Eavesdropping

I was sitting in the lounge reading about the only current news item of any remote interest. Yes, you have guessed right! Brexit.
Well, I suppose reading is a slight exaggeration. I was dozing and occasionally jerking awake as my arm slid off the chair for the umpteenth time. On each occasion I made a self-conscious glance around to see if anyone noticed, before continuing to read the next instalment of Brexit nonsense, only for my eyes to gradually slide shut again within seconds.
I had been awake for most of the night, worrying about waking on time to go to the airport. It wouldn’t be the first time that I lay awake all night, worrying about attending an early appointment, only to drop off fast asleep an hour before the time I should have woken, with the end result that, yes you guessed it again, I missed my plane, train or dentist appointment.
However, today I was on time, actually too early, trying to kill two hours at the airport before my flight was due to board. I was much too afraid of missing the flight, which would take me to the UK, to my mother’s funeral. Fear of missing her funeral and letting my Dad down again one more time, had kept me fully awake throughout the long night.
Now, as I sat dozing, mostly due to tiredness but also due to the absolute soul destroying boredom of airport departure lounges, I allowed my thoughts to freely wander aimlessly through alleyways and cul de sacs as they wished.
All of a sudden, during one lucid moment, I was aware of two people right behind me. It was one of those seating arrangements where we sat back to back, leaving our heads very close to each other, but without direct visibility. I could hear very clearly every word they said. Their conversation brought me wide awake and I was fully alert for the rest of my waiting time.

******

“I’m so afraid that they will find him though”, whispered a female voice.
It was the sinister reply that captured my attention at first, a throaty male reply that portrayed evil, not only due to the harsh words, but also by its directness, without feeling or compassion.
“No worries, Jane. I buried the old bastard deep, in the last place where anyone would think of finding him. He’ll be pushing up carrots in his old allotment in a few years’ time.”
“Oh Rob! I’m so frightened. If we are caught, we’ll be in prison for……”. She tailed off, without finishing her sentence.
I realised that I was trembling. What could I do? If I went to the police, all I could tell them was a conversation that I overheard. I didn’t know their names and hadn’t even seen their faces. I was concentrating hard, trying to judge their age, accent, anything that I could pass on to the police, when the man reached over to put his arm around his partner, to reassure and console her. In doing so, his elbow caught me slightly in the back and I reactively turned around. So did he. We looked straight into each other’s eyes. He was unshaven, about thirty. His hair was as short as his three day stubble. He looked as if he hadn’t slept in days. I stared, trying to act naturally but also trying to take a photograph with my mind. I needed to capture him perfectly, the close set eyes, the small wart on the left of his neck, the damaged ear. This guy had seen a few fights in his time.
“Sorry Pal,” he said.
“No problem”, I replied.
The couple then got up and slowly walked away. I never saw her face. All I saw was her shapely calves running down into a pair of maroon stiletto heels, her pink cotton dress and her long blonde hair. He was in denims and creased red t-shirt. As they walked away I sat watching, my mind racing. What should I do? Should I go to the police? I was in turmoil, wavering between forgetting about the whole thing, and running immediately to the police with my story.
I decided for the former. It was none of my business.

******

The rest of the time, waiting until boarding began, was spent thinking about my Dad. How would he manage without Mum? They had been together over 50 years. A pang of guilt ran through me as I realised that I had little grief for my mother. She had been frail for years and her final months had been raked with pain, as the cancer slowly did its job. No, my grief was for Dad. He was the one who must carry on alone. At least I wouldn’t miss my plane and add one more disappointment to a lifelong string of let-downs, where I hadn’t lived up to his expectations. I would stay in the UK for as long as he needed me, or at least until I was sure that he could cope. Maybe I could persuade him to return to New Zealand with me, but my hopes were barren of any reality. He had never been able to accept Roger, let alone come to live with us. My sexuality was as alien to him as his lack of understanding was to me.
I concluded my thoughts as the announcement for club class boarding came. I would avoid any of those difficult conversations. I was there just to support Dad, and to say farewell to my dear old mother.

******

Having been upgraded to Club class while checking in, at least it meant that my long flight would be more comfortable. I was soon in my seat, sipping a glass of champagne, waiting for the horde of economy class to settle into their seats.
All of a sudden a familiar voice quietly spoke to me from the next seat. I was in the aisle seat and had not been aware of anyone cutting across me to take their seat. As I turned my head to look at her, I knew that I must have fallen asleep. I must have been dreaming.
“It’s alright Tom. Don’t be frightened.”
She held my hand. It was warm and real. I stared at her face and gave a quiet sob as I realised that the frail old lady sitting next to me was my mother. I didn’t want to wake. I wanted to savour every second of the reunion. I didn’t want to let her go.
“But…but…it’s you. It can’t be. I mean….your …. “
“It’s me, Tom. It is the real me. Now you must listen to me. I don’t have very long.” My mother smiled reassuringly. I was so full of trust and love that I didn’t question it at all. She was here, next to me and that was all I cared.
She spoke quickly. “I met someone. His name is Gary Featherhead. It was his son and daughter-in-law that you sat listening to in the departure lounge. He died yesterday in his home, a few days after I gave up the fight. We met as we were in the same batch.”
“Batch?” I queried.
“Yes, deaths apparently come in batches. Gary and I were allocated to the same batch.”
I listened, riveted, as my mother told me the story of her passing and how she met a dear old man, saddened by the treachery of his son, a violent and aggressive brute. She explained how Gary had been murdered and his physical remains buried very deep in his own allotment, the same day. She told me that Gary had another, illegitimate son, a son conceived with the only person he had ever truly loved. His legal son, Robert, had found out about Gary’s other son and feared losing his inheritance, as he and his father hated each other. Robert suspected that his father may be planning to leave some of his money to the “bastard” son and had killed him, before he could make a will. I had been listening to Gary’s murderer, while waiting for my flight to board.

