Life after death sucks. That’s what I’ve learned in the last few weeks after my father’s death. It sucks, especially when the person’s death leaves you with unanswered questions that you need to concern yourself with.
As I said before, people haven’t really had the best way of supporting us in this time. What irked me even more than this was all the vultures who called themselves friends of my father’s: they were all too ready to pounce onto his belongings not even 24 hours after his death. A nice example of this was his best friend who, when my mom gave him the keys to go and feed the cat, took it upon himself to take some of my father’s electronics “because they could get stolen”. He was also very quick to add that he wanted to buy the expensive camera and binoculars (probably at a quarter of the price). My mom told him to bring the stuff to her flat.
The morning his friend came to bring the stuff was strange. I woke up from the electronic buzzer at the gate. It was around 8AM and my mom was at work. I have some trouble sleeping at night, so I went to bed late. I pushed the button to open the gate and threw some clothes on. I looked like shit.
“This the Free State, not the city! We get up early here!”
Fuck you, old man. I thought to myself.
He came in and explained how the different things work, each of which I would be able to figure out myself. I simply nodded and replied when necessary. He sat down and took a deep breath.
Here comes the sermon. I thought. And I was right. He proceeded to tell me what a good person my father was and how proud he was of me. I realized that he was trying to get some kind of reaction out of me. He wanted me to break down and sob about how I was this terrible cunt who treated my poor innocent father so badly. Fortunately I had my training as an actor on my side. I simply focused on being as unresponsive as possible. I just sat there and listened. I didn’t flinch. I didn’t even shed a tear. I was as cold as ice. When he finally realized that he wasn’t going to get his desired reaction he gave up and said that it was time for him to leave.
After he left, I closed and locked the door. I picked up the camera and switched it on. I felt strange, like I was somehow spying on my father. I started looking through the pictures. I was curious and scared at the same time. Curious because this was a rare opportunity to see the world through his eyes. Scared because of the possibility of seeing something that I didn’t want to see. He had a lot of secrets. I felt like I was watching a found footage film. I smiled a lot. The first few shots were clumsy first attempts. As he continued he got better. His camera was him personified. He took pictures of all the things that mattered to him: nature, animals, his students. The last few pictures were selfies, comically enough. I looked at his smile, his deep blue eyes, and his black curly hair that had turned grey over the last few years. He looked so peaceful, much different from the dark and menacing person I grew up with. His face had always looked the same, despite how much he changed. It was strange knowing that the man looking directly into the camera is now dead.
That afternoon my mom and I drove out to Swinburne where he lived. Swinburne use to be a train station many lifetimes ago, but now the houses are used by the people who work on the surrounding farms and Montrose, a petrol station. I also lived in Swinburne for six years, from 2000 to 2005. Those were the most traumatic years of my life. Those were the years that crushed the last bit of childhood that I had left.
As we got closer, I realized that nothing had really changed, except that the place looks even more ghostly and godforsaken than before. It had been 8 years since the last time I went there. The house we lived in (and my father still lived in at the time) had burned to the ground in a massive forest fire. I went to look at the house one last time. I then swore that I would never return to the place that had robbed me of so much. I guess I was wrong.
When we got there we realized that we didn’t know which one of the houses was my father’s. We had to go and ask the landlord and his wife. We walked down to the Hound & Hare, the pub that had so willingly fed his alcoholism for so many years. As we walked up the steps I inhaled the the smell. It was still the same awful smell of food, cigarettes, and liquor that hung in the air. I heard the loud talking and the boisterous laughter, but I couldn’t really see the people inside. They were like ghosts. Suddenly I was ten years old again, lagging behind my mom to go and drag my drunken father out of the pub for whatever reason. I felt a deep sense of dread fall over me. We stopped in front of the door. We couldn’t go in. My mom asked the kitchen staff to tell them that we were there. Out they came, this tall Welsh man and his wife who I had grown to detest. Because they were the enablers. They made money out of our misery. They said the usual stuff. They were sorry. They couldn’t find the cat. My mom looked pretty. I looked all grown up. Their daughter remarked that she remembered me as a little boy with a fishing rod.
I hate fishing with a passion.
We walked to the tiny house that he lived in. I felt like I was Adele in the “Hello” music video. I unlocked the old wooden door and pushed it open. We walked into the silent house. His bed was still unmade. Dirty dishes were piled up in the sink. A newspaper dated the day of his death lay on the couch.
Packing up his belongings was and arduous task. We didn’t know what to do with a lot of the things. We would usually get started and then gradually work slower and slower until we just sat in silence.
We went back to the house a few times before we were done. On the first day we took a drive down the old dusty road where we use to live. The other houses still looked the same. The spot where our house use to be was now a flat, deserted area. A man stood watering his garden at the house where our neighbors use to live. He looked at us with a look of suspicion. But he didn’t know that this use to be my playground. I use to be a barefoot little boy running around with the dogs. I put coins and other things in the railroad and watched the trains flatten them. I picked wild flowers. But now I’ve changed. I prefer to stay out of the sun. I prefer cats over dogs. And I don’t like gardening. I remembered the little boy that died somewhere along the line. I was now a completely different person than the one that left all those years ago.
It took us more than two weeks to finish packing up my father’s things, not because there were so many things, but because it was so difficult. Then, on the 18th of December, I decided that I had enough. I was tired of coming back to this horrible place that held nothing but bad memories. I took the keys to my father’s bakkie and went to get it from under the tree. I had never driven it before, but I didn’t care. I started it, drove it closer, and reversed it nice and close to the door. I smiled. I doubt that my father would have believed that I would be able to do it so easily. Since I’ve gotten my license, I’ve only ever driven my car or my mom’s. I got out and started loading. I didn’t care about how heavy or big the things were, I wasn’t going to ask any of these people for help. I stacked the bakkie and my mom’s car. I loaded and loaded and loaded until everything we were going to take was in. The rest we left to the vultures.
I got into the bakkie and drove to the petrol station. I then drove out of Swinburne and onto the N3 to Harrismith. As I drove, I looked at the world I was leaving behind. The winding gravel roads. The Wilge River. The rail roads. The old houses. I drove past all these things and the memories that they held. I saw the many ghosts and demons I was leaving behind, all the people who were also turning into ghosts.
The bakkie barreled down the highway.
I was free.
“You can’t take a picture of this. It’s already gone.” ~ ‘Six Feet Under’