Three years have passed, and I cannot forget that day when we were sitting on the bench in the park. It was the start of the school year and it was just me, Lucy, our backpacks and two coffee cups. The trees were lively green, with their leaves still firmly stuck to the branches. Autumn was not yet there.
I remember my coffee cup being half empty, which made me concerned because I clearly needed more. I looked at a coffee trailer at the far corner of the park, squinting my eyes to examine the size of the queue. At that exact moment, the trailer started to ring and a crow flock shot up to the sky from the trees above. It took me a fractal of a second to get myself together and realize that it was not the trailer that was ringing, but the church bells right behind it. It was not a Sunday, and not a religious festivity day, thus it took me by surprise.
Lucy stood up, required me to collect my stuff, and started to walk towards the sound of the bells. I rushed towards her, quite sure that the sound woken up her coffee craving too. Nevertheless, when I caught her up and asked what she is up to, she answered with:
‘Depends on what clothes they are wearing.’
I decided not to bother to extract anything more specific from her, as she always spoke in riddles. We passed by the fountain in the middle of the park, as well as the coffee trailer with bunch of teenagers hanging around with their extra-large coffee cups. They were wearing all kinds of different style and colour clothes, and I had no clear idea what Lucy wants to know about their outfits.
Fearing for another social experiment, which Lucy was a huge fan of – and which always made me feel extremely ridiculous – now I sighed with relief when I saw that she is not stopping by the coffee bar. We took a turn to the path leading directly to the churchyard. The path, a brown scar in the green surface, was the result of people using it as a shortcut over the years. We used their attainment by squeezing ourselves through a hole in a brick wall separating the churchyard from the park.
The churchyard was big and round, with guarding oaks on the sides, flower rectangles near them and stone crosses scattered throughout the territory. We found ourselves facing the back side of the church, so we couldn’t see what was happening. All we could hear was a loud bell sound everywhere around – in the park, in the church, in my ears.
Not having a clear view, we started to walk around the church towards the front part, the doors and the gates. From around the corner we started to see few people, then more and more, popping out of the corner with each step we took closer to them. One detail was connecting them to a perfect harmony. Lucy immediately smiled.
‘We fit,’ she said.
It was a funeral.
Lucy and I were in a state of black fashion at that time, and that day was not an exception. I was wearing a black dress, and Lucy has squeezed herself into black skinny jeans and a dark shade jacket. She also enjoyed excessively black make-up, while I was always too lazy in the mornings to award myself with such quite extreme indulgences elevating my self-esteem.
Lucy took me by the hand and started to walk closer to the silent crowd, surrounding the church entrance area. We could hear religious psalms accompanied by a sad melody from an organ. The closer we got, the more people I saw sobbing into their handkerchiefs.
‘Wait. Do you know whose funeral this is?’ I inquired Lucy stopping her for a second and investigating her gaze. For a moment, I was scared that someone of her family died and therefore we were there, Lucy being too complicated to tell me straight away.
I didn’t recognize anything tragic or sad in her eyes. On the contrary – some kind of wicked joy was mirrored in her sight.
‘No,’ she said, and smiled. ‘But that doesn’t mean we are not allowed to get closer, does it?’
And I was dragged further – through the freshly cut grass, though a small graveyard with only few tombs of former priests who worked here. Through the blue of the sky, through the brightness of the sun, through the thin fresh air, through the melody of the birds, though time and space here and now with all my particles full of oxygen and blooming with life – there I was dragged by my hand to spend this wonderful brilliant sunny afternoon at who knows whose funeral.
All these resistant feelings targeting my mind, I was negative about it for a moment, even though still following Lucy. But then I understood that I had never had a funeral experience before. I let myself to be led further, and that was how we ended up standing behind the crying procession, which was now parading behind the coffin, brought out from the church by six very seriously looking men.
