You don’t get paid much for anything, anymore.
You’d think my job would be appreciated; who willingly spends eight hours a day with the dead? But, apparently, picking up the odd piece of trash drifting around Jinnah Super is a nobler quest. I’m not one to hold grudges but sometimes those CDA people with fancy coats and big plans really get on my nerves.
So anyway, despite being thoroughly underappreciated, I do my work perfectly – no excuses, no delays. Every day, I see which flowers had turned too brown and what trash the pitiful, so-called ‘daring’ teenagers had left behind last night. Then I dig out the graves booked for that day. My duties usually end around noon so I spend the rest of my time lounging on the plastic chair near the gate. Every now and then, a family enters, sobbing heartedly as the lifeless body of their beloved is carried to one of the newly dug holes in the ground.
I may sound heartless but once you get to be around death so much, the idea of it hardly evokes any emotions. So I watch these people come in, claiming to always remember what a great person so and so was and then, after a few weeks, they stop visiting unless it’s wholly convenient. The tears grow less and the idea of an obligation grows more visible.
I’m not judging, just so you know. My own ma passed away three years ago and my wife died just last December, a month ago. Her’s was a cold funeral, was my wife’s. It wasn’t snowing but I like to imagine that it could have been. There was sleet, though, and breath turned to fog every time someone sighed. They buried her two empty grave plots away from my ma. (“Not too close,” I had said. “They weren’t very fond of each other”).
Everybody said my wife looked beautiful but I had seen far too many corpses and knew that she was probably one of the ugliest. What can I say; death just doesn’t look good on some people. Later, her sister said that there had been a light illuminating my wife’s face and her mother had nodded, saying it was the mark of a pious person but my wife wasn’t pious. If anything, she was a lying, treacherous… ah, but she’s dead now and we do not abuse the dead.
My ma had been wrapped in white, a color that doesn’t really look good on fat women but that wasn’t the point. Ma was a strong woman with firmly set morals that refused to budge. Sometimes it would annoy me, even. She would ask questions about my friends and the money I spent on our game nights together. It wasn’t really even a proper gamble but Ma prayed everyday and attended the Quran class some woman down the street held. It’s too bad she couldn’t have prayed to be saved from that faulty missing step on her way down to the police station. She could barely walk as it was and she fell, her neck snapped and I jumped away from behind her, running to call the ambulance. I cried desperately when they covered her in dirt but there was a part of me that was relieved.
The benefit of working at a graveyard is the free grave plots. I already know where they’ll bury me – right between my wife and ma. But I’m not ready to die, as yet. Besides, there’s another plot free and it’s only a matter of time before they bring in that man and I’ll guide them slowly, innocently, to his new home. The temporary marking sign, the current substitute for a gravestone, is ready and his name clings to the paper in red paint – red; scandalous, bloody and bright, like a warning. A warning I should’ve seen long ago when I first introduced this sleazy school friend of mine to my charming, lying wife. A warning I should’ve seen when he would be sitting in the living room before I got home, claiming he had been waiting for me. A warning I should’ve seen when my wife first stopped my hand mid-air and announced that she didn’t deserve to abused like this. A warning I should’ve seen when she bought that new phone and kept a lock on it.
The funeral procession enters and he is carried over. I stand and lead his family towards the plot next to my wife’s; there is a strange beauty in doing this and I pretend my tears of mirth are tears of pain. His sister tells me how greatly he thought of me, how glad she is he had a friend like me. I shake my head because it’s all a rubbish lie but she seems to think her words are overwhelming and bursts into yet another fit of scratchy, hoarse sobs – a sound I imagine would come from a horse if it hiccupped. His mother says burying him next to my family is the noblest act I could ever have performed. She says he would have been so pleased to be buried next to me in the future. I pity her because she really thinks her son was a good man. I kiss her hand and wish her well.
After the prayers are said and the tears are wiped and the relieved guests are led back home where they will have free food, I wipe away the tears I tried so hard to force into streams. Then I walk into the main office where the lazy, fat man behind the counter will listen to my sad story of too many overwhelming relations and reluctantly (because it will involve him standing and walking to the small shelf of files) agree to change the location of my grave plot.
A short story I wrote during a creative writing workshop, with focus on show-not-tell elements, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions.