THE CHRONICLES OF PHILLIP JOE PART 6
By Damilola Akintobi
Days grew into weeks and Phillip steadily learned the ways of society. Though he still devoted enough time to his business, he stopped staying at the morgue longer than was necessary. It was a Saturday, and he was in the mood to talk. He knocked at the Johnson’s door and Reuben sprang up almost immediately ignoring the disapproving look his mother shot in his direction.
“Good afternoon Mrs Johnson, and Anne; how are you today?” Philip greeted as he stepped in rehearsing the socialisation skills Reuben taught him the week before. The duo ignored his greeting until Michael came out of his room to join them in the living room.
“Good afternoon Mr Philip” they replied in unison knowing Michael would scold them if they gave their guest the cold shoulder in his presence. Michael was not Philip’s biggest fan, but he demanded that his family be civil to all, whether or not they made them feel uncomfortable.
“Welcome Mr Philip, you are just in time to join us for lunch” Michael welcomed him leading the way to the dinning table without smiling. They’d been waiting for Michael to get ready for lunch to be served; the Johnsons always dined as a family. In no time, Anne had a plate of grilled chicken before a stunned Phillip; he hadn’t had meat in his meal in years and while he did not want to give Mrs Johnson another reason to dislike him, he wasn’t sure if his stomach would accommodate it.
“Mr Phillip…” Reuben nudged him as the whole family stared at him wondering about his frozen face.
“Hmm” Philip sighed.
“Well, I have not had anything apart from red meat in a very long time but, we’re all eating this right?” he looked up from the food and scanned the faces around the table with hesitation. Neglecting his apprehension, he dug into the meat with his fork and knife and smacked his lips at the delicious taste.
“This is nice!” Philip exclaimed, “another change to me courtesy of you madame” he smiled at Anne who couldn’t help laughing this time.
After the meal, Michael invited Phillip to church on Sunday as he always did every time they had the chance to talk. To everyone’s surprise, Philip agreed to come with them. Reuben was delighted; he’d been praying for Philip to make up his mind to learn about God since the first time he’d invited him in his house. They chattered excitedly about how he’d finally made the right choice and then discussed a little more about God with the intent of enlightening Phillip about the Bible.
He asked questions and was given answers with evidences from the Christian Bible. As Philip finally rose to leave, Tasha felt herself beginning to like the strange man, but she did well to act as her mother would expect; Anne’s expression still held traces of distaste for their strange neighbour.
Phillip got to his house and heaved a sigh of relief, he always felt better after visiting the Johnsons. Comparing his house with theirs, he suddenly observed that his really did not look much like a house. The stairs, torn cushions, the pile of old paper and the rest of the mess that made up his living room made him feel a tinge of shame; he shrugged and walked past all of it into his room. He sat in his reading chair without thinking and his gaze fell on ‘The fall of man’, he smiled and thought about all the years he’d spent running away from what he was now embracing.
The following day, he was up early. He dressed up and joined the Johnsons in their salon car, it was Thanksgiving Sunday and he had a great time in church. The senior pastor had a chat with him after the service and some of the younger pastors paid him a courtesy visit during the week encouraging him to keep up with God’s words and commandments.
Philip felt cared for, they all wanted him to join them, but there was no pressure, they allowed him to move at his own pace; he felt a sense of belonging that was somehow missing when he was with the holiest of souls sect.
Everyday, he was happier and more fulfilled than ever. It was 5 weeks since Reuben broke into his house and a lot of things had changed about him; his appearance, his gestures, his attitudes and even his hygiene had greatly improved. Sometimes, he had moments when he felt like changing his job but he always brushed the thought aside telling himself there was nothing wrong with being a mortician. He was having one of such moments when an ambulance came in.
“Good afternoon Mr… Remind me again my friend.”
“Bradwell!” The Carriage man almost yelled. He didn’t know whether to be happy that Philip had started speaking to him or to be angry that he still found it difficult to memorise his name after so long.
Phillip smiled gently, he’d been expecting Bradwell all day. The carriage man’s countenance softened a little at Philip’s expression, he had not ceased to be astonished to see Phillip in such an accommodating demeanour. The brusque owner of the morgue whose sullen silence always terrified him had been replaced by an evolving man on a journey to happiness. Bradwell opened the door and drew out the stretcher with Phillip’s unsolicited help and the family of the deceased drove in almost immediately.
“They were right behind me actually” he responded to Philip’s questioning look. “They must have been held back by one of those street urchins.”
A black woman in black gown stepped down from the car.
“You are his wife?” Phillip asked in a tone he hoped conveyed condolence. She stared at the corpse seemingly oblivious of Philip and the rest of the family who had gathered round her.
“He kept talking in his sleep, begging to be forgiven; he wouldn’t stop.”
Tears trickled down from her eyes as she stroked her husband’s face.
Phillip felt sorry for her. He examined the man’s face and blood drained from his face.
“No” he whispered.
The face under the covers was beyond familiar, it was one of the most devout members of his old family; a front pew saint at the Holiest of Souls.
“I told him to stop, but he wouldn’t listen. Now all I have is a note; he sinned and he had to take his own life!”
She screamed and crashed to the floor collapsing under the weight of her grief whilst the family gathered round to console her.
“Mr Phillip, are you okay?” Bradwell asked at the sight of Phillip’s ashen face.
“Suicide…” Phillip muttered lost in thoughts. He stepped away for a moment, memories of the long hours spent sitting behind the dead man listening to the pulpit man’s voice flooded his mind.
“Is this man now bound for heaven? What about the family he left behind? Why did he have to kill himself?”
The carriage man watched from a distance. Philip rose and almost became his old self again. “How long for will his body be here?” he asked.
“A month” Bradwell answered him quietly standing by his side.
“Escort them outside, you know the bill” Philip commanded and turned to attend to his business.
Bradwell got everyone out and Phillip was left alone. He moved the dead man to the storage area. His fingers traced the hand from the shoulder to the finger unconsciously; Philip screamed at the cold fingers’ strong grip. In a flash, the dead man opened his eyes wide and spoke with a sinister smile. “You have sinned, son of Richard. Prepare your house Philip, Hades is screaming your name!”
The Chronicles of Phillip Joe continues