The procession moved. There were big bells and small bells ringing, and people crying, and heads leaning down towards the ground. From the very back we could see the coffin very well, but we had no clue who was inside of it. I tried to search for familiar faces, but could not recognize anyone.
‘Does the coffin correspond to the gender of the deceased? A colour or a type of the wood…?’
Lucy didn’t hear my question. At that moment when I turned to her, she was taking a picture of the procession. A wave of embarrassment overwhelmed me instantly.
‘Stop it, what are you doing?’
‘Sending some pictures to Ben. What did you ask?’
‘I asked if the colour of the coffin corresponds to the gender of the person. What did you tell him?’
‘Just, you know, how we are spending our time. He will never be able to beat this, he is such a boring person. I’d rather be with you all the time!’
I knew Lucy, and I knew that she truly meant what she was saying, but also that what she was saying was true at that particular moment when she was saying it only. I smiled.
‘You miss him, you would never…’
Lucy’s phone began to ring in a very loud and very improper for this occasion tone.
A second wave of embarrassment flooded my whole body and turned my face red. At least ten people turned back to us. The procession was lasting for not more than three minutes, sad songs and bells were still on their peak, and we were already making a fuzz.
While I was being extremely embarrassed and people around us were being distracted and angry, turning their heads here and there to find the source of this horrible disrespectful behaviour, what Lucy did was answering the phone.
‘Hey! Got my message?’
‘Of course I got your message!’ I heard Ben’s enhanced voice somewhere deep inside the phone, ‘who died?!’
‘We don’t know!’ Lucy was whispering, almost holding her laugh.
‘What do you mean you don’t know? Who are you with? Should I come?’
‘No, I have Amy here, we just joined the procession to say the last goodbyes.’
‘Who’s procession? Did one of your relatives die? Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘No, not a relative, just a neighbour. One you haven’t met.’
‘Alright… Tell me if you need anything.’
‘Don’t be so serious, I am sure she is in a better place now,’ Lucy smiled and hung up.
I didn’t wait a second to attack her with questions: ‘So you know the person?’
She shuddered and started whispering coming very close to my face: ‘No, I don’t, I was lying, I don’t know the lady.’
‘How do you know it’s a lady?’
‘I don’t know if it’s a lady… oh, enough! Why do I have to know everything!’
Then she turned away and started to walk faster, squeezing herself through the mass. I was too ashamed to follow.
A moment after Lucy disappeared somewhere in front of me, I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder and turned back.
A man in a long black coat and a black hat was right behind me, walking slowly but steadily after me.
‘Hey, girls, calm down,’ he told me in a cold voice.
‘Sorry, I didn’t do anything… I’m sorry,’ I started to mumble.
‘She didn’t deserve this circus on her funeral.’
‘Yes, I understand.’
‘Are you one of those neighbour children who she adored? She was constantly talking about you. You should behave,’ the man seemed angry but also slightly content, perhaps because he found an occasion to preach a bit.
‘I’m sorry…’ I turned away from the man and walked with my head down, but could not help but feeling the man’s eyes striking my back. I turned red again.
Squeezing through people as politely as possible, I caught up with Lucy. At that moment, she was silently chatting with a person next to her. To my surprise, it was our six-grade’s classmate who changed school after she had to move to another town. I tapped on Lucy’s shoulder.
‘Oh, here is Amy,’ Lucy smiled at me, ‘and here is Laura,’ pointed she to the girl, ‘we were wondering if we will find you here, Laura, I’m so glad we met.’
‘I am sorry…,’ I mumbled to Laura while peeking at Lucy, ‘for your loss.’
‘It’s alright,’ said Laura looking like in trance with her eyes watery and her nose red. ‘I didn’t expect that anyone from my old classmates would come.’
‘How could we not! I remember…. The deceased… would always ask me how I am doing when we would meet in the shop, and sometimes I would help with… the bags.’ Lucy was making things up without blinking.
