The last respect

Instead of going to my work place at the usual hour I had shaved an hour to meet some lady who was looking for a script to produce. I had shone up at the place we were supposed to meet and she wasn’t there. I looked around for a phone and she told me she was on her way. As if that that was not enough she trashed my script telling me I should give up scripting because I was not there at all. I went to my work place already tired and I wasn’t prepared for any carpeting from my supervisor. The man chose to give me a lecture on punctuality like I was a high school student. I wasn’t listening but by the time he was done I had a splitting headache. My feet were already in the mud, so sneaking out at lunch hour and never coming back was like the only reasonable thing to do. So I got home a few minutes past three. I was going through my bag for the keys when one of my fellow tenants opened her door. I knew she had some gossiping to do so I pretended not to see her. She however was determined to do the gossiping so she coughed. “Our neighbour has passed away.” She announced. “Who?” No matter how down you are death always calls for extra attention. “That snotty lady next door.” “You mean the mother of those three boys? What are their names anyway?” “Who knows, do they ever talk to anyone?” Apparently minding your own business is almost a capital crime here in the ghetto. You have to be for the people and them for you. “How come there is no one there? I just passed by and I didn’t see a single soul.” “Did she ever greet us? Let her mourn herself. Actually let them mourn each other. People should learn.” I knew with the way she was looking at me, with that challenging glint in her eyes, that the lesson was meant for me too. I have a habit of retreating into my shell now and then. I had found my keys. I tried to insert them but I couldn’t, my hands were shaking. I dropped them twice before finally managing to open the door. The gossip queen had moved over to the sink where another female tenant had just come out to wash her dishes. The people next door were under the microscope. They went through everything about them, their clothes, the way they speak, what they eat and even what you are likely to find in their bin. Finally the judgment was pronounced, people were supposed to teach them a lesson. My mind went back to the woman I had seen on several occasions leaving her house for the day in her car, with her three sons sitting in the back. I remembered how friendly she was when she gave me a ride to town on one rainy day. I remembered how polite the three boys were to me. She had asked about my job and what my hopes were for the future. I had dwelt more on my writing ambitions, finding nothing much to say about my work at the factory where I was a packer. She had then talked about her small office in town where she basically was doing interior decor. She had not been pompous about it but from the way her children were dressed and the schools they went to, you could tell she was comfortable. I remember her image had been stuck in my mind for days. Now she was dead and the neighbours were saying she should mourn herself. Another shiver went down my spine. I couldn’t imagine my funeral turning out to be like that. I mean without all the noises associated with a funeral, song, dance, weeping and gossip, it has to be lonely in the coffin. I found myself going next door. I had to say something, make those lovely boys understand that somebody really understood. The gate was open so I just pushed it and walked in. There were two cars, the dead woman’s Nissan and a massed 626, probably for a relative or a friend. There was nobody outside but the main door was open so I walked in. There were the boys, all still in school but in their teens. There were three ladies probably from her work place because they were still in their business suits. I took everyone’s hand saying how sorry I was. I then proceeded to take a seat. I am not really a funeral person. I can’t sing, dance, weep or even gossip. These are the things that people do at funerals and the whole event just takes care of itself. I wanted to know how she had died and all that but I just didn’t know how to go about it. The people in the room were all quiet like they had talked themselves to a standstill. I was just hoping that someone would strike a conversation when one of the ladies announced that they were leaving. I sat there with the three boys saying nothing but praying that they would understand. Finally the mysterious tenant walked in. He was the one my fellow tenant was referring to when she said, ‘they should mourn each other’. For the first time he didn’t have a pipe in his mouth. He was still in his thirties I guessed but he smoked a pipe. He was one person in the neighbourhood who was a permanent subject of speculation. He had been around for more than a year and he was the deceased’s only tenant. He had a dubious way of shaking off company or just a hello. He never sat outside watching the goings on like most people do. When you see him he is on his way to some place, pipe in the mouth blocking out all conversation. Nobody knew where he worked but he would leave for the day, sometimes spend the day at home and sometimes he would just be gone for days. Rumors made rounds that he was having an affair with his landlady. He was just mysterious and the women speculated until they qualified for the stock market. l To be continued next week

March 2006
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