Funeral for a Friend
Muttering a frustrated slew of curses under his breath, Mo was going through his sixth attempt to fasten a Windsor knot around his shirt collar. He had watched a tutorial on YouTube years ago and thought he had memorised it. If only funerals didn’t have such a formal dress code, he thought. He could feel his stomach rumbling. His live-in girlfriend was busy making breakfast. He had to get to Mortlake Crematorium in an hour.
“Liz love, can you do up this tie for me?” he asks upon entering the kitchen to the sight of his partner in nothing but a grey satin kimono and the smell of bacon sizzling on the pan.
“Jesus, Mo, you’re twenty six yet you still don’t know how to tie a tie?” she laughs as she knots his black necktie together.
In gratitude, he kisses her on the cheek and proceeds to help himself to the scrambled eggs resting on the counter.
“It must be tough for you,” Liz says as she butters up two slices of bread that sprang up from the toaster seconds ago, handing one to Mo. “I can’t imagine myself watching a childhood friend get buried. I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright babe,” he says through mouthfuls of wholewheat toast, egg and bacon. “Honestly, I hadn’t seen him for a while now.”
“But still. I’ve never been to a funeral. And he must’ve been close enough for his mum to personally invite you.”
He rests a comforting hand on her arm. “Really, Liz, it’s fine. And I’ve never been to a funeral too. Plus, it’s a day off for me, no?”
She lets out an uncomfortable laugh. “At least you get to see the lads again. It’s been, what, how many years now?”
“Way too long.” He checks his watch. “Shit, I have to go.” He grabs another strip of bacon and kisses Liz once more, this time on the lips. “I’ll try to make it back for dinner.”
“It’s okay babe, take your time.” She walks him to the door. “I do love it when you’re in a suit, you’re like a brown James Bond.”
“Well you can call me double-Mo-seven next time we’re in bed.”
He throws a sly wink at her and leaves their flat. As he makes the short walk to the parking lot, he wonders how Liz would react if she ever met his deceased ‘friend’ Donovan. She’d probably be repulsed within five seconds. He always looked like he’d been dragged through clumps of bushes — he was homeless for a short while, after all. And he wouldn’t be the type of tramp that would gain any sort of sympathy. Well, from the people that knew him at least. Given his permanently aggressive attitude, he’d make for a terrible panhandler. But the dread of Donovan meeting Liz wasn’t the reason why he cut him out of his life for good.
Mo got into the Volvo and turned the ignition. She was right about one thing, though. He did look forward to seeing the old crew again. He backs out of the communal garage and, turning the car onto the road, speeds off towards the cemetery.
“Fucking hell Mo, it’s been what, four years since we last saw each other?”
“Yeah mate. It’s a pity this mini reunion’s happening under these circumstances.”
Mo and Jake exchanged smiles and a handshake upon seeing each other outside the cemetery gates. As their parents only lived two doors away from each other, he knew Jake since they were sharing sandboxes and racing radio controlled buggies back in primary school. Their almost-brotherly union dissipated once they graduated from Southampton Solent University: Jake decided to go travelling around Asia, eventually settling in Vietnam as an English teacher, while Mo stayed to become an intern at a regional newspaper — where he met Liz — and worked his way up the ladder to become deputy editor. Despite a near-half decade of not seeing each other, they still kept in touch through the reliable medium of online communication, swapping stories every couple of months or so.
Jake took out a cigarette from his inside jacket pocket and lit two, giving one to Mo who gladly took it.
“Jesus that feels good,” Mo says after taking a deep drag. “Liz’s trying to make me quit the cancer sticks.”
“Good to hear that you two are still together,” Jake says. “Now that you’re both under the same roof, surely it’s time for phase three?” He hums the Wedding March, forcing Mo to kiss his teeth in mock frustration.
“One at a time fam.” He scans the area for more people. “Where’s everyone else? Surely we can’t be the last ones here?”
“Think so mate. His folks and relatives are inside now.”
“Shouldn’t we be inside, joining them? Listening to hymns and shit before they cremate the body?”
“Hold on, Carl sent us a text ten minutes ago. He and Adem shouldn’t be too far now.”
Mo couldn’t help but laugh hollowly. “Fucking hell, the terrible twosome. Haven’t seen Adem in a suit since his wedding. Which you missed, you heartless cunt.”
