"What happens? Anything can happen in a crematorium."
"Wouldn't you have felt scared to be left alone with the corpse?"
"Scared? Me? You know I have cremated at least 1000 corpses."
This statement silenced Moni. Gopal uncle had every reason to brag.
There were a few spades lying on the ground; Gopal uncle picked up one of them and said, "You fellows arrange the logs while I build a clay stove."
Uncle busied himself in building the stove and we engaged ourselves in arranging the logs. Noru suddenly remarked, "The corpse seems to have become bloated."
Gopal uncle without looking up from his work replied, "Bloated? Of course it will appear bloated, what with the cloths and quilt getting soaked in water."
"But uncle, cotton on soaking should shrink and not bloat."
Uncle was really annoyed at this impertinence. "Very clever!" he remarked sarcastically, "stop the blabber and continue with your work".
The work of arranging the logs was almost over. Noru had kept a watchful eye on the corpse. He suddenly yelled out, "Uncle, I saw the body move!"
Uncle had completed his work. He threw away the spade and said, "I haven't seen a bigger coward than you Noru. Why do you volunteer in such kind of tasks? Go and fetch the remaining logs while I build the fire. Real fool!"
After a few minutes it was Moni this time who was startled and quickly moved back a few paces. "Uncle, the body has truly moved; I saw it with my own eyes."
Uncle broke into a guffaw. "A bunch of kids, do you think you can scare me? Me, who has cremated over 1000 corpses?"
Noru pointed in the direction of the body and said, "Look, it has moved again!"
"Yes, it has turned into a ghost to gobble you ....." uncle said and was about to make a few more sneering remarks when the corpse, shrouded in cloths and blankets, truly sat up and said in a terrible nasal voice, "No, no ... not Noru; I want to gobble Gopal."
Good heavens! We dropped everything and ran for our dear lives. Gopal uncle had the heap of logs in front of him, so he could not follow us; instead, he ran in the opposite direction and flung himself into the Ganges. Standing in chest-deep cold water he howled, "Aaaah! The ghost is devouring me! Lord Rama, save me!"
Meanwhile, the ghost had cast off the cloth covering its face and began yelling in a human voice, "Whoa, Nirmal! Whoa Moni, whoa Noru! Don't run away fellows; this is me, Lalu. Come back, come back."
The sound of Lalu's voice reached us, and we returned feeling very foolish. Gopal uncle, shivering from cold, climbed back on shore. Lalu knelt down and took the dust off Gopal uncle's feet in reverence and said, "Everyone ran away when it started raining, but I couldn't abandon the body; so, I remained there and pulled the cloth and blanket over me to protect against the rains.
Gopal uncle said, "Very clever boy! I haven't seen a worse scoundrel than you! Now go and wash yourself thoroughly in the waters of the Ganges."
But, deep in his heart, Gopal uncle forgave Lalu. He knew that even he himself who had cremated over one thousand bodies could not have shown such fearlessness. The youngster had thought nothing of remaining with the corpse all alone at such a late hour! He had remained by the body despite knowing it was a cholera death; he had cared nothing for his own health!
Lalu wanted to light the funeral pyre as he had promised Bishtu master, but Gopal uncle would have none of it. The person who lights the funeral pyre has many responsibilities, and Gopal uncle did not want to burden the boy. "His mother will never forgive me if I allow him to light the pyre," he said.
The body was cremated. We bathed in the Ganges, and returned home just as the first rays of dawn made their appearance.