The Funeral of an Honourable Gentleman
Funerals. Among the many things I hate is attending funerals. They are by far the most sanctimonious events on earth. A time where people heaped superficial emotions, pity and tears and then settle down for a cup of tea and hot soup. No matter how much I hated attending funerals, I was obliged to attend this one. It was a necessary evil, a last respect paid to someone no matter how honourable they were in their lifetime. There was no reason whatsoever why people who lived an un-gemy life should be tagged real and rare gems in death.
Midtown. St. Sterling cemetery laid out almost before me. Yet as I walked towards it, it receded as if some hands somewhere strongly objected to me attending the funeral. My black coat had carelessly sprawled polka dots on its downward edge, polka dots caused by fresh splashes of muddy water that occurred as I half-ran to beat the receding speed of the cemetery.
People. People gathered around the graveside of the man called my father. I stood between my mother and my brother James. The brilliant sun reflected largely on the white sepulcher. Not even the blackness of our mourning coats could dull this spectacular sight. Reverend Frederick continued reeling praises laced with obvious sycophancy about the deceased but it rang true. James gave my left hand a gentle squeeze, a gentle squeeze to welcome me . Yes, I finally came for the funeral of an honourable gentleman.
“Sir Maynard was a good man, had a heart sprinkled with care, Godliness, hope and humility….” Reverend Frederick must have memorized those words because they flowed out of his mouth with an enviable eloquence.
Mother. Mother’s eyes pierced through me. She monitored every move I made. She glared at me each time I did not join in chorusing the numerous Amens. It was that same glaring of eyes that I imagined piercing through the telephone receiver when I told her that I could not visit the man called my father at St. Theresa hospital. Her shaky voice still twined around my head even now. “He has dementia! Clara, he has dementia due to the brain cancer! What in the heavens did Maynard do to you?”
“I can’t come and see Da’, I can’t.”
Disconnect. Mother cut me off as usual, the way she always does. She did not even bother to notice that I stopped calling the man called my father “Dad”‘, that I called him “Da”. She was always up about her marriage, how perfect it was that she could not see below her nose. Out of persuasion, I decided to pay the man called my father a visit. He lay there, dressed in the popular blue print hospital gown.
“Yes, Clara I have been wanting to see you,” he half whispered into the empty space between us.
“Da’, you will soon be dead. However, your death will be like Christmas in July.” My voice was void of pity.
“Death? No, the doctor said that I have metastasis of brain cancer. I can’t die, Sir Maynard cannot die!”
“Da’, you seem not to have changed at all.” I could see it clearly; he had not changed so far.
“The only thing I crave is for my daughter to call me Dad and not Da’,” the man said it in a way that sent flakes of chill that penetrated my marrow.
“Do you know I only go to church to pray for your death,” I said this at the brink of tears.
“Church? What is church again?” Pity. That was one word I did not have for Sir Maynard because he did not deserve it.
Standing there with James and mother beside his graveside hearing the cleric’s constant blaring of how the deceased was more Christian than Christ, I was feeling lightheaded now, smudged purple shadows hung above my hazy eyes. From those shadows I saw the shady word written on the small blackboard that hung in his study. The word was; behave
That word still stuck in my memory. I was five and James was seven. We would kneel on the soft carpet in his study. He had offered to teach us, in his own words, “behaviour”. I was too tender to see how obscene it was. He would tell me to reach out for the “lollypop” hidden underneath the fly of James trousers. I could not recall what happened next but I remembered him moaning softly, standing in front of us. Those same moans that escaped from the bedroom door when he and mother had their evening prayers.
Twelve. When I clocked twelve, he; the man called my father, told me that I had attained the age of glory. To that effect, he stopped James from attending the lessons he gave us in the study. I would lie down on the carpet, wearing my birth suit with my mouth gagged. He would caress the pointy lumps on my chest that had just emerged from puberty and would lay over me satiated with streaks of whitish liquid strewn all over me as if a careless child spilled a glass of milk.
