The little girl was staring at me. She was standing behind her father. Her father was lanky. His hair was slightly long and he tied it with a rubber band behind his head. He was sitting on the plastic chair and his daughter was staring at me.
I bowed down and stared at the gravestone of my father and grandmother. I continued my prayer. Then I looked up again and saw the little girl still staring at me.
Someone was digging a grave in front of them. The grave was already very deep and there was a tall mound of earth next to the grave. I could see the head of the man who was digging the grave. The father of the girl looked on at the man who was digging the grave and occasionally he would put his arm around the little girl.
Moments later, the man emerged from the pit and wiped his forehead with his arm. He was sweating profusely and his skin was dark. He was medium built. The father had darker skin. He stood up weakly and took the spade from the man. Then he jumped into the grave and continued what the man had started.
The man sat down on the plastic chair and he hung his arms freely at his side.
They must’ve spent the whole afternoon doing this — taking turns digging the earth.
I continued praying.
The little girl stopped staring at me and stepped at the edge of the grave. She looked on at her father and stared at him.
The father tossed fresh earth onto the mound.
The afternoon was very hot but I wasn’t yet sweating. I have only just arrived and it was very cold inside the car. I was also wearing light clothing.
I stared at the names of my father and grandmother on the marble stone. I tried to picture my father’s face in my mind. I tried to recall his voice. Two nights ago I dreamed about him. I dreamed that he was lying on his bed and he had fever. I must’ve hugged him for I remember feeling the warmth of his skin on my arms. I remember that his eyes were closed and that he did not say anything.
I opened my eyes and looked at the man and the little girl. The little girl wore an old red dress. She continued observing her father.
Suddenly I was seized by a desire to talk to them. I wanted to talk to them and give them my smile and ask them what they were doing. I could see what they were doing but I felt the need to know more about what they were doing.
Then it became clear to me what I really want. I want my father to be proud of me, so before I closed my prayer, I said in a low voice, “Daddy, I’m sorry for all the wrong things I’ve done. I’m sorry for all the shameful things I’ve done. I want you to be proud of me, that’s what I want. And I want grandma to be proud of me. And I want my son and daughter to be proud of me, too. I want to become the kind of person you all will be proud of.”
I bent down on one knee and pressed my hand on the marble stone and I felt its heat.
Then I walked over to the man, the little girl, and her father and was ready to smile. But they did not turn their heads. The man was slouching on the plastic chair and the little girl did not move from the edge of the grave. Her small feet were bare. Her father continued digging deeper into the earth.
I got into my car and felt compelled to give them anything, but I didn’t have anything to give them. The car was empty except for my bags.
I pulled out of the cemetery and drove down the town center. I parked my car on the vacant lot in front of the Church. I walked down the public playground and got into a fast food restaurant. I got in line and ordered the simplest meals I could afford. The cashier placed my order inside a brown paper bag and I brought it to the car on the lot.
On the way to the lot, a little girl ran to me and said, “Please, sir, give me some of your Sprite.”
“I’m sorry, but these are for someone else,” I said.
“Please, sir, give me some of your Sprite. I’m thirsty,” she repeated.
“I’m very sorry, ‘day,” I said.
She followed me to my car and said, “Then please give me some coins, sir.”
I opened the car and placed the paper bag at the back seat. Then I dug into my pocket and gave her some change.
I drove back to the cemetery and pulled into the spot where I had parked earlier.
The plastic chair was empty. They were no longer there.
After a few moments I saw the little girl again. She was walking between the gravestones in the other side of the cemetery. She was alone.
Then I saw a spadeful of soil jump from the pit. The father’s head reared from the pit and he tossed another spadeful of soil out onto the mound.
I got out of the car and carried the paper bag on my arm.
“Friend,” I called out and the father looked up from the pit. “Here are some snacks.” I placed the paper bag on the plastic chair.
I looked up and the little girl was standing at the far end of the cemetery, staring at me.
“Is that your daughter?” I asked.
“Yes, sir,” he answered.
The other man emerged from behind a wall in the far end of the park and walked over to the little girl.
“And is that man your brother?” I asked.
“No, sir. He’s just an acquaintance. He’s helping me here with this,” he answered.
“Thank you so much, sir!” he called out. “Thank you so much!”
I answered “Yes” but I’m not sure if he heard me for I was already walking away.