Brothers In Arms

This is the end of "The Post War Dream." I suppose one could call it an epilogue and "The Sound of Silence" would be a prologue.
I hope this will answer all of the questions that people have asked me about these characters, at least I've tried to address all of them.
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The high ceiling of the church seemed shrouded in mystery, its secrets held dearly by the shadows. The dark beams holding it up seemed almost an extension of the shadows that reached out and crawled down the walls to the ground, holding them up against the outside world, letting in only a little of it at a time through the stained glass windows shaped like arrow slits in a castle moulded into facsimiles of legends and myths gone by. Each window with its own story to tell, it's own myth to immortalize. Here, the last supper, the bright table brimming with food and drink, there, Christ carrying the cross on his back, a cross as dark as the shadows high up in the church, dark as the doors that were opened wide.
People shuffled in, brushing off drops of rain from their black coats or dresses. Mothers fawning over their children, making sure that their little heads were dry, all as quietly as possible, lest the shadows be offended.
Up and down the aisle they walked, finding places to sit down, some close to the altar, some close the the doors. A trickle unchecked can turn into a flood, the church filled with people before long, standing next to the benches, sitting on the floor close to the doors, leaning on the walls and pillars, only the aisle between the benches was left unoccupied and yet not one soul said a word, a hush settled over the church, unlike any it had ever known. They waited, almost afraid to speak, lest the shadows be offended.
A rhythmic tapping and the sound of rubber flapping against the granite floor. A man, advanced in years, limped down the aisle aided by his plain dark walking stick. Surprised stares followed him as he walked down the aisle. Sporting a bright blue floral print shirt, khaki shorts and rubber slippers he walked with as much a swagger he could manage, completely oblivious to the people around him, to the shadows above him. He walked down the aisle with an air of purpose, a man who had something to do, something to achieve, something to say. Eyes, whispers and a few smiles followed him the entire length of the aisle. Eyes and whispers of the outraged and smiles from the people who knew him. He kissed a woman sitting in the first bench on her cheek, patted her hand and walked up the stairs to the podium on the altar.
He shuffled about in his pockets to find his spectacles and a piece of paper, the sounds amplified through the church by the microphone set up at the podium, shushing the whispers again.
"Good Morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming," he said in a quivering voice. "While I get myself together, I'd like you to read something. In the bible stands of your benches you'll find a few sheets. I'd like you to take those out and read it. I know its sort of unorthodox, but hey, you've got nothing to lose, right?"
A smile split his face almost in two. The shuffling of papers replaced the hush that had settled over the church. The people in the benches offered the papers to the people standing and kneeling once they had finished reading it. Minutes passed, the shuffling died down, once more replaced by a hush and an occasional sob from those particularly moved by its contents.
"Alrightey, I think everybody's finished reading. I am the subject of that letter and the best friend of its author. Him."
The old man pointed over his shoulder to the large picture of a man next to the dark wood coffin on the altar.
"I know that most of you think that I shouldn't be up here, dressed like this, that I should show some respect for the departed. I didn't respect him all of the years I've known him, I'm not about to start now. Ok, that's not entirely true, I did respect him for a lot of things, just don't anybody tell him that, it'll be our little secret," he said with a smile and a wink.
"We said that at the end of our days we'd get a place near a beach somewhere and spend the days in the sun. I couldn't give him that, I felt that at the end of his days I'd at least give him the semblance of that, hence my choice of wardrobe. That's the first of many letters he wrote to my mother over, oh, about five years, I believe. He became a son to her, visited her often, kept her company when I wasn't around to do it, right up until she passed away. Her dying wish was that he cremate her if I wasn't around to do it. He did."
The man's voice quivered as he spoke.
"A good man. A very good man he was. When I got out of the camps and back home he was there at the gate waiting for me. I remember seeing him there, cigarette in his hand, trying to look very cool with his long, gelled hair. Waiting with that wide grin of his. I always told him it'd split his face in half. I mean it! Literally! The grin would start at one ear and go right up to the other. Like this."
The man at the altar grinned wide fetching a few from his audience.
"Anyway, there he was and there he stayed, since that day up until a few days ago, right by my side."
The man paused to collect himself, took a deep breath.
"He'd already started a small business for himself, investing some of 'my' inheritance, he said. And that's how we started. I lived with him after that. Two bachelors living together, I'm sure you can imagine what kind of life we had. But then things had to change. He met the beautiful woman you see in the front row."
He pointed to the lady he kissed on the way to the altar.
"They gave me a family. There's been only one time I've walked down the aisle at a wedding, to give away 'our' daughter. Each one of us holding one of her arms."
He blew a kiss to one of the women sitting on the first bench. She held onto a young boy in her lap, crying into his hair.
"You should have seen the two of us at the end of that day. Two grown umm... men of advancing years, sitting on the floor, quite drunk, bawling our hearts out."
Smiles graced many of the faces in the room. Sunlight streamed bright through the windows, the beams of the church gleamed darkly.
"Look at her now. Look at that little fellow in her arms. Brilliant chap, he is. First in his class and he can paint better than I can! You'll learn much more than I'll ever know, kiddo."
The old man whistled loud, two quick notes. The child quickly looked up and around in response to the familiar sound. His searching eyes found the old man and a smile broke out on his young face.