“Fuck off,” Jake says, dropping his fag butt on the floor and stamping it. “I saw the whole thing on Skype remember?”
“Still isn’t the same, and still surprised Adem didn’t mind.” Mo pauses and hears a familiar cackle booming a few feet away. “Speak of the Muslim devil…”
“Boys!” A tall, bearded man comes running towards Mo and Jake, arms outstretched for an embrace. “Thank fuck you lads are here, Carl’s been putting me to sleep with all his investment banker bollocks.”
“I’d rather work for Goldman Sachs than inherit your father’s greasy kebab empire you dirty Turk,” says a voice close by.
“Carl,” Jake says as he breaks away from Adem’s tight grasp. “It’s been, what, four —”
“Yadda yadda, four years, whatever sunshine,” Carl says, grabbing Jake for a hug and doing the same to Mo afterwards. “How’s my Asian sensation doing? Fucked a pretty ladyboy or a ping pong showgirl yet?”
“Still with Tania, thank you very much,” Jake replies. “When are you gonna break away from your bluetooth headset and settle down like Mo and I?”
“Yeah mate,” Mo says. “You look like a dickhead with that thing on your ear. You better switch it off once we head towards the procession.”
“I’ll have you know that it’s a trademark of a successful businessman you proletariat pricks,” Carl retorts, tapping his wireless headset with his index to turn it off.
“Nah bruv, it’s the look of a Gordon Gekko-wannabe corporate cunt,” Adem says. They all laugh except Carl, who flips the finger towards them.
“Well then boys, shall we?” Mo asks as he walks towards the rustic iron gates, opening a small gap to get in. The others follow suit.
“I can’t believe this hasn’t been discussed yet, but how did Don kick the bucket?” Jake asks as they all walk towards the cathedral.
Adem stops in his tracks. “Don’t you lot know?” Jake and Mo shake their heads. “Fucking hell, the bloody idiot hung out with the wrong crowd —”
“Typical,” Mo interjects. Carl shoots him a stern look to indicate his displeasure at him for interrupting Adem. “Sorry, continue mate.”
“Well, he moved back to his nan’s place near Hounslow High Street a few months ago. Apparently told her that he was gonna be good, that he’d stopped with all his nonsense, but he only came back so that he can start selling Class As on the corners. Y’know, heroin, cocaine, crack, you name it. Naturally, as you’d all expect from a guy like Don, he got high off his own supply plenty of times. And when you’re slanging dope for a guy like Jamal, you don’t fuck around with the product nor the money.”
“He was working for Jamal?” Jake shakes his head. “Jesus Christ.”
“Yep,” Adem says. “Well, one of Jamal’s footsoldiers ran into Don sitting on some bench in Inwood Park hoovering lines of china by himself. Dude goes up to Don and asks him if that’s Jamal’s supply. Don denies, things start getting heated and they get into a scrap, ending with Don stabbing the guy in the fucking stomach, leaving him for dead. Don jacks his shit, including Jamal’s dope, and runs off to his nan’s.”
“Fucking Don.” Mo spits on the ground. “The guy never fucking learns —”
“Shush, man!” Adem quips. “Anyway, urban legend has it that a couple of days later, Jamal sent some boys to post up outside Don’s nan’s place like some police stakeout innit. One of them sees Don going to the shop late at night. Reckless move, you get me? So, they get out the motor, chase him into some alley, beat the living shit out of him, drag him into the trunk of their car, and drive off. His body was found a week later in some skip by the old bingo place near the bus garage.”
The foursome silently stroll on the tarmac pathway after listening to Adem’s tale of Donovan’s timely demise. As London is currently under the midst of a strange springtime heatwave, their tightly fitted suits coupled with the sun relentlessly bearing down on them cause beads of sweat to trickle down their foreheads. A sigh or two can be heard, but no words were spoken until they reached a small crowd of mourners slowly marching their way inside the crematorium. They must have just transported the body into the building. Seeing this, the group follow them inside, where cries of bereavement can be heard. A sea of people, appropriately dressed in all black outfits, look ahead towards the minister. Mo could make out Donovan’s parents by the wooden coffin, both of whom he hadn’t seen since the last day of high school: his mother sobbing hysterically, his dad’s arm around her, stoically looking down. Both were surrounded by what he assumes to be relatives and close friends. He never met Donovan’s grandmother, but he can only presume that she’s the portly old woman at the front, sporting a veiled black hat barely concealing her grief-stricken face. If it weren’t for the cane supporting her weight, she would collapse in despair at losing her only grandson.
