The crowd of mourners started gathering when the message hit the airwaves. Some had heard through the grapevine, and others were neighbours who had never stepped into Errin's yard when he was alive. His widow was in the main lounge, watching the sunset reddening the distant horizon through the French windows, as she sat cross-legged on cushions, like the traditional African wife she had always been. Her young sister and other close relatives were hovering around trying to console her. They watched the proceedings and who was coming in and out. The room, cleared of all furniture except two sofas, was stifling. Two well-built ladies in church uniform sat with their heads bowed, whispering in low tones. One was the pastor's wife in her purple and blue uniform and beside her sat her best friend, who had come out of curiosity and for moral support.
The loud wailing as people entered the main gate was sporadic as the night shadows descended upon the assembled crowd. The men were milling around the garden like confused cockroaches. All one could hear was the occasional murmur and intermittent banging of kitchenware as the cooking crew organised supper for the mourners. No one knew how many would turn up, but a crowd would form once the word was out.
Errin's send-off would attract the city's who's who. His widow Maidei watched the proceedings through exhausted eyes now red from tears. Her sister Molly brought a soft drink which Maidei pushed aside as she shook her head.
"You must eat. You have not had anything since you heard the news. This is just the beginning! You need your strength," persisted Molly trying to comfort Maidei, who just stared at her with an ashen face.
"Or do you want something stronger? How about some of your favourite herbal tea?" Molly left for the kitchen, trying to distract herself since she couldn't get a response from her sister. The ladies from Maidei's local church had stopped singing and seemed to be exhausted already. They were now talking in low voices among themselves, catching up on family news while keeping an ear open to hear how Maidei's husband had passed on. Few had been brave enough to engage with Maidei directly. So everyone knew snippets, but not the entire story.
Maidei continued gazing at the remaining sunset rays through the lace curtains as she contemplated her fate while reflecting on the floating dust particles dancing in the dying sun. She had always been a homemaker who had left the money side of their relationship to her husband. Errin had been a great provider and maintained their affluent lifestyle, while Maidei held a part-time job as a local estate agent. However, Errin treated her earnings as her pocket money. At least he had been sensible enough to take out a funeral policy, and so she could bury him in style.
The street lights came on as people prepared for the evening service. The pastor's wife returned from home, now tightly wrapped against the winter chill and escorted by her husband, who was in his church regalia. The crowd had ballooned in anticipation of being fed. Some people were coming from work, while others had only recently heard of the tragedy. The newly arrived mourners made a beeline for Molly, passing their condolences and then going outside to secure a seat under the funeral home's emblazoned tent. Those catching up after meeting old acquaintances brought a somewhat festive mood with their raised voices as they waited for the evening service to start.
The pastor began proceedings while most of the crowd responded in subdued tones, with some holding their cellphones like torches as they sang unfamiliar hymns. The church elders helped the pastor with bible readings while leaving people time to share testimonies about Errin. None wanted to speak ill of the dead as people talked with solemn faces about what a wonderful man the deceased was, how he had given alms to the poor and was part of the church choir and Men's Group.
As the evening service came to an end, people started dispersing. Some women from out of town began taking their sleeping bags and blankets out of their cars, rushing to squeeze into the crowded room, ready to start the all-night vigil with Maidei. Errin's few friends in their heavy winter coats had congregated outside around a small fire, prepared to stay awake till dawn as they drank surreptitiously out of brown bottles and threw in wooden logs among the sparks and ambers.
As the night wore on, tongues became looser.
"Chipo, what actually happened to Errin? If anyone knows the full story, you do. You were always as thick as thieves," said Tapiwa as he settled closer to the fire.
"I don't know the facts,” said Chipo. What I have heard is second hand, and it came from the head of the security company which patrols this area, who heard it from one of his guards. Don't quote me, or else I will deny I ever said anything to you."
"You know more than most," said Tapiwa in a low voice.
"What I heard is that it all happened a few streets away. Errin was already on his way home, but he never made it. "
“Don’t leave out important details, Chipo; I want to know!"
