Last night we heard a loud scream followed by what sounded like a wail you can only encounter in horror movie. Not long after, sirens echoed throughout the entire apartment complex. An ambulance was parked on the entrance. I could see the medics carried someone on the stretcher, some other people followed in, and off they went.
We found out early the next morning through the leaflets stuck on our mailbox and the crowd that gathered in the communal hall on ground floor that Mr. Chao, the elderly man from 43 had died last night. Heart attack. It was his daughter’s scream we heard last night when she found him laying dead on his bed. Apparently he died in his sleep, which I think is the best way to die, really. A quiet peaceful painless death. What more could you ask for?
Blue plastic screens connected one pillar to another, covering the sight of Mr. Chao’s coffin and the bereaved family from passerby. I heard from Hare once that in Taiwanese funeral custom, one is not supposed to look at the blue screen as doing so would give them bad luck. But, I couldn’t resist peeking through the screen just to see what they were doing.
His family lined up on the hallway that connects the entrance to the communal hall, all clad in black and white, greeting guests and distant family members whom came late in the afternoon. Some of them wept, some sobbed heavily, some looked solemn, some looked emotionless. There was no smile, not even a hint of joy to be seen. I honestly found it quite ironic as Mr. Chao was probably the happiest person I knew.
That night we lay awake in bed longer than usual, thinking about where Mr. Chao went. Maybe he went to heaven, does Buddhist teaching believe in heaven? Did he become one of the stars we saw through our window the night he died? Or perhaps he just disappeared completely into thin air, became one with the universe, turned into nothing and everything.
‘He was always smiling. Do you think he was genuinely happy?’ Blue asked. I thought about it for a moment.
‘I don’t know.’ I said in all honesty. ‘ Maybe he was. If he wasn’t then maybe he tried to find happiness in everything and smiling is one way to do it. I read somewhere that you could trick your brain into thinking you’re happy just by smiling.’
‘Do you think he’s happy now?’ He asked again, eyes fixed on the ceiling. There’s a small watermark from the heavy rain last week, I gotta call the plumber.
‘Hmm… I don’t know.’ I uttered the same answer. Again, in all honesty. ‘Maybe he is. Or maybe he just completely disappeared into nothingness. Becoming one with the universe. It doesn’t sound bad at all.’ I nodded in agreement to my own hypothesis.
‘I hate it when people say “they’ve gone to a better place” when someone dies.’