Wandering Thoughts

October 11, 2009

The Funeral

Filed under: Going Places — terence @ 4:53 pm
Tags: ,

Tidy and tended, trailing off between sandy hills, the road took hold like a story. We’d stopped halfway, camped among the acacia trees, next to the sea, waiting for waves. We had stopped halfway, but the road kept on, like a set down book, and after a few days watching the surfless sea we decided we needed to know how it ended.

It was made of cobblestones; laid by hand, by a team of men, tapping; one stone at a time. We wandered out on to it one morning, sitting on its verge waiting for a ride. After maybe half an hour we got a lift in a rundown van held together by cheery splashes of paint.

Onde?
O fin da rua?

The end of the road? Both a question of his destination and a statement of ours.

Sem.

And so we got in. After about a kilometre curving right, towards Sao Nicolau’s northern edge.

There were houses along the way, every once in a while, in clusters, but it wasn’t until the road’s end that we hit the village proper. Worn houses square and white, or pastel pink and green, caught the light carried between the puffy rainless clouds. By then we were on the Island’s weather coast, up from a rocky shore, swept by the break and swash of trade-wind swell.

Benji and I wandered into the square. We’d lost track of the days of the week, but figured, from all the people milling outside the church, that it must have been a Sunday. We stood and watched for a bit, not quite sure what to do with our destination now we’d found it.

The bar is closed but come back to my place; I’ll get you a drink

He was old, in a frayed but otherwise tidy jacket and shirt, round around the waste and with brown skin that hung like old sails. He smelt slightly of spirits.

I’m always uneasy round drunks. Or, maybe more truly, I’m always uneasy round people full stop. I was about to thank him and politely decline, when Benji piped up.

Great, we’d love too.

Benji was a few years younger than me but an effortless traveller. From the north of France he spoke French and English fluently, and was reading a book in German. He spoke ok Cape Verde Criole too. His Portuguese wasn’t as good as mine (a small win I jealously guarded) but he was relaxed, casually taking in his stride things that set me on edge.

The old guy’s house was small and carefully kept. He and Benji chatted.

Where are you from?

France and New Zealand.

When I worked on a fishing boat we went to lots of places, but never New Zealand. That’s a long way.

The fishing boat explained his English. Throughout the lusophone countries I’d run into old men who spoke English, who’d learnt it on boats. No education, yet amongst the hard work, time to pick up enough words to thread together conversations in another tongue.

What are you doing here?

We’re surfers, camped at Barril?

Ah, I see. Come on. Finish your drinks. It’s time to go.

Where?

To the funeral. That’s what they were waiting for in the square. The graveyard is back down the road. You can catch a lift.

And that’s how we joined the funeral procession, invited by a drunk old fisherman. Piling into the back of one of a fleet of coloured, rusty Utes. The whole village was going to the burial and no one, apparently, saw anything strange in two scruffy Europeans joining them.

After maybe a twenty minute drive, following the flow of people, we wandered into the graveyard. The old guy was quietly crying now. We still had no idea who’d died. As the body arrived all the women around us, wearing dresses and headscarves, starting wailing, singing their grief into the sky. The words must have been different but the sound was strangely familiar, like that at a Tangi. The same cries in song, different words but with the same meaning. Conscious now of our intrusion into someone else’s sorrow, I touched Benji on the arm and we walked back up to the road.

A bright red pick-up pulled up. Its driver’s name written on the side: Juao de Deus – John of God. We hopped onboard and he started for home, back now from the end of the road, and away from the funeral. Back to the camp amongst the Acacias. In the small bay of Barril.

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