Thursday, 21 July 2016

Goodbye - Part Five of 'Witness'

The Evening Star – 12 April
Unknown woman found dead in squat

A woman has been found dead of a suspected drug overdose in an abandoned apartment used by squatters in Lilac Grove. The unidentified deceased, thought to be in her late twenties, was discovered after neighbours reported a suspicious smell. Foul play is not suspected.

Peter stood alone in the unpopular far corner of the graveyard, looking down at the anonymous hump of soil that now covered the cheap cardboard coffin. It had been an hour since the gravedigger had gone but he wasn’t ready to leave. Not quite yet.

A sparrow hopped down from the branches of a nearby tree, now in full blossom, and started picking at the disturbed dirt. Drab, but full of life, it darted here and there, looking for bugs to feed its nestlings.

Peter watched the bird as he pulled a crumpled pack of Lucky Strikes from his coat pocket. Lighting the last cigarette and drawing deeply on its first sharp smoke, he wondered if he’d done the right thing.

He’d known the minute he spotted the lonely paragraph in the bottom right-hand corner of page 8 of the day-old newspaper. Lilac Grove – that’s where they’d first found her over a year ago, and he was sure it was where she’d gone when everything fell apart. And when he read “suspected drug overdose” he knew that, after all, she hadn’t found the strength to resist her old ways after her new all-too-human addiction was taken away from her.

He’d worried that he’d face an interrogation when he turned up at the city morgue offering to pay for the funeral, especially after being questioned by the police that night. But no-one raised an eyebrow. It was old news by then. No-one made the connection between the death of yet another anonymous junkie with soon-to-be-forgotten events of last month. They hadn’t even bothered to look through her meagre belongings – just a few clothes, the old Zippo lighter Peter had used to light his cigarette, and a journal which now sat in his backpack.

These days, it wasn’t unusual for the well-meaning to pay for a “decent send-off” to one of the army of unnamed, unloved and unclaimed who came through the city morgue’s gun metal grey doors. No headstone, of course, but at least someone to acknowledge that they had once been, and now were no more. 

The bored clerk had shrugged when he’d replied that no, he hadn’t known the woman. She just filled in the form with the false details he gave, and took his handful of notes to cover the costs of the paperwork, a flimsy box and a man to dig the hole. Without once meeting his eyes, she’d handed over the receipt, then gave him the plot number, a time and date two days later if he wanted to be there “when they put her in the ground”.

That was it. No more ceremony than paying a parking fine. There’d been no ceremony to the burial either. No priest to churn out tired platitudes, no mourners, no flowers. Just him, the gravedigger, and the sparrow.

Peter took a last drag on the cigarette. He let the dog-end fall and ground it into the damp grass with the heel of his shoe. The sparrow eyed him and hopped over to the spot to see if what he’d dropped might be a tasty morsel.

Putting his hands back in his pockets, he murmured “Goodbye, Magda”, turned, and walked away.   

(This is the fifth of six parts of 'Witness - A modern parable'.
Click for Parts One, Two, Three and Four.)

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