Flight Papers

feminism and creativity, art, madness, and play

8. grief

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My mother cries the night before her mother’s funeral. I know this because we—her, the cousins, her brother—are sharing a room, a cramped sleeping space next to a larger one, where her sisters are sleeping. Her brother speaks to her in Hindi for a while, hugging her, but eventually, even he has to go to sleep.

I am sleeping just next to her. She puts a hand on my shoulder; I tense.

“You were always such a beautiful boy,” she whispers in the darkness. “I think I’m losing you.”

“I’m just afraid,” she says.

The funeral isn’t a large one, on the scale of Indian funerals. Seventy, perhaps a hundred people are crowding into a crematorium near my uncle’s house. They’re polite and well-dressed. This morning, before my cousins and too many of my aunts woke up, I stole into the bathroom and pulled off my bandages, re-binding and pulling on a deep blue kurta. My mother bought it for me. It clung to my hips and chest, reaching just to the top of my thighs. It glowed faintly in the morning light.

They’re building the funeral pyre high—or at least, as high as is warranted for my grandmother. She was, by all indications, a well-loved woman, but she certainly wasn’t a queen or even a lowly state official. She was just a woman who raised five children, for the most part alone. Five feet would have to do.

When they bring it out, my grandmother’s body smells of sandalwood oil and jasmine blossoms. She is wrapped in a violet silk cloth, from head to toe.

When they bring out her body, my auntie—the youngest, the last to be born to this venerable woman—begins to wail as her brother and sisters try to comfort her. I reach for my mother’s hand and hold it.

The men holding her body wait a few moments, an eternity, before lifting her onto the pyre.

I look at the people come to mourn as her body rises up. Men and women, young and old, a whole community knew her, loved her. Across the smoke, there is a woman about my age who I don’t recognize. She has tears streaking down her face. I do not.

After, just after, there is a feast. Vadas and bugees and rice and sauces are arrayed before us. And we, along with the 100 guests, are compelled to eat by prevailing tradition, by the need for comfort and familiarity and community.

The woman from the fire is sitting alone next to a pile of medu vadas. My mother and her siblings are ensnared in mourners bringing condolences and, unsurprisingly, food, so I go over to her. She looks up at me with a start.

“Sorry,” I say.

“No, it’s okay.” She smiles just slightly. A pause. “How did you know her?”

I didn’t, I want to say. She’s as near to a stranger as you are, even though she’s my mother’s mother, even though my family here is grieving, even though she fed me yoghurt rice when I was very small.

“I’m family.”

“You’re her granddaughter?”

A small lump tightens in my throat. “Yes.”

She smiles slightly and clasps her hand in mine. “I didn’t know her well,” she confesses. “It’s mostly my parents who did. It’s just… they bring the body out, you know?”

I nodded, my heart falling into my toes.

“It just makes it so real. Someone loved her. My parents loved her, I know. Someone was in love with her. She was alive and now she isn’t.” She stops. Takes a breath.

“My name’s Sani.”

“Ashi,” I offer, holding her hand tightly.

When we make love, it is fumbling and scared and frenetic. We tug at each others clothes, slipping curious fingers under thin fabric. She clamps my legs with hers, rubbing her cunt on the thin layers of fabric separating us.

“You can’t…” she pants, kissing my neck, pulling open the kurta to kiss my chest “You can’t find girls here. Dykes.”

“I’m very convenient, then?”

“No! No. I—” she stops. “I didn’t mean that.” Her hands fall to her sides.

“Is this terrible?” I almost don’t get the question out. She smiles faintly and shakes her head.

“No.” She leans down and kisses my neck, temples, forehead. The intimacy feels almost strange.

“Everyone,” she says between kisses, “Grieves… In…”

And then she stops her back snapping into an arch and her eyes rolling back. My right middle finger has slipped—entirely of its own accord—under her sari. Apparently, she does not mind.

She pulls back my loose pants and slips her fingers in. I almost stop her, but don’t. I feel her clench.

“You’re hijra?” She says it without malice, as far as I can tell.

“No.” I swallow the lump building in my throat. “I’m a girl.” I let it sit for a second.

“But, yeah, trans.”

She’s quiet for a few seconds. Maybe half a minute. A long, stomach-clenching half a minute. And then she leans down to leave a trail of lipstick across my neck, and her fingers move tentatively downward.


We fucked on my family’s porch for maybe an hour, tasting and fingering and eating each other while our families mourned a few blocks away. And somehow, between the feather kisses and raw shredding of our inhibitions, the raw fucking—somehow, we, too, were grieving.

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