The Watchers

We watched them as they came up the hill toward us. They came not as a group, but in scattered pairs, small families, or as individuals. There was a reluctance to their steps, as if they didn't want to be coming to this place, or at least as if they didn't want to face up to why they were coming.

Near the head of the pack were Alfred Browley and his slightly cowed son, Alfred Jr. The elder Alfred was a community leader, with LEADER in capital letters. Except nobody ever much bothered to follow. I wondered what would happen to him now without Sarah, his much suffering audience.

And then came Sam and Pat, my next-door neighgbors, with their daughter Anne. But without son Mikey. And Paul Krug, now widower. And all the others.

And my dear Claire.

Leading the ragged flock was a figure in black, Dr. Utley, the Congo minister. Even though we were a rag-tag of denominations it had been decided to hold one common memorial and to have Dr. Utley, whom everyone respected, lead it.

After they had gathered in the small open area in the center of the cemetary Dr. Utley opened his Bible and began to read. We all knew the words. The book was just used as a prop but there was something comforting about the ritual.

From time to time faces would be lowered and perhaps hidden in hands. In others your could see the tracks tears had wet on their cheeks. Matt Ridley sank to his knees and cried out while holdinng on to his daughter. His wife, Paula, who was standing next to me, stirred and I could sense her ambivalence at causing so much distress to someone she loved, but at the same time being gratified at having been loved so much.

Our bus had skidded coming around a wet corner, rolled down Cobb's Hill, and burst into flames at the bottom. Everyone on the bus was killed.

And now that our departure had been noted, now that we were reassured that we would be missed and that our lives had mattered, we were more content. Little by little we began to draw back, away from the assembled group. We edged back into the brush that surrounds the cemetary and began to fade, becoming more translucent, even to ourselves, as we readied ourselves to pass on to whatever comes next.


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