There was no wailing and beating of chests. No crying or flailing of arms. That might come later. The villagers sat in a ragged semi-circle in front of the elders’ house. They were all silent. Most of them hugged their knees to their torsos in an upright fetal position. Everyone’s eyes were wide open, barely blinking, and afraid to look anywhere but straight ahead. Human silence allowed nature to sing quietly.
There was a mess to clean up inside. No one wanted to deal with it. So they sat. Mosquitoes buzzed and birds called to each other. Waves broke on the beach. Trees rustled incessantly, a sound that had previously been soothing was now somehow ominous. Bokor stood leaning on a sandbox tree behind everyone. She also stared at the door of the elders’ house. There was a pensive look on her face.
“Marilu,” she called after a while.
“Yes, Bokor,” Marilu responded with an apprehensive lilt to her voice.
“I believe it is time we buried the bodies and cleaned the house.”
But they sat for another twenty minutes before anyone made a sound. They sat and stared.
All of a sudden Beto jumped up. The three villagers nearest to him, already skittish, shied away and murmured low exclamations to each other. The rest of the people got up and started asking no one in particular what was happening. The voices got louder and more hysterical.
“Sit down.” Bokor commanded. Everyone sat. “Beto, what happened?”
He was rubbing his head. He looked up and pointed. A couple of monkeys chattered loudly back at him. One of them had thrown a nut at his head. Bokor looked up at the animals. The villagers had been gone for a while after finding the bodies. She looked thoughtfully at the door again. The elders had been torn apart, but all of the pieces had still been there. What would they find now?
“Let’s go.” She said. The sun was setting and it would be dark soon. Everyone crowded around her as she went over to the door and slowly opened it. Her hand recoiled. There was rustling coming from inside. Everyone backed away. Marilu pushed her way to the front and threw a branch into the house. The rustling got louder and most of the villagers ran away.
Marilu and Bokor looked at each other. They opened the door a bit more and a large, grey rat ran between their legs. They both looked back at the runaway rodent – and the small bloody footprints it was leaving behind.
“Gabriela!” Marilu called. “Go get some of the women and bring two mattresses. Cover them with sheets and bring extra. Jacky – go get hot water and mops. Sebastian, organize the men. We need a large bonfire and people to carry the elders to it.”
She looked around. The two women and the man were the only ones left besides her and Bokor. The three of them stood there, their shadows growing long behind them. “Go.” She shouted. They went. Then she sighed and turned toward Bokor – but the other woman had disappeared.
Zoya would have to go into town soon. She needed more oils. She would also sell the spider painting, the one of the elders, and this new one – a great bonfire with two skeletons visible between the flames, their jaws slack and the eye sockets dark. In the background were caricatures of humans in various poses. One woman held a mop and was pushing through a dark puddle. A man carried some furniture toward the fire. All of the people in the painting had enormous eyes ringed in blues and purples.
She was outside, at the point between the lawn and the beach, just within the reach of the floodlights from the house. It was becoming increasingly stifling to be inside. She felt eyes on her back. But she did not turn around. It could have been one of several people. None of them interested her. She sensed, rather than felt, the slight breeze of someone passing behind her and away.
Next week: Zoya in town – Ralph’s plight