Beauty in Death; The Passing of a Baby Girl
A guest post by Barry Brett
One of a series of short humorous stories of life in Iquitos.
Each article is a portrayal of actual events, written from the perspective of a Californian living in the Jungle City of Iquitos, Peru.
It was a beautiful Iquitos morning. After a jungle breakfast I took a quiet stroll toward the Belen Market. I was looking forward to drinking a Jugo, a blended fruit drink. All kinds of jungle fruits with strange sounding names are blended into exotic tasting drinks. I passed-by the street stands selling sunglasses, wallets and yes, cell-phone cases! The infection has spread! I looked for my young friend Lewes, a street vendor, 23 years old. I had known him since he was 18. Lewes had worked for me on and off but in his heart he was a street vendor.
An older man approached me with the sad sorry news. Lewes was at home with his three week-old baby girl. Sadly she had passed-away at the local hospital the night before. He thrust a paper in front of me, listing contributions and donors names. Glancing down the list of donations I realized there was no way Lewes could afford the expense of a funeral. I raced to the house on the outer limits of town.
On the way over I cast my mind-back to my own impending doom some five years earlier. Undergoing chemotherapy for a cancer at stage four, I had the unpleasant experience of visiting a funeral home to check on prices! There she stood. The Saleswomen. Dressed in black pants, white shirt and black tie. As she stared at me with that cold deadpan face I felt I was already dead! Then the thunderbolt came-down from the sky. “It’s for you isn’t it!”
“Why, Yes but – Yes it’s for me, but how did you know? Do I really look that sick?”
“We always know – we always know!” she said as she reached for the measuring tape. “You don’t expect to be around to see it Mr. Brett. That’s why you chose the cheapest one!”
Suddenly I had visions of the handles falling-off or the bottom falling out before I got to the cemetery. I rushed-back inside to order a more expensive but more durable model! She noticed my bald head. “Would I be needing a hairpiece?”
Then there was the question concerning the cemetery plot. Did I want it encased in concrete to prevent the earth from crushing-in, disfiguring my good looks? If I splashed-out for the earthquake resistant model she would throw-in the hairpiece at no additional cost!
Finally I arrived at Lewes’s house. He lived in a small community half a mile or so from the main road. The moto-taxi driver, fearing he might get bogged-down in the mud, refused to take me to the house. Trundling down the pathway to the house I passed another motokaro struggling to get out of a mud-hole. Neighbors rushed to his aid. Up to their waists in mud they tugged and pulled until finally the mototaxi was dragged-out of the quagmire onto solid ground. That’s odd. I don’t remember neighbors, or anyone else for that matter, rushing to my aid when I broke-down in heavy traffic in Downtown Los Angeles. People stood around and stared. Drivers’ passing-by, passed-by! Not even a friendly face. I was afraid to abandon my car lest they stole my tires!
As I approached Lewes’s house I saw a group of people assembled outside. The small casket stood inside but in full view of people passing-buy. All the neighbors in that impoverished village had come-together for him. Luis, an orphan, had no family to help out. Those beautiful loving, caring, poverty-stricken people had raised the money for the casket and were only short the money to hire a bus for the burial service the following day. Children were out combing the neighborhood for suitable flowers to make wreaths and bouquets.
Village families showed-up with their children to view the casket and the little girl within. An older women lit some candles and as I hugged Lewes we stood before the little girl and prayed. It was tragic, yet peaceful and serene. On my way-back to the main road I could see other villagers carrying flowers with their children, wandering down the muddy pathway to pay tribute to the little girl who’s life had so tragically been cut-short. Some of them had walked for two or three hours!
The following day, sitting in a mototaxi on the way to the cemetery I contrasted the difference between the loving caring lives of the jungle people of Iquitos and the Amazon and our own cold Californian indifference to everything including death.
“Oh Honey, there’s been a death in the family.”
“Not now Dear, I’m watching the game”. “Can’t it wait till later? Just send an email and shop-on-line for some flowers and that earthquake resistant model. That should take care of it. Wal-Marts had it on sale last week! Oh, and remind them to put the funeral on U-tube! I might want to check-it-out!”
As I waited outside Punchana Cemetery for the bus to arrive, I couldn’t help noticing the sharp hairpin bend in the road immediately in front of the entrance. Motorbikes, cars and yes, buses swerved across the median into opposing traffic. There were many near misses. How convenient. Good for business I thought! And so close! Just a hop skip and a jump! Two hours later, and still no bus; what was that about being late for your own funeral?
I was getting thirsty waiting around in the midday sun. I walked up the street looking for a soda-stand. Suddenly there was a loud thunderous roar as a bus turned the corner almost running me down as it sped to its date with destiny. Tipping to the side as it swerved into the hairpin bend the bus screeched to a halt in front of the cemetery gates, overloaded and crammed with adults and children in every corner and others hanging onto the back and sides. I wondered where the casket was, or even if they would be able to find it amongst the abundance of humanity!
These wonderful villagers assembled together in front of the cemetery gates and wandered-up the pathway holding bouquets of flowers and carrying the casket before them. There was an air of sadness and yet relief that this little child would finally rest in peace. Yes there were tears, including mine, but somehow it was refreshing. All these villagers coming together in time of grief to pay their final respects to a child they could scarcely have known.
A brief service was held, the casket lowered and then the most wonderful moment came. All the children, I counted more than thirty under ten years old, picked the petals-off the bouquets and placed them lovingly on her grave, an amazingly colorful display of jungle flowers and fauna.
As we walked-back down the pathway I decided that when my time comes I would like to rest in peace at Punchana Cemetery. I would be honored to be buried next to these people, even without a hairpiece. I wondered who might attend my burial service and shower my grave with jungle flowers. At least two people would be there. Me and the guy with the shovel!
Beauty in Death; The Passing of a Baby Girl
Barry Brett, has spent three of the past five years here in Iquitos Peru. Growing-up in England, he emigrated to the U.S. as a young man and has lived almost forty years in Huntington Beach, California.
If you enjoy Barry’s style of writing, follow these links to his other articles;