There was an old man in our town and people wouldn’t talk to him because they got scared of him.
He had a gray beard and an old face. A face that got old by seeing things. He would greet me when I walked past him with my mother as a child.
When I was a teenager I would start greeting him too. Lift my hand and smile, as he lifted his hand and smiled. But we never talked. Not until my father died.
It has always been my biggest fear. And when it happened I was ashamed, because I didn’t know how to feel. Because I didn’t know how to cry. I didn’t. I was just there. And everything else around me was gone. Lights burning through the fog. Then I made myself cry. What else was there to do? I should cry. But it didn’t work because I still felt nothing. After a week I couldn’t even remember what he looked like. Not really. Then his face popped back in. But it was different. He was gone. And I never told him how much I loved him. I never told him how important he had been. He never told me either. The old man. I walked back home from work. I was tired. Tired the entire time. Tired even when I was sleeping. I didn’t care. What else was there to do? It was the day before the funeral. My mother got angry because I still hadn’t bought a new suit. I went shopping for it but left. I wanted to puke when I saw myself in the mirror, wearing that suit. All black. I saw his dead body. They dressed him up and they did something with his face. He didn’t look real. His skin looked so fake. His face like a puppet. What a joke it’s been.
And I remembered him in that room when my grandpa died many years ago when I was a kid. They did the same thing to him. Dressed up nice, made look alive. Which made him seem so dead. My grandma and her sisters and cousins would sit there and go through every prayer they knew. As if it would do any good. And I got mad. Mad that nobody would do anything. Nobody. That everybody would just accept it like that. That wasn’t him. I used to talk to him. He used to smile at me and hug me and when he looked me in the eyes we talked without using words. He saw himself in me and I saw myself in him and he only gave me love. Then I stormed outside. I couldn’t take it anymore. Listening to the old women pray. I found the guy who digs graves. He smoked and I asked him for a smoke. I was only 15 but who gave a damn. He gave me the cigarette without filter and I smoked and coughed and cried and hated this world. Finally, my dad came outside.
“What are you doing, Alex?”, he asked me. He spotted the cigarette in my hand, walked up to me, and grabbed it. “Where do you have this from?”, he asked. And he was mad at first but saw my eyes and let it go.
“I found it," I said. “You found it?”, he asked and pulled on the cigarette.
“Don’t smoke.”, he said, “It’s not good for you.” I stayed silent and watched him pull on it, as he realized with disgust that it had no filter.
“Why did you go out, your mother got worried.”, he said. I stayed silent. My father looked at me. “Will you come back?”
“No.”, I said. “Why not?”, he asked. “I don’t want to.”, I said. My father pulled again and stayed silent.
“Your mother is worried about you.”, he finally said.
I got angry but wasn’t able to raise my voice as my father looked down on me: “I can’t take this. Why are they praying all the time? What is that gonna do?”
My father smoked and shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe it helps them.”, he said.
“It’s stupid," I said.
My father dropped the cigarette and stomped it out. Then he just stood beside me and looked up at the blue sky. It was a beautiful day. A surreal day. I did the same. After a while, he put his hand on my shoulder and said: “Your mother is very sad right now. And she is worried. She needs you there.”
He looked at me until I understood. Then he asked: “Are you coming with me?”
I looked at him and said yes.
We went back inside and I sat beside the coffin of my grandfather. My mother looked at me with all the tears in her eyes and gave me a smile. I sat and listened to them pray. I looked up and saw my father standing in the corner watching us all. He was the strongest person in that room that day. I nodded at him and he nodded at me. I understood. And it wasn’t hard anymore.
When we were done everybody went up to the coffin one more time and said goodbye. I went last. When everybody started walking out of the room I went last. For a moment it was only me and my dead grandpa in that room. I smiled at him as I had smiled at him before. Then I turned around and went outside. I looked through the door gap as I slowly pulled the door closed. He didn’t look like a puppet anymore. He didn’t look dead anymore.
He just looked like he was sleeping. I slowly closed the door.