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A Funeral Story

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On the outskirts of Kaohsiung County there was an open field where bonfires burned next to a squat, brick building. There was a room there, a yellow-walled room with a silk curtain and a single table that held fruit, bowls of rice and a photograph of a smiling man. That man was my grandfather. He was the one in the mahogany coffin behind the silk curtain. My mother kneeled on the ground, chanting the funeral songs that had been drummed into my head day after day. I still didn’t know the words but the tune was now uncomfortably familiar. I would often find myself humming the slow, melancholy melody as I walked down the street, which I couldn’t help feel was slightly inappropriate in some way.
I never really got to know YeYe, my grandfather, that well, to me he was a broken, mysterious figure that had once been a great man, and nothing more. At his funeral, as they carried his coffin to the hearse parked outside, I tried to cry. I really did.
Tears wouldn’t come.
I wasn’t the only one with dry eyes, though I suspect my reasons were different from theirs. It was strange, films had taught me that at a funeral, everyone was expected to sob and wail, yet there were no tear-stained cheeks or red eyes while we stepped into the hearse.
Inside the car, it felt like death. Dusty, stifling and completely still. We sat in silence, watching my father throw ghost money out of the open window. Every few seconds a faint rustling would be heard and another sheet of yellowing paper would hit the road.
Gradually, the family settled into a state of inertia, nobody moved or spoke until the hearse pulled up to an anonymous beige building. We exited the car in silence.
Everyone filed into the building. Inside there was a conveyor belt. It seemed strange that something so personal and human as death would be ended with a machine, made of metal and powered by electricity. Incense was burned, and as my grandfather’s coffin started its journey towards the furnace, I thought about him. I remembered him before he had gotten so ill, when he was a smiling, wheelchair bound man who couldn’t speak a word of English. In a way, though I didn’t know him in the slightest, I loved him. I missed him. According to the stories, he had been a soldier in the Chinese army, had fallen in love with my grandmother and stayed in Taiwan. He’d had many friends, all old men who smoked and drank and laughed like they would never laugh again. Now all that didn’t matter. Now he was just a body, in a coffin, about to be incinerated.
I couldn’t see his coffin anymore. We all stood there for a bit, then a man edged out of a blue door, carrying a box.
A box of bones.
My uncle pawed through the off-white, crumbling pieces of YeYe, and I realized, that was all that was left of him. He was a box of bones.
YeYe was gone.




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