On the second day after the tsunami, a retired embalmer was asked
to work. Bodies kept arriving at the gym. His first task was to wash
a boy who had drowned in a school bus caught by the wave.
He removed the backpack from the boy. “Don’t worry.
I’ll put your bag right here.” He smiled at the boy. He lifted the boy’s arms
and peeled the sweater up from the waist. “I will have to cut
the neckline of your sweater, but don’t worry. The cut
will be small.” He made an incision with silver scissors.
His hands carefully moved to wash the boy’s face with a wet towel.
He massaged the hardened muscle underneath the boy’s chin, then slowly
pushed up. “I’ll have to repeat this. I’m sorry. You must be
uncomfortable. Hang in there,” he said. For twenty minutes,
the embalmer rubbed the boy’s chin. He could see the brown mud moving
inside the boy’s throat: “Hang in there,” he said. When the boy’s muscles were
soft enough, the embalmer pressed the chin firmly to close the boy’s mouth.
Placing his wrinkled palm on the boy’s forehead, he stepped back.
“Thank you so much for working with me.” He bowed deeply.
On the second day after the tsunami, my dead body
was found. When my mother saw me, she fell on her knees.
She touched my pale skin and squeezed her eyes.
She gazed inside my mud-filled throat. You suffered.
You were cold. She cried out and began banging her head against the floor
until the police held her back. Her cry echoed inside the building.
To be honest, I don’t remember how I died.
I wasn’t cold now. But I couldn’t speak to my mother.
That night, a man came to me, smiling. He said he would
take good care of me. His fingers pressed the corners of my eyes
and the center of my forehead. His fingers circled until
the gathered wrinkles disappeared. He rubbed cream on my neck
and on my cheeks, to pull them up slowly from my chin. My jaw
had hardened to iron wire. “Sorry, it must be uncomfortable.
Hang in there,” he said. He repeated this over and over
until my mouth finally closed. “There, you were very strong.
Thank you for working with me.” The man smiled and bowed to me.
He stayed for a few minutes looking at my face.
The next day, my mother came again. She didn’t scream.
She sat next to me, placed her palm on my forehead.
I could feel the warmth. If I could, I would
open my eyes and smile.