You know that something big is happening when someone with whom you haven’t spoken for years suddenly calls you to report on the death of a mutual friend with whom you also haven’t talked in years.
About twenty years ago, I met someone, let’s call him C., through a mutual acquaintance. C wasn’t exactly open. Not when I met him. He would be polite and talk to you if the occasion arose, but that would be it. Usually, he would remain there, observing what happened and measuring things up. Measuring you up. And if he found you worthy of attention, then he would gradually open up, always minding the ground he was stepping in. Otherwise, politeness would be all that you would get. But there was something there, a hidden spark and I being very biased to sparks and all things fire, I decided to bring him closer. So little by little I casted my spell and about six months later, we were friends.
For about eight years, C. remained a very close friend of mine; practically a brother. But then, life decided it was time to send us on our way. So off I went to Germany on a work contract while he remained here in Portugal. It wasn’t a very long contract (about 7 months), but it was enough to open up enough fissures in that friendship that things never were the same again. I soon realized that when I returned to Portugal: he had withdrew and wasn’t as present as he was before. Which I just had to understand, as the reasons for him to remain close had shattered in a thousand pieces. We then went through this period of bad timing, each one trying to mend things at different times until we both unilaterally agreed it was time to put a stop and just go on our separate ways.
And that was it. Life got its way in the end, as it usually does and things were laid in the ground and buried.
When I went to East Timor in 2016, it was out of need. I needed a break from what was my Night of the Soul period. A time to heal and mend. So off I went into one of my Sun lines. But that was not all. While I was there, wheels kept turning over here in Portugal. East Timor was supposed to heal me, yes, but also to get me away from my life here, so that things that needed to happen would happen. During that time, family and friends died, relationships ended, my mother was finally diagnosed with a degenerative disease and practically all of my professional contacts in the Academic world just went BOOM! All in a year’s work.
Also last year, C. was found dead in his house, a pillow over his face and several wounds on his body, with no signs of forced entry. Some friends of his found the body, when they became suspicious that something was wrong. That’s another good thing about him: he was reliable. You always knew what to expect of him and that he would come back to you with an answer, should you prompt him for something. Although nothing was said, I do suspect that the person that called me was among those who found the body. The whole thing was so taken out of a C.S.I. episode, so naturally the report of his death made the news not just locally, but nationally.
The news of his death was like a punch in the stomach for me. Not so much because he died, rather in how he went. As I mentioned before, he was a very private person and — at least at the time that I hanged out with him — cautious of whom he would let in his personal circle, let alone in his house. That he was killed inside his home meant that the killer was someone close to him. And then there was his obsession about dying at the age of 40, ever since he went to a palm reader. He never got that nasty prediction out of his mind and well, having died at the age of 47, this particular prediction was still close enough. In the end, it was found that his partner killed him, apparently over some coins. Which, once again, made the news.
More than anything else, what I received was a call for action. The first thing I did was to light some incense and a candle for him. There was this traditional honey and spices liquor I had in the house for quite some time. I originally bought it as a gift, but never got around to giving it and it just remained there half-forgotten. A toast was in order, so I poured him some of that liquor and made a toast and to him and the time we spent together. And then I went to the cards and asked what was his message to me.
What did C. wanted to tell me?
TEN OF SWORDS, QUEEN OF CUPS, FOUR OF COINS
I couldn’t stop noticing how those cards described the events of his death to the letter: ‘Wounds were given by someone who appeared to be of good nature (but nonetheless hid his face) while I was at home.’
‘Well, ok’, I said. ‘You’re telling me what the papers already said. Surely there must be something more.’ It is exactly at these times when we really should stop and breath. No one comes calling from the grave just to let you know that they died in a way that enacted all his fears. That I got from the reports on the press. No, there was something else there in that sentence. Something softly spoken and I would need to sharpen my attention if I was to hear it. Cards often do that: they will whisper their knowledge to you and either you’re aware of it, or your out. Taking a moment to step back and observe the cards is all it takes.
‘Things were cut down between us, but you’ve still remained there, hidden in the background. What is bygone is bygone. Let us put a weight on all this and make amends.’
And so we did. After all, what else was there to do? Going to the trouble of coming back just to sort things out is one of the most extraordinary gifts anyone could receive and I couldn’t be more honored that it happened to me. After all, life might be for the living, but the dead do dwell in our heads. And they might be gone, but the time we spent together still affects our actions in the here and now.
There are no mementos of that time that I know of. I wasn’t a big fan of pictures and preferred the memories to the physical objects. In a way, I still do. There’s something to be said about caring about stuff that touches us, instead of physically touching something that might have a meaning.
As for that friend that made that call, I haven’t heard from him since. I guess that is to be expected, as we also haven’t talked in a few years. Besides, his work was done here. A messenger’s job is to take the message to its destination, not to linger around. It is also appropriate that he went away. There’s not much left from that period, other than the occasional contact with one or two persons. Life will do that. Which is why that, in the words of Portuguese musician David Santos, “Don’t say hi, if you haven’t got the time for a nice Goodbye“.