“But what can I do?” I asked.
“You must tell the police. Gary said that he has written a will. It is hidden under the floorboards in his bedroom. You must get off this plane and go to the police. Gary’s body is buried in his allotment, near the shed. His name is Gary Featherhead and he lived in Hamilton, Queen’s Close number 13. Have you got that?”
Now I wanted to wake up. This dream was no longer pleasant.
“I can’t get off the plane, Mum. I’ll miss your funeral.”
“Tom. Listen to me. Don’t worry about not being at my funeral. My funeral is not for me in any case. It’s for the others, so that they can feel better, feel that they paid their respects. I know that you loved me. You don’t need to be there. This is more important. You must help Gary get justice. He deserves that.”
An old man touched me on the shoulder, signalling with his finger that he needed to get by into the seat occupied by my mother. I was confused. How could I let him by, knowing that my mother was there? He was already easing past me and I sat flabbergasted as he sat down right on top of her. As he did so, her form faded until the last whisper of recognition showed her blowing a kiss to me, before she disappeared completely.
“Are you alright?” the old man asked, looking at me rather strangely.
“Er, yes thank you. Maybe I’ve had too many of these,” I said, looking at my wine glass.
She was gone.
I was sweating. Who would believe such a crazy story? If I did go to the police, how could I explain knowing the name and address of the murdered man? I imagined the ridicule when I said that I had been informed by my dead mother.
Boarding was almost complete. It was now or never. I thought about Dad and letting him down again. I thought about Mum. Was it just a dream? Mum, Dad, Mum, Dad. My mind was spinning. All of a sudden I rushed to my feet, grabbed my cabin bag and ran to the front of the plane, insisting that it was a life or death emergency and I must leave the plane to talk to the police.
The cabin crew were not happy. They even half-heartedly threatened me with legal action, to which I simply smiled. They could see that I wasn’t going back to my seat.
A security car was sent to the plane and five minutes later I stood watching a Boeing 747 taxiing down to the runway.
Sorry Dad.

******

“That is one hell of a tale,” said a burly police sergeant Dunk Richards.
I had told them everything about the murder except the meeting with my mother. I had left out the detailed address and said that I overheard the name Gary Featherhead and the town of Hamilton. I assumed that would be enough for them to trace him.
Sergeant Richards asked me if I could wait while they contacted the Hamilton police and checked out my story. Within the hour Mr. Featherhead’s home was cordoned off, as was his allotment. They had found evidence of a struggle immediately upon entering the premises.
There was a very strange piece of evidence. Today’s newspaper was open on the kitchen table in Mr Featherhead’s home, along with a half drunken cup of coffee, on which his fingerprints were found. The murderer, Robert Featherhead, had organised an accomplice to go to the house, leave the newspaper and coffee, which would give the impression that Gary Featherhead could not have been killed prior to today, if his body turned up sometime in the future. That provided Robert and Jane with an alibi, as they were already on the plane to the UK.
But their plan had failed completely, thanks to my Mum. Gary’s body was recovered immediately, time of death established at least two days ago. The testament was recovered and Robert and Jane would be going to prison for a very long time. Somewhere out there is a young man, the illegitimate son of Gary Featherhead, who would be very happy with his inheritance and the knowledge that his father had thought of him at the end.
I finished the day with mixed feelings of having brought some justice to the world, having let my father down once again, and having seen my mother for one last time. Was it real or was it only a dream?
When I left the airport, heading towards the bus terminal, I was thinking what I could tell my father. How could I explain? I decided that he has such a low opinion of me in any case, that I will just let him know that I missed my plane. I couldn’t afford another plane fare, even if there had been another plane to London in time to get to the funeral.
I could hear my father now, “Useless as always. You couldn’t even get to your own mother’s funeral.”
I couldn’t work up enough enthusiasm to call him that evening. Tomorrow morning would be soon enough. I went home, told Roger the whole story over a bottle of wine, and by late evening we were fast asleep in each other’s arms.

******

I woke in a blur. I had been dreaming about my mother. The telephone was ringing.
Slowly, I crawled out of bed, whispering to Roger that I would get the phone.
“Is that Tom?, said a familiar voice, “Sergeant Dunk Richards here.”
“Er, yes, Tom speaking. What’s up?”
“Listen, you ain’t gonna believe this. Our Prime Minister is flying to London in about three hours. A car is already on the way to you. It’ll be there in ten minutes. The PM has agreed, no, has requested that you be on that plane too. He said it’s the least we can do. According to my reckoning we can get you to your mother’s funeral on time.”

******

At 10am as people were gathering at my father’s house, ready for the funeral procession, which would take my mother down to St. Paul’s church, where she would be laid to rest, another black Jaguar limousine pulled up outside. Everyone looked as the chauffer stepped out, walked around to my side, and opened the door in full formal style. I stepped out to dozens of staring faces, but none looking more surprised than my father.
He hugged me warmly, this broken man, who had been cut in half by the loss of my mother. We stood, looking into each other’s eyes for a long moment, before he said, “I was hoping that you may have brought Roger with you.”

The end