Yesterday Dot mentioned the funeral, asked me if I wanted to come. He hadn't known Mikey well, but he had talked to him on several occasions and he'd been kind of fond of him. "I don't think there will be a lot of people there". Dot said. Mikey had been found some weeks ago on a sofa, dead by overdose. It was his friend that found him, the friend who had let him stay at his house. That's how we found out about the death, when Jim bumped into Karim outside our house shakily volunteering the story, declining invitations to have tea inside, hurrying on to get to the shops.
We had tried to get hold of Jim to find out when the funeral would be. But it was difficult because Jim didn't have a phone and he wasn't answering questions on Skype. In the end we called the cemetery and found out that way.
I dug trough my clothes while Dot went to his therapy, trying to find something that looked serious enough for a funeral, struggling. I'd just managed to fight my feet into my formal shoes when Dot came back, and off we went, me, Dot and Karim.
|picture by oxford city council|
We thought we had made good time, but when we pulled up at the cemetery and asked the funeral director about it, we were told it was already over. Stunned I checked my watch, according to my time we were three minutes early. Apparently the council worker who had overseen the arrangements had been certain nobody would show up and told them to get on with it. Not even Jim had come.
"Can you at least show us where the grave is?" I asked. The funeral director nodded sympathetically and lead us down the path.
When we reached the grave he lingered for a moment as we stood there looking at the mound of earth, the hole in the ground, the coffin down there. "Can I take your names?" He asked. "If somebody calls, it might be nice if I could tell them that who came."
He left us there afterwards. Dot took some dirt and threw down onto the coffin. "Are we sure this is the right funeral?" Karim shrugged. They tried to make out what it said on the plate, but somebody had thrown some sand on it and we couldn't make out the words. Karim got down on his knees, lent one hand on the edge of the hole and leaned down, brushing the sand off with a gentle hand. "Was that really his last name?" Dot asked. None of them were totally sure, but it sounded right enough.
We stood there, somewhat awkwardly. I looked at the tree under which the grave lay and recognised its species. "You know guys, this is a Deodar Cedar tree. Monks would be told to go meditate underneath it in the morning, it was said to alleviate asthma and respiratory problems. That's not a bad place to be put to rest." They nodded in agreement.
Karim retrieved something from his pocket, a big coin with a square hole in the middle. He turned it over in his hands a bit before he threw it down. The coin bounced off the coffin and landed on the side of it in the dirt. He looked at it with disapproval. "Least it wont get nicked." I half joked in a comforting tone, but Karim didn't take note of it. He scanned the cemetery carefully and looked down at the coin with determination in his eyes. Down he climbed with agility and care, making sure not to touch the coffin with his shoes. He bent down for the coin and placed it above the plate. Then he half jumped and twisted and lifted his body to get out of there without doing any damage.
Dot was digging through his pockets. "Does anybody have any pennies?" He asked. I checked my own pockets, but I hadn't transferred all my usual junk to my funeral trousers so the search was one of futility. Dot went back to the car to look there.
By the time he came back Karim had had the idea to make Mikey a last rollie for the road. He knelt down to roll it while Dot dropped the two pennies, with more luck than the first coin had had. "For the ferryman." Karim got up by his side and threw the rollie down too. "It's traditional isn't it."
"I must have met him." I said. I had been trying so hard to remember anything about him. According to Dot, Mikey had come by the front of the house several times. "I must have met him, but I just didn't notice him, he didn't register with me. And now it's too late, now I'll never meet him, I'll never get to remember him the way he acted or talked."
We kept standing there, in the light drizzle. I could see the grave diggers further down the path waiting for us to leave, but we remained. Karim had gone to sit on the other side of the tree. I put my hand around Dot, we looked at each other for a while and kissed softly.
Karim came back. We tried to think of songs to sing, but we could only remember broken fragments, some lines of others and melodies. The grave diggers had brought the digger around the top of the cemetery, possibly in an attempt to que our departure. I wasn't too concerned with their impatience, but I had run out of reasons to stick around. I looked down at the coffin one last time.
"Nice to meet you, anyway."