We died on the same day, my primary wife and I – as it should be. It was the day of my thirty-fifth summer. We became ghosts of the ancestors as the sun rose over the Temple of the Dead as it stood in the distance upon the sacred hillside.
Only moments before, we had been living people with our family standing around us at sunrise and now we were ghosts of the ancestors.
The family stood, for a moment, staring at the place where we were standing when we were alive, then turned away. I thought, just for an instant, my young wife number three, Shalia, had seen us as ghosts. There was a flicker in her eyes, but my secondary wife took her by the arm and pulled her away, both had tears in their eyes as they stared into the place we had stood only a short time before.
‘He was a good husband to all of us.’ Shalia said.
Grella nodded. ‘And a good father too. The ancestors will be proud when he walks amongst them.’ They held each other by the hand and turned away.
There was silence in the dawn, even the birdsong seemed muted.
‘It is time for us to go.’ Thalia touched my cheek. She smiled a tentative smile. ‘It is strange being dead, being a ghost, my husband.’
I nodded, still watching my other two wives as they walked away from the river. Trudging back up on to the raised ground where the village stood, safe from possible floods. There, they joined the rest of the villagers who’d gathered to watch our spirits disappear down the river of the dead.
We turned to our funeral canoe, making no sign – as it should be – that we were anything other than the dead. On the breeze, I could hear Shanik the shaman interpreting our movements for the rest of the village. They could no longer see us, now that we were dead. The rest of the village had to rely on his description of what we – our spirits – were doing.
We followed the ritual as precisely as we could. My primary wife sat in the back of the canoe. I took up the paddle, sitting in the centre of the canoe. Both of us stared off down the River of the Dead as I manoeuvred the canoe out and began to paddle us both off, down past the Temple of the Dead, and on to meet the ancestors in the afterlife.