It was a particularly bright day for a funeral.
The sun was shining down in all its golden glory. The air was thick with pollen from spring flowers. The small town was mostly at the Paanja jheel, boating, enjoying family picnics. Lovers were canoodling amongst the bushes. Everyone was out celebrating the onset of spring and the end of the dreary winters, celebrating life.
But not here in the cemetery.
Toby looked at his best friend since kindergarten, Troy. He seemed detached from his surroundings, the kind of detachment that comes not from grieving but from habit, when you know no one will care how you feel or what you do. Troy had always been like that.
They first became friends, eleven years ago, because the whole school thought they were brothers. Because both were of the same faith. Because they had identical last names, ‘Rebello’, and because both of them almost looked like brothers too – the same crooked teeth, the same flared noses and the same crew cuts. Of course, when they grew up, one towered over the other, and the latter buffed up, but now they were more like brothers than ever before. Their bromance was legendary.
Their upbringing though was as different as different could be. Toby came from a pious, god-fearing Catholic family, who attended Mass every Sunday, donated to charities, and were the perfect example of a ‘traditional Indian family’. ‘Family first’ and ‘self-discipline’ were ideals drilled into Toby’s head with a heavy hand, even if that meant being beaten up to drive the point home. Toby could not even move a finger without his parents’ approval.
Troy on the other hand, belonged to a family that embraced modernity and openness. Troy was raised by a nanny mostly. His parents were die-hard workaholics, which meant that he figured out life by himself mostly. But they gave him a free hand in everything he wanted to do, including the subjects, clothes or tuition classes he wanted to choose. They only disciplined him when he got a touch too unruly for their liking. They would give him a handsome sum of pocket money, but expected him to make do with it till the end of the month. ‘Independence’ and ‘DIY’ were the mottoes his family lived by.
Perhaps their polar opposite families were what attracted the two to each other, even though the two sets of parents never got along. Toby liked the freedom Troy had. Troy liked the homeliness Toby had. Each lived vicariously through the other. Till Mrs. R. died and changed everything.
When he was setting out for the funeral, Mrs. Rebello had warned him, “You better break up things with that boy now. I never liked them. And now look what shame they’ve brought upon themselves and our community!”
Toby had only snatched the keys to his Activa in response, and had driven out of the Rebello household. To hell with you, he had thought.
Toby’s mother liked being addressed the traditional way, Mrs. Rebello. So, Troy’s mother was always the edgier, more modern ‘Mrs. R.’. It was Troy’s mother in the casket that morning, who’s burial service they were all attending.
All except Troy himself.
Toby walked over to where Troy was sitting and sank down to the plush grass on the other side of the cemetery grounds, right next to Troy. The movement didn’t break Troy’s meditation over the lone birthday card Mrs. R. had made for Troy years ago.
“You know you should be there, over at the graveside with your father. Mrs. R. would have wanted that,” Toby tried to reason with Troy.
“Mrs. R. is dead. Nothing should matter to her anymore”, Troy replied dispassionately.
Toby was taken aback by Troy’s bitterness. He looked intently at his friend who’s features revealed nothing but brutal stoniness.
Maybe he’s just messed up in the head because of her death, he tried reasoning with himself. More so because he couldn’t comprehend why his friend, his best friend, was not grieving.
“Why?” Toby was not sure if he should be asking that question at such a time but he had to know.
“Why what?” Clearly Troy wasn’t interested in answering.
“Why you-know-what, Troy!”
Several seconds passed wherein they could hear the Pastor standing atop the grave, concluding the last rites. The casket had been lowered already. Anytime now, the service would be over.
“Troy, Father James is done with the eulogy. You should really go now… for her sake.”
“Did I ever tell you they were going through a divorce?” Troy said in an irreverent tone, as if he was telling him about the score.
“What?!” Toby’s face reflected the same incredulity his voice did. It took him by surprise that Troy, who shared even the minutest of secrets with him, had not shared something like this.
“For over a year now… They’d been fighting over things for over a year now. They’d filed for divorce but it had been getting uglier.”
A year?! Toby couldn’t believe his ears. He had met Mrs. Rebello just a week back at Troy’s home and she seemed just fine. Maybe a little grumpy. But there was never anything off he sensed even back then.
And Troy?! Oh god! Just how had he been bearing all of that by himself? He must have gone through hell… and now this…
“So… is this why…” he looked back at the graveside, where they were now covering the casket with dirt. As if on cue, Mr. R. turned back and looked at the boys. Of all the emotions one should reflect when one has lost a dear one, remorse wasn’t an emotion on his face.
Toby turned back to Troy, “Is that why she… did this?” He couldn’t bear to say ‘killed’. “Because she didn’t want the divorce? I was told it was an accident over a misunderstanding!”
Troy chuckled. “Oh, is that what Mrs. Rebello told you? To protect you from the ‘evil of the world’?” Troy guffawed in Toby’s face and said, “You think my mother was so pious and sweet she killed herself because she was sad about the divorce? No Toby, she killed herself for stupid revenge… because the divorce wasn’t going the way she wanted it to go; because she didn’t want my father marrying his long-time girlfriend. Because she didn’t want him to be happy!”
Toby didn’t know what affected him more, the reasons for Mrs. R’s death or the deficiency of Troy’s emotions over the loss of his own mother. He could never conceive of betrayal in his own family, or talk ill about anyone in his family, both of which apparently, his best friend had been dealing with for quite some time.
But Troy carried on with the assault on his senses, “She said it all the time to my father, ‘I’ll never let you be happy. You’ll be miserable for the rest of your life’. She even screamed it out for all the world to hear just before she pulled the trigger. I saw it all Toby, I saw it all!” Troy closed his eyes, slipping back into his private hell.
Toby was speechless. What could he have said to his dear friend who was fighting an internal battle no one could do anything about? Comfort and words have a weird way of falling woefully short when you need them the most.
“But…but what about you? How could they never think of what it would do to you?”
Troy gave another bitter chuckle. “I…Looks like I never featured in their priority list at all.”
What do you say to that? What do you do when in one moment you find out that the world isn’t really a simple place? That it’s just as morbid, twisted and ugly a place as any hell described in any scripture? What do you do when the notions bred in you for ages are shattered in one fell swoop and you come face to face with the ugly underbelly of life?
One by one everyone at the graveside dispersed, including Mr. R. He had looked towards Troy only once, not as an invitation to take him back home though. He left in his Audi. Toby watched him leave, along with his notions of love, loyalty and family values that only a protected childhood can nurture.
That evening when the boys finally left the cemetery, they were boys no more.
Copyright ©2017 Pradita Kapahi.
All rights reserved.
Image Credits: Tante Tati at pixabay.com