Train journeys used to be rather benign affairs. The clicking of knitting needles, the opening of The Herald or the racking cough of a cozily smoking sheet metal worker in Hard Yakka Overalls gave comfort and familiarity to most fellow travelers. This has all changed now with advent of the Smart Phone and MP players with G. force capability.
Some weeks ago and on the way to Central Railway I sat next to two women who looked alike but with different ages. I assumed a mother and daughter. Both were shackled to ear phones with cords trailing down to small objects held in their laps. The younger one was gently rocking her head sideways and I could hear something crackling coming from the direction of her ear phones. The older lady previously assumed to be her mother and sitting directly next to me had similar sounds coming from her head. Out of the blue and suddenly, tears were rolling down and she was heaving. She was clearly sad and distressed.
The rocking sideways daughter was now noticing this as well and pulled mum’s earphones out of her ears. “I told you to stop listening to bloody funeral music”, she told her. I pricked up my ears and upped the sound intake on both my hearing aids. Something was clearly brewing next to me. Be it far from me to dismiss tears from music but I thought that in train journeys one usually would be given over to boredom or yawning ennui at best. Since the advent of most train-travelers ears being taken up by bits of machinery and cables, it doesn’t exactly encourage social intercourse let alone share tears of grief. (Or tears of joy for the optimists here)But sadness overwhelms.
What was the cause of those tears streaming down my neighbor’s face? These sudden expressions of sadness, how were they coming through those cabled conduits between the ears, the lap and directly into this poor woman’s soul?
“I am sorry”, she said to me, noticing my concern.” I am on my way to pick up my late husband’s urn”. “Oh, I see”, I answered. My brain was now in a flurry, quickly transforming and combining an urn into a funeral with a husband’s final journey. “I do understand your loss”, I said. She said; “Oh, that’s alright, he suffered during those last few weeks”.” My daughter is a great help and so are my three sons”. I like listening to the music that was played during the service, it was my husband’s favorite”, she added with a renewal of her tears and sniffle.
I was curious what her husband’s favorite piece of music was that brought on her tears so copiously. I imagine it would perhaps be something of a popular genre, something a bit ethnic as well. She had a dark complexion and some traces of a southern European accent. It might well be; Oh, Sole mio.
“Where are you picking up the urn,” I asked, glad that at least I might guide and transform concern into something more practical. I mean, I was just a stranger sitting next to her and not her son. “It’s at La Perouse crematorium, we are taking a bus from Central Station”, she added, drying her tears. It took a couple of weeks because they had run out of the urn that I chose for Mario. “Mario is my husband” .” I mean he was”, she added so sadly. “We have picked a nice spot around his veggie garden and tomatoes at the backyard in Marrickville”. “We were going to sprinkle some of Mario’s ashes this afternoon if we get back in time”.
She seemed happy to have found a listener. She took out a brochure and showed me a catalogue of items of a somewhat funereal nature. There were lots of glossy photos of caskets with shiny handles, flower pieces with prices for fresh and artificial. There were also different cortèges including a choice of horse drawn hearses or long-bodied cars. I thought it combined funerals and weddings as it all seemed rather glorious and somewhat ceremonial. The next page had a long arrangement of urns for the departed and cremated, which she was keen to show me.
My Mario was one of the best ceramic tile cutters, she said proudly. He could tell if a tile could be cut by a normal cutter or by water driven diamond blade cutter, she said. How, I enquired? (I knew at least two weeks had passed since the funeral and felt she might venture away from her urgent and immediate grief).
The daughter seemed relieved that her mother’s tears had subsided, we were on safer grounds. “Oh, he knew alright, dad was a master tiler,” the daughter added. “My Mario knew by just tapping the tile and holding it to his ear”, the mother said. “He could hear the difference between the softer glazed ceramic and the much harder porcelain ceramic.” “He was one of the best, she reiterated.” “He could just tap and listen to them all day!”
“But, just have a look at the urn I am getting for Mario. He would be happy in this, she added.” “We have chosen the porcelain version of ‘Ocean Sunset’. It includes a little brooch in brushed gold in which I can keep a bit of my Mario close by.
It was a toss-up for ‘The Golf’ or the ‘Tear-drop’ urn, which we finally all thought was a bit sentimental. The ‘Double Rainbow’ was nice too though, except my Mario hated anything with rain.” Suddenly, it was all over.
The train had arrived at Central Station. The mother and daughter got off.