It was a typical Sunday morning for the suburb of Mona Vale. Those near and far were congregating at the local cemetery, reciting prayers, laying down flowers, holding one another in warmth – but Cyrus wasn’t here for the usual procedures. He was not privileged enough to be held in an embrace this weekend. His meagre version of love laid right before him, deep down in the Earth’s festering flesh and blood, one point eight metres below his small satchel, which was lost in the overgrown weeds beneath his feet.
The coolness of the stone felt invasive against his soft flesh. He hadn’t sat on a headstone before. He hadn’t worn a nice pair of dress shoes either.
The sombre humming of prayer could just be heard from where Cyrus was seated, his feet planted firmly below him. He would not budge. He would not move. He would not give in to the shrieks of the flat-cap wearing groundskeeper, Mr Macadean, no matter what forceful strategy he would use this time.
The young lad was, however, only eleven. Bus journeys, budgeting, and walking beyond a few hundred metres – all dilemmas of the adult world – were beyond his capabilities. Memories of homeliness were juiced from his heart on the day of the now long passed funeral. However, nothing stopped him from his weekly visits to the cemetery now, feeding off them like an addictive painkiller whose only purpose was to numb the gloomiest places of the subconscious.
“O my God! O Thou forgiver of sins, bestower of gifts, dispeller of afflictions-“
“Gifts,” chuckled Cyrus. No ‘gift’, no treasure, no value could be found in the pointless scriptures those pious strangers poured their tears into. Their chorus of prayer through song sounded more like wailing, sobs and shrieks wheezing through the words of the Holy Text.
Cyrus had been given a small gift a few months ago, seated on the edge of the veranda whilst cracking the knuckles of his small hands.
“Kourosh!” she would shout, her trembling voice sending her turkey-like neck quaking as she hobbled her way outside, her house slippers still on her feet. Bibi came and seated herself beside him. She had lived a long life, made healthy by the weekly chicken broth, herb assortments, and warm glasses of milk her own mother had blessed her with. The wooden deck creaked as Bibi sat beside her grandson, her ancient bones begrudgingly landing with a thump. She swayed back and forth rhythmically, placing her hand on both of his. She was draped in vibrant silk, paisley-patterned and intricately woven, her body swaying back and forth like an antique pendulum moments before a mid-daily chime.
“Fidgeting again, are we?” she croaked. Knuckle cracking gave you arthritis and Bibi was strict enough to forbid it.
“No!” squeaked Cyrus, turning his head away from her, out towards the small patch of geraniums Bibi had planted in turquoise pots below, near the veranda’s stairs.
“I brought you something,” said Bibi cheerfully.”I know you like my gifts.” She opened a small, red velvet pouch, pulling out a long chain of rich turquoise beads bound together by golden string.
“It’s a tasbi,” she said. “They call it a rosary here, but it’s the same. Now you keep this in your pocket, Kourosh,” she said firmly, moving the rosary beads in front of his face. “Whenever you burden those spry knuckles of yours you take it out, and you count each and every one, ninety-nine times. You say, ‘Ya Baha Abha’ over and over until you feel calm. Say it after me, Ya Baha Abha.”
“Ya Baha Abha,” said Cyrus, perplexed by the peculiar gift his grandmother had given him and the language he was not accustomed to. It would take him extra effort, a willingness only found in detectives, to decipher the archaic thoughts and actions of a woman wearied by age and a life of religious persecution.
“Verily, I beseech thee to forgive the sins of such as have abandoned-“
The wind howled and pierced through the groups of people standing in Mona Vale’s cemetery — begging them, imploring them, pleading with them to return home. Mr Macadean’s deep grunts and booming voice could be heard faintly in the distance, drowned in the mighty wails of gusts of wind flipping Cyrus’ hair to one side. This wasn’t his first encounter with the winds, nor was it the first time Mr Macadean had scared him off.
In a sudden hurry, Cyrus’ snatched the satchel by his feet, jolting upright as the stiffness of his backside shot pain down his left calf. Pins and needles gnawed away at his body, right down to his frosty toes. His hand in the withered satchel, Cyrus reached for the turquoise tasbi, tugging and heaving the contents of the bag until —finally! — he had grasped it. The wind blew, an ancestor or a prophesier of sorts, pushing Cyrus away from this place of death.
* * *
The jingle of beads thrown against an icy grave; a sound drowned in the violent flurries of the Sunday morning draught. Cyrus had been lost in the memories of what now was lost, and had not seen Mr Macadean approach Bibi’s grave from the distance. To any onlooker, his presence seemed to calm the wind’s fury. After thirty or so odd years of service, he was accustomed to its magnitude. He had befriended it and its capricious ways. He held a large shovel in his rough palms this time made from stainless steel, with a handle coated grimly in black. A singular sound now filled the air: the distant thuds of oversized dress shoes sprinting into the unknown. A familiar sound to the old groundskeeper. An all too familiar sound. The chorus of mourners nearby resumed their devotion to the dead:
“… the physical garment and have ascended to the spiritual world…”
The collective voices engulfed the sounds of the final footsteps, Mr Macadean now kneeling by Bibi’s final resting place. With a thud, he rested his knee on the raw Earth, his hand reaching for his flat cap. The shovel stood motionless, leaning on an informational sign reading “Baháʼí Section A-M”. Mr Macadean lowered his cap, taking out of it a small black velvet pouch. Taking the fallen tasbi off of Bibi’s stone, the groundskeeper placed it inside the pouch and laid it underneath the words of the head stone. He read aloud, “I came forth from God and return unto him”.
Mr Macadean stood up straight and was quiet for a minute. When he finally returned to his duties, he imagined Cyrus’ return in a week’s time. “And indeed, there will be time,” he thought. Time for grievers to grieve with every ounce of their bodies, and for those who have departed to truly ascend to a higher realm above. He had seen it time and time again and knew of the journeys awaiting them.
The people at the cemetery were always persistent in ensuring their loved ones’ departures were prim and proper. The bodies of the departed had undergone the separation of the worldly spirit and the immortal soul by now, reaching for the Kingdom of Abha as Bibi and countless others had, guided by the voices of their legacies and earthly remains towards a higher destination. It wasn’t Mr Macadean’s job to facilitate this journey between the two realms, but, at times, he felt as though he was responsible to assist in some way. He never overstepped, but in the case that he did, the Wind would hold him accountable, carrying the merged voices of the chorus to him on its breezes. The chorus, continued to sing their final verse:
“O my Lord! Purify them from trespasses, dispel their sorrows, and change their darkness into light. Cause them to enter the garden of happiness, cleanse them with the most pure water, and grant them to behold Thy splendors on the loftiest mount.”