Kingsley was buried today.
I wasn’t sure what to expect but it turned out to be an eye-opening experience. I sat under a canopy, by a dusty roadside with half of the mourners, looking across the street at the other half who were slightly obscured by the casket. Out in front was a pastor in a nicely-cut, shiny, blue suit, bellowing hoarsely through his exhortation and demanding ever louder ‘amens’ and ‘hallelujahs’ from the sombre crowd. The hymns had that weary sound I remember from childhood Pentecostal services in Jamaica – a blend of sadness, age and resignation.
The younger members of the gathering, who could have brought some life and energy to the singing, were too busy looking cool in their all-black outfits that bore tributes in stark white lettering to ‘B-Boy-K’. Towards the end of the service, many of them performed in honour of their fallen hip-hop dance comrade who had earned their loyalty and affection with his ‘skillz’. Within minutes of being announced, they cordoned off our section of the street and exploded in a series of somersaults, backflips, handstands and energetic, almost angry, choreographed dance moves.
What happened next took me completely by surprise. The dancers moved wordlessly towards the casket, surrounding it with arms outstretched, then lifted it and headed off in the direction of the main road. I stopped briefly to see Kingsley’s mother, tiny and frail in her grief, and commiserated with the rest of the family. I didn’t realise that they all knew who I was, thanking me for everything that I tried to do for him. In turn, I was grateful for their kind words but couldn’t help but wonder whether I had done enough to earn them.
Could I have done more? Would it have saved him? I’ve been having these thoughts ever since I heard of his demise nearly two weeks ago. I remind myself that Kingsley was old enough to make his own choices but my logic doesn’t erase my feelings of guilt completely. As I edged slowly through the surging mob that had now stormed the main road with coffin still aloft, I had a sense that maybe these streets had the kind of raw appeal that was not easy for an impressionable young man to turn his back on.
In need of reassurance and some upliftment, I headed straight from the funeral to visitors’ day at St Patrick’s College, where Christian was waiting for me. According to his form teacher, he continues to improve and should do well in the upcoming end-of-term exams. By his own smiling admission, Christian appears to be getting to grips with mathematics, thanks to a new teacher and a fresh approach. That was all I needed to hear – he’s trying his best to make use of the opportunity.
After chit-chatting over plates of grilled fish in a nearby restaurant, I let Christian see the funeral programme and read ‘Dreams that die’, my blogpost inspired by Kingsley. He became sober, reflective even, as he asked about the decisions Kingsley had made. I did my best to frame my answers around his own future and the decisions he will be making soon – about higher education, a career and a life he can be proud of. I’m hoping that recent events and today’s conversation will have a lasting effect on him.
After this morning’s rather grim beginning, the day ended with hope for at least one bright young future. I have learned that you can not impose your dreams on another human being but you can do your best to steer them in the right direction, towards their own dreams.
I’ll leave you with one of the sayings that guides my journey through life:
“Do what you can, with what you have, wherever you are.” (Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt, 1858-1919)