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Human Face

The case of the cremated bags of rice

Fiction inspired by recent happenings:

For the first time in the three years that he has been employed in Blessings Crematorium and Funeral Parlor, Abelardo Bono was tasked to perform two cremations and only by himself. He had been a utilities person until he trained for cremation tasks.

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Lardo has been present in precremation rites, one of which he considered special. That of a young woman with a crown of flowers, her body adorned with sampaguita garlands, her family softly weeping, how her mortal remains were then consigned to the furnace that would turn her into dust.

Lardo was never to open the two body bags waiting in the cremation room because, his supervisor said, they contained the remains of prison inmates who died of the deadly virus that was killing thousands.

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Lardo adjusted his face mask, put on disposable gloves, and studied the two body bags on two gurneys. Who were these convicts, what crimes did they commit? Who will take home their cremains? Cremains, an English word he learned while in training.

Lardo glanced at the two plastic containers for the cremains. They had names on them. He was told not to gather the cremains as someone else was going to do it in the morning. Just crank up the heat, leave, and disinfect yourself. It was almost seven o’clock at night, an hour before the end of his shift.

He felt resentment rising. Why was he left alone with two virus-laden corpses? He consoled himself that there was no CCTV camera in the room to record how he would do the process. Cameras were brought in only if families wanted the final viewing recorded.

Lardo ran his hands on the bags to feel the cadavers inside. He did not feel the stiffness of a corpse but he could see the bulge of the legs and heads.

Defying instructions, Lardo unzipped the body bag from the top. He saw a shape of a head but there was packing tape tightly wound around it. He unzipped the bag down to the waist area. Puzzled, he pulled out a box slicer from his apron and ran his thumb on its sharp edge. He thrust the slicer into the chest portion and pulled it to the side ripping the packing tape and the bubble wrap and finally getting to the inside. More ripping and tearing and the corpse that he was told it was was finally revealed.

Out came grains of rice. Though shocked and frightened, Lardo was relieved that it was no infectious corpse after all. He moved in a frenzy, slicing open more bags of rice packed together to look like a human torso.

With his cell phone camera, Lardo took photos from all angles. Also of the second body bag that contained the same. He also took a selfie with the open bags and the containers that bore the names of the dead.

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The bags zipped close, Lardo shoved the first one into the furnace, shut it, set the temperature, and pushed the button that would cremate the bag. He wheeled the other bag to the next room for the same process. He wondered: What would the cremains of rice grains be like? He smiled.

Lardo dumped his apron, mask, and gloves into a safety bin and proceeded to the men’s room. He took out his cell phone, sent the photos to himself via Messenger, and forwarded them to Father Rey Roberto, the priest who got him into his present job. His terse message: “Will call you tomorrow, Derps.” He also deleted the photos from his phone’s Gallery.

Lardo hurried to the lobby to check out and said goodbye to the night receptionist. Then he was off on his scooter. He felt something surge inside him that he could not explain.

When he got home, Lardo found Lina, his wife of three months, preparing food. He headed straight to a drawer and took out his spare cell phone. While waiting for late dinner, Lardo saved the photos that he sent to himself via Messenger in the spare phone’s Gallery. He then deleted the photos from Messenger by clicking “Remove for you,” that is, for himself only. The photos were now only in the spare phone’s memory and with “Derps.”

At dawn, while Lina was still asleep, Lardo viewed the photos on his spare phone. He removed its battery and SIM card and wrapped the phone in plastic. He then buried it at the bottom of a planter with spring onions growing in it.

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TAGS: cremated bags of rice, fiction, Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
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