"XXXXXX wasn't all good though. Mischeivious bugger, Impish, I'd say. He once flicked a cop's helmet. I'm sure many of you don't know that story. So here we are, it's around half past midnight, we've been out drinking up until then and none of us wanted to drive, so we start walking home, three of us. There's a bike cop writing a ticket for someone he's just pulled over. Of course, the first thing that pops into my head is that I like his helmet. So I dare XXXXXX that he can't get that helmet. 'Youuu thhinkk I can't get thatt hellmet? Jusst you wait, misssy'". He pauses to let the snickers and the laughs die down.
"He said that exactly how I said it just now and off he goes almost at a run. I'm not kidding! The cop's busy writing in his book and this bugger nicks the helmet and continues walking. Come over to our house anytime, I'll show it to you. Thankfully, I didn't place a wager on that dare."
The woman in the front row with the child in her arms laughs through her tears.
"You think that's nuts, for those of you who know his wife, you'd know that her father was the owner of one of the towns largest hotels. This is how he first met his father in law. The three of us, I had to tag along, of course, being family and all of that .... we're sitting in the restaurant of the hotel waiting for her dad to come down and meet us. 'Meet the parents' time and all that jazz. He was nervous as hell and I was getting horribly bored. We'd been waiting for a while, you see. There was a bowl of salted peanuts on the table, don't ask me why they were there, they just were. I started tossing them in my mouth. He saw what I was doing and followed suit. Next thing you know we're juggling them and tossing one into our mouth with each loop. A few minutes of that and we're throwing it into each others mouth across the table, all of this while XXXXX's trying to stop us. Now of course as luck would have it, just at that moment, her father has to walk in and she screams 'Daddy'. Why do women have such shrill screams? Anyway, my aim goes out the window and the peanut lands bang in XXXXXXs eye. So, the first ever chat he has with his future father-in-law is in the hospital emergency room."
Snickers and giggles turned to open laughter filling the church, touching the high ceiling. The shadows at the top seemed to lessen just a little.
"However, I think this takes the cake -- we got thrown out of a pub ... I know it's hard to do, but we managed to do it. Again, we're pretty bored one night and we go out thinking we'll get a drink, but once we get there, neither of us really wants to drink. Here we are, a couple of bachelors, bored out of our skulls with absolutely nothing to do. If the idle mind is the devil's workshop then XXXXXX's mind was the place that every devil was working in. He just walks over to table that a couple is sitting on. Grabs a glass and takes a sip with both of the people at the table staring at him. 'I just wanted to see how it tastes' he says nonchalantly. All of this while, I'm staring at him from the bar, wondering what he's upto. When I asked him about it when he got back, he said, 'You're bored aren't you.'" He pauses to control his laughter.
"Long story short, we got thrown out that day after tasting about thirty or so drinks between the two of us," he said as he burst out laughing. Wiping a tear from his eyes "Good days, good days. We had our share of those. More than our share. Our share of bad days too, we got through those though. He helped quite a few other people get through theirs too. I think that's why there are so many people here today." His eyes surveyed the people in the room ... standing in the aisles, next to the benches, seated on the floor, leaning against the wall.
"He was just about to walk out of an ATM once and a man asked him for help. He claimed not to know how to use the ATM. XXXXXX takes the card from the man and inserts it, he asked the man for the PIN number, he had to explain that it's a four digit number used to identify the owner of the card. The man took out a piece of crumpled paper and smoothed it out in his hands. XXXXXX told him that there wasn't enough money in the account and that he was about a thousand bucks short. The man's face fell, he said that he thought the money was there, he needed to pay his son's school fees. No prize for guessing what XXXXXX did next, let's just say that he came out of the ATM a thousand bucks lighter than he was supposed to."
Eyes glistened in the light streaming in through the windows.
"He touched the lives of a lot of people. Helped a lot of them. I always told him he was too trusting ... he always told me I was too paranoid. I think that's why we were friends."
Men dressed in black waistcoats and bow ties had walked into the church while the man on the altar was speaking, each with a tray in their hands. They went around offering glasses to the people in the church.
"I kiss a beautiful woman goodbye every morning when I leave the house. She's married to him."
"I have three incredible children. They call him 'Dad'."
"I have a brilliant grandchild who calls my friend 'Granda'."
"My friend was a good man. He gave a lot of himself. He gave me a family."
"XXXXXX led a full life, a good life. He gazed at the stars with his children, taught them about the constellations. He dandled his grandson on his knee, played hide and seek with him. He had the love of a good woman and the respect of all who knew him. He led a good life. So, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in celebrating his life."
He turned to the back of the altar and gestured to the person sitting behind the curtains. Frank Sinatra's 'I did it my way' resounded through the church. Picking two glasses from the tray a waiter was holding, he held them up and shouted over the music, "To XXXXXX."
The shadows retreated to the place from whence they came.
Every single person in the church stood and raised their glasses.
He limped to the coffin and placed one of the glasses at its head.
"Our last drink together?" he said with an impish smile on his face.
He kissed the coffin and whispered, "Let me bid you farewell, every man has to die."

3 comments:

'Smee! said...

Somehow, your longest post doesn't seem all that long cos it's a happy sort of post. your first I guess. thank you!

Sketcher said...

at first i didn't want to read it :) coz it was so long! 'smee's comment made me get back to reading it. Thanks 'smee for that comment which led me to reading this post.
And du... nice indeed. I hadn't read any of your previous posts for a while and i'm glad i didn't miss this one. I felt happy reading it. It had happiness in it's sorrow (if that makes sense to you).

siddharth b (myriadofmirrors) said...

hey man, went thru most of ur blog. briliant stuff. really love the darkness. and good to c another fellow fantasy/SF fan! der arent many in india, leave alone bangalore. do check my blog out. my earlier posts r mainly fantasy short stories, and d newer ones r a bit of dark fiction.thanks..