Nothing but Sunlight
It took place on Saturday, in the heat of the afternoon. There was a thin overcast of clouds, and a hundred or so people formed a procession behind the coffin.
My perceptions kept changing. One minute I stood with the crowd, the next I seemed to float above it all looking down in a feverish daze. Friends and relatives turned up whom I hadn’t seen since my primary school days. I watched them with surprise as they gathered, and wondered at the depths of their sorrow as the lines began to form.
There were half-draped flags and black banners. There was a hired drum corps with crepe-draped drums. There was a band of twenty instruments. There were no cars and very few flowers.
It began as a slow procession and the band played sad, blues tunes. And when the band was silent the drum corps beat the time on drums with muffled heads. Up and down the street people looked out of their apartment windows, men stood on the sidewalks with boys on their shoulders, and men came out of barbershops with lathered faces, their neckcloths hanging. I marched in front of the coffin and procession, often looking back and wondering if all these people were really my friends or were they drawn by the music and the spectacle?
Directly behind me, a cheap brown coffin moved upon the shoulders of my friends. They bore it high and they bore it proudly and there was an angry sadness in their eyes. The coffin wound its way slowly, above the bowed heads, to the cemetery at the edge of town. The stead rolling of the drums grew louder, and all other sounds were suspended in silence. They set the coffin beside an open grave and people gathered around. There were tears and muffled sobs and many hard, red eyes.
Over the grave site a silence spread. Then in the band a single horn fumbled for a key and took up the air. Then a masculine voice arose in song, wavering, pursuing the rise and fall of the horn. And for a few bars the pure tone of the horn and the husky baritone sang a duet in the hot heavy silence.
As the song ended, the coffin began its descent into the pit. It lowered at the same rate I ascended. I floated over the crowd, and I could see each sun-swept face but couldn’t remember not one name. These had been by closest friends, my family, and yet they were becoming strangers. They stood and they listened to a preacher who spoke at the head of the pit, bible in hand, head raised to the heavens, as if he could see me up there. And then I couldn’t remember my own name.
I suddenly grew angry, and I wanted to shout at them, “Go home. I’m inside the box and that’s the end and there’ll be no encore. There’ll be no miracles, no one rising from the grave. Get out of the sun and have yourselves a cold brew. Forget my name as I have done.” But I had no voice, and if I had, they couldn’t have heard it coming from the box.
But then I got a wild idea, and with all the willpower left in my being, I lifted both my hands inside that coffin and pounded like hell on the lid. Shock silenced the preacher, eyeballs bugged out, and everyone stood as still as if they all had rigor mortis.
And then I started to wane until I was nothing but sunlight beating down.