We had been walking for ten minutes when the road started to ascend and we started to slow down. The weight of the bags were drawing our arms downward and our bodies were leaning forward. The sun was starting to rise. The only sound floating in the air then was the thumping of our steps and the rustling of the plastic bags.
I lowered my eyes. It was still a long way to go.
In front of me, my aunts were walking steadily. Their sandals were touching the sand and pebble path at the same rhythm, like a small army marching. Their long mourning clothes were swinging on one side and the other, caressing the soil. After some long minutes, I became aware of a change. In their breathing. It became louder, deeper and quicker. I listened up until I heard it, clearly. The first sobbing. That was the signal, we were nearly there.
I first noticed the white squares, scattered on the hill. More and more as we were climbing to the top. The light from the sun was making my eyes blink. Trying to find the right one, I realized I could not see, tears welled up in my eyes. They rapidly flowed onto my cheeks. My long sobs joined the others. Impossible to distinguish. Our pain and sorrow were breaking the silence, that deadly silence. We uttered his name, whispered it, shouted it. We were calling him, summoning, imploring him to be there with us, but he was gone.
His wife continued to speak to him, long after us, she was emptying her heart. Her words erupted without any pause. Her heart was still full, full of love, grief and words for him, words she wanted him to hear. It had been unspoken between them but she was to go first. She never thought she would outlive him. She was not to live without him. How could she? Please God, help her to find how.
Our pain finally subdued. We continued to talk to him quietly, holding each other and praying for him. The light from the sun was warmer now. Indistinctly we could hear children playing, women talking and a baby crying in the distance. A new day was starting.
A light breeze accompagnied us down the road. We offered the bags full of groceries to the poor families who lived in small and dismal shelters by the curvy road. We asked them to pray for his soul. Our hearts, like our bodies felt lighter.
We were walking in front now. My aunts were behind us, closing the procession. They were talking. The cemetery was covering the whole hill now, they could remember it when it used to be a small patch. The poor people living around here were the poorest of the town. That had not changed.
On that day, I saw my aunts were strong. Strong women. And they had shown us, the next generation, how strong we would have to be.