Graveyards are not the best place to meet people. They are the last resting place of questions answers and dreams. When I saw her standing over a grave rocking back and forth looking deeply pained but somehow content, I had to talk to her. I walked gingerly to her and tapped her on her shoulder.
“Are you ok miss?” I asked.
“When people think of history they focus on the dates never the relationships, but to get a true sense of history you must look at the relationships.” She muttered.
That’s when I noticed whose grave she was standing over.
“See, we always look at when we got to meet someone, not how we ended up meeting them.” She continued looking off into the distance.
“ Like you, what brings you to the graveyard on a saturday?, There is no funeral yet you are here when you could be out enjoying the world” She asked, her eyes starting focusing.
“Yes, I’m not at a funeral. I just come here sometimes. I like graveyards, they make me hopeful.” I replied.
“Hopeful? How do dead people make you hopeful?” She took a step back,, her eyes the size of saucers.
“Graveyards like birthing clinics are the truest expression of life. They are the beginning and the end. They show us that even if a problem starts it too will pass. That we have only a set amount of time on earth and we should live it. That’s how graveyards are hopeful and motivational.” I said standing up a little straighter and meeting her eyes steadily.
“Look at all this history, joy, pain and lover. When I come here it makes me want to live a life worthwhile. I want to earn the epitaph and eulogy I wrote myself as a child.” My words trailing off, as nostalgia punched my in the stomach.
“You wrote yourself an epitaph and a eulogy as a child?” She asked, her curiosity overpowering any hesitation she had been cultivating.
“Yes, doesn’t everyone?” Daring her to argue.
“No, definitely not, children are too busy with the stuff of dreams and destiny, not death and despair.” deftly parrying and countering my dare.
“Aren’t our dreams as children merely the effect we want to have on the world disguised as far fetched daydreams? What did you want to be as a child?” We had somehow started walking, now I couldn’t see her eyes, and had no idea what was to come.
“A doctor, I liked the white coats and people asking me for help.”
“And in extension, you wanted to help people, these people you wanted to help, do you imagine they wouldn’t remember you or your work?” digging deeper.
“Yes they would I guess”. She admitted
“So how different is that from people reflecting on your life and its impact when you are gone?” I replied in earnest.
“What do you do now?”
“I am a scientist studying malaria in Africa, I help no one but drug companies make money.” She answered flatly, her hand reaching for a phone, pausing and then falling back to her side.
“What about all the people who are saved because of your work, are they not impacted/helped by you?’ I said hesitantly, while picking my way over some tree roots.
“Yes in a way, but they will never know my name.” She whispered.
“Isn’t their survival enough, your work will live in their memories, isn’t that enough? Are you not keeping to your childhood eulogy?” Also whispering.
At this point we had wandered around the graveyard and ended up at the gate.
“What about you? What was your childhood dream?”
“I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to help people escape. But now I am a train operator and I spend most of my life taking thousands of people to jobs they hate….” I said keeping my eyes on the ground.
“But for a few hours at home, I am everything I wanted to be. Sadly now it is more of an escape for me than anyone else.” I could barely hold back the vomit as I tried to save face with a stranger, but didn’t have the will to change my own fate.
“I come here to motivate myself to keep trying, instead of just jumping in front of one of the trains I drive.”
She was taken aback by the joke and paused looking at the gate a few metres away and then looking back to where we had begun.
“Do you want to grab a coffee?”
I was glad she asked, today had left me in need of company.
“Yeah I would love to, there is a coffee shop around the corner. So why were you at the graveyard today? I never could stand being the centre of attention.
“Visiting a grave of cause” She answered with a crooked smile.
We walked down the street and turned the corner. We were greeted by a small, yet comfortable cafe. It looked like it had been here since before the war. There was a sign with “Cosy Coffee” neatly scrawled in cursive above the door. The first thing you noticed on walking in was the bitter sweet smell of freshly roasted coffee.
Inside was a small empty room with five round tables. Each had a red tablecloth and five small candles balanced on the petals of a black lily. There was soft instrumental music playing in the background and walls were adorned with portraits of of long forgotten celebrities.
We took a table near the back and flagged down a waiter.
“I’d like a black americano, please” She ordered.
Well there go my man points, I thought to myself.
“Yes, mam and you sir?”
“The same please.”
“So what’s your relations to the resident of the grave you were visiting? I have always been fascinated by Johann Schmied. The epitaph is quite interesting, I wanted to know the story behind it.” I asked looking into her eyes.
“He is my father, he died two years ago, I go there every few months to make sure it’s real” She answered stiffly, avoiding eye contact.
“I’m sorry for bringing it up, we don’t have to talk about it”
“It’s ok, he was my husband, he lived was, a loving asshole and died, that’s all”. She said sitting up straighter and folding her arms.
