On Whom the Coffin Closes

Nana was about to die. She could barely hold on, had almost stopped talking, until one day when we were huddled round her bedside- “I want to choose my coffin.” We all stood dumbstruck, those could potentially be her last words, and they were not very memorable. We knew she had always wanted everything to her liking but surely she wasn’t going to be picky about a coffin? “Satin sheets, with soft padding, clean white and roomy. Do not get me any tacky yellows or greens, I will not be amused.” Since she seemed to have made up her mind about dying, no amount of motivation could make her budge. She was as stubborn as the rock that refused to stay atop the hill, no matter how hard Sisyphus tried.

And so began the extensive search for the “right” coffin. It may seem like an easy job but either one had silk sheets, or it was a dirty shade of white, or it didn’t feel comfortable enough. We went to such lengths as to get inside a few coffins, and on some occasions, naughty cousins had tried to keep us locked in.

Twenty stores, forty coffins, and forty sharp “no’s” later, we had reached… nowhere. Nana hadn’t made a decision and we were running out of options. “Build one. I will not pass quietly if I don’t get the right one. I will haunt you all.” The prospect of being haunted (if it were possible) scared us to our cores, and the only options we had were to either build one (which was part of nobody’s résumé) or search outside the city, state, or continent, if it came to that.

There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with choosing one’s own coffin, it was just that Nana had a rather long and specific list, and no one had the heart to reason with or defy her on her death bed. See, she was very old- in her late nineties, and so her due passing had been accepted by the family. She was perfectly fine with it too, and everything had been done to make her as comfortable as possible- a private room with a beautiful view, in a quiet corridor, and her favourite scents by her bedside. Even at that age she would curtly remark “sit straight” or “that tie don’t match your suit, son”, and because she was so loved, keeping her comfortable even after, was top priority.

Just as we were looking at antique coffins, Father got the call about Nana’s passing. The funeral was to be in church, a day later. In our hurry we chose a pale blue coffin with satin sheets and bearable cushioning.

It was a closed viewing. Beautiful tall candles lit up the aisle that led to the coffin. Relatives I had never seen but heard of through gossip, stood at the back. I connected names with a few faces- Aunt Kathy, who, rumour has it, tried to sell her sister’s engagement ring when she found it in her drawer; Cousin Al, who had been accused of trying to poison somebody who had apparently attempted to steal one of his treasured vintage wines. Upset faces stood in the gathering, although we had all come to terms with the passing. Nana had been satisfied with the long and adventurous life she had lived.

A minute of silence was called for, and eyes shut. Thirty seconds had barely gone by; when a muffled but peevish voice yelled “my back hurts! What in your right minds were you thinking when you chose this? Damned be you all.” It came from the coffin.

©Isha Malaviya


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