After the drama of family and grandchildren, stepping forward one after the other to drop a white lily onto the coffin below, the old guy in the tweed fedora stepped forward to the grave’s edge. He had stepped slowly forward when attentions were diverted. When the mourners had pulled their eyes away, and were looking through the bare branches of the graveyard trees at the happy sky beyond. As they were all swallowing hard and waiting for the lumps in throats to mercifully subside. That was when he stepped to the edge of the raw earth.
His movements were slow and deliberate, as those of an old man might be. Slow as a poignant moment required. His shoulders were rounded in tweed, but his stance was firm and erect. He was a mix of pride and defiance, and of humility and solemnity. Two steps forward. Eyes cast down. He embodied grief, but an outwardly unemotional grief. He was accepting of the inevitable. His friend had gone first. His turn would come, like all of us. The time between would be lonelier for Paul’s passing. That is how it will have to be.
He raised his hand to the brim of his hat, and then brought it forward.
It was at once a wave,
and a doffing of this hat.
A “goodbye old friend”.
It was a split second farewell gesture, but it was one that captured everything .
Everything to anyone who knew. Anyone who knew the friendship between these two. Two old men who I saw side by side in the veld confirming the botanical name of the wildflowers. Two old men whom I saw stoop on their walking sticks as they climbed the hill behind all the youngsters to nod at the cave paintings. Two old men who passed field glasses between them and discussed the identity of a bird of prey. Two old men who sat hunched in a boat with fly rods in hand, happy to just be there, and not demanding of a Trout’s sacrifice. Two old men who delighted in the stories re-told by the other so many times, but one more time again for the benefit of the others around the table. Two old men who delighted in prose and play on words. Men who treasured the sipping of a whisky in the firelight. One a farmer, the other from town, both of them equally academic. Both of them flyfishermen. Both of them basking in the nostalgia of later years.
One of them gone now.
A buddy lost.
My turn to look up at the sky now, and swallow hard.
So long Paul. Sterkte Stiggs.