COLUMN: September 1, 2016

A church
A church which may or may not be the one to which I refer below

BY THE time you read this, the sun will be a distant memory, for I am writing on the last day of a baking August, and you will be reading in rain-lashed September, probably batting away falling leaves and trying to put on a jumper as you do so.

But for a short glorious period, the sun – that warm yellow ball they have in the sky in foreign countries – made a guest appearance in Britain, and it seemed a shame to waste it.

So when lunch time came about, instead of eating al desko as usual, I decided to go for a stroll and see if my body could make some of that Vitamin D one reads about in the news.

I fought my way through the crowds who had had more or less the same idea, and played Guess The Tattoo. And eventually I found the solitude I craved in the garden of a church. I sat on a bench, in my dark suit, looking like a spy waiting for a drop-off.

It was a shady spot, because I didn’t want to go too mad with the sun, and I listened to the birdsong over the distant sound of cars, and was grateful for the respites of green we have in our city centres. For a moment I was at peace with the world.

It couldn’t last. I do not believe in karma, “what goes around comes around”, cosmic balance, or whatever you call it. I just know that whenever something good happens to me I will pay for it. That is not religion, it is science, based on the evidence of a 44-year life.

And so, just as I supposed I’d better get back to work, the church emptied. Dozens and dozens of people poured out, following a coffin.

An elderly man who had been sitting on one of the other benches approached me. “Who’s died?” he asked. “The bloke in the coffin,” I replied.

“Are you not with the family?” he said. “No, I’m on my lunch break. I need to get back to work,” I said, as more and more people piled out of the church.

“I doubt I’d get that many people to my funeral,” said the man. “I doubt I even know that many people,” I said.

For there was now a crowd of mourners, maybe 150 of them, packed into a small space outside the church, the small space which was between me and the church garden exit.

And I had to get back to work…

I looked at myself – white shirt, dark suit, could I really get away with this? Yes, I told myself. Merge into the crowd of mourners, make your way through the crowd, and you won’t be late back from lunch, I told myself. Easy peasy.

I put on my sombre face and pushed through the mourners. “’Scuse, sorry, y’all right, so sad,” I said. Obviously I felt bad about it. You only get that sort of crowd at the funeral of a really good person or a really bad one, and this felt like one of the former.

But then I reached an impassable obstacle… the hearse. The coffin was inside and everybody was waiting for it to be driven away.

“Aw, shame, isn’t it?” said a man behind me.

I turned around. “Er, yes,” I guessed, as my stomach dropped to somewhere near my ankles.

“And how did you know him?” the man said, extending his hand.

I shook it. “Ah, well, you know…” I said, my eyes wildly scanning the crowd. A woman standing nearby clutched an order of service. I could see the deceased’s first name. This was a sort of victory. “… everybody knew Tommy.”

The man chuckled. “Ah, they did, all right,” he said, still shaking my hand. Oh, God, I thought, he’s never going to let go. “Great turnout,” I said, pulling my hand away and indicating the crowd.

“Yeah,” said the man, “shame Mary couldn’t be here.” Who was Mary? Estranged sister? Deceased wife? His goldfish? I couldn’t work out if he sounded bitter or regretful. I nodded, non-committal.

“Are you going to the do?” he said. “Oh, well, I…” I began. I really hoped it would not come to that, but everything was heading in that direction.

But the hearse drove off, the man was distracted, and I managed to slip away.

This is why I should never leave the office.

One thought on “COLUMN: September 1, 2016

  1. At the fire station where I was a fireman there was a hapless fire appliance driver who got caught up in a funeral cortege whilst driving said fire appliance. Poor sod was never allowed to forget that day!

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