Stickman Readers' Submissions January 2nd, 2004

Songs Of The Dead

By The Central Scrutinizer

I awoke one morning in the village to the plaintive wails of odes for the dead. The village had become an odeum. A strange and beautiful, yet sad, music filled the air.

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I wondered what was going on. The music was loud, but its mournful sound had a peaceful effect on my soul. The strains floating about my home were of a type I'd never heard before.

It was Thai, or Lao, I've not the education still to tell the differences, usually. I struggled to remain in bed, but my curiosity got the better of me and I had to finally drag my ass from the covers to see what exactly was happening to the small slice of the planet where I was presently residing. My slice. The Isaan village. Another day of Asian edification for my unlearned little bit of grey matter. It was bound to be interesting at least.

I snorted and grumbled myself awake, mumbling obscenities, for no real reason except that I like to mumble obscenities, and stumbled from the bedroom for the hong nam and a yen ab nam, or is it yen ab nam, a cold shower in the bathroom to be exact. Friggin' water from the Isaan well feels like it comes from a direct pipe-line under some frozen ice-cap up beneath Santa Clause's home! (This was before a good friend's power shower hot water heater wedding present was finally installed. For which I wish to thank him profusely for once again. It's being put to good use daily now during the cold season in Isaan. Look sow and Wife love it brother! Thanks again! My nuts thank you too!)

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After a quick rinse off of the sleep dirt of the previous evening (the quicker the better, the water's so damn cold it makes my nuts hurt) I cautiously bumbled my way outside the house to the back kitchen area where the wife was want to be. Upon seeing my grizzled and battered, freshly frozen, yet scrubbed clean, and shaven at least, mug, my wife broke into a lovely smile that warmed me to the bone.

"Wife, what the hell is going on with that music?" I asked her, after she had asked me what I wanted to eat to break my fast this morning, and I had placed my order. "Old lady. She dead last night." she replied smiling, still. "Huh? What old lady?" I mumbled back perplexed, as I lit my first smoke of the day. I hadn't heard of any old ladies on death's door recently, and usually it would have been brought to my attention in passing conversation during the gossip sessions I attend over beers at Sis 2's shop. Ostensibly I go for a drink or two, but really because even though I despise gossip I'm prone to listen and be curious as to what the hell they are all talking about. Hey, I'm human, I think. At least I would have been asked to throw in a few baht for a collection for her care, or medicine, special foods, or some such anyway. The old dears are always starting some social service collection for the needy of the village, which I am not adverse to kicking in a few baht towards. (I watch and see what the old bats are kicking in themselves, and act accordingly.) "Old lady she, live house there." the wife explained, pointing to the house almost directly behind us.

My addled brain, not yet truly awake, but beginning to function slightly, just from the smell of coffee and the thought of a forthcoming breakfast, seemed to dimly remember my being awakened some hours earlier, like 3 a.m. or so, by some hollering and screeching that must have, now that I had this knowledge, been brought on by the relatives of the deceased woman once she had died. I had woke up, mumbled something like "What the fuck! Shaddup fer chrissakes you idiots!", thinking it was another Lao Khao fuelled argument of some sort or another, and promptly rolled over and hugged my pillow on the cool side, returning forthwith to slumber. I'd probably been wakened by relatives wails of anguish that their loved one had passed on. A shiver touched me at the thought I had witnessed, however sleepily, their immediate and raw grief, and had been such a grumpy bitch about it.

I ate my breakfast, scrambled eggs and fried ham, with toast, perfectly done, the way I've taught her to cook it, and mentioned to my wife that the music playing so loudly over a speaker system was actually quite nice. I asked her about it and she said, "Old music. Old lady like too mutt." I laughed, and told her, "Well, this old falang like too mutt too. It's very beautiful." "You like?' she asked me. "Very much." I said in reply. She smiled oddly at me, with a slight tilt to her head, a passing lovely expression, and a look came into her eyes that I liked. It was a look that most men like to receive from their woman. One of appreciation. A shining dark deep look that says you've just said something that pleases her greatly, and that she thinks just maybe she might have latched herself onto someone she can love forever. My offhand words of praise and appreciation for this funeral music had touched her heart in some way, for some reason. Don't ask me why. She's a woman, and mostly a mystery to me. It is a look I would do most anything to receive often from the woman I love. If you've seen this look before you'll know exactly what the hell I'm talking about. If not, hopefully one day you will know what I'm talking of. It has heat that warms your heart, even the coldest of hearts.

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The days passed, the funeral was planned, the music played 24 hours a day for three days, and those songs haunt me still right now. I've never heard anything quite so calming and soothing and mellow as those songs. I asked my wife what it was, and if we could buy some cd's of it. She said she would try to find some for me. They are old Thai classics from the 40's and 50's I guess from what she told me. Wonderful stuff. Love songs. Ballads. They helped set a distinct mood around the village. Like the old ways were being reinforced in everyone's minds. People grew even more mellow and polite within the songs radius of decibel influence. Even the water buffalo seemed to enjoy the songs, and it looked like they were swaying in time with the music.

I know I did. Swayed and enjoyed.

I'll never forget those few days. Those days of songs for the village dead. Quite a few old village folk died during this past trip over for some reason. That one old lady gave me some music that moved me, that made the days seem more pleasant than usual. Her death seemed to bring the village back in time for a while, back to her time, her younger days. I wish I could have been there then, to have seen this village when it was untouched by the western influences of the present. I wish I could have met the young Thai lass whose love for those songs had touched my heart in the year 2002, the year of her death.

I fell in love a little with her, the girl she was that loved this music, and fell in love with the songs of the dead.

(The Central Scrutinizer)

Stickman says:

The music they play at Thai funerals is a bit too eerie for me. I especially dislike the tune they always seem to play when they do the three laps of the cremation tower, time to become scarce.

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