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Diary, Monday 23rd February, 1998

Yesterday I went to the funeral of Miss Jones. She was 47 when she died. The funeral was held in Winters Pen, just outside Spanishtown. We drove there in a convoy, Greg Makube was ahead of us in his gold coloured Mitsubishi, I was behind in Allan's red jeep. I borrowed it for the occasion. We spent a considerable time looking for the Centre for the Redeemed Church of God. Lots of ladies and gentlemen along the way pointed us in every direction and nodded vehemently at every question Greg put to them. He is not really called Greg, he is called Sakue, and comes from Cameroon, but he became Greg in the United States.

There are many churches in Jamaica. Finally we saw a sign with a curious arrow and the right words: Centre for the Redeemed Church of God. The arrow pointed up. Despite the arrow’s persistence we found the church. The church was not a church. It was an ochre-coloured concrete floor with nine sawn-off telephone poles holding up various forms of tarpaulin and aluminium sheeting, situated within a flat plain. Houses were springing up everywhere around the church. Winterspen is a very dusty, dry place. The aluminium sheeting and the bright blue tarpaulins thundered in the wind and the dust made everyone squint and hold onto to their things. David was already there, dressed in a grey suit with a light blue shirt, and his hands in his pockets. He was wearing his suit with the distaste of a schoolboy at the brim of duty. The seats, plastic garden chairs and odd wooden benches were arranged in two batteries with a narrow aisle up the middle. Raoul sat on a wooden bench, I sat on a more comfortable plastic garden chair. There were lots of ladies attired in their Sunday, black best. With beautiful hats and dresses shoring in the voluminous masses of their roundness.

Mr Young's funeral parlour's beige-coloured American hearse was there. It was not as beautiful as the much older American Black Hearse we had passed on the way to the church. Mr. Young himself is a sour-faced, pock-marked man with sweat oozing from every pore. His black oval sunglasses were impervious and moulded to the corners of his skull with precision, making his eyes look like the bulbous impenetrable eyes of a bluebottle. His mouth was folded into resentment. He had glistening, tightly packed wavy hair which came out in a mat at the back. The grease rubbed off on his ill-fitting shiny black suit. He wheeled in the coffin, and parked it with the experience of a good driver in front of the improvised reredos separating the audience from the actors: a wooden railing hurriedly dressed in purple cloth. Mr. Young took a relaxed contraposto and opened the silver-coloured lid of the casket in which Miss Jones would lie until she was buried.

There she lay, between audience and actors, surrounded by a generous sea of white folded satin like Ophelia's face floating in the water. But she was no Ophelia. Inf act, she was no longer even recognisable as Miss Jones. Her skin was leathery, drawn and taut. Her nostrils were stretched down, presumably to keep her mouth shut. Her lips were tight and no longer generous, her forehead had caved in at the sides and was narrow and mean. She was dead and lay absolutely still amidst white lace and satin with which the wind played as a young mother would play with a child. When the wind had succeeded in loosening the careful folding of the satin we could all see that its edges were worn and frayed. But nobody really wanted to notice that. Miss Jones offered no resistance. She was a thing. The coffin was large, Miss Jones was small. The coffin was painted silver and had large chrome studs along its length supporting a rail which the bearers could hold. The lid was divided into two parts. The top could open up separately, perhaps to economise on the amount of preparation the corpse would need. Apart from the sea of white satin and lace surrounding miss Jones' head and her clumsily folded hand in delicate lace gloves, so unlike Miss Jones, the lid was also busily upholstered with yet more white satin surrounding a small, faded reproduction of Leonardo's da Vinci’s last supper. When the lid was closed the picture must have almost touched Miss Jones’ lips. She was not sure about God. I remember that.

The wind made everything thunder. The tarpaulin bellowed, its wide holes ripping further with every violent gust. The aluminium sheeting banged against the cross beams from which it had come loose. The flowers fell off the coffin. The dust was in our eyes. I picked up a cross, made of pink plastic flowers, which I put back on the coffin. It blew off again. There was a blanket of noise increasing the silence. People were gathering. There were not nearly enough seats. The church was crowded. Miss Jones was well-liked. Funerals are well-liked. Miss. Byefield came and sat in front of me. The button of her dress was undone at the back. I offered to do it up for her.

At five past three the preacher drove up past the structure, parked his car and got everything ready. He was wearing a nice suit. He was constantly fiddling with the microphone stand. He looked like a financial man. Up went the microphone. Elvis Presley. Then it would go down again. To test it he spoke into the microphone, which had a smart red top and he shouted "praise the lord" and "amen" as others would say: “testing, testing one, two, three”. The crowd responded. “Praise the Lord”. “Amen”. He asked for a further five minutes. They weren't quite ready yet. He tested his keyboard. The drummer tested his drums. A concrete block was fetched to silence the loudest part of the aluminium roof. It was decided to leave the flowers on the ochre floor. I looked around and there was Pat, in a black linen jacket. There were lots of people now. Many faces I recognised. The preacher started the service by asking us to stand. He was dressed in a specially made black gown with bits of white worked into it. “Let me hear you praise the Lord”. “Praise the lord.” “Let me hear it again.” “Praise the Lord.” He spoke like a financial man. He was cool. He too wore dark glasses, like Mr Young. They were more expensive. All one saw was his face and especially his teeth. He had lots of teeth and one gap between them.

