A glass of water.
He puts it down on a stone beside some yellow flower.
A chrysanthemum perhaps.
It could be a chrysanthemum. I don't know.
I am not familiar with flowers. I know violets and snowdrops. And I know chrysanthemums are yellow. That's why I think this must be a chrysanthemum. Not that it matters. White flowers, yellow flowers, mauve flowers. One is much like another. Some are small, some large. That's the only difference.
He puts the glass of water down on the stone. Then he starts putting things in order.
He does some weeding.
The sun is shining. It's hot.
Summer, the end of August.
“If they wake up at night, they are always thirsty. I have to have something ready for them,” he explains. “A little water or fruit juice, something like that. They particularly like orange juice. They are always glad of that. They wake up, crawl out from under the earth and look for their drinks. So it's a good thing if there is something there. They don't eat. It's just that they are always thirsty. They are forever thirsty. That's how they are. Perhaps their memories make them so thirsty. I don't know. Who can say? No one can say. In any case, you have to be careful with them. Be careful if you happen to be passing this way and want to help. I mean it. It would be as well for you to be aware of this. If we don't do what they ask, they can get very angry. Otherwise, otherwise they don't give me any trouble. They get along all right.”
He fiddles with an obstinate clump of grass. He pulls at it and digs at its roots with his fingernails.
He is indignant.
“It's all in vain. I have to clean up around them over and over again. It can get very boring, believe me. Everything is always so untidy. You have to watch the cracks between the stones and concrete slabs. The weeds take root very quickly, don't they?”
I nod in agreement.
Then I help him pull up a clump of grass.
“The most important thing is order. Everything must be tidy. That's what they like. If everything is tidy, they leave you alone. But if things are untidy they won't let you sleep. They come in at night and wake me up, talk to me. They have their fun with me. They can do that because they know what I'm like. They know exactly what my weak points are, how they can get me going. It's easy for them. They talk to me as they used to long ago. Once, long ago, at school. When we were together every day. But they only talk like that, they only annoy me, if things get untidy or if they don't have anything to drink. If something is bothering them. That's why I do it. So I can finally get some peace. For my own peace of mind. That's why. Besides, someone has to do this job. Don't they?“
I listen to him as he speaks.
Like the majority of people in this town, he speaks the official language of the state not the local language. Perfectly, without an accent. There is not one wrong note, not one wrong emphasis.
Like my mother. Exactly like my mother. He speaks like my mother.
With the same precision.
I suddenly feel uncertain. I wonder if I sound like someone who doesn't belong here?
Can anyone ever tell?
This is what my mother was always most careful about. No one should be able to tell.
She always said:
“The wrong use of a word, a wrong emphasis and that's the end of you. We have to disappear in the crowd. That's the most important thing.”
But that was a long time ago. When my mother said that to me.
About fifteen years ago.
It is August now.
I look at the glass of water. I am thirsty.
I listen to him as he carries on explaining in the official language of the state, without an accent.
We go on working like this for about two hours. Together. As if we had always done so. We clear the weeds, set out drinks in glasses.
We don't talk. He talks. He doesn't even mind if I am listening or not.
He works sitting or lying on the ground. When he finishes working round one of the stone slabs, he looks for something to hang on to, clambers to his feet, grabs his crutch under his arm and carries on.
He is quite sprightly. Still in good shape.
I don't know if he recognized me.
My long, flower-patterned skirt is splattered with mud and I get bored with gardening. I don't want to say goodbye to him. I don't feel like it.
I am not in the mood for goodbyes.
I simply set off. Out of the cemetery. It's a good half hour's walk from here to the town centre.
It really is a small town. People go to bed early.
They go to bed with the cattle, as they say.
I must hurry. I'm afraid darkness will fall.