29. Interior in Korkidèh
We are in the well-appointed bedchamber of an upper-class Sensukan home. The residence is located in the Korkidèh district, as is evident from the yellow-and-green tiled “seashell dome” of the Rimo temple visible through the door opening in the right foreground. As is typical of the homes of all Sensukans, rich or poor, the interior is sparsely furnished. The room contains only a wooden chest, some sitting cushions, a small table, and a bed/couch known as a bromatino. The distinguishing feature and decorative focus of wealthy Sensukan homes is always their wallpaper. This can call attention to itself by the richness of its materials—such as silk or satin and gold and silver accents—or by the quality of its designs. The latter are entrusted to the city’s most respected artists and range from bold abstract patterns to elaborate genre scenes and landscapes. The wallpaper in this bedchamber features a stylized depiction of a coral reef.
The elderly woman sitting upright in a corner of the bromatino is wearing an embroidered morning gown known as a saùna. She is reading a letter, the violet paper of which indicates it to be a taratiga (“loon song,” in an allusion to the loon’s habit of calling out at sunset). The tradition of taratiga is thought to have begun with the empress Aritokèh. In the last few weeks before she died, the elderly monarch wrote out letters to a number of people to thank them for the assistance they had given her at different times throughout her long reign. This practice of sending out deathbed letters to those whom one had lost touch with, but whom one nevertheless wished to communicate with one last time, was then taken up by other members of the imperial court. Soon it had spread to women and men of the upper classes in general. As Aritokèh had written her final missives on violet paper (violet having been her imperial colour—See View n. 9), this became the standard practice for all subsequent taratiga.
Naturally enough, those whom one had lost touch with but nevertheless wished to communicate with one last time were, more often than not, one’s former lovers. Indeed, within a generation of Aritokèh’s death, taratiga had come to be associated exclusively with the communication of romantic—or at least, romance-related—feelings. They were typically addressed to a person whom one had not seen in many years, but whose memory one had kept alive within one always, tucked away in some secret compartment of the heart. Gradually the practice of taratiga writing was extended to include reaching out to those whom one had always carried a torch for, but to whom, for some reason or another one had never said anything—perhaps because one had been too shy or had always known that the feeling would go unrequited, or because it was the husband of a best friend. One had never said anything, and long ago, it had become too late. Somehow, though, it had not seemed right to leave this universe without leaving any trace of these great feelings in the heart and memory of the one who had unwittingly occasioned them. One had therefore summoned up all of one’s last energy to set them down in writing, salvaging them from the wreckage of one’s collapsing bodily existence. (It should be said, however, that it is also quite common for the drafts of such missives to be written far in advance, rather like a will. They are then merely gone over a final time and sent off at the moment when one knows for certain that the end is near.)
In many cases, the delivered taratiga arrive as something of a shock. Addressees may be quite surprised to receive such a heartfelt message from the deathbed of someone they had once upon a time had a casual affair with, and whom they had assumed had forgotten them long ago, or a former acquaintance whom they can barely remember interacting with, or possibly even from someone whom they never even realized existed. Whole previously unsuspected vistas of what might have been—of all that might have been different—may now open up before these startled readers. This can be quite a distressing experience. More frequently, however, the recipients of taratiga will simply be overcome by a vague, generalized melancholy.
But it also sometimes happens that, after having always held for certain that one would receive a final farewell message from a certain someone, one is disappointed in that expectation. It is not unheard of for the news of a person’s demise—at least if it is a foreseen one, after a long illness—to be met with a certain measure of indignation: “Passed away! What?! And she never even thought to write?”