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First and Last

It was a cold grey day. The people stood around the wooden box looking at each other, not knowing what to do. A few minutes ago the imam was giving a speech

on how great it is to be in the janazah and how much reward you could get when attending the last prayer on someone—more rewards if you decide to go to the burial.

The cheap wooden box was put on the sidewalk, the driver of the hearse next to it waiting for people to join him to the cemetery. It was getting late and soon it will be dark.

I was there looking like everyone else, not understanding that each one of them will walk away, turning his back to this man in the box. I looked around again. “Who is going with him to the burial?” I asked. All I got were stares, none of which were comforting.

I rushed to the imam who was opening the door of his car. “Sir, no one is going with this man. He is totally alone.” He looked at me then looked down to the ground and shook his head. “لا حولة و لا قوة الا بالله—There is no might or power except in God. Yes brother, he has no one.”

Right away I offered to take the imam with me and bring him back. I just wanted to find someone to join me and the driver. “I can’t,” he answered, still not looking at me. People started looking around, then walking away, disappearing into the crowd of a busy street in the middle of an afternoon rush hour.

“I heard you are his cousin?” I asked one of the men leaning against a wall. “Are you going?” He looked down with the same expression that didn’t settle right with me. “I can’t. My daughter has a fever.” Then he disappeared into the crowd like everyone else.

I approached the driver. He was standing, finishing his cigarette and speaking to someone on the phone in Spanish. “I will go with you,” I said, pulling him by his arm to the car.

He handed me some yellow signs that say “Funeral” in big black letters. “I need only one,” I told him, while heading to my car to follow him.

On the way to the cemetery, all I could think of was who was this man in the yellow wooden box. I knew he was a Muslim and his name was Said. Besides that I had no clue who he was.

Lying in the box, followed by a perfect stranger, and a driver who all he wanted was to go home and smoke another cigarette.

When we arrived, two men were standing, none of them happy to see us. They really didn’t care who was in the wooden box. “It’s getting late,” one of them said. “You have to pay overtime. It’s after five,” as he proceeded to pick up the box along with the other man.

I hope he is not talking to me, I thought for a moment. “I am not his family or his friend,” I replied.

“We can not bury him then if you don’t pay the extra charge,” the other man continued.

“I looked around,“ then asked, “Anyone in the office?”

“They’re all gone. They left the instructions to follow. We will not bury him if you do not pay the extra charge.”

All I wanted was for this crazy dream to be over. “I will pay the money,” I said firmly. “Please put him to rest.”

The two men approached the box. It was dark. Everyone wanted to finish and go home.

“You cannot touch him,” I shouted. “I need to pray for him.”

They all looked at me and stopped. It didn’t matter to me anymore. I will do what I had to do, no matter what. I opened the box and removed the cover, unwrapped the white fabric on his face and proceeded to pray.

His eyes were open, looking straight into mine. He was in his late forties. His face was long and his long hair was hanging on his forehead.

“Who are you? Where is your family? Where are your friends?”

I turned him over on his right side, sprinkled few handfuls of dirt of his left side, and closed the box. I stood up firmly while my legs were shaking. “I am done,” I told the two men, who were eager to dump the box in the hole and cover it as fast as they could with mud and dirt.

Next to the grave with my eyes closed, no prayers came to my mind. I was thinking of staying with him for some time. “He is now being asked about his faith,” I remembered an imam once told us.

When I opened my eyes, all I could see was darkness and the blinking light of my car from far away. The two men were nowhere to be found.

Rest in peace, Said.

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