On the last night, knowing every night was a last night, the musician played. No one knew he existed. He came, someone said, with the last wave. There had been over three hundred, and what each carried was ignored; some felt there were too many and argued for turning them away. Others said the end was upon everyone, three hundred more would make no difference. Sure enough, they were the last group and the old and young continued to die in the night, and on that last night, of all the last nights, the musician played.
It had been a while, he said, as he tuned the guitar. The mothers whose children were gone took the toddlers and babies, whose mothers were dead, into their laps. It didn’t matter by then. The older children sat at the front, the meagre firelight splashing their faces. The adults and the elderly sat or lay on the dead grass. Some wept. When the musician could play no more, a woman sang a song and then another and then one more. Three men stood and beat a rhythm on their thighs. Two boys danced along with the beat then sank into the clinch of wide-eyed children.
The musician played a final tune. The people clapped, some stood and some smiled. Most staggered back to their huts or blankets, others slept at the listening place, peace settling them on that last night.
In the morning the early risers dragged the dead to the pit, some were from the listening place, where music had dulled the suffering. One of the dead was the woman who sang. Others were hauled from their huts. The musician, mercifully, slept on, the guitar gathered in his arms.
When the last dead of the morning had been rolled into the pit, the last words and the keening done, the food and blankets were redistributed. A child, only ten, who had danced to the thrum of hand on thigh that last night, began to weep. A woman bent to him in comfort. ‘Who,’ said the boy, ‘will dance with me at the listening place, who will drag me to the pit if you go before me? Who will say the last words for me?’