feel a hole. A deep hole like a well that reaches no water.
As the sun rises from the dark brown line of the earth and pushes the thin rainless clouds away our toes touch the edges of the water. It is all the women of the village who are with me, but they are not for me they are for Him, because they too must give thanks. In the river I wash the white linens that I will use to swaddle her body. She was little so I do not have to use much, but I wish it to be as white as the lily. The other women partake in the ceremony- they murmur, hum and wail in painful tones of remorse and prayer. They give praise and thank Him for taking her, my daughter, and releasing us from the burden of yet another girl child.
The water flushes over my fingers and in-between the fibers. It is warm and smells slightly of urine. I do not always think it is good, but HE has provided it and therefore it is good. I walk deep into the folding river wringing the white cloth, focusing on cleaning and cleansing them. I think about the preparations for the evening. The dying walk with the white candles, how we must prepare the candles for the ceremony, but she keeps poking her baby fingers into my head. I feel her arms around my neck. Her fingers tangling in my hair, and she is bound to my body as she had always been when I had washed the clothing in the river. I gasp and pull the linen to me and hold them like I had held her. They smell like her and I feel like I will shake until my knees break and I will then collapse into the dirty river. I want to fall and join her my most beautiful child. My first child. But, I cannot. She has been taken for a reason so the boy can live. I must tell myself this until I believe it.
I walk to the shore still holding my bundle of linen tightly to me like it is my daughter, but suddenly I am aware of where I am and what I am doing, and I hope that none of the other women have noticed me; noticed my weakness. It is a sin to be mournful when a girl dies when there is so much thanks to be had before us. Save the tears for the loss of our boys. I know this, and I can be beaten for such a display of sorrow even on the day of burial.
I drape the linen, heavy with the river’s water, over thick branches and slap out the wrinkles and lines of fabric with my open hand. The sound like a wet drum beat in my ears. Soon the other women are doing the same, pounding out the their linens of many different colors, the rhythm rising toward a song. Coolness and warmth pass over me. It is the breeze warm from the sun and wet from the great river, but there is a thin veil of cool that licks the sweat from my neck and shoulders. She is beside me and I know this because I can feel her. I want to say her name, but it is forbidden.
The sun will be setting soon. I have been washing all day, and I continue with the final washing as the dark folds over the sky and I wrap the wet cloth over my body, and my head covering every part of me. The heavy wet fabric gathers about my head and ankles and the weight is like that of a human. A human child. We return to the village wearing the wet fabric around our bodies, and carrying the dry linen in baskets on our heads. We sing songs of praise as our bare feet pass over the dusty road that will take us to our village. Once we arrive, and hang the last of the wet cloth, I will wrap the white linen around the body of my dead child, and once again we will take the slow walk to the river. The river that gives us life the river that gives us death.
All things have been prepared. The older women have painted her and oiled her. Her face has been dusted the red of the earth and black coal circles her eyes that are closed. White dots divide her face in half. Her arms glisten against the flicking lights of the candles and I inhale the scent of oil. Although she is not a boy she is anointed and praised because HE brought her to us and HE has been kind enough to take her away. Perhaps she will return as a boy and her life could be better in the next life. I wish for that, but at the same time I feel sad that she will not ever be a woman.
The night is blue black and the stars blink and weep as we began our walk to the river. The men carry my daughter on a plank of wood on their shoulders. I want to call out her name, but it is forbidden. The villagers have been singing and as we move closer to the river they sing louder. The night is dark now and only the candles show us the way. The scent of wax and smoke fill my nostrils and I can no longer smell her. My eyes begin to burn and I can feel the wet of my tears streaming down my cheeks. This is a feeling of great sadness and I must not feel this but I am overcome. It is only the smoke. I will say it is only the smoke.
We reach the river and my husband and all the men are the first to place their candles into the water. It is like they heave a great sigh of relief. A daughter is such a burden. We are all relieved—but something… something is empty and there is no relief in my heart. They place her body into the water and push her off to float and get carried away into the mouth to be forever swallowed up by Him and all that HE has given to us. We thank him for releasing us and we pray that the boy in my belly is strong. I place my candle in the water to give thanks to Him who took her. I must say a prayer of gratitude, but all I can say is her name; Kalaya.