eight hours, and five seconds

i only wanted
to pay obeisance to a life
well-lived,
well-fought,
and well-loved.

the afternoon sun beckoned,
and time was no regard for me.
and so i went…

the ancient fortress welcomed me,
and the quiet roads winded along,
inevitably bringing me
to the heart of the fortress,
this cathedral of renown,
where the heroine rested,
waiting for the countless gratitude
of the people she served.

i joined the winding queue,
curiously weaving
like a tail
coiling and coiling around itself,
until we finally found its end.

i looked at my watch, and saw the time.
five of the clock, it said,
as i settled down to wait.

i thought, two, maybe three hours,
and i shall see her, pay my respects.

but the first hour saw us emerge
around the first bend,
as the clouds finally decided
to pour its own libations
upon the throng,

another hour brought us
to the next turning,
the streets beginning
to flood,
and many simply giving up the wait.

i thought, two hours…
can i possibly wait another two?
but the third hour brought me
an unwelcome realization:
that even as we were lining up
to pay our respects,
there were souls who cared less,
and sought to find
a shorter way to her
than honesty proferred to them.

and so the third hour ended
with the single line now two,
and even as tempers grew short,
still nobility shone,
as gates were opened
that should have been closed,
allowing relief for those who needed it,
and i, i found new friends
among the ones who bracketed me
front and back, left and right.

rain and damp were our constant companions,
as darkness swallowed the day,
and a starless sky loomed above us,
mourning, as it seemed, with this nation
bereft of another noble soul.

we kept the faith, the vigil, and the walk.

the fourth hour ended,
and i finally gave in
to the pleadings of aching knees,
as i crouched, not alone,
to rest my feet a little,
even as my umbrella, embarrassed,
tried vainly to fend off
the offending rain.

a single boiled egg
and one balut
sustained me through the hour.

the fifth hour saw us surging,
as one enlivened crowd,
pushed on
by a sudden downpour
and the unsought wind,
as the typhoon finally arrived.

we hugged the walls, squeezing
to find purchase
under the meagre shade of eaves.

but we kept on.
even as more people kept arriving,
even as more were hammered to submission.

but a group of old women,
shamed my soul to staying,
as i almost gave up.
if they can wait, my will insisted,
who was i to prove myself a craven
to the elements?
my body wept,
my heart quailed,
but smiling, i obeyed my will.

an hour before midnight,
and we were there,
the final bend crossed,
the final stretch attained.

by this time,
nobody could move.
we were trapped
by each other’s conviction;
but more convincingly,
by each other’s umbrellas.

we flowed as one.
one trembling meter at a time.

midnight saw us,
standing in stinking floodwaters.
the storm alternately raging above us,
or giving us reprieve of a few moments.
but none of us were spared.
by this time none of us were dry,
umbrella or not.
and all of us were ankle-deep
in fetid waters,
while only moving
a few agonizing inches
at a time.

until, at last!
the final gate beckoned,
and from the crowd,
i was paired to an elderly man
to approach the stoic cathedral,
in those last few stiled meters.
he asked me how long
i have been there,
and i said almost eight hours.

i asked the same question,
and he snorted his reply.
“i arrived after midnight,
and simply inserted myself
into the throng.”
i almost dinged his ear,
had i not remembered
why i was there.

and as we slowly entered
the portals of the place,
a reverence enfolded me,
an awe
that took away
the whole eight hours of pain,

and i approached the casket
in a daze,
hurried along by ushers,
and i stopped before her and looked,
but i could not stay
longer than five seconds
to gaze upon her,
she whom i have never seen before
in life.

but five seconds are too short,
to fully encompass
the jumbled feelings of my heart,
and all i managed, finally,
was a nod,
and i moved on,
shaking the hands
of her eldest daughter…

leaving the cathedral,
i laid my final oblation…

eight hours i gave
to see her for five seconds.

she gave her husband,
and her life remaining
in exchange.

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