"Two neighbourhood watch guards started patrolling the area after 7'oclock. One of the men approached a vehicle which turned out to be Errin's, parked in a cul de sac. He circulated it before knocking on the windows. Its hood was cold to the touch. The younger of the two guards' curiosity was piqued when the car owner didn't respond. Now at close quarters, they could see someone slumped over the steering wheel. At first, they assumed it was a drunk sleeping off their boozy afternoon."
"Why would Errin be sleeping in his car so close to home?'
"Patience, patience Tapiwa! The security guards didn't know Errin from Adam! They said Saturday night patrols are full of such encounters. Only last week, they came across two separate cars parked outside front gates in the early hours of the morning with comatose drivers slumped in the front seats. Both occupants couldn't remember how they got there but were too cowardly to enter their own houses and suffer the wrath of their spouses, who had probably been waiting up anxiously all night for their return."
"Ok, now that we've got that out of the way," said Tapiwa impatiently, "Go on."
"Do you want to hear the story? Then stop interrupting! Anyway, getting no response, the two security guards called their base, and that's when the emergency services kicked in. The police managed to prise the car door open and found Errin lifeless. To cut a long story short, they suspect carbon monoxide poisoning but still have to do an autopsy."
"No wonder Maidei is so distraught!" said Tapiwa. "They had only just celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary. We even went out for dinner as couples, but he never mentioned anything was amiss."
"Yes, I may have been his best friend, but let's be frank. I know you two were up to no good! Every time I asked to come out with you to some of your haunts, the two of you always appeared uncomfortable. I know you are hiding something. You are only milking me for information so you can get your story straight. What were you two really up to? I have heard rumours. Something about a woman. Don't play all innocent with me!" said Chipo.
"It's going to come out in the open anyway, but don't say I told you," said Tapiwa. "Also, please don't tell that wife of yours. You know how close she is to Maidei. As Maidei buries her husband, the less she knows, the better!"
"Now, who is going round in circles, Tapiwa. Just tell me!" said Chipo, as the two of them moved away from the crowd near the fire into the shadows.
"Errin had a bit on the side, and the woman claimed she was pregnant! The affair had been going on for a while, with Errin promising to make an honest woman of her."
"How was that going to happen?” said Chipo. “What was Errin going to do with Maidei?"
"You know the usual story that we men spin. 'We no longer get on. I'm leaving soon and going to divorce my wife, and we can start afresh blah blah blah.' The woman got tired of waiting, and the pregnancy brought things to a head! I'm not condoning infidelity." Tapiwa continued, "You still don't get it, do you, Chipo! Errin, the church elder and one of the church youth group leaders! Errin, the one who at every opportunity was held up as the bastion of the community! Errin with the ideal family. All that was going to go down the drain, especially after the woman threatened to turn up at the family residence, unannounced and intending to cause havoc in Errin's life. Errin appeared very confident at work, but it was just a veneer. You must have heard the rumours about his business empire? I thought you were his best friend! He was obviously very selective about what he told you. Errin was going broke! The companies were haemorrhaging from all sides. Even you, in your naivety, can appreciate that he was living above his means of late! Never mind running another household with a demanding mistress who wanted to live life to the full."
Chipo started pacing up and down, rubbing his chin. "Why didn't he tell me? I held him in such high esteem."
"That's exactly the point. What would you have done to help, Chipo? Told him to leave his wife? Chastised him about his infidelity? Sorted out his business troubles? What? He was drowning and, in desperation, probably thought what he did was the easy way out. Don't get me wrong, I felt for him, and hearing about this tragedy was a wake-up call for me. But I didn't know he was that desperate, and like you, I'm not sure how I would have dealt with the situation, considering we were philandering together," said Tapiwa.
The news of Errin's double life was still sinking in as Chipo followed Tapiwa back to the open fire.
"Hey Chipo, don't look so dejected! You are the one giving the eulogy, and so you'd better start working on your speech. He was a good man, in his own way," said Tapiwa, "Let's join the others and try and give our friend a fitting send-off. We owe it to Maidei, if not to Errin himself. My only wish is that the other woman has the decency not to turn up and make a scene."