by Nina Sudhakar
Into a shallow river, the holy tributary, we poured all of our ashes. Hard of bone and soft of soul: the remnants of our ancestors. The sandbar baked in the sun until it grew burning to the touch. We felt a fraction of the heat, the licking flames. The feeling of being on the cusp of melting, right back into the earth.
Nearby, a herd of water buffalo grazed on river weeds, only raising their velvet snouts to regard us with studied indifference. The priests’ chants hung thick in the air, layering into the sunbeams’ shimmer. We tripped over the words in those days, constantly; choking on grief, walking blindly. We watched the scattered ashes dissolve and disperse, a constellation of shards sinking beneath the flowing waters.
The first tree sprouted a month later. Soon, there had grown a forest of saplings, roots caressing the silt, thick trunks luxuriating in the cool river. We knew, immediately, which tree was grandfather. Even after hundreds of others grew, we never forgot the distinct pattern of wrinkles in the bark. We waded out knee-deep to the forest every week, joining the chorus of villagers already there. Together, we regaled loved ones with tales of our day and nourished the forest with our steady exhalations.
Eventually, though, the forest sucked the river dry. All those ashes; all those trees. All those ancestors. We could dry-walk to the sacred grove then, albeit with canes and stooped, halting gaits. Sometimes, we forgot stories halfway through the telling, but we still told them. The water buffalo moved on and the trees remained an impassive audience, only the occasional rustle signifying their continued listening.
After we died, the forest petrified and was forgotten, until our children’s children’s children came upon it. They found the wood there to be solid, flexible and surprisingly water-resistant. It made for a hardy fleet of small row-boats, which now rock steadily in the breathing waters of the lake, bows drawn to the far shore.
Nina Sudhakar is a writer and lawyer currently based in Indiana. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Litro, Arcturus and Miracle Monocle; for more, please see www.ninasudhakar.com.