Inside the chapel attached to the crematorium, the minister gave a short address about Donovan. Judging by the manner in which he delivered his sermon, it seemed like he had a lot of burnings to fit in that morning and couldn’t afford to waste any time. A few quick comments, a couple of hymns, one or two prayers and a click of a switch to send the corpse down to the incinerator. Repeat the process several times, and that’s his shift done for the day.
“To those that gathered here today, Donovan Bernard filled a number of different roles in our lives. Donovan was a friend, a father, and a son. Donovan’s last days in his tragically young life were dire and disconsolate, yet we must remember the real Donovan, a loving young man and a caring father with a great zest for life. A keen singer, Donovan loved to entertain friends and family with his voice…”
Carl couldn’t look at Jake in the eye, standing next to him in the pew, as he nervously laughed. Donovan was the worst singer he had ever had the displeasure of hearing. His attempts to hit a high note when they all went to a karaoke pub back in ‘09 were laughable, getting booed during a rendition of Celine Dion’s classic ‘My Heart Will Go On’. Inspired by those choreographed R&B videos, he also tried to incorporate dancing to his repertoire, but that only made him look like more of an idiot. Nonetheless, Don loved his music. He loved it so much that he stole Carl’s guitar one night when he stayed at his pad after getting kicked out of his first baby mama’s place. It was the last time Carl saw him. He had heard from Adem a few months later that the guitar was sold to fund Don’s escalating heroin addiction. Fucking Don, Carl thought.
Jake was wishing that he was back in Vietnam, where he forged a new life away from all this nonsense. He hadn’t been back in west London since his postgraduate excursions. A decision that he did not regret for a second, finally settling down with a good job and a woman that he truly loves. His hopes of starting a family were coming into fruition, only finding out that Tania was pregnant prior to boarding the plane to London. Don was the only other father in the crew, yet he barely acted anything more than a glorified sperm donor. He was thoroughly disgusted when he found out that Don bore three children from two different women by his twenty fourth birthday, and left them into struggling single parenthood. He barely had a penny to his name, and whatever scratch he did ‘earn’, he blew it on drugs, drink, a day at the bookies, or a sojourn to the Polish whorehouse near Hounslow East Tube station. The minister had irritated Jake by describing Don as a father. He couldn’t see anyone that resembled either of his baby mamas or their bastard offspring in the chapel, and he understood their reasons for not attending the funeral. He silently vowed to never be a philandering, pathetic, piss poor excuse of a ‘patriarch’ like Don was.
Adem sombrely looked down during the entire procession, hands clasped together behind his back. Out of the gang, he always considered himself the closest thing the departed had to a best friend. It took him a few years to realise that Donovan always saw him as the weak link of the group. Don took advantage of his kindness on many occasions, always coming to him for what seemed like help. There were too many episodes for Adem to list, but he kept turning to two incidents. He lasted less than a week working at his father’s kebab shop, running out of the store with handfuls of £20 notes pilfered from the cash register. A few months later, a dishevelled Don knocked on his door begging for forgiveness and a roof over his head after being homeless for a while, promising to lay off the smack and stay clean for the sake of his children. He repaid Adem’s hospitality by rummaging through his parents’ cupboards, pocketing money, jewelry, and other heirlooms, and when caught by his teenage sister, proceeded to sexually assault her before getting chased out of the house by Adem’s furious father and uncle. They berated Adem for his benevolence towards a man hopelessly past saving, and he never forgave himself for allowing Don to manipulate his tolerance. He couldn’t blame the boys, as they told him countless times that Don was a waste of space and should be exiled from their lives permanently. He hesitantly agreed. His first thought when word spread of Don’s death was to inform the police, but he put the phone down as soon as the operator answered his call. He only hoped that Don could finally find peace in the afterlife.
