I read my speech out loud. Why I don't know; there were only two in the hall, she and I; and she definitely could not hear. There was nobody else there, why?
I was almost finished, when a woman came in. Did I know the woman? Yes, slowly, I realised. It was Harriet, her daughter Harriet.
I repeated my speech, two minutes of quiet prayer. I pushed the button and she disappeared slowly through the curtains.
Outside the crematorium I spoke to Harriet. Hello Harriet! I'm pleased that you are here, even when it's a sad time.
My Mother, my Mother, Harriet sighed.
You, you are a friend of my brother, or were?
Yes, I was. It was a long time ago. I think that he is dead. But I am not sure. Your mother didn't have many relatives, most of them are dead. I did not have your address. Her friends, not that many, are mostly dead. Your mother was rather alone, she wanted it so. She never spoke to the neighbours.
You, you knew her well? Did she always live in North Ring?
Oh, yeah! Born and died, or almost died, in the same house.
I would like to see my old home again, from the outside.
Harriet, we could go inside – I have a key.
I always had a key.
The little house in North Ring had the same smell as it always had, only she was not there, but I didn’t have the feeling that something or somebody was missing.
Oh, said Harriet, everything is the same, just as it was thirty years ago. Thirty years ago I wanted to leave and I never came back, until today.
Your mother didn’t want to change anything – the pictures are hanging where they always hung. It’s all dark and a bit shabby. But I was not allowed to change things.
Harriet wanted to know everything about her mother.
A neighbour saw your mother lying in the garden and telephoned me. Stupid! The emergency number is 112. But it was too late.
Your father worked hard, but he was ill, very ill. He died soon after he became a pensioner. I paid the funeral costs.
Your brother left home, soon after you did. Where he went I don’t know. I had other ideas.
Yes, your mother.
Did my mother tell you much about her life?
No! She said little, almost nothing. I was here every Tuesday morning, she spoke very little, sometimes nothing at all. She wanted just one thing from me.
Yes, and when I couldn’t I had to do it twice in the next week. After holidaying with my wife and children three or four times.
Did your wife know about that?
I think so, but she never said anything, I always took good care of her and the children. She died four years ago, I have three daughters, two sons and more grandchildren than I care to count.
My mind was somewhere else. Why did I not miss Harriet’s mother? Why? I had the strange feeling that I often had in that room, that the walls were speaking to me. Suddenly I knew why, however Harriet started to speak.
Do I look like my mother?
Oh yes! Just like she was at your age, you are however a bit taller and healthier, probably better fed as a kid.
When did you last see my mother? I mean alive.
Last week as usual. She was not well, but she said nothing. However she knew, she gave me a ring, very pretty, she didn’t need it any more, she knew what was coming.
Oh, that ring! So beautiful. I always wanted to wear it as a child. Once I was allowed to.
I took her hand in mine, I placed the ring on her finger. I think she understood the significance.
Yes! she said. I mean yes!
You look just like her.
You look just like her.