‘Strange, she has never mentioned that she occasionally met any of my old classmates. We could have kept in touch, you know, us all… When I moved…’
‘Nothing is lost! We can keep in touch from now on!’ Lucy seemed genuinely excited, ‘do you want to have my phone number?’
‘Perhaps later,’ Laura looked uncomfortable, although now we were not the only ones who were whispering. We were out of the church’s territory at the wide car parking lot, in the middle of which waited the hearse, with its back doors open. The procession stopped, people arranged themselves in semi-circles around the car, and the coffin was smoothly inserted in it. The church bells finally stopped ringing.
‘How old was your grandma?’ Lucy asked Laura.
‘My grandma? My aunt, you mean?’
‘I’m sorry, I meant your aunt,’ Lucy said confidently.
‘Right,’ Lucy replied unattentively and I could clearly see that she already fosters some new ideas on how to proceed with this awkward situation. I started wanting to get out of here.
In the meanwhile, Laura joined her family circle and we were left behind, standing there, surrounded by people we didn’t know, at the funeral of the person that we just got introduced to. After the hearse moved, people started marching to their cars, and the group became smaller and smaller. Finally, it was only us two standing in the middle of the car parking lot, while cars all over us were manoeuvring to go after the hearse. I started feeling how warm it is, standing there, under the sun.
‘Shall we go?’ I asked Lucy.
‘I guess so, sadly.’
‘Why? Did you want to go to the graveyard as well? That’s a bit too much, don’t you think?’ I finally felt that it’s the right place and time to say something strict and serious. However, before Lucy could answer, we heard a voice from behind:
‘Do you need a lift, girls?’
The same grumpy man, who got me all red from shame by teaching me to be silent, was approaching from the very last car in the parking lot. He was limping a bit.
‘Yes! That would be great!’ Lucy answered excitedly, and rushed towards the man. I was left alone for a moment, and was seriously thinking if I should follow her lead, or excuse myself and go home. I felt ashamed, and I could not see myself feeling at more ease in this situation. I looked at the church, at my friend moving away from me, at the exit of the parking lot. Few steps, and I am out, I am free. Free from this ridiculousness, from Lucy’s extravagant behaviour, and from death breathing into my neck. I started to walk towards the exit, towards freedom.
‘Where are you going, Amy?’ asked Lucy in an angry voice.
I turned back to her.
‘Home. I’m going home.’
‘Why? The event is not finished yet. Here, a helpful man will give us a lift, come.’
A moment of confusion overwhelmed me. I looked at the exit again. So close, and I could inhale deeply, fresh air filling my lungs. Now, though, I was trapped, and I felt that I cannot escape without consequences. I sighed.
‘I need to go home.’
‘No way, we are at the funeral, please respect Laura’s aunt,’ Lucy was speaking in a loud voice, while at the same time blinking at me.
‘Lucy, enough…’ I wanted to tell her that she has already reached all the limits possible, that she is acting ridiculous, that she must finally stop. But then I remembered that the man was still standing by his car, waiting for us, ‘enough talking, go to the car, I really have to go.’
‘Amy, please,’ she said and came closer. Then she stretched her right hand towards me. ‘Come, please.’
The wind blew and hair covered Lucy’s face. Even then, I saw her glittering eyes. I sighed again.
‘Fine,’ I said, and started walking towards the car, passing my friend. She was still holding her hand towards me, but I didn’t take it.
‘Come on, girls, we will be late,’ the man said while climbing into his car.
I sat in the front seat on purpose. I was mad at Lucy. She never knew when to stop. I’ve had this for years, always following her, always feeling uncomfortable, always regretting. And I still did it, I was in the car.
Lucy sat in the back and tried to be funny and mysterious at the same time, it was only a next adventure to her. She didn’t care that someone just died. Did I care?
I do not remember. All I remember is a soft music in the man’s car, and blue blue sky, and warm wind through the windows. And vanilla smell from one of those car perfumes. And how I caught Lucy’s sight in the rear mirror. She smiled.