Thursday, January 14, 2010

That Day

I opened my curtain this morning and peeped out, expecting to see a white river spreading across the streets and rooftops of Hove. But the road below me was grey, dry and hard, as though no snow had fallen at all over Sussex these last weeks.
     Yet yesterday as we spilled out onto a London pavement, clutching flowers, coconuts; two packets of butter, handbags and a brightly painted Ganesh statue, the heels of my brown 1940s shoes sank straight into slush and ice. Snow smothered pavements and cars; I stumbled towards a taxi.
     We were running slightly late. In fact all the guests were running slightly late, except for the Hindu priest, who was running rather late. My friend S, coming from Brighton, stood on a platform at East Croydon staring at Cancellation signs on the departure board, and the snow was still drifting down. South East London was muffled by white. I suspected that the five of us squeezed into the cab might be the only ones making it to the crematorium that morning. My sister, her calm expression suddenly cracking, said, "I'll do the bloody service myself."
     There aren't many days in your life where you say have to goodbye to someone you love, and won’t ever see again. Tears mess up your eyeliner; hands shake, voices wobble. Ordinary life seems like a silly childish sketch: bus journeys to work, petty arguments; that TV programme you can’t bear to miss. However, such days seem to have increasingly crept up on my family and I over the last few years, to the point where they feel more normal and real than anything else a lot of the time. Jobs, money, relationships, aspirations: these are the things you do between heartbreaks, and not vice versa.
     In Hinduism, yesterday was an auspicious day, one where sins are cleansed, and night and day are of equal duration. Anyone sent to the other world on this day is especially blessed. After we’d arrived at the Crematorium, I couldn't help feeling, as I watched snow hanging off oak branches in clumps, weighing heavy on rose petals in the garden, that we might be the only people left in the world, the rest of it muted to silence, whited-out by puffy snow-clouds.
     Soon taxis pulled in; legs stretched out onto pavements. The driveway filled up. Everyone had made it.
     I can write about before the funeral and I can write about after, but not about what happened in between. These things are too personal. All I can say is that I think it was what he'd have wanted, absolutely. And I was proud to be there.
     I ate twelve ciabatta sandwiches yesterday, including three I grilled for my dinner at my flat later that night, after it was all over. I'd left my sisters, friends - people I've loved long before I really knew what love meant - hanging over the balcony of a London block of flats, waving the paw of a dog at me. Then I trudged again through thick snow into darkness, the wet gloom of a tunnel finally gobbling me up. I sat on the train eating Reese's Cups and crying quietly, the day, the last month, finally catching up with me. Beauty, suffering: two sides of the same inexplicable force we call life. Of course there's not one without the other. But knowing this doesn't make it any easier, does it?
     The sadness didn't leave; it followed me into my dreams, and was there when I woke up this morning. But now I'm here. Tomorrow, things will be different again. Life moves. The snow melts. The rose opens its petals.