How on earth had she seen me do it? I thought I was surely covered by the sea of people praying on those dark benches, and still she saw me do it. Even Mrs Evans with her never ending glacier glasses that made her eyes seem like large ink pools, didn’t see me to it. With those magnifying glasses she could even notice when one sweet petal had begun to fade on the Sunday alter, or one speck of dust had settled on the stained-glass cross. Yet there was the hand ever so slightly gripping the back of my neck as we headed home, marked with the well- known mother’s touch of an all-seeing, all-knowing force.
“I swear she had eyes on the back of her head” I mumbled aloud, startling an ever so confident grey squirrel that had taken my silent reflection as a sleepy repose.
I dusted the dream from my mind and gazed out over the garden of stone, returning to reality to remember that I was by myself, but not entirely alone. Wings outstretched like white caps on a wave, hundreds of angels sprout defiantly above the graves. They are hemmed in by coupled yew trees, their tall barks acting like watchtowers guarding this realm from intruders, or acting as keepers of unruly souls who fancied themselves a midnight stroll.
It is said that yew trees were planted by the ancient Druids hundreds of years ago, the evergreens to act as signs of death and resurrection. For when drooping branches finally give into age and gravity, its heavy bark settling in the brown earth, they can re-root and form new trunks, beginning once again the rising race to the warm light above.
Like a whisper, her voice suddenly danced back into my memory, ‘You never tell a tree’s size by its shadow’. Although many of her proverbs alluded me, this one had stuck to me like a grain of sand on a wet palm. Here, sitting in the fading light surrounded by icons of superstition, goading me to fear the creeping darkness, it never rang more true. I sank further into my damp bench warmed by the memory of my mother’s iron allegories and surrounded myself with a painful peace of longing.
Time ticked endlessly, as it seems to do when sitting among the dead, the only markers the crumbling of stone and the formation of frost on the blades of grass. Soon the only light was coming from an emerald streetlamp, this one being one of the remaining rare few that glows golden from a time gone by. Not like the blinding white flashes that emit from the new lamps lining London’s streets, as if the pavements are patients in a dentist’s chair.
“I know I should leave…” I said as I turned my eyes to the engraved stone. But I still don’t want to leave my mother’s side I thought sheepishly, embarrassed by my regression. Even stubbornness, that unruly childhood emotion was beginning to plague me, as if I was fighting the spirits themselves as they pushed me to leave their Holy walls so that they could enjoy some peace and quiet away from the living.
I peeled myself up from my bench and turned to rise in stubborn fury at makeshift ghosts when a banshee’s call ripped through me, making the muscles on my neck contract as if I had been caught sneaking by my mother. Like a robber, I turned to identify my accuser, only to find myself looking up into the moon like face of a night owl, it’s creamy golden feathers glowing against the dark evergreen.
It still is a shock to any Londoner when they are reminded of nature which isn’t little mice darting underneath train tracks or pirate pigeons strutting down the pavement. Here she was in all her glory I thought, it's head tilted towards me from above it's watchtower. It's beady eyes were darting to collect my every detail as if demanding where my passport was for my visit to her Kingdom of Stone.
“I have a feeling that you may be the Guardian of this realm” I whispered out loud, as if finally having the proof to agree with the mighty myths and legends of old.
I began to gaze into her eyes, the dark beads reminding me of the seeds my mother used to skim out of the centre of her breakfast papaya onto her china plate. I felt drawn to that heart shaped face, its feathers a crowning white veil, wondering – just letting myself wonder- if maybe my mother’s spirit hadn’t left after all?
It raised its beak and suddenly gave out another screeching banshee cry as if to laugh at my train of thought, before swooping towards me as if like a winged ghost. I began to rush towards the graveyard doors, the iron gates getting larger and larger, till with a rusty creak they shut closed behind me.
With a nervous chuckle I rested my forehead on the cool metal barricade between the two worlds, and as I walked away from those high elite walls I silently thanked the night owl for its timely midnight call. Because, for the first time in months I didn’t feel like coming back to visit at the next dawn at all.