When the Dead Refuse to Dieby Paulo da Costa
As he walked through the olive grove on an auburn summer evening, Florindo Ramos foresaw his death and, in a shiver that resembled a harvest-shaken olive tree shedding its last fruit, lost his ability to speak. He endured the ominous summer days squatting by the Rio Caima, where in silence, he watched its crystalline waters meander through the verdant valley and out of sight.
Florindo enacted the scene in his mind, knelt over his own body, motioned the closing of his eyes, followed the crowd home where they deposited his corpse, then helped them to remove his torn clothes and to bathe him, blushing for he was a modest man. Florindo's fingers traced the pools of bruises covering his skin. Deep bruises, the colour of ill ponds, lighter bruises, the colour of summer skies. Later, he sat vigil with the villagers, moved to tears by the inundation of flowers, the singing, and the feverish prayers. He joined his own funeral procession singing louder than the rest, and no one noticed. He sat next to the priest at his Seventh Day Mass and joined the congregated in sacred communion.
That summer, Florindo Ramos dug his own burial pit and slept in his grave, becoming acquainted with his flesh's final abode, searching out the most comfortable position for his eternal rest. A man of tormented sleep, he lay on his back gazing at the stars. His bones complained, heaven so far above, beyond his reach. After a month of trials, tossing and turning, he settled on his belly, the best vantage point for observing the approaching worms.
The villagers watched Florindo Ramos veiled in the morning mists at the mouth of the Rio Caima, squatting without a fishing line, mesmerized by the current. By midday, during the sesta and while the others rested, Florindo paced from Oliveira's crossroad to his home, then to the graveyard and the church. A daily ritual performed in earnest silence. He walked about as if he were invisible in the world, already a shadow from beyond. Some speculated that he had seen the world's apocalyptic end. Some guessed that he might have encountered a ghost. Despite their musings, no one succeeded in extricating the truth.
The day of his predestined death, and for the first time since his vision, Florindo Ramos bathed in the Rio Caima and groomed himself, parting his hair to perfection. He dressed in his black suit, knowing it would be torn to shreds. He walked through the market crowd lifting his hat, thanking people beforehand for the splendid roses, lilacs, and chrysanthemums each one would bring to his funeral. They would remember his wishes.
Before proceeding to his death, Florindo Ramos made a detour to the grave digger's house and voiced his special instructions, belly-down, no casket. Stopping next door at the church, he pointed out to Padre Lucas the scriptures he wished read at his funeral: "Of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake," from the Book of Daniel, and, "It is good and holy to think of the dead rising again," from the Maccabees.
By the time he finished his errands and voiced his private goodbyes, hundreds of the villagers trailed Florindo Ramos like a procession. They were curious. How could one confront death on such a sunny and glorious day? Not a hint of a breeze to topple a tree onto him (Cipriano Bispo's fate years before), not a thunder cloud in sight to fulminate him like Rossandra Ferreira. After completing a perfect circle around the town wall, Florindo stopped. His back to the crowd, he faced the hollow darkness of the village portal. The portal funnelled a marble glow from the cemetery in the distance. He looked up for the omen. Out of the cloudless blue sky a jet plane crossed overhead. A roar louder than thunder shook the ground and a white apocalyptic line slashed through the air, convincing the religious-minded that Florindo Ramos had predicted the end of the world. In panic, the herd of villagers stampeded towards the protective walls trampling everything in their path.
Later, and on the rare occasion that the thunderous roar returned to slash the white apocalyptic line in their haunted sky, the villagers would drop their scythes, hammers or kettles and hurry to Florindo's headstone to huddle in prayer, freshening his grave with roses, lilacs, and chrysanthemums. Florindo Ramos, they believed, averted the end of the world by offering his life to God. A saintly death, so that their lives could be spared. The villagers remembered Florindo's funeral scriptures and prayed by his graveside, waiting for the day when he would awaken and return to free their troubled consciences.
Florindo Ramos, awakening from his eternal rest, moved to tears by the inundation of flowers, would smell each flower and join his people in their feverish hymns, singing louder than anyone else, yet no one ever noticed.
Years passed. The villagers returned with less and less frequency until his memory rested forgotten. Florindo Ramos, tired of rising up to the silence and neglect of his grave, at last succumbed to his end.