I love the graveyard so much. There’s something so serene about it that is so much distinct to the deafening noises in my life. Talk about the neighbor’s generator, the daily traffic, the squeak and squeal of unsupervised toddlers, my ever-loudening heart. You don’t find these in the graveyard. Here, it’s just bones and my grief. And if there ever should be an anatomical description for grief, you would find it as dry, strong, and dirty as these bones that lie underneath.
The first time I ever entered this solemn garden filled with wilting flowers and weeds growing on people’s tomb, my eyes were covered in tears, I could hardly see the preacher man by my side, spewing some jargon about dust going back to dust.
The next time I visited was the day I wanted to sign the membership form to become one of the tomb owners. I already had a small table and a rope hanging on the ceiling fan back at home. I only came to pay my last respect to my family. That was the day I discovered the tranquility of the graveyard. The day it offered something I’ve been searching for, a long time.
And if I hadn’t given up on life before then, maybe I could have found the answers to the many questions raging in my head. Maybe I could have found enough motivation to keep going. Maybe I could have still seen light at the end of the tunnel. But I had been to the end and the tunnel remained dark.
Today I am back here once again, not thinking of what could have been or what not. I’m not putting on a fake smile trying to show the world I’m still living when I’m only existing. In this graveyard, I remember Mama, and I can almost breathe again.
Right in the middle of the cemetery, there’s a wooden bench with a built-in shade that always makes me wonder if it was made for the ghost of the dead. I wonder if they pop up at night, sit on this bench and talk about how happy or sad they are in the afterlife.
Another reason why I love the graveyard, I always wonder. On Earth, surrounded by people and arts and beautiful creatures, I wander but here I find the wonder.
Settling on the bench, I bring out a small paper from my handbag and the stuff I bought from the Underground boys earlier and started rolling.
“Don’t you think you’re inconveniencing these guys?”
My heart jumped right into my mouth. I could no longer feel my legs and entire limbs. Are ghosts real? Do they kill people? I have just heard one voice speak behind me. Will I even make it out of this place alive?
“Smokers are liable to die young, they always advise. I think you shouldn’t kill these people twice.”
“Who are you?” I shouted. Nerves stretching my voice making it sound less brave.
“I’m just a friend. Chill.” The voice behind me said.
“I said who are you? You find no friend in places like this.”
“That’s true. I didn’t expect to find you here.”
I could hear this man approaching me, his footsteps rustling against the dry leaves on the ground.
“Go away from me, you ghost!” I screamed.
“Oh. Hi, I think you’re mistaking me for another visitor. I’m Nuel.”
This stranger standing right in front of me doesn’t look like a ghost, or at least, he didn’t dress like it. His red color hoodie with the bold white inscription “3:16”, was not the regular regalia for ghosts. I also doubt that ghosts who do exist have enough time to style their hair into coily waves as this alien.
“What are you doing here?” I finally find my voice.
“Visiting. I’m not a stranger to this place at all.”
“Oh yeah, I noticed.”
“You did? How?” Every part of my body screamed at me to run away from this man but it’s been a while since someone piqued my curiosity.
“I know who goes in and comes out.” Nuel made himself comfortable by sitting next to me. Not before pushing my rolled stuff and dropping them underneath the bench.
“Are you the gatekeeper? I’ve never met him now that I think of it.”
“I’m his son. And now that you’re my friend, I can always introduce you to him” He grinned and looked at me.
“I’m not your friend.”
“Oh yes, you are. It’s not often that you find someone who loves the same weird thing as you.”
“We just have similar preferences.”
My hands reach into the mini handbag I brought to take my cellphone, something to distract me, when Nuel interupted the few minutes of silence we just had.
“Tell me, what brings you to this place?” Nuel asked.
“Why don’t you go first, Mr gatekeeper’s son?”
He laughed and I could feel my skin prickling. “I have come to see some of my friends who temporarily rest here.”
I scan through the garden and try to mentally count the number of gravestones built here.