Mo stared at Donovan’s parents throughout the funeral, and a pang of guilt hit him like a ton of bricks. He couldn’t imagine the suffering they are currently enduring, but he couldn’t help but consider that a whole weight had been lifted off their shoulders. He imagined them replaying Don’s life in their heads like a Polaroid slideshow filled with Kodak moments, from the tender toddler years to cheeky teenage mischief. They must have wondered where it went wrong for their only son. Mo knew; he remembered it like it was yesterday. During high school, Don always had a reputation for being the class clown with a slight mean streak. But despite considering Jake, Carl, Adem and himself as his nearest and dearest, Don constantly hung around with the school bullies. A few were suspended, so they menacingly posted up outside the back entrance of the school, terrorising passing students by menacingly stealing any money they had or dragging anyone that dared defy them and engaging in unfair fights, celebrating their ‘triumph’ with a few hits of a spliff or a crackpipe. He saw the gleam in Don’s eyes when he was around them. Don was instantly attracted to that ‘street’ life that Mo’s parents desperately and successfully taught him not to get sucked into. On the last day of high school, Don decided to quit education and “start hustling”. Mo knew from then that Don was heading towards a dark path, and ostracised him out of his life for good. He only felt remorseful for not doing his damnedest in warning the rest of the lads back then.
With the minister’s sermon approaching its conclusion, Mo turned to his right to nod at Carl. In turn, Carl nudges at Jake, who then taps Adem on the ribs. They all look at each other accordingly, nonverbally reaching the same outcome.
Adem led the way towards Don’s grieving parents. The foursome briefly offer their condolences and — out of politeness rather than willingness — their assistance in anything they needed, and subsequently apologise for not being able to attend the wake due to other commitments. Wiping her eyes, Don’s anguished mother simply thanks them for attending the funeral, and her husband gives them a curt but considerate nod.
“Well, that was awkward,” Mo says once they walk out of the Mortlake Crematorium gates. He reaches his outstretched hand to Jake, indicating his need for a cigarette.
Jake hands him one, and lights up another himself. “Tell me something, lads. Why the fuck did we go to that prick’s funeral?” The three stop to look at him, more out of trivial bemusement than indignant affront. “I mean, he’s fucked us all over repeatedly. I couldn’t even mourn the bastard’s death. All I could think about was how much he deserved his comeuppance.”
“I agree with Jakey,” Carl says. “I only came because his old dear was good to us back in the day, and he was our boy since we were kids. None of us knew the kind of person he was gonna turn into ‘till it was too late.”
“He went too far. He treated us like commodities, not as friends. Things he could take advantage of. I’m not gonna drink to his memory, that’s for sure,” Mo says. They all look at Adem, who hadn’t uttered a word since leaving the crematorium. “You have no reason to mourn his loss Ads,” he continues. “He fucked you over the most. I only wish you’d listened when we told y—”
Adem interjects by putting up a hand. “It’s okay boys. Fuck him.” He pauses for a few seconds. “How about we leave our motors here and pick them up tomorrow? Because it’s been ages since we were all together.”
Jake smiles and rubs his stomach. “I am starving, though. And I do miss me some proper pub grub.”
“To Richmond it is then,” Carl says. “I know a good place, with a proper fit barmaid. Tits up to here.” He stretches out his hands away from his chest to emphasize her chest size.
“You filthy bastard,” Mo laughs. “Let’s find the nearest bus stop. Bloody hell, haven’t said that for a couple of years now.” He pulls out his phone to text Liz, telling her to meet them at Richmond in a few hours. They reach the bus stop just as the bright red R68 is about to pull up. Hopefully all thoughts of Donovan Bernard will get washed away in booze by the time she arrives, he thought as they tap their Oyster cards on the reader.
Oumar S. Mussa is a British expat currently residing in East Asia. Having been published once before at Not Your Eyes, you can find his other works at GQ and countless other blogs hidden in cyberspace. He spends his days teaching English to the next generation of South Korean troublemakers, and constantly wrestles with a blank page armed with a glass of Jameson by nightfall. He also has a deep fondness for Camel cigarettes, hot chocolate, & dead American novelists. You can find more of his short stories and flash fiction at oumarsmussa.wordpress.com.
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Cover photo: Allen Forrest http://maudlinhouse.net/allen-forrest