I would then walk out of the study and exchange knowing glances with James who always stood by the doorway. We never talked about the terrors that lurked away in the study. Mother was too busy attending Women Conferences, teaching other women how to manage their homes while her’s was in tiny fragments that sailed through the air and filled one up with nothing.
Pain. Pain was a gross underestimation of what I felt. I had to start calling him Da’. It was a very small punishment. I held tenaciously to the last ‘d’, he does not deserve to be called a father. He made me dread each time mother left for her conferences. With dark burns embedded below my eyes, I would still lie naked on the carpeted floor of the study. He would turn on the television and switch to the station that broadcast mother’s conferences where she always the lead speaker.
“Isn’t she adorable? Exactly like you, isn’t it Clara? Dear Clara keep yourself pure for my satisfaction and my satisfaction alone….”
Violation. It was beyond violation. I felt raped, owned, raped and owned again. I would sit by the window in my room and watch James sitting on the stairs and wishing away the time. James blamed me for shielding the secret that lurked away behind the deep brown Mahogany door of the study. I recall walking into his room one day to find him convulsing in the sexual spasms he selfishly gave himself.
“You know, since you have stopped licking my lollypop, I had to find alternative means.” The way James said it as if it was my fault that the man called our father stifled and shriveled his sexuality.
Derrick. I was fourteen when I met Derrick. His family just moved into the neighborhood. We would go to the nearby park and sit on the bench for hours without talking to each other. Inhaling the cool air and basking in the luxury of chirping birds; that was how we shared our intimacy.
Just like me, he was different from others in school and was weird in his own way. The thick lenses of his spectacles were like the circular base of a coke bottle and his boots were always muddy. He rarely spoke, even to me, unless he wanted to go home. It continued like this, unruffled and undisturbed until he, the man called my father, found out.
“What were you doing with him?” The man called my father asked demandingly.
“Nothing, I swear nothing.” What was he expecting me to answer?
“No he cannot, he cannot take your innocence. Nobody can take your innocence except Sir
Penance. That was what he called it, the punishment he gave me. It was all different that day as his many shades of perverseness merged into callousness. Down below I could feel the sharp razor razing through the tufts of my womanhood. I had allowed the hair to grow so much because it served as the only shield I had in that study. With tears in his eyes, which now I still wonder why he was crying, he gathered the golden tufts that were on the floor. At least that was the last thing I saw before he dug the fingers of his right hand into me.
“I will take your innocence and when you wake up you will say that it was Derrick. Do you know why it has to be Derrick? Nobody would believe that Sir Maynard would violate anyone not to talk of his own daughter.”
Wet. I felt wet when I worked up. Mother and James were crying in one corner of the study, the man called my father was cleaning my body with a moist towel. “I saw her lying in the park naked. It must have been that boy; Derrick.” How he sounded so sure!
My parents sued Derrick’s family for extreme sexual and multiple physical abuse. They paid for damages that made them mortgage their house, forcing them out of the street. The man called my father used the money to stage campaigns against vulnerable sexual abuse; the Sir Maynard Foundation.
Dreams. Even after Derrick was sent to St. Thomas Home for Delinquents, my dreams were still haunted by his teary face. That same face he had when he looked at me intently in the courtroom and screamed; Why?! I was helpless, an invisible cold hand kept me mute. It still surprises me how I bottled up all Sir Maynard did to me for all these years.
James had shown up at my house sometime last year to recommend a therapist that helped him get over it. All mother could shriek about was how I scorned the man that stood up for me, nurtured and loved me up until his dying day.
“Clara, Clara,” the voice jolted me to reality, “it is your turn for the dust to dust and ashes to ashes.”
Present. I opened my eyes gently as my pupils dilated to accommodate the dazzling light. James was handing over the shovel to me. I took it with the grace of someone who had Parkinson’s disease, scooping some dark earth. Should I or should I not pretend that all went well with Sir Maynard? After all, dead men should not be judged?
Then across the street I saw a man wrapped in an old blanket, it was Derrick. He was still shouting; Why?! Little children jeered and hurled stones at him. The resonance at the back of my skull was much too heavy. I could not even feel the shovel slipping through my hand. I guessed I passed out during the funeral of an honourable gentleman.