the short story project


This is a Funeral, But the Deceased Might be Amongst the Living

The clock strikes ten in the morning. The hands of time sit precisely and carefully where they ought to be. It will not be long, of course, before we will move on in a fateful manner, to the next minute which will turn into many other minutes and before we know it, even this very hour will be behind us. Even at this very moment, as we write this sentence, the hands of time rhythmically and steadily—if we are to assume that there is nothing wrong with the mechanics—march forward. The children of today, and all those who are fond of digital watches, may not fully grasp the quintessential notion of what we are getting on about, for all they see are numbers on a screen. Indeed they miss all the clicking, the ticking, and the artistry that is magnificently packed into this mechanical device by individuals possessing years of craftsmanship. 

The funeral service starts. It would appear that we were getting carried away as we revelled in our admiration of the workings of time and watches, that we were almost forgetting where we are in this story. At exactly two o’clock this afternoon, not a minute before and not a minute after, the Chief of the village will interrupt the flow of the funeral proceedings and will instruct that the deceased be taken to the cemetery. “If you all check your watches, you will realise that the clock has just struck two” he will say, “And it is time that we take him away.” The funeral programme director, who is also the eldest son of the deceased will look at his watch and then at the copy of the programme in his hand, and then “But we have two more speeches,” “They will have to wait,” “No they cannot wait, there will be no other funeral,” “Time does not allow us,” “But my watch shows, here, you can come and take a look, that we have two more minutes before the hour, two,” “I cannot come to you, you come to me, I am chief of the village.” In five, perhaps six or seven—we are not necessarily keeping count—deliberate, and almost calculated steps, The Funeral Programme Director, who is also the eldest son of the deceased, will stride over to where the Chief of the village is seated. “There is something wrong with the mechanics,” the Chief will point out. “No there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it,” “Did you have to put in fresh batteries at some point?” “Yes,” “Ah, there is your answer,” “What do you mean?” “In the moment that you were changing batteries, your watch was delayed and mine was still running, as with the rest of the watches here.” The Funeral Programme Director, who is also the eldest son of the deceased will sluggishly return to his position—of programme director—on the right hand side of the coffin. On the way back, which will feel longer than normal, amid all the silence, we will observe, on his face, lacerations and markings of defeat from the Chief’s authoritative paws. The Funeral Programme Director, who is also the eldest son of the deceased will make one final attempt, to lure the Chief into submission, he will plead that the two speeches remaining would be made by cousins of the deceased who had travelled far, the Chief will retort, laconically, and in the final straw, “Not only time, but the laws of our village do not allow us to go any further. Ah, seeing that we have been going back and forth for a while, it is now ten minutes after the hour, two. I am chief of the village and I say we shall not discuss this any further.” 
Now that we have indulged immensely in our prophetic endeavours, with the previous paragraph bearing all evidence, it is only fair that we return to the present moment. Forty five minutes have elapsed since we left. It is important, therefore, to remind ourselves that the time is now quarter to eleven. 
In front of the house, in the family yard, is a small white tent, bearing boldly on its façade, the name of the funeral home, “Of Days and Years Funeral Home.” The tent is open on all four sides, for if it was not, we would not be able to fit the coffin, the wife of the deceased, sons and daughters of the deceased, immediate relatives, distant relatives, close friends, distant friends,—who are only showing up now when the man’s heart has ceased beating—acquaintances, colleagues, the Chief of the village, villagers, and all others who have not earned any worth that could wheedle us into mentioning them. It may no longer be of absolute necessity for us to describe the order in which everyone is seated at this funeral, for we have already done so in the previous sentence, but we will make a few adjustments though. First, present directly beneath the tent is the coffin, the wife of the deceased, sons and daughters of the deceased, the Chief of the village and immediate family members. Second, The Funeral Programme Director, who is also the eldest son of the deceased is seated on the right hand side of the coffin and the Chief of the village on the left hand side, everything else is exactly as we have mentioned before. 
It is at this precise moment, about five minutes before the hour eleven, that we realise that we have omitted one significant detail, what a treacherous oversight! But calling it “treacherous” might be too dramatic though, so we will just resolve to calling it a mere blunder. We will, however, grant ourselves a pardon seeing that we are enthralled by the turn of events at this honourable send-off. The detail we failed to include is that we have not made mention of the representative from Of Days and Years Funeral Home. A black suit perched on his broad shoulders, he stands aloof, observing. He will report to his boss, the Director of Of Days and Years Funeral Home at three o’clock this afternoon. He will, however, get there five minutes later. “You were supposed to walk in at three o’clock,” the Director will say. “Forgive me sir, I got delayed at the reception, the receptionist had misplaced the log book,” “How did it go?” “She finally found it sir,” “I meant the funeral,” “Oh, it went really well sir…” “Perfect!” “…except for a row,” “A row?” “Yes sir, a row,” “What row?” “The Chief of the village preferred that the cortège start out at exactly two o’clock, not a minute before and not a minute after, but The Funeral Programme Director, who is also the eldest son of the deceased wanted to have two more speakers, cousins of the deceased,” “Well, seeing that it had nothing to do with the role and services provided by Of Days and Years Funeral Home, there’s no cause for concern,” “I suppose you’re right sir,” “Are people liking our services?” “I have not heard anyone saying anything in explicit terms, sir, but I have also not heard any complaints,” “Was the tent erected in time?” “Not quite sir, for some unknown reason, we were missing two stakes, but ten minutes later, the tent was standing firm” “We cannot afford such mistakes.” The conversation will end there. 
