This story is by Aditya Mohan Kaushik and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Aditya Mohan Kaushik is an aspiring writer based in Dubai. A Technology Head by profession, his passion for storytelling has always been his inspiration in the pursuit of writing. He’s a person who paints a picture with words. This short story competition was a rewarding experience and a test of his writing skills in his creative journey.
Joseph walked slowly to the bus stop on his way to work.
It was a short walk; however, it got tedious each day. Lost in thought, he pondered about life. Counting the cobblestones on his way, he could see the moss in the stone cracks drying off due to the heat. In winters it glistened like green crystals trapped in ice, but in summers it waned and dried only to be reborn in spring. He wondered whether his life would ever find that spring again; or are humans just built to fade from the spring of their youth to the withered winter of their lives. He peered downwards as his back had arched and there was little he looked ahead to except for the final days of his life.
The bus stop was nearing, yet the bus was nowhere. Its pace was slowing too, arriving later each day, weaving through growing city traffic towards his side of town. The houses were all but deserted with a few inhabitants who survived the decay and destruction. A part of the suburb was demolished each year to give way to the shiny new apartments. The city reviving itself after years of death and decimation during the pandemic. His house still distant from the creeping re-development.
Each day, Joseph awoke later, as his aching bones gnawed at his body all night, allowing him just a few hours of sleep. He was in no hurry, as his customers’ pace was even slower than his own life. This day was special for him as it reminded him about the day it all started.
It was the day he decided on his new purpose in life. Everyone frowned at his decision; his family was disappointed and despaired. Having seen the loss of dignity for those that died during the pandemic two decades ago, he had decided to act. No one understood him as he left his comfortable life behind for what he felt was his one true calling in life.
As he arrived at the stop, he noticed purple daisies bunched up around the old bench. A splash of color for the aging bench that had survived the test of time. Just like him, it was ragged, cracked and bolted down with steel plates. It had a plaque of a great socialist who served this city that saved it from being torn down. One of the last remaining pieces of history of this town.
Breathless, Joseph decided to rest. It was humid and the walk had worn him out. His hat was soaked in sweat as he felt the sun’s heat wearing him down.
A young man strode up to him, enquiring about the next bus. Dressed in a suit, checking his watch, with a hasty expression plastered on him. He wasn’t from around here.
Just as Joseph looked up to respond, the young man rambled, “My taxi broke down . . . I never take a bus.”
Joseph spoke with compassion. “Should be here any minute.”
“Where are you headed? You look tired,” the young man asked.
“No, I am fine. I am just old and tired.”
“That’s fine; we all get old eventually. Let me know if you need help.” Joseph was moved at his concern as he sat beside him. “Hi. I am Thomas.”
Thomas sat down; he was young and clean-shaven, successful, and exuded a youthful energy. He reminded Joseph of his younger days. His face looked familiar; someone he had met many years ago.
“Hello. I am Joseph. You seem like someone I have met before.”
“Well, that’s not possible,” said Thomas. “I have just moved here, though I stayed here as a child with my parents before they died.”
“Ah . . . are you the son of Robert Dunn?”
“Yes, I am. That is strange; how could you guess? I haven’t been here for twenty years. What do you do?” enquired Thomas.
“I help people with their final journey, giving them the respect they deserve and preserving their memories,” replied Joseph.
“Well, that seems a noble job. I remember a man who supported me after my parents died. He was kind and gentle and helped me find a caring foster home.”
Joseph smiled, as he knew in his heart that the man Thomas was referring to was him.
“It’s a really sunny day,” said Thomas. Joseph nodded, feeling a sense of warmth seeing Thomas as a successful young man. A perfect gift for him for this special day.
They both sat looking in disdain at the old houses lining the street. It was peaceful and quiet. A car would pass by every few minutes, disturbing the peace, and just as quickly, it would be quiet again.
Thomas reflected on his busy life. It had been a rollercoaster: rising fast at his work, making a fortune, and marrying a loving woman. Then as life got busier, they grew apart and she left. His daughter went along with her. He always found time between his busy life for his daughter. Always sensing the absence he felt at foster care for his parents. Spending the days in activities that his daughter loved. Happy that they still found a bond with each other.
Today, Thomas was keen to connect to the forgotten bond with his parents, whose memories had almost faded away from him. He was also keen to meet the man who helped and protected him through his though childhood.
“You never told me how you know my father,” inquired Thomas.
“Well, Thomas, I know all my customers really well as I prepare them for their final journey, and especially when someone is left behind, that helps me cherish their memory,” smiled Joseph.
“You must be really dedicated to your work. When did you meet them?”
“Sadly, I met your parents only after they had passed,” replied Joseph. “You see, son, I look after the cemetery outside the town.”
“You do!” exclaimed Thomas. “I am headed there too.” This was a real coincidence.
“I can surely take you to them.”
Just then the bus arrived, and they boarded the bus. Both were now headed in the same direction on a path Joseph had traveled for the past so many years.
“Good morning. . . . Joseph, you look happier than usual today,” greeted the bus driver, Abdul.
“It is a special day, and please don’t charge this young man for the trip,” said Joseph.
“Okay,” said Abdul.
Thomas smiled as he felt a sense of relief that he was visiting his parents’ place of rest and he might get to know a little more about their final day from Joseph.
After about twenty minutes, the bus stopped at the Cemetery.
As Thomas alighted from the bus, he was surprised to see the bright flourish of flowers and manicured gardens leading into the cemetery. The gate was polished, and the marble arch dazzled in the sunlight.
Joseph walked alongside, sharing stories about the people buried there. Thomas listened intently as he walked past the well-kept gravestones, with flowers at each grave, and felt remorse that he had not visited his parents’ graves for so long. Theirs must be neglected while others were cared for by their families.
Thomas was in awe of the place. “This cemetery is beautiful and very well kept, but I didn’t see anyone visiting here. Is this all looked after by you?”
“These are my customers,” smiled Joseph. “They are here for good and it is my duty to make sure their final resting place is beautiful. A lot of people here lost their loved ones during the pandemic. They may haven’t been forgotten, but their loved ones are probably not there anymore to remember them. They have left them in my care and it’s my duty to treasure their memories until someone returns, like you have.”
A tear fell from Thomas’s eye as he saw the picture and names of his parents as they approached their graves. The grave was well-kept, surrounded by bunches of purple daisy flowers.
As Thomas sat down on the grass, his heart was overwhelmed as memories flooded in about the short time he spent with them as a child playing, going fishing, and swinging on his swing in the backyard.
After what seemed like hours, Thomas’s journey into his past was interrupted by Joseph gently putting his hand on his shoulder. Joseph was holding a bottle of wine and two paper cups.
“It is a special day today,” smiled Joseph.
“Why is that?” asked Thomas. They sat down as he poured the wine.
“What are we celebrating today?” enquired Thomas.
“It’s my anniversary,” replied Joseph. “It’s exactly twenty years since I started working here. Sadly, all my customers are too quiet to celebrate with me. It’s even more special that you are here to celebrate with me today.”
They toasted to Thomas’s parents as they sat quietly, surrounded by shining tombstones across a sea of green and colorful flowers.
A fragrance of life filled the air with memories of the days gone by.
Thomas felt a deep sense of inspiration for Joseph’s spirit for the life.
“Happy anniversary!” smiled Thomas.