Neil Coppen

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Tricky Since Childhood

July19

The scrape of their spades recalls your shoes on the driveway, heavy, home from work. Around five, winter dusk, sky murky purple. Often I’d pass you on your final stretch, turning up Tividale: peace in a moment, the now. Steps steady, slow. Your legs were tricky since childhood.

You should have taken the ride your boss offered you after work. He told me on the morning of your funeral, said he was giving you a lift but was delayed by some last minute paper work. You had decided not to wait, thought it better to take the bus. Said your mother was waiting at the stop to walk you home.

We shuffle down the slope of the Kwanangezi cemetery, clusters of gravediggers taking twenty beneath the shades of the only acacia. Spliffs and spades exchanging hands till one takes mine. A man with peep holes for eyes, two fingers missing.

“Don’t cry, don’t cry” he says mocking the Ray Banded white boy, a visitor accustomed to the clinical rites of a Doves cremation parlour: Time to Say Goodbye misplayed on the organ, inanimate doominie at the podium. In and out. Far from this hellish descent, these injured dirges, mists of marijuana and dust making mud of the brain.

At the foot of the grave (beneath purple Gazebo) sat your mother. No matter how hard your brothers shovelled they could not conceal you. The heap beside the hole refused to lessen and your Dudu ,resolute as a stone and wrung of all grief, never once looked away. Not when they tossed in your pillow, blankets and clothes, a wilting plastic bouquet.

I hid your denim skirt the day before she returned to work. Tucked it in the corner of a laundry cupboard. Memories less painful than ones material remains. Pocket’s an inventory of the living: bank slips, buttons, a pencil, bus fare shrapnel, balls of unravelled thread.

An hour, minute, milli second, a minor interruption and all this might have been avoided. Retrospect is torture still we play the scenario over and over. Your legs were unreliable, tricky since childhood.

So you tumbled as the bus left the stop, not into her waiting arms, but past. Under wheels, torn on tar, pressed like the flowers we laid this afternoon to mark the merciless place.

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