śōka | શોક | mourning
Do not go to a birthday party the night your grandmother dies. Do not pick up a six-pack of White Claws (black cherry) on the way and then drink four of them while you look into your partner’s eyes defiantly, a challenge. Do not ask him if he will stop you, if he will nudge you toward considering the line between grief and excess. Do not force yourself to hold your tears in that space behind your eyes. Do not use laughter as an excuse to shed them, to pat a friend on their back and say they are so funny, and wipe away your tears as though they are a compliment to a joke you never heard in the first place.
Do not cry too early. Do not read your mother’s texts to the family and immediately begin to sob, no, because in a few moments she will say, wait and that is not true and her heart is beating again, and you will feel stupid with the chants playing on the car radio, with the tears lingering on your cheeks, with the neckline of your shirt growing damp from this river you found within yourself. Do not question what to do when the next text comes in, minutes later—no, this is it, she is gone—from your mother, who is on a plane to Los Angeles to see the woman that birthed her, who is now no longer that woman but a corpse in a hospital, a body with tubes in its veins and thinner, thinner than you have ever seen her. Do not wait for pictures of the body. Do not spend the next month (months) rewatching the videos over and over, memorizing the trajva on your grandmother’s swollen hands, these tribal tattoos you will never know the entire story of, not now, the ones you have considered tattooing on the base of your throat, on the backs of your hands, on your ankles, if only to match this woman whose kathiyawar Gujarati has so shaped what yours is becoming. Do not locate a tattoo artist who specializes in trajva in Leicester, where your grandmother’s oldest daughter has built her home. Do not imagine what these diamonds and dotted circles would look like on your skin, if they would recall some concept of lineage. Of dirt and earth. Of the place your grandmother was made of and will return to.
Do not ask your mother where the tattoos came from. Do not entertain her response that trajva means tattoo when in fact it implies much more: a specific image, a prayer, a scheduled tribe. When your mother says, I don’t know but she never told us more, don’t begin to question how much the narrative (the need) to be more pure—to be more—has shaped the story away from what might be a truth.
Do not wish your grandfather back to life. Do not imagine him in your living room, his Singer sewing machine on the table, his smile that looks like your mother’s smile, the only light in the room. Do not ask him if he knows the truth. Do not ask him what they have hidden.
Do not find meaning in insects on your walls for the weeks after. Do not question the ladybugs that emerge in your apartment, typical of the changing season in this city you must now call home. Do not wonder if it is some type of sign from the universe. Vacuum them up, one by one, the sweat dripping down your back and your dirty hair oily against your scalp. Do not change out of this sweatshirt for the weekend.
Do not skip the cremation. Do not wonder if you should have bought a flight you could not afford for all these months as your grandmother was wasting away in a hospital. Do not spin stories out of her strength, out of the blood that boiled through her veins, the blood that flows through yours. Do not remember that moment two years ago when you went to a Marshalls to buy her a shirt that could button-down in the front, so that the surgeons could easily remove the blouse for her heart surgery. Do not remember the last time she was in a hospital before that, when your mother flew to Los Angeles and thought that was it, when she found her father twenty pounds lighter because he refused to eat at a restaurant in this country, because the woman who made him every meal for all their lives was lying in the hospital bed. Do not wonder at how your mother took him to a Subway and forced him to bite into that white, manufactured bread, the first meal he had ever not eaten straight from his own kitchen.
Do not question what happened to your grandmother’s ashes; your mother will not bring them home. Do not wonder what became of her, this woman you lived with for ten days, whose blue-lidded government jars lined the cabinet in her dining room when she would feed you chai and chickpea batter snacks in a condo that had cockroaches in the corners of the bathroom and underneath the oven. Do not stay up at night thinking of her, the way she stayed up at night waiting for you to come home from the bar with your college friends, worried that her granddaughter was out somewhere in Los Angeles and unable to call home.
Stay, in Los Angeles, those ten days two years ago. Shower in that bathroom with the broken curtain hanger. Make friends with your grandmother’s Spanish speaking neighbors, none of whom speak your grandmother’s only tongue. Stay, and always stay. Stay, so you don’t grieve.
Asha Thanki is a candidate for the MFA at the University of Minnesota. Her work has appeared in The Southern Review, Platypus Press, The Common, Catapult, The Nashville Review, Hyphen, and more. She is the winner of the 2019 Arkansas International’s Emerging Writers Prize and fourth prize winner of Zoetrope: All Story’s 2020 Short Fiction Competition, and has received support from the Speculative Literature Foundation, Tin House, and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop.