His boots were just sitting there by the door, just where he had left them. For 40 years he had left them there every afternoon after work, he would come in and stretch dramatically calling, “Where is she? Where is my Nora?” and she would greet him with a smile while he enfolded her in his arms.
For forty years every evening so it went. You see he worked every day but Sunday. So every night they would sit outside on the veranda and relate their day, by the light of the moon, while he cleaned the mud off his shoes. There was always mud on a grave digger’s shoes.
As the years passed and the family grew to a robust 12, the children became part of the tradition. Sitting all around their daddy after chores and homework and dinner, while cleaned his boots, him lecturing on the politics, or the economy, the culture or the loss of it, a poor man’s commentary on the world he lived in. Nora was sure they knew that he stayed up late studying their books so he could learn enough to help them with their home work, or spent all day playing the BBC on the radio so he could be informed enough to speak on all the happenings of the world. The still looked on in awe at their daddy.
But Fridays were the best. On Friday he would come home and make pepper pot. He would play his old records and the calypso legends of the Caribbean would fill the little 3 bedroom cottage. His voice would rattle the rafters as he tried to sing alone, all the while dancing a jig in the kitchen. He would sweep her up, his Nora in his arms, twirling her this way and that, kissing her passionately especially when the kids would pull faces or moan in mock protest. Friday was a time for family, and they all enjoyed the day daddy came home to make pepper pot.
He always cooked his pepper pot on their Oh Gad, claiming coal fire gave a better flavor, but Nora knew that it wasn’t the fire that made the dish unforgettable, it was him. It was the way they would sit on the veranda, with a bowl of the aromatic stew and listen to him recount the tales of his youth, stories of climbing mango trees and oil pan cook out by the dam. Of adventures in the sugar cane fields, and of jumbi, and sokuna and all the things that made up the lore of the country side. All their legends told in his base voice, punctuated by belly laughs and mouthfuls of pepper pot.
Someone had asked her once, how they could be so happy when he did what he did. Lord knew they didn’t have much. How a grave digger’s house could be so full of laughter. She didn’t have an answer then, she had never thought about it like that.
Today was the second Friday he would not be home, and his boots still sat there by the door, covered in the grave yard mud he had turned for 40 years. Today was the second Friday since he had kissed her gently for the last time, and told her he was sorry to be going, but he would be waiting for her when she came, watching her as she walked and loving her like he always had. And the pain of knowing that there would be no call for her this afternoon was almost physical.
But just as she thought she couldn’t see the sense in getting up today. Gregory her oldest now 27 with a family of his own, pushed the door of the little cottage, his arms over flowing with greens and pork.
“Georgia, light up the coal pot.” he beckoned to his own wife. And all his siblings streamed in after. All smiles and laughter and hugs for their Mamma. Later they would sit on the veranda, eating stew almost like their daddy’s,telling stories, of how a poor grave digger raised 10 children in a little three bedroom cottage, off to the side of the graveyard. I life built on death, but never full of sorrow. They told their stories while Nora cleaned the mud of his shoes for the last time.