One among the many odd things I have done is walking at 2 AM through the corridors of a hotel undergoing renovations, in search of water. A friend and I had booked this place online for the duration of a conference and when we reached, we found they had just completed rebuilding…the protective covering from some sections had not even come off. But they honoured their part of the bargain and let us stay there. All was good till at about eleven at night, when I thoughtlessly finished off all the drinking water. Later, finding my friend extremely thirsty, I rang up Housekeeping and Reception by turns…to no avail. So, feeling evangelical, I stepped out of the room in search of water and walked into utter and total darkness. I walked to the other end of the passage, peered down and found the reception a gaping black void. That’s when it struck me that we were the only people in this hotel- all the staff had gone home. There was no guard either. As I walked back to the room, the doorway looked like a block of light in a chunk of darkness. It was a most beautifully desolate sight. Back in the room, I remembered a bag of oranges we had bought earlier. Nothing like freshly squeezed orange juice to assuage guilt and take care of a cranky, thirsty friend.

The real reason we made the trip in the first place was not the quest for academic excellence, but rather, to visit the final resting place of a young man very dear to my friend. His untimely demise had shaken her and this trip was a search for the much-needed closure. We travelled a long, long way, on roads hewn out of mountains, the chocolate brown of the earth covering every conceivable surface. Summer was at its height and I was careful not to drink more than a mouthful of water at a time.

We reached the cemetery. There were rows of graves, marked and unmarked. There was no way to find him except ask for help at the office of the nearby church. The office was a relief, with its cool tiled floors and a ceiling fan. The priest called the father of the young man and asked him, “There are two women here to pay their respects. What is the number of your son’s grave?” The poor man couldn’t remember. And I wondered how one forgets the number of the grave of one’s only son. The priest hung up and looked sheepishly at us. “Maybe we just look at all these graves and say a general hello?” I tentatively asked my friend. She remained silent. The priest sensing her grief, sent for his assistant and they combed through a huge register and located the number. Upon reaching that simple, unmarked grave, we stood in a pool silence. Us and a raven that we imagined was the soul of the departed.