“There are 35 people in here but I’m only friends with 17 of them if you’re wondering.”
“You’ve lost 17 friends?!” I exclaimed. “I have to be extra careful around you.”
He laughed again and pointed to the gravestone at the end of the yard.
“That’s a 10-year-old. I used to call him a warrior. Battled leukemia for 6 months and the day before his corpse was brought here, his last request was to see Nuel. Now, do you abandon that kind of friend?”
“I guess you don’t.”
“Right beside him is a forty-two-year-old woman. She had twins and every day for so many years of her life, she would always call me. Always reach out to me. We had one easy and blissful relationship.” Nuel stared right at my mother’s grave. Heat flooded my face and turned it ashy like someone who had just seen a ghost.
“You knew my Mom?!” I blurted out.
“Mrs. Coker Deborah. Had a very kind heart. Loved everyone. Went on early morning daily walks around the block. She’s not one to easily forget.”
“That’s my Mom. My mother!” Hot tears prickled at my eyes. Nuel’s eyes shifted to the second tomb besides Mom.
“I knew him too. Your twin brother. Coker Joe.”
My heart sank. Since Mom and my twin brother died after the fatal accident that happened two years ago, everyone around me walked on eggshells. Nobody ever mentioned his name. Hearing Nuel call him now made my heart warm in a special kind of way.
“How did you know them?” I asked, my throat getting dried.
“I know whoever my Father knows.”
“Make it make sense, please. I don’t understand how you know everyone. Especially everyone in a graveyard. That’s another level of strange! I never heard my Mom talk about you once, yet you speak as if you were the one best friend she had from childhood.”
Who is the man and why does he make my heartbeat this fast?
“You know why I think we both have some weird preferences? We both love lost places. I have a strong desire to find anything that is lost. It doesn’t matter how much I have to give up. I always find the one who is missing. You came to a lost place looking for answers, years ago, I came to a lost place bringing the answer.”
Nuel spoke with so much calmness in his voice that for the first time, I wasn’t tired of conversing. For the first time in a long while, I actually have the urge to talk to someone.
“Why… why did it have to be Mom? Why was it the two people I loved so much that had to die? Why… didn’t… I die too? I blamed myself so much for being a survivor that I let the pain wear me out until I stopped living. You know after they died, I think time stopped. I had no idea when days turned into nights and nights turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. People always spoke about moving on, about being able to relate to my grief but to be honest, I couldn’t hear them. Their death was my end to living.”
Nuel glanced at me, a glimmer of tears gathering in his eyes. “Death is not the end.”
“It is,” I said, almost defiantly. “It definitely is the end.”
Nuel turned from his chair and looked at me intently, his gaze so warm I can feel my heart spiking up again than normal.
“What do you think is the end, ‘Sephine?”
Wait? What!? I did not remember telling this human enigma my name. Well, maybe Mom happened to let it slip while she spoke with him. Just maybe.
I shrugged. “Void. Darkness. Skeletons that once had blood flowing through their veins. Waters. I think.”
“Void, darkness, water? That’s the beginning ‘Sephine. The beginning can never happen as the end in any story, not even in fairy tales. For us who will choose to live in reality, there’s an end but it’s not death.”
“You sound like you understand what you’re saying, Nuel. Where did you get your knowledge from?”
“To him who has been given_”
“Oh no! You definitely studied Philosophy. How couldn’t I tell so well from all your mumblings about the beginning and the way you sound like those I-too-know?”
“I didn’t study Philosophy. Never went through the four walls of a school, even. Let’s just say I get my wisdom from my Father.”
“He homeschools you?”
“Something like that.”
“My Mom had always loved the idea of homeschooling but when you have two kids who don’t see eye to eye, you have to reconsider. That’s what she did.”
I smiled remembering some of the mischief my brother and I pulled up when we were much younger. I also realize that for the first time since his death, I didn’t feel any sharp pain piercing through my heart like I usually do whenever I remember him.
“Why do you smoke?” Nuel asked. He put his left hand under the bench and brought out the roll he threw underneath earlier.
