We reached the cemetery in plenty of time. We didn’t know what to expect and walked along the main alley until we found the office. They confirmed that the funeral was at 10 am and invited us to wait “as they sometimes come early”. At last a hearse drew up and a gentleman in undertaker’s costume came in and went through to the office. I heard him say “Oh, they’re for us, are they?”
The assistant came out and said “I’m sorry, but there’s no room in the car. Would you mind walking to the grave?” She took out a map and marked it with a yellow highlighter to show us the way. As we went out, I saw that behind the hearse there was a limousine with blacked-out windows. If there was no room for us, that implied that there were other mourners in the car. We started to walk.
As we neared the spot where we thought to find the grave, we met the Gentleman in Wellingtons. He was dressed in a black coat and had a book under his arm. He confirmed that this was Silas’ grave and invited us to approach. We stood and made small talk while we waited for the hearse to appear. It drew up near the open grave and the limousine stopped a few yards away. Two members of the undertaker’s team got out and joined their colleagues. I thought the occupants might also get out but none did.
“We have to wait until the grave-diggers arrive,” explained the Gentleman in Wellingtons. I assumed that the occupants of the limousine knew this and were biding their time. The grave-diggers duly appeared and the undertakers took the coffin from the hearse and placed it on the ground. They threaded the straps and lowered the coffin into the grave. The leader came and shook our hands and then they all left. The limousine also drove away with the hearse. There were no occupants. So why had we been told there was no room for us in an empty car?
We were alone with the Gentleman in Wellingtons. Apparently, we were the only mourners. The Gentleman in Wellingtons invited us to come close to the grave. “Wherever you’re comfortable.” He then opened his book and began to recite the funeral service. I smiled to myself that a Christian funeral service was being read to two atheists. I didn’t say anything, of course, for the words were for Silas, not for us. For all I know, he would have wished them to be said over his grave. We stood in silence while the traditional sentences were pronounced in a low voice, without hurry but also without undue delay.
The ceremony lasted about 10 minutes. We then walked back along the alley with the Gentleman in Wellingtons to where his car was parked. “My grandson has been very patient,” he remarked and we spotted a young boy waiting in the car.
The Gentleman in Wellingtons explained that the Council had searched for family of Silas but had drawn a blank. They had to pay for the funeral themselves. Saying goodbye to the Gentleman in Wellingtons, we left the cemetery and caught a bus to East Finchley tube station where we took a train south.
There was something surreal about all this. We had expected to be mere bystanders at the funeral but had become central figures, the Mourners, the only ones that Silas had had. I am glad we went. It doesn’t matter to Silas, of course, but it matters at some level, if only in our minds. For whatever reason, we felt that Silas deserved to be taken leave of in a proper manner and that if we were the only ones able to do it then we were happy to do so.