Arriving back at 11.30 pm last night, I wondered who had called while I was away. There would be at least one regular who would call back today because I wasn’t here earlier in the week.
It was late afternoon before the doorbell rang. I recognised the silhouette before I had opened the door.
She had said that it would be Easter before she called again. I had doubted the promise when it was made and wasn’t surprised to see her. The little girl with her clearly had a heavy cold and clung to her mother’s leg.
‘I’ll be honest’, she said, ‘I’ve no money. This is what I spent it on’
She handed me an invoice from a monumental mason for a headstone. It was for €1,650. She had paid €250 this week and would pay the balance by instalments.
‘It’s for my daddy’s grave’, she said.‘ Someone had to pay for his headstone’.
This was a huge sum of money for someone who would be hard pressed to find the bus fare from here to Bray.
‘What about the rest of the family?’ I asked.
She shook her head. ‘My brother’s on heroin. My sister doesn’t want to know. I tried the social welfare. They gave me a grant towards the funeral but said I couldn’t have anything for a headstone. How can you have a funeral and no headstone’.
I didn’t have an answer to her question.
Her father’s dignity mattered to her; his dignity demanded a headstone. Even if it meant she and the family spent weeks begging, there would be a headstone.
I gave her the last of my stock of grocery vouchers and she went away making the sign of the cross and saying prayers to herself.
I had spent the week attending postgraduate lectures in applied theology and hadn’t a clue about what she should have done about her daddy’s headstone.
Reality comes like a slap in the face.