It’s the middle of the week. My ears register the distant drone of traffic on the interstate, and, high above, the lamenting calls of evening birds— my requiem.

The September air is heavy and thick, perfumed with the sweet, sharp scent of rotting apples. A sleek, closed-casket coffin lies in front of a huddle of people. Some of them I used to know— family, friends — some are just silhouettes of memories, people I keep checking faces for, whose absence I can’t bring myself to accept.

Somebody coughs. Muffled. Everything is muffled. Like a slug covered in salt, I’m immobile, dry. I feel like I’m eavesdropping on something that isn’t meant for me to hear. But then again, I was a spectator for most of my life; it seems only fitting that I be here to witness this.

The faltering light has streaked the sky with golden wrinkles and corroded its edges into an inflamed reddish-orange. Strangely, the sight of the sun’s grandiose farewell ceremony makes me feel no warmth whatsoever; all I feel is the shadows of trees growing longer around me.

I can’t see my father anywhere, and that doesn’t surprise me. The only tangible memory I have left of him is his office, a terrain of cigar-smoke clouds and paperwork mountains. He always told me never to take up smoking, that it’s a filthy habit. Funnily enough, the cinders in his ashtray were usually still hot.

A subdued voice breaks the silence. A light lisp. My sister. She’s standing at the front of the crowd, and it takes me a second to realize — she’s giving a eulogy. Warmth and bitterness crawl through me, tinged with heartache. She’s sharing stories. Stories of childhood and memories, stories I was never going to share. He was a lot like his father, she says with a silvery chuckle. I know she means well; I wince nonetheless.

But who am I to talk? A eulogy is written for the living — a dead man’s opinion is of no consequence.

I search, in her eulogy, to hear how much the dead man wanted to reconnect with his family, that his workaholism— his hypocrisy— were but his biggest regrets. I hear no such thing. The regrets are mine to keep.

Either way, it doesn’t matter. I can barely match her moving mouth to sounds anymore. I feel like I’m right at that moment between awake and asleep, semi-conscious but unable to move. The world around me shifts focus like a broken camera lens. I try to latch my hearing onto my sister’s mellifluous voice, onto my father’s silence, but I’m like the leaves that flit in the wind above me, feeble, powerless.

Wilted flowers are tossed atop the box, then dirt. Unceremonious, filthy dirt.

They begin to walk away.

My ears tune back to the ambient purr of the interstate, the birds. I let their poignant melodies wash over me, and I contemplate disappearing into the peaceful cacophony of the world.

Jasmine Suri, Grade 9