He asked people to come forward and read a lesson. Miss. Eugenie Taylor started reading. She was a large lady with a single tooth. She could not read very well. And her hat was nearly blowing off. Revelations 20. But she got it wrong, she started describing the city in Revelations 21 “And had a wall great and high and had twelve gates, and at the gates were twelve angels, and names written thereon. On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the lamb. And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof and the wall thereof.” At this point Miss Eugenie Taylor, her name had been written in black bold letters on her bible, looked into the crowd defiantly. “And the city lieth foursquare and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs And the building of the wall was of Jasper.” At the back of the church a loud hateful shout went up. I looked around. How can they protest? I thought. What has the lady done? But everyone thought it normal. So I did too. “And the foundations of the wall were garnished with all manner of precious stones.” At this point the preacher intervened and brought Miss Eugenie Taylor back to Revelations twenty. Miss Taylor said: “excuse me…. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone. And I saw a great white throne. And I saw the dead, small and great. And whosoever was not found in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. Here endeth the reading.” Miss Taylor sat down, crestfallen. And everyone clapped and shouted and a lady next to me on the other side of the aisle hissed.

The preacher asked two young people to come to the wooden railing behind which he stood. The purple cloth hanging from the wooden railing was blowing up like a skirt, revealing the preacher's legs. A young girl and her brother came up. The brother looked to his sister and was stiffly dressed in a black suit. She was looking up to heaven. They were going to sing a song. “Listen to the words not the voice,” she said. That was good advice. And then the girl looked into the audience with eyes hardened with certainty. It was she who had made that hateful noise, I now realise. She told us that whenever we try to do something right the devil always comes to make it go wrong. It was the devil who had confused Miss Eugenie Taylor. Miss taylor looked up in surprise from behind the reredos. She had obviously not thought of this possibility and acquiesced in it. Mouthing the name of the devil and nodding. The wind was still there but the singing was stronger. The singing was excruciating. We sang. I could not hear myself singing even though I was enjoying myself. The loudspeaker was very loud. “Praise the lord.” “Amen.” “Amen.” Then after lots more songs the preacher introduced a man. E. Brooks or Ebrooks, he wasn't sure. Mr. Brooks had written the eulogy. Miss Jones was called Pepsi! I had never known. Pepsi. And we learnt of her life and her jobs and her children. I couldn't see the boy anywhere. Then the preacher talked and told us that "deat iz a muss and we muss mek it right wid God." And he told us a story about death which was funny and his teeth became larger. His voice more emphatic and hysterical and he had been worried about Miss Jones for she had not given herself to Jesus according to the last time he saw her. He no longer sounded like a financial man, he sounded like a hurricane, but he was more financial than ever. He was making his bed. But he was not here to preach for the dead. He was preaching to the living, for they had money. And the collection went round. Building fund. And everyone knew when he was quoting from the bible for they would finish his quotes for him. And people waved and shouted “halleluyah”. It was a frenzied afternoon. There was no more dust and no more wind. The wind and the dust could no longer compete with the waving, the noise and the excruciating songs. And with every song the preacher would play on his little organ, which made little, jumpy sounds, suitable for mourning people and rarely would the song and the accompaniment agree. I was moved. There were some young men with new sunglasses and cool outfits. They stood there scowling. They belonged there too.

And then it was finished, as abruptly as it had begun. The preacher asked everyone to line up behind the hearse. There was Mr. Young again, who had slipped into the driver seat. The coffin had been pushed into the back of the car. It looked monumental, so unlike lovely, quiet Miss Jones. The wind and the dust had returned in full force now that we were waiting for the procession to leave us. Voices were cut off by the wind. I saw Miss Jones' mother and I went up to her. She grabbed my hand and spoke of the spirit in all of us. We left. The cemetery is for intimates. This morning I heard that the procession had had to be abandoned as a gunman was being buried at the time and two rival gangs had started fighting in the cemetery. One man had his head chopped up. The police would only let Mr. Young, the corpse and the preacher through.

Diary, Friday 27th February 1998

Raoul sent me an e-mail. He was sitting in a taxi discussing the funeral of Miss Jones with the Taxi driver. On entering the taxi he had had to remove a Daily Star from the seat. Two people dead in Cemetery, it said. They were not from rival gangs, they were not even gunmen. There were two groups of mourners taking their respective dead to the cemetery at the same moment, neither group would give way to the other, an argument broke out whereby two people chopped each other up.



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