Scores of dead animals. The paddy-field coloured grasshopper who wandered in through your window and collapsed on the floor of your room, the ant you squelched under your bright pink, size 2 shoes, the baby pigeon, which fell into the air-conditioner shaft and cried piteously breaking your heart till it rolled over to stay still like stone.

I wonder what my parents thought when every two days I would dig up the earth and inter another body into it. If I had access to my childhood playing grounds now, I would be acutely conscious of what a graveyard I had made of it. In the beginning, the first burials were always marked with a carefully chosen pebble or a twig shaped into an abstract geometry to represent the gods of nature. As the dead animals multiplied, the ritual lost some of its meaning but I persevered having absorbed the belief that everything deserves a decent burial.

My friend’s daughter buried 237 guppies. Her mother who delights in the strangeness of her child’s obsessions counted. Today, the little gravedigger is eighteen years old. I had taken her out for one of those unhealthy, dead fried birds she likes to eat and I mentioned her compulsive undertaker services for guppies. To my surprise, a brief sadness flickered over her face, ‘Of all of them, Molly broke my heart the most.’ Not only did she remember the creatures, she even had a favourite. What a weird child (Of course I thought this most affectionately.) 

I had gone with my partner to the place where he had grown up. We were driving through a road of no important consequence when he suddenly stopped the car and showed me a tree, dusty, sparse, unnoticeable, ‘Betsy was buried there.’ We stood in silence for a moment thinking about the Alsatian who waited by the gate for him to come home from school, every day.

For a long time, I thought it was only I who remembered the baby squirrel which didn’t survive being fed milk through an ink dropper. As I spoke to more people, I realised everybody remembered this first brush with death, this offering of a ritualistic goodbye to creatures that stepped into our lives and out of theirs.

Yesterday, my partner and I found a beautiful spider. Large, yellow with flecks of brown and a mossy, red abdomen. It was shining in the sunlight, dazzling, immovable. For a second we contemplated burying this beauty of nature. Then, without words which voiced a decision, we just scooped it up gently with a piece of paper, so as not to crumble its stunning body and tipped it into the dustbin, with a twist of the wrist. The end of innocence was complete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still Figuring It Out is funny, sad, questioning take on adulthood that appears every Saturday on Asianet NewsableArathi Menon is the author of Leaving Home With Half a Fridge, a memoir published by Pan Macmillan. She tweets at here. The views expressed here are her own.