We were all too entrenched in our collective sorrow to notice many details of the parlour’s quite magnificent interior itself. I was only vaguely aware of the vast hugeness and the feeling of the ’emptiness’ of the building. Despite the scorching, brilliant heat of the afternoon sun, it had felt cold and oppressive inside.
Where we sat in reception was clean but stark. There was nothing there to distract visitors from the reason they were there in the first place. Distraction surely was a good thing under those circumstances, even for a few seconds or minutes.
After a few more minutes, the lady I spotted approaching us looked like she fitted well within these stark and bare walls though.
I knew she had to be the one I had spoken to on the telephone earlier on.
Her face looked as sour as a miffed puss that had been dragged through rose thorns, backwards. The harsh tap-tap of her shoes irritated me no end and served only to distress my last nerves. Each step she took sounded reprimanding somehow. Her stiff demeanour made her appear rigid and unapproachable. If I had not been emboldened and encouraged by the fact that I had avoided the possibility of being shamed if we had not gained entrance, I would probably have felt intimidated by her presence.
But I was not intimidated. I had played my bluff and we were inside the building, so she could bring whatever attitude she had because I was well and truly ready for her.
As she drew nearer, I deliberately stood up and with outstretched hand and a forced smile on my face, I introduced myself to her, making sure to mention that I was the deceased’s grand-daughter.
‘Erm, yes, well, like I was explaining to you on the telephone……’
Had to cut her off quick here, I was thinking at speed. Being shamed was not an option.
‘Yes, and thank you so much for agreeing to permit us to visit our beloved family member today. It’s so understanding of you to take into consideration that we have all travelled from England and are longing to pay our respects to my beloved grandmother.’
She still didn’t look entirely convincing that she would not turn us away. My brain was on fire with panic now. What the hell did she want me to say that would penetrate that iced brain of hers?
Oh. Oh. Her lips were moving again.
Not a good sign.
I hate bad manners in anybody, but f*** it, I had to interupt her. My needs at that precise moment in time were far greater than hers.
‘So, do we have to sign in or do we just go straight through to pay our respects to our beloved? Oh, by the way, this is my father, also from England and this is my brother. [I gesticulate fiercely for the two of them to stand and step forward and join me to encroach on this woman’s personal space].
Thankfully, they both jump up and come to stand beside me. She has no choice but to politely shake my brother’s outstretched hand. My father, still anxious and nervous about being there in the first place, manages to stutter a brief greeting and shakes her hand also.
Now, confronted with three foreigners from England come to view a loved one, you would think this woman’s heart would melt or at least bend a little right?
‘Like I was trying to explain on the telephone it is our policy to have fresh clothes delivered before family members can view…..’
Really! Was that her main concern in being so stubborn and so inconsiderate!
Well, ok then – time to play my trump card then!
‘Oh, that’s no problem. I have her fresh clothes here with me.’
Her facial features actually sagged and dropped and almost made contact with the cold marble flooring. I swear they did.
Her eyes bulged as I triumphantly brandished the holdall I had in my hand, holding it aloft like I had just won the Olympic Gold Medal or something.
Please don’t have a stroke or a fit here, right now, in front of me, I prayed silently.
I seemed to have this somewhat detrimental affect on people in times of drama and conflict.
She stammered an insistence of wanting to take the holdall from me to go back to request her staff make arrangements to wash and dress our beloved for us to return in two days time.
Seriously – I was about to lose it with her.
‘Oh, that is so kind of you, but it was my grandmother’s last wish that I, as her grand-daughter from England, should come and cleanse, bathe and dress her in the clothes she wished to be buried in. So kind of you to allow us to accommodate her last wishes though. Thank you.’
Desperation and wanting to do the right thing tends to bring out the ‘bitch’ in me.
‘Alrite den. Mek me go let them know seh unuh want fe bathe and dress her yourself.’
Well, the fact that this unfeeling statue of a woman had broken out in patois [Jamaican lingo] told me in no uncertain terms that she was vex as hell. I wanted to laugh.
‘Good. A dat me just go fe seh too. Please mek haste as a Hengland we come from.’ I replied with a sickly sweet smile pasted on my face.
We three looked at one another as she spun sharply on her heels and trotted off down the long and grey corridors.
My father looked over at me and winked and smiled.
We couldn’t very well laugh out loud in that place – it would have been far too inappropriate and sacriligious.