“I didn’t until they died. It helped me cope.”
Nodding, he kept twisting it around his fingers until he unrolled it and watched as the breeze blew the stash in the paper away.
“I don’t like coping mechanisms that bring no satisfaction.” He said.
I only watched him with eyes full of amazement rather than anger.
“How else do you cope?”
“Lost places. As you said, I love lost places. It makes me wonder.”
“Once I had to live with people who were just like you. People who tried to find answers to questions that unnerved them. I had a man who had to come tmeet me like a thief in the night. He was wealthy, had riches in abundance, had the fame and the affluence that at the snap of his fingers, the whole town will bow. Yet he needed to know how a man can be reborn. Such foolish question for a man of his class, you would say.”
“Well, that was not a reasonable question at all.”
“I also knew a sister. Had another caring sister and a loving brother, lived a cheerful life doing what she knows to be best. Sometimes she would wipe the feet of those she cherished with her hair, other times she would rather have a confrontation with her sister than miss the next word I said. Until the day her brother died and she understood grief firsthand”
“I can relate. It saps away all your joviality.”
“It did. She found comfort amid the mourners. She thought the tears of others would somehow console her but when she saw grace, she held unto him until she also saw a miracle.”
“Nuel, I love your stories. You tell them pretty well but at this point, I don’t understand anymore.”
“Another time I met a woman, a divorcee to 5 men, living with another one she wasn’t to.”
“5 men?” I exclaimed, trying to hide the giggle in my voice. “Well, what can i say? Men are scum.”
“You could tell she thought her satisfaction was from the comfort of these men. Until grace approached her and she drank him in. And you know the good thing Grace does?”
“It can’t keep a closed mouth when it happens. Grace extends to others.”
“What are you saying, Nuel?”
“That’s what you need, ‘Sephine. There’s really no comfort out here in the cemetery but your lost place was only meant to direct you to grace. That’s where you find satisfaction and wonder.”
Letting a sigh escape my mouth, I turn to him “You talk like it’s easy to find satisfaction.”
“It’s just as easy as how you found me.”
“Durh” I rolled my eyes at him. “Jokes on you, you’re the one who found me, remember?”
“Yeah I did, but I only met you halfway. I didn’t pull your legs up to this location, I already met you waiting.”
“Waiting for who? Or for what?”
“Waiting for Grace! Deep down your heart, you know you can’t continue like this. You’re tired of doing drugs. You’re tired of slipping in and out of depression and to be honest you’re even tired of this sorrowful graveyard! Do you think more sorrow would help you? That’s a lie Sephine. Only grace can. Only grace can save you.”
My eyes burned with tears. My mind raced through the times I’ve spent wallowing in the deep pit of depression. I know. I know i need an escape. I know codeine doesn’t help me much again. But what escape can help a broken soul?
“WHO ARE YOU, NUEL? Why have you decided to punish me more??” I asked between muffled sobs.
“I’m Grace. Grace Given. That’s who I am. I’m Grace personified. I am the very escape you need. The one that doesn’t come with lifelong trauma. Give me these distress. Give me the pain. I know what to do with it better than you. I will walk you through the process of healing. I am the one who saves ‘Sephine.”
I could no longer control the tears pouring and shaking my entire body.
“I will be with you all through. Hold these hands.”
He stretched out his palms to me.
“Hold them. Feel them. I can fill your heart with love enough to start afresh. Help has come, Josephine. You think you’re too broken? Too stained for redemption? Too far for grace? Newsflash: Grace is too unbothered by your worries. It just wants to fill your heart. Hold these hands and let your eyes behold whose hands you have held. Take them.”
My palms met his. His eyes met mine. His smile was so wide.
“I am tired.” I whispered. “I need Grace.”
Holding unto his hands with all the strength in me, I felt the scar. The nail-pierced hole.
Like the Samaritan women at the well, like Mary the sister of Lazarus, like Nicodemus, the Pharisee, I have just met Jesus in a lost place.