Procession

In my sleep, I hear drums.  Pounding, wailing, beautiful music.

Some part of my brain tells me I should wake up, look out the window.  The wailing gets louder, the drums more melodic.  A thought rolls through my half-conscious mind:

Those drums sound way better than any hippie drummer I’ve ever heard.

I sleep on my stomach, arms tucked in at my sides. Now the music sounds like it’s directly under my window.  I roll over, force my heavy eyelids open, and sit up.

On the street below, a colorful procession passes by.  At first I think the heavy, plated prize they carry on their shoulders is a coffin.  Then I see it is an idol, a million effigies of the Buddha, silver-plated royal heads glinting in the sun.

The people in front of the idol are walking backwards, barefoot.  An old man with long gray hair holds a silver urn in both his palms. Within it, incense burns. It whips in the wind, stinging his eyes.

Behind him, a middle aged man with a long black mustache. He is supported by two younger boys, one on either side.  One boy is a teenager, able to hold the man up when his heavy body sways. But the younger boy is much smaller and struggles under the man’s weight.

The man walks backwards, drugged, like a southern Baptist believer, intoxicated by the Holy Spirit.  He keeps stumbling, and the boys keep catching him, pushing against him heavily to reassert him, upright.

I hear a sudden wailing as he keels over to one side, and think it is the smaller of the two boys, overwhelmed, crushed.  Then I see it is an old woman with missing teeth. She is keening as though her heart is pierced.

Behind the incense bearer, teetering man, and quick-bodied boys, a mass of brightly colored women also walk backwards. Their heads are wrapped in scarves, and they pad barefoot under the midday sun. They move in time to the drums, clapping their hands down low, and darting their eyes at the gathered crowd.

The procession stops directly under my window. The heavy man seems to have been revived.  He stands of his own accord, giving the boys a break.  The incense whips wildly on the wind, and the drummers keep up their frantic pace.  People have come out on rooftops to watch, and those who were in the street have moved up to the safety of stairways and open decks above.  The procession has left no room for anything but itself on this tiny, winding road.

The drums beat on and on, and I gaze down at the glinting effigy, wondering what this procession is for.  The idol has begun to loll to one side, and the bearers on the right are straining to hold it up.  They struggle valiantly, but in vain- the idol resides in diagonal glory, resting heavily on their shoulders.

I glance further down and see one of the drummers, a young man. A mustache drips down his face.  He looks up at the same instant and our eyes meet.  He holds my gaze for half a second, then looks away, embarrassed, like he never saw me.

Moments later, a high wailing breaks free from the people below. The procession once again moves forward.  I try in vain to locate the source of the wailing- it is not the boys, it is not the colorful women, it is not the drummers with their hands full.  It seems to permeate the air, it is the centerpiece of the procession, and yet its location is impossible to pinpoint.  I scan rows and rows of faces, but they all march somberly forward, purposeful, their mouths closed.

And then, as royally as it appeared, the clattering, wailing, barefoot procession begins to recede. Its fading music floats back on a ribbon of wind, and its colorful people disappear around a bend in the road.IMG_1612

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