An Owl’s Petal

Everyone has their hands folded in front of them. Their heads are held down. The ladies have black hats and nets covering their faces. Handkerchiefs hanging loosely in hands. There’s sniffles and coughs punctuating the silent air. The clock. Tall and green looks almost Victorian is almost surreal. Like a huge reminder that our time is numbered. Someone breaks out in a hymn. The sad ones. The rest chime in. Reluctantly. Then I see her. In a black dress with a red flower pinned on her left shoulder. Large hat covering her face. Her palm is resting on her upper lip. A white light blue handkerchief glistens gingerly held between two fingers. It looks like satin. Must feel more comforting than absorbing. But I guess that is the point. Around her are two men. In dark suits and even darker sun glasses. They flank her sides. Lurking. Like they are trying to protect her. From what? I don’t know. Maybe death. It already has taken one them. So they stand beside her. Defiantly. Menacing. Grim faced. Only nodding their heads when a stray mourner approaches. Possibly to pass their condolences. One of them looks at me. Or past me. I swear there is contempt in the look. Like they know. Their eyes questioning my presence.

I want to laugh. Hysterically. Maniacal. I want to take off my clothes and act mad. Dance. Shake peoples’ hands. I want to grit my teeth. Roll on the tarmac. Make a fool of myself in front of these rich people. After all it is death. Intrusive. Disrespectful. Here, among us. It doesn’t call for decorum. With all their money. Luxury cars. Designer clothes. Fancy gadgets. Traveler miles. Polished English. Death still came. Crude. Ugly. Without knocking. It chose the best of them and kissed his lips. Passionately. Taking him with it. Away from those he loved. Yes. He could choose between the Bahamas or the Maldives. Between the CLS 350 and the 535i. Between the light skinned secretary that always showed too much flesh and the conservative intern who never spoke much. Between his sons and mine. Mine who did not know of his existence. As far as they were concerned – he died – long before they were born. Did I say they were twins? With all the options he had death robbed him of the most important. The choice to live. A cold sweat broke when the singing started. The polyester material stuck to my back like a tick on a cows hide. Cows hide. I laughed at the thought. He always called me his cow. Endearingly. As a joke. I would moo in response. We would laugh. Then we’d kiss. Then we would… Pardon me. He is dead.

His coffin emerged. White. Pristine. Gold rails around it. The singing intensified. Maybe they thought it would bring him back. There was a wail. Dramatic. Not me. I looked at her. Her red flower still in place. Her face hidden like a brides behind the hat. Composed. Her flankers still by her side. Unflinching. Eyes hiding behind their sunglasses. Somber. It was an old lady. Her clothes lacked a certain finesse. They were bland. Like tomatoes thrown into hot water. A poor excuse for stew. Someone from the village. They did not really fit in. They did not mourn with decorum. Their wails flooded the serene air. The clock seemed to stop. Maybe to stare. No one went to stop her. She thrashed on the ground. Her arms and legs flailing. People just stared. At her. Wondering about their own grief. Maybe she wondered too. Why no one cried. She looked around hoping someone would come and put their arms under her shoulder and lift her up. Whisper a slow condolence in her ears. Tell her to be strong. Infect her with their decorum. Tell her that death demanded silence or it too would come for her. Before her time. Which, by the look of things, was almost due. But they ignored her. Her cries. The clock moved. In defiance. Her wails subsided into heavy sobs and incoherent whispers. I think I heard why. Indeed why?

I was a shadow here. Nobody knew me. Nobody asked. I lurked in the corners camouflaged by grief. My heart racing every time someone tapped my shoulder. What are you doing here? They’d ask. Stealing his time wasn’t enough when he was alive? You want to steal his last moments too? You have no heart? I’d stand there in shock. Plastered all over my face. Immobilized by fear. Shame. Oozing out of my eyes mixed with my tears. They’d see behind my dress. But then I’d turn and a nice smelling person would mumble a sorry before excusing themselves. Only once did someone stare at me for a tad too long. He held my hand between his and his eyes were searching. Like he know me. For a fleeting moment there was a glint in his eye. One of familiarity. But it too was lost and he walked away briskly. But there was something about his stare. The lingering feel of his smooth palm on my skin. Something about the walk. I knew him. He knew me. But I did not know if he knew I knew him. I’d find him later.

When we last spoke he asked after the twins. He always did. Even though he knew he was dead to them. I look at the irony now and a pain sears through me. Maybe they should’ve known. They wouldn’t forgive me now. Anyway he was dead. Just like I had told them. I’d keep it that way. He had asked if they needed anything. There was something about his voice. An urgency. I said they didn’t and I could feel the disappointment in his voice. Like he wanted to hear they needed him. But they did not. He asked if I needed anything. I wanted to say his time. His arms around me. The smell of his aftershave on my neck, breasts and navel. I had a weird longing. To be with him. But I said I needed nothing. It might have stung. Because he said okay. Called me his cow before hanging up. I never heard from him again. Until I saw the papers. His soulful eyes staring back in a colored picture. His full beard. His bald head. His uneven smile. Right under a death announcement. I froze. Let the paper fall. Let my jaw fall. Let my heart fall. Then I picked it up. All of them. Except for my heart.

The procession begun moving. I followed. The unfamiliar familiar man walked up to my side. Matching my slow gentle strides. His head bowed down. He reached out and grabbed my hand. Small in his. I know you. He said. I nodded. Who are you? I asked. He loved cows. He said. My hand stiffened. Who are you? I asked again. Apprehensive. Voice croaked in silent grieving. The butcher. He said smiling. Then I saw them stare at me. They knew. The red flower unflinching. The dark glasses showing no remorse. The clock too stared. Sorry maybe that my time too had come. I hoped the lady would scream at mine too. Even though I did not know her.

The silhouette of a young woman
The silhouette of a young woman

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