Written by Ramsha Rizvi
Art by Pixabay
On a bent knee he picks up a doe felled by a bullet, breaths coming in soft, rapid bursts. He smooths a palm down her neck, and soon all is gone. His arms are bony and fair and tender. Many seek refuge in them because they are warm, despite what bone should be. Bone is blood-making, yet he does not bleed in the slightest. However, he is wholly alive, a contradictory fact to his nature, a ghastly paradox. He smooths his palm along the doe’s gently arching back, and she comes with him. He does not cry then. No, that is simply the nature of things. Soon he will be with another, a doe, a buck, a fawn caught in the reeds or the greed of an alligator’s mouth. All is as all will be.
Neither does Death cry when a man emerges from the wreckage of a train. He watches the man’s tired, worldly eyes and stands, patient. A line is forming behind the bedraggled figure, shambling in spectral white, all ashen in pallor, all weightless as Death gently waves. He motions in the slow manner he always does. A way to say to “Come with, come follow”. He does not weep in the slightest; these things happen, let it take its course as it will. There are hundreds of thousands of other trains doing fine. They won’t hear about this until the morning, or perhaps not at all. Sweet and morning-cool breath leaving fog over the glass window panes. Like stubborn silk through a ring, he has tugged the warmth out of those who did not want him, but were needed elsewhere, or were perhaps not needed at all.
Death does not weep when a blow is struck too hard against a lover’s cheek. However, not weeping, he does feel anger flush his face, bone red and righteous. He wants to scream and yell and stomp his feet as he’s seen children do a million times before. He wants to scorch the assailant’s face with his touch, bleed it with a single finger, sever the assainlant’s throat separated like a wolf ripping through a deer’s tender neck. And as he turns to the stricken, anger still flaring his eyes, he calms. He embraces them tightly, warming their cold skin, kissing the top of their head and murmuring his comforts; your pain was undeserved, I will not let you hurt anymore. He kisses their forehead and strokes their cheek and tells them go, be loved as you were supposed to be loved, and guide them to the oblivion he will never know, but wishes he could.
Death never, weeps at the child bruised and battered, blueberry-red splotches on their back and rust in their hair. He sighs in relief, shoulders sinking under the weight of their existence. He does not hold them yet; he cannot do so yet. He watches their careful eyes, cautious and terrified. He extends his merciful hand, sees their end as a release, a rescue. They see it too. They take his hand and crawl into his arms, climbing up his sheltering skeleton, wrapping tiny wrists around his neck. He carries them with as much care as one might carry a petrified butterfly, fragility not lost on him. He envelops them in warmth and kisses their cheeks, tells them they are very brave, they are very strong, but he’s glad they don’t have to fight anymore.
Death weeps only at this: those who have come so far only to have it snatched out of their hands, not by themselves, but by another. Those who called him every night before finding their happiness, and he had cheered them on! Go, go, be well and live how you were meant to! He delights in their success, watching as they climb every tree, swing from the branches, drink the nectar of life. And then in one swift second he feels it, all their effort becomes dust when someone else decides it was in vain. A driver. A knife.
Death does not weep long, however, he stands, waiting a few short feet away, and sits with them. He asks them what they remember. Do they know why this might have happened? And he assures them it was undeserved. They had done well; they had done all they could. He slips from mournful to weary, to reluctant, but there’s nothing he can do, what can he give? He cannot. He takes their hands.