She removed herself swiftly from the cab in front of Canley Crematorium and began to jot down in words the following: ‘Entrance to Charter Chapel, Gardens of Remembrance and Cemetry’. The map at the very entrance caught her eye: of course, it wasn’t everyday that she came across areas marked ‘Weeping Willow’, ‘Book of Remembrance’, ‘Lovers Meeting’, ‘Pink Peace’, ‘Golden Sunshine’, what not. In the cemetery map, out of all these locations, the one marked ‘sun dial’ made her smile. But before she could veer from her goal, a black Jaguar walked in. A little girl from within looked at her in the eye. The little girl dressed in black, such golden hair and puffed pink eyes. Behind the Jaguar was the sign ‘Wilcox Limousines’.
In her mind, as she had hailed a cab, it hadn’t been so much of the cemetery than the reason she was going to the cemetery. In years of self-composition, she had failed rarely and expected to fail no more in future. Cherry Avenue North beckoned. This girl walked down and began reading from stone tablets plopped on wet grass. Notices to visitors about renovation were everywhere. She wondered why there was a need for any order amongst stones above the dead. The first tomb she read said, ‘In loving memory of a dear brother, father, grandfather, uncle and brother-in-law Bernard Harley, died 23rd May 2012, aged 59 years. RIP’. Below is a picture of him along with whom she assumed to be his wife and mother. All of them were smiling in the photograph. Then, that of Michael Gallagher whose life remained a beautiful memory.
Without context, the words ‘Let the dead bury their own dead’ came out of her mouth. Ironically, she spotted a patch of land with a ‘reserved’ mark. But then she remembered the private land her mother’s brother owned. It was where all her dead were buried. On the day of her grandfather’s burial, her grandmother had chosen the left hand side patch of land for herself. The other old women had listened carefully. Like in her will, her epithet was the famous Bible verse, ‘I ran the good race, fought a good fight…’ The day her grandmother had died, she had walked along with her mother to several shops looking for the white saree described in the will. Grandmother was put into a coffin with her hands clasping a small Bible, her head wrapped in a white scarf.
After a while, when she had moved across Laburnum Avenue and reached Yew Avenue, still thinking about why death wasn’t so thought about, why death was so mourned and pushed under the carpet like the mortal flesh under the ground, she saw the little girl again. Not close by, but across all those standing tomb stones, outside the chapel. The little girl’s hands were clasped together. Then she saw it- men coming out of the chapel with a coffin. The girl had definitely not expected a burial. Not today, not when she was around. The parade walked onto a patch of dug ground, formed a circle and performed the ritual they seemed to be so accustomed with. The little girl banged herself hard into an older man’s protruding belly. Twenty minutes later, the Jaguar passed by and the little girl was no longer crying, was no longer looking out. That was when the enormity of the graves around her, the quiet emotions they spoke, the bunches of flowers and all paraphernalia took shape and life. The terrain was still. The colour was grey. The lines of graves were unending. Cherry Avenue North wouldn’t end so easily.
It was when she came face to face with the tomb of Mitchell Todd ‘The Swede’ that the fear of death hit her. ‘Special son and brother taken from us on August 15, 2012, aged 21. When they built you, brother, they broke the mould.’ Beneath it were flowers and pictures of Todd in rugby jerseys. A handsome man. Two rugby balls were also left, next to a picture of him with his friends in graduation robes. This girl who was 21, stared at the number on the tomb. She wasn’t below that tomb, she assured herself. Todd is. That 21 year old is. It seemed cold that Todd would forever be 21.
‘Adolf Kolesrtator-Dabrowski- Polish Hercules, 11th February 1925-30th March 2006. Eccentric, flamboyant, bohemian, generous, unique, my dad! Think of me now and then, God speed my love till we meet.’ That’s the thing about tombs that gets to your head, she decided. All those words, the paraphernalia, the emotions that we make inanimate terrain bear. She had been to deserts, she had been trapped earlier inside a cellar and yet, there was no terrain as lifeless as this. Another black Jaguar entered the building and parked itself near the Chapel to empty itself of people.
On her way to the Lily Pond, the large line of children’s tombs made her feel nauseous. A girl aged 2 hours, a Robert Michael Willis who was born asleep. Next to this one, was a worn out tomb. A cut out heart with all the white paper taken away by the rain, the name barely visible- Kearon Desmond Tallett, 13.3.99. Next to the heart were tumbled down dolls and a large goblin. Everything looked messy. She walked past it twice and eventually sat down to rearrange it. She plugged the cross into the wet sand and was knelt beside Desmond for a while. Composition was all in the bin. It’s the writer’s fate, she thought. Suffering is for the artist’s soul, some words her teacher had muttered.
When the Lily Pond, the Book of Rememberance and Weeping Willows didn’t hold her attention for long, she walked towards the Charter Chapel. In a way, she thought, these tombs were relief to the alive. They could come here, touch the tomb which has become an extension of the body of the deceased and maybe even speak to it. They could plug in their pictures, put in efforts to garden the patch, to even remember the date of the death. That was what graves were to this girl – an effort to grab onto someone who was gone. The final embodiment of that one body whose absence was strongly felt. With days, tombs will wear out and so will memory. The terrain will become colder with the winter coming on them. The terrain will become stiller at night, when the gates of the cemetery close and the cars all walk out.
The Charter Chapel looked quaint and welcoming from a distance. But as she approached it, she read the sign, ‘Please use the waiting room and only enter the chapel after your funeral cortege arrives.’
She walked out of Canley Crematorium hurriedly. There were things to be done. Lives to be lived. Let the dead bury their own dead.
Location: Canley, Coventry, West Midlands CV5, UK