Back at the funeral, at half past twelve, the priest of The Orthodox Church of the Millennium, where the deceased had been a devout member, is spitting metaphors, he stands in front of the coffin, facing the tent. His voice, thunderous, cuts like a knife, the words coming forth, effortlessly dismantle our cuirass, crashes through our hearts in various bifurcations and into our souls. The Priest speaks of neither life nor death, at least not in plain terms, as most, if not all of his counterparts would have done in a gathering such as this. “You who say, we’ll continue into such a city, live there for a year or two, buy and sell, and get some good gains, how do you even know what tomorrow will bring? Do you not know that we are just like vapour?” The Priest speaks as though these are his own words, his own proverbs, his own litanies, his own construction of the sentences, like he sat in front of the hearth in his modest house—that his house is modest, is mere speculation on our part for we do not know—took out a pencil and paper, scribbled the noble sentences and thought “Ah, I will speak this about the deceased tomorrow.” But we know that he has taken these words from the Holy Book. Perhaps he had gone through the exact same process of sitting in front of the hearth for an hour, two, three, or four, turning page after page of the thick volume of the Holy Book containing centuries’ worth of texts, carefully picking verses that would best suit the occasion. Perhaps he then utilised a method of elimination or that of the ballpark. In an alternative scenario, also seeing that he seems well vested in the material, perhaps he knew precisely which verse to pick from the very onset, which, if that be the case, and in direct recantation of what we said about him sitting for an hour, two, three or four, he took much less time to prepare his talk, perhaps only twenty five minutes—ten for reading the verse a few times, and fifteen for a rehearsal that would include, projection, intonation, emphasis and a perfect cadence. Even though The Priest of The Orthodox Church of the Millennium took the text right out of the Holy Book and is presenting it to us and everyone gathered at the funeral as though it had come from his own mind, we have to commend him for paraphrasing it. For if he had presented the passage verbatim, it would have felt mundane and archaic, which would have easily lulled us to sleep. 
The Priest of The Orthodox Church of the Millennium is abruptly halted in the tracks of his heightened invocations twenty minutes into his talk—by the unceremonious arrival of The Second son of the deceased. With him is his wife and five children, three boys and two girls. The children, judging from their height, size and build, could easily be just a year or less, apart. All those present at the funeral, the wife of the deceased, other sons and daughters of the deceased, immediate relatives, distant relatives, close friends, distant friends, acquaintances, colleagues, the Chief of the village, villagers, the representative from Of Days and Years Funeral Home and all those—as we said previously—that we have decided not to mention, in perfect harmony, raise their hands to look at their watches. It is as though, if this funeral was like the orchestra, all those present had been paying undivided attention to the most accurate of metronomes and then all in one accord, came in at the precise moment. 
After this truly captivating moment that we have just witnessed, that we will surely continue to be in awe of even in days to come, The Priest of The Orthodox Church of the Millennium goes back to his sermons to make use of his remaining five minutes. The Second son of the deceased and his family, in plain embarrassment, take their reserved seats under the tent. The Funeral Programme Director, who is also the eldest son of the deceased quietly walks over to his brother, “We made arrangements together, the service started at exactly ten o’clock in the morning,” he whispers to The Second Son of the deceased. We would like to make known, of course not condoning the lateness of The Second Son of the deceased, our complete and utter aversion to this lie. The funeral did not start at exactly ten o’clock as initially planned, in fact, when the clock struck ten, an extraordinary event happened, one that will be recorded in the annals of this village, certainly in those of this country as well, for posterity. When the coffin was being taken out of the house, for an unknown reason, as if it had suddenly grown bigger, it would not fit through the portal. Some suggested it be flipped sideways, upright, diagonally, this corner first, no that other corner first, perhaps it’s the handles, no its all physics, the doorway shrunk in the night because of the cold, no that cannot be right, we are in the summer. At quarter to eleven, the representative from Of Days and Years Funeral Home had brought a sledgehammer from the hearse and therefore an opening was made in the doorway. 
“Forgive me brother, my wife and I had lost track of time,” “Why’s that?” “First, the battery of the family clock died in the night,” “What about your watch?” “I have no watch” “You have no watch?” “Yes that’s what I just said,” “I know that’s what you just said, I’m only repeating it as a way of emphasis. You could’ve come at the first sign of sunrise,” “That would’ve been too early,” “That would’ve been a way of making sure,” “Ah, I see, but it wouldn’t have been possible either,” “Why’s that?” “Well, you see, I have a big family, first, the children had to take a bath, starting with the eldest, the second, the third…” “You don’t have to count them all,” “…then me and lastly my wife. My wife took longer than the rest of us combined,” “You could’ve saved a lot of time in a different way, had you put such means into use,” “How?” “You could’ve had all the boys take a bath at the same time, and then do the same with the girls,” “Ah, I suppose you’re right,” “I know I’m right,” “It didn’t occur to me.” Their dialogue will not continue beyond this point, for upon checking his watch, The Funeral Program Director who is also the eldest son of the deceased realises that The Priest of The Orthodox Church of the Millennium is now eating into the time allocated for the speaker after him, about three minutes into it. Needless for us to say, he will exercise the power vested in him as funeral program director to cut the priest off right away. 
The speakers have said this and that about the deceased. He could have be kind, he was strict, he punished those who procrastinated, as a boss, workers would get up in the wee hours of the morning to please him. 
The clock strikes two in the afternoon. Suddenly, as if he had been closely observing, listening to the clicking, the ticking, marvelling at the artistry of the gearing and the craftsmanship of the make of his watch, strapped in black leather to his wrist, the Chief of the village bellows, “If you all check your watches, you will realise that the clock has just struck two and it is time that we take him away.”  

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