A friend in n(d)eed

And then my friend began to wail. That spooked me. I grabbed the phone and with shaking fingers I dialed the emergency number. The wailing wailer was now at full throttle and I had to struggle to explain our sorry situation to the poor operator who answered the phone.

The ambulance came the old man was ferried to the mortuary.

Then the relatives, neighbors and friends started pouring in. Others came from as far as other cities and towns while came from as near as next door.

As the day wore on, it became evening and evening became night. Those who had traveled long distances became weary, and those who had cried and screamed the most had dry throats. I had featured from the very beginning of this drama. I was almost wrecked. My friend noticed it, and grabbed and cornered me by the side of the house. “Maybe you should drink something, remember you had come here for a drink?

I tried to wave off the ‘bad’ suggestion by asking how anyone could be thinking of drinking after what had happened. My friend would have none of it. “Come on, that is what we had planned to spend the whole day doing anyway. Drink, I’ll get you some whiskey . . . in fact, you saw my aunt, the on e who arrived driving that big car? I’ll talk to her, she has some whiskey in her car” With that I was left staring at the wall as my friend made a dash for the very talkative aunt who seemed to be enjoying ‘quality time’ at the fire where only the men sat. Moments later the aunt ‘ of course led by my ever-pedantic friend ‘ came charging towards me. “Come here you poor soul . . . oh it must have been an experience for you having to deal with a dead stranger”. Her last two words hit me like a bag of cement. I had not at any moment thought of my best friend’s father as a stranger. Until then. Yes he was, in fact had been and would always be, a stranger to me. Only now he would be a dead stranger.

“Ii have plenty of whiskey in my car . . . come, come.” I was led to the imposing metallic piece of a fine car parked oddly in between other not-so-fine-pieces of wrecks trying to pass for cars. I felt embarrassed for the owners of these ‘jalopies’.

“Here,” she opened one bottle and directed it towards my mouth. Before I knew what was happening I was gulping from a stinging taste of some liquor that nearly burnt my throat. I coughed until thought I was going to die. “Now, now, come on you don’t want us to start yet another funeral, do you?” I couldn’t even shake my head to assure her that I was fine. She already had another idea. Maybe you prefer brandy. I know your type. What type I thought to myself. I was already getting dizzy. I guess it was the effects of having laid off the bottle for close to a year now ‘ being ‘the type’ that drinks only when I absolutely have to ‘ and I have ‘absolutely’ told myself that I don’t want to drink, because as a creative person, it affects my faculties.

Three bottles of a nameless brand of brandy were lumped onto unsuspecting hands very fast. How alcohol was so readily available in this ‘big mama’s’ car was astonishing, I breathed with much effort to myself. I just resigned to thinking that it must be the lifestyle of the rich and the famous ‘drinking themselves shameless until they are nameless’. I limped off to sit with the men by fire. I needed the warmth to cure me of my sudden cough. The night was still young and the chill was in the air.

What then followed still occurs to my memory like a film. I think the men by the fire, who were sharing something like ten liters of opaque beer – which I must think was not getting their heads rolling – decided to experiment with my drink. They told me drinking brandy was bad for ones health, especially the liver, since it burns it away. Well, since I was trying to avoid drinking, I readily agreed with them and decided that we should ‘dilute’ the brandy with the opaque beer.

“Good, good idea,” the men beamed at me. The cup was poured and passed over. It went around, and around and around until I started feeling my own head spinning around, and around and around. I saw the fat lady sitting directly opposite me, her chubby face beaming against the glow of the fire. I thought her eyes were red and vampire-like . . . must have been the effect of all that crying, because each a newly arrived relative walked through the gate, she would throw her heavy self at the poor fellow or lady and scram so loud with her mouth wide open I could see right up her mouth.

At this point she was talking . . . or rather shouting. Her squeaky high-pitched voice only made my head spin more. All I could hear was “Shriek, shriek, shriek. Screech, screech, screech.” She was saying something nice about me though it was only bouncing off my eardrums so painfully I thought they would burst. “Shriek, shriek, shriek. It’s very comforting to know that in this day and age you can still have such nice friends who can stand by you in your most trying times. Screech, screech, screech.”

I would have appreciated this speech had it come form my friend. “Shriek, shriek, shriek. How many of us here, today by this fire can boast of having a friend who can come and be with you during your widowed father’s last breath? Screech, screech, screech.” She went on and on and on. I was convinced at that point more than at any other, that indeed ‘the show is not over until the fat lady sings’. After enough pounding, my brain took a break. I passed out.

I don t remember anything else that followed. All I know is what I heard ‘ that I began crying like a madman, cursing death for ‘robbing us of our hero, a man who stood for life itself’. They say I even I described the way he died ‘in my arms’ with his tongue falling out, and his eyes rolling. They say I outdid the ‘fat lady’ at her own talking g game.

I remember when I came to; I was lying on my back facing skywards. I opened my eyes and saw the clear blue sky above me. It was peaceful. I thought ‘Heaven!’ Then I began to feel so hot it was like I was lying in a frying pan on fire. I checked my surroundings, and then realized I was in the back of lorry.

When I ignored the throbbing in the back of my head and half-got-up, balancing on my elbows, I realized where ‘the hell’ I was; A GRAVEYARD! All the faces I remembered from the funeral, back at the house, were there. Some were busy with shovels, filling up the grave with ‘dust to dust’.

Others wee still wailing and you can guess who was almost collapsing and falling into the grave-giving the strong men around a hard job of saving her from herself. For a while I stared, and wondered how I had even managed to be in this lorry. I looked around; there were a few other cars. The big shiny metallic one was brightly sticking out.

Soon enough, it was time to go, and the mourners were making their way back to the lorry. To save my face, I dived back down and laid my head down calmly and snored ‘ which I was convinced I must have been doing during my sleep ‘ and ‘dozed’ the way back.

When we got home, I cleverly checked my coast, and when it was clear I slipped out of the lorry and dashed home. I banged my door behind me and dived onto the bed. At least I had gotten out of it unchecked and un-humiliated . . . or I thought.

Bang! Bang!

Before I could answer, my friend came in. I had been followed. I immediately wished the blankets could swallow me . . . or if I could turn into the bed sheets. ‘Are you ok? I came to thank you.’ I popped my head from under the safe cover blankets.

“You have been a friend in need, and my friend indeed. I don’t know what I could have done without you. Not only did you help see to it that my father was safely in the mortuary, you also entertain ed the mourners all night and lessened the burden. I don t know if I could do the same.”

My friend sat by my bed . . . eyes getting wet.

‘Please be my friend forever . . .’ We both cried in the comfort of our arms.

July 2006
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