Our coffee arrived and we sat awkwardly for a minute, grateful for the distraction of preparing our coffee.
What should I talk about? What can I say to keep her here and talking? How can I find out more about that epitaph I thought
“This was a mistake I was just worried you would hurt yourself. I was too presumptive and arrogant. I thought I could help” She said standing up to leave.
“What? No I am not suicidal, well not actively anyway. I mean I smoke and that is kind of like delayed suicide”
“That’s very masochistic way of killing yourself, think of the pain of getting cancer, just so you can die, a chisel through the eye is faster and causes less damage.” She said slowly sitting down, a smile slowly returning.
“Actually I think self-preservation would kick in and I would try to fight the cancer.” I replied, visibly relieved she stayed.
“Ha that’s the best way to sum up my life: took action and didn’t have the balls to follow through” I said slumping on the chair, not daring to look her in the eye.
“Why do you say that?” She asked softly?
“Well I want to be a writer, but I keep hiding behind responsibility, when in truth I have no one and nothing to look after. I think that’s why I agreed to coffee. You seemed sad and I was presumptive, arrogant and thought that I could help and get rid of my own lonesomeness” I said trailing off.
“What a pair of fools we are.” Both of us laughing at ourselves.
“That has me thinking, can anyone truly help anyone?” She said moving on.
“Help as in give someone a hand with a problem?”
“Well that’s what my counselor said they were doing by trying to take me away from my husband, but I always ran back to him, even if he was a bastard at times. She said, biting her lip with the last word.
A bastard? How? Why did they want to take you away? What did he do?”
While asking these questions I realised a part of me didn’t really want to know.
Even if I knew, what could I do? I thought.
“Haha, we just met and you want me to tell you about my deepest, darkest past? How about you first tell me your thoughts on the afterlife?” She mocked, changing the subject yet again.
“Well, I doubt the universe hates us so much it would make us redo life all over again after we had just gotten released.” I said giggling.
“You speak of life as if it were a prison. Religions do believe in a happy afterlife.” Her answered, reading deeper into my joke, than I would like.
“Life and prison share a lot of similarities. The enclosure, the limited liberty but unlimited freedom, the judges of whether or not you have served your time and the distraction while you serve it.” bile foaming up my throat.
“That’s a pessimistic view on life, don’t you feel free to do what you want?” She asked hesitantly.
“I feel free, but I am not. I feel like I have choice, but that’s an illusion. I have the freedom to do what I want, but don’t have the liberty to do so. It is always impacted by other factors and the impact we have on others” I replied.
“I have freedom to do what whatever I want but I don’t have the same liberty. That is always limited by the impact I have on others among other factors”, I said.
“Well if I want to do anything, I am limited by society’s reception thereof”
“Society creates and maintains order. It helps us tell wrong from right” Her voice taking on a harder edge as she sat up looking me directly in the eye.
No, society enforces whatever feels good at that time. Right and wrong cannot be defined by something as transient as popular opinion. Now, desire and consequence those are enduring. I said acting more confident than I was.
“So are you saying we should embrace every desire and just do as we like? Because that will lead to chaos, what if I was to do something to you and you don’t want it?” She said looking at me as if I were mad.
“I am calling for a change in mindset,from legal and illegal, both religious or social, to desire and consequence . We need to be more aware of how our actions impact ourselves, our environment and those around us, rather than jumping act according to society’s laws, cause those change, but our impact doesn’t.” I responded.
“Sounds like anarchy, if we don’t follow the law, how could we ever ensure our safety and rights”. She retorted, leaning in to hear what I had to say and pulling her cellphone closer to her on the table.
“On the contrary, I think it would mean we walk through life realising our power and doing everything we could to live up to the beautiful and good eulogy we set forth for ourselves as children” I said.
“Ok, true no child wishes ill on the world. As adults we would have goodness of our childhood setting the destination and our adult selves navigating, is that what you are saying?.” she enquired.
“I am not sure I agree with the implication” she continued.
The conversation went on and on. We ebbed and flowed, sometimes completely in sync other times in absolutely opposite corners. We only realised how late it was when the cafe owner came to close down shop.
“We could grab dinner? I asked tentatively.
“Yes, we could but I have a date, I have a date tonight.” She replied.
“How about I give you my email, not sure I am ready to give you unlimited freedom to call me yet” She said mischievously.
“Hahaha, Fair point, tell you what, don’t give me your email. I will give you mine” I said
“Ok, what is your email?” She said
“firstname.lastname@example.org, now you have the choice.
“Send me an email and i’ll tell you”
“See you around the graves”
